Are You “Out of Uniform?”
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 13:34, 35; John 17:21; Matthew 5:15, 16; Galatians 5:22, 23
Sometimes, we hear about someone impersonating a police officer, and trying to assert the authority of the badge. Invariably, they are caught, arrested and either fined or imprisoned, depending on what they were doing while impersonating a Law-enforcement officer.
What is worse, is when we hear of someone who actually is a member of the organization whose uniform he is wearing, but abuses his position to commit a crime. Fortunately, it is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. There is a compounded evil, here: the public hears of the crime, and either grieves that the integrity of that organization has been damaged by a criminal in uniform, or, tragically, they jump to the conclusion that the entire organization is corrupt.
During and after Hurricane Katrina, the whole world saw videos, captured by surveillance cameras, of two uniformed officers in New Orleans, looting a store, loading the stolen goods into a marked police car, and driving away. There was no question what happened: it was undeniable. But, is this evidence that everyone in Law Enforcement is inherently corrupt, or is it evidence that, just as in every other human endeavor, criminals canput on the uniform? Obviously, the latter is a more reasonable conclusion. To choose the other option and to use it evenhandedly, we would have to conclude that anyone in any official capacity anywhere is automatically suspect.
Then we must ask ourselves, “Since so many people NOT serving in any official capacity are dishonest, immoral, or violent, mustn’t we then conclude that all who do not serve in any official capacity must also be corrupt? It’s odd: no one in the general public takes that stance, though I have met a few Law Enforcement officers who were so jaded as to feel that way. But both assumptions are wrong, unless we simply agree that all humans are sinners. (And we are!)
What is The Purpose of Uniforms?
What about military uniforms? They are to identify the troops that are on “our side.” It is always illegal to impersonate a member of the armed forces, wearing that uniform falsely. (Incidentally, anyone impersonating a member of the armed forces in times of war is liable to be shot as a spy!) But a true member of those military organizations, who has the right and the duty to wear that uniform is also responsible to wear it correctly. If he is wearing it incorrectly, he is said to be “out of uniform” and he or she is subject to discipline of one sort or another. But it does not change the fact that he or she is part of that organization: it just causes am unpleasant disruption in the relationship between the individual and the organization. They are “in trouble” to one degree or another; but the impersonator, with a perfect uniform, is in far worse trouble: possibly so much as to be imprisoned, or even executed.
Is there such a thing as a Christian “Uniform?”
Yes! The World is given three means by which to recognize a real believer:
- John 13:34, 35 the Agapé Love: Jesus said that is the means by which the World is to recognize us as His disciples.
- John 17:21 Supernatural Unity: Jesus said this unity, demonstrated in the lives of His disciples, is the means by which the World is to know that He was sent from God.
- Galatians 5:22, 23 The Fruit of the Spirit…the Holy Spirit produces this in us.
- Matthew 5:15, 16 Good works because of the Holy Spirit in us: Jesus said they are to reflect well upon God the Father, and bring Him Glory. (Where? “Among men”…it is reaching the World, again. This is an integral part of our testimony!)
Do you notice anything odd about these three items? They don’t usually lend themselves to “Impersonation.” You can’t just go “buy a Christian uniform” and put it on, and then go out to be seen as a member of the body of Christ. The outward reality is based upon an inward change, and a continuing inward relationship which transforms the outward life. We recognize each other that way, too. Sometimes it seems that the indwelling Holy Spirit in one believer simply “bears witness” to the indwelling Holy Spirit in another, and instant fellowship is established.
Can it be faked? Do some people put on a façade of “piety,” and pretend to be “good, god-fearing people?” Surely, they do! But usually, it only goes so far before someone sees “wolf-tracks” behind and beneath the “sheep’s clothing,” and unveils their true identity. The problem with that situation is that those observers may assume that “all Christians are phonies.” Humans all tend to make generalizations; some turn out to be accurate, others do not.
Is it possible for a real Christian to be “out of uniform?”
Absolutely, it is possible! Look back over the “Uniform parts,” and consider: which parts can be missing without our being “out of uniform?” The simple answer is, “None!”
If I am not behaving in accordance with Agapé love, or if I am allowing (or causing) disunity between myself and other believers, or if the Fruit of the Spirit is not evident in my life, then I am out of fellowship and “out of uniform.” (Examine your heart in this “self-inspection:” How are you thinking?) If I am blatantly “out of uniform,” then the World has no reason to believe my testimony, and every reason to suspect my motives when I attempt to do the good works that have become a regular part of my life. My heart isn’t in it anymore because I am out of fellowship with Jesus. And (believe it or not) people are remarkably good at spotting that!
Remember: Jesus said that these are the means by which the World is to identify the real believers. We need to be careful about our associations as well as our own testimonies.
People judge us by several things:
- What we do,
- What we say,
- Who our friends are, and,
- Who our enemies are.
Hopefully, what we do will match what we say: That is pretty fundamental to integrity. But the people we associate with—who are seen as being those with whom we are really comfortable, will also register in people’s minds. And, if they see that the people who despise us are themselves despicable, well, that is one thing. But if they discern that good, honest wholesome folk want nothing to do with us, then our testimony is shot, and we have become useless as a tool in God’s hand. He cannot use us in that condition.
What happens to Believers who are “out of Uniform?”
So, what happens to a believer who is habitually out of fellowship with God; “out of uniform,” so to speak? We can look at the scripture and clearly see that he or she does not lose his or her position in the body of Christ: salvation and eternal life are gifts, not something we can earn. But they do lose the rewards they could have gained.
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a great Old Testament example of someone who was “blessed with every blessing, along with faithful Abraham:” but he lost it all in Sodom and Gomorrah. He was saved, but barely so: He literally lost everything in that judgment.
1st Corinthians 3:11-16 tells us that our spiritual reality is similar. A believer can waste his life in such a way that his rewards are effectively non-existent, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (Some newer translations read “…as one escaping through the flames.”)
Ephesians 1:3 says that we, too, have already been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ.” Can we “squander that blessing” by wallowing in the World, just as Lot did in Sodom and Gomorrah? You’d better believe we can!
Further, we need to recognize that, just as Samson was drawn away into captivity and physical blindness by his own foolishness and sin, we also can be drawn away by our sin until we are blind to God’s leading, and, ultimately, end up working for our enemy, just as Samson did.
We will not lose our position in Christ, but we will lose the Joy, and Peace, and the sense of purpose that is ours when we walk with Him.
What happens to Unbelievers who are “in Uniform?”
Obviously, it is impossible to misappropriate a “uniform” that is only given by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but there is certainly such a thing as counterfeit “spirituality.” In the Old Testament, we saw it in the false prophets, and even among the people who pretended to be responsive to God’s Word, but only used it for entertainment, as we read in Ezekiel 33:30-33. In the New Testament we saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were all very respected in their religious circles, though they hated one another. The Pharisees were the religious conservatives of the day, and the Sadducees were the religious liberals of that time. They were opposed to one another, but they were completely united in their rejection of the Messiah, and their desire to kill Him.
Jesus warned against “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in Matthew 7:15, saying that they would seem to be true believers on the outside, but inwardly they were “ravening wolves.” Paul warned of false teachers, using those same words, saying that “grievous wolves” would arise within the church, specifically from among the leadership, and would lead the church astray. We may find it difficult to recognize such predators, but Jesus sees right through their disguise.
In Matthew 7:22, 23, Jesus warned that those who “claim His name,” and even do “good works” in His Name, but who are not His sheep, face condemnation. John 10:27, 28 says He knows His sheep and He gives eternal life to them. Obviously, He also knows those who are not His people. He does not say to those pretenders, “I once knew you, but you didn’t serve well enough, so I kicked you out:” He says, “I never knew you: Depart from me, you that work iniquity.” And, in Luke 13:27, He reiterated that just being part of the nation of the Jews wasn’t enough. He said that the unbelieving Jews would protest at the judgment, saying “You preached in our streets; we knew you!” And He will respond, “But I don’t know YOU!”
“Vaccinated against the Gospel”
You see, putting on the false robes of Human righteousness and piety will quickly convince you that you don’t need Jesus: that you are “just as good as anybody else,” and that you do not need Forgiveness and Grace. It will inoculate you against the Gospel, rather than leading you to faith. That’s why I don’t usually try to persuade unbelievers to “come to church.” I will instead invite them to “come to Jesus.” I share the Gospel: they don’t need church; they need Jesus.
But, if they really don’t want the Gospel, then they really don’t want Jesus. And if they don’t want Jesus, then the worst thing they could possibly do is to start acting as if they were His followers. They will become convinced of their own righteousness, and stand at the final Judgment without Hope. They were “impersonating a believer,” and Jesus will tell them, “Depart from Me, ye Cursed, into everlasting Fire.” What a sad ending for those who very likely thought they were doing “good things!” And yet, Jesus said it is extremely common.
Wasted Works—Useless coverings
This is the pattern of the World. As unbelievers, we declare ourselves righteous, and we claim to be sufficient unto ourselves. But God says we are poor, and blind, and naked and lost. Whatever we hold up as our “uniform” will be utterly ineffective, just as the Fig-leaf garments produced by Adam and Eve proved useless. Remember: the garments “covered their nakedness,” when only the two of them were involved. But when God entered the picture, the garments did nothing. They fled from the voice of God because they knew that they were naked, in spite of their works. Good works accomplish nothing toward gaining a right standing before God. Faith in Jesus’s finished work is the only path to God.
“DO vs DONE”
The biggest snare to the souls of humans seems to be human religion: specifically, works-based religion. The religions of the world all say, “DO these things and God will accept you!” But the Mosaic Law was given specifically to prove the impossibility of that task! Romans 3:19, 20 states that the purpose of the Law was to make every soul guilty before God. Paul concludes that by works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight.
The Voice of God says the Work was completed at the Cross: “It is finished!” And we are called to place our faith in His finished work. Someone pointed out that the World says, “DO!”, but Jesus says, “DONE!” The work was truly completed right there at Calvary.
What about the Uniform, then?
What value does it have for us? At the very least, it is a “litmus test” for us: we can inspect ourselves according to God’s Written Word, and ask God, by His Holy Spirit, to search our hearts and reveal our sin to us.
Ultimately, though, we must desire to walk with God. If we are so calloused that we are satisfied to just stay out of fellowship, and wallow in our sin, then we are in far deeper trouble, and the “uniform” is so tattered as to be unrecognizable to anyone but God.
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son is a good example of a believer who wandered away from God, and was deeply embroiled in the World. During his descent into the filth of the World, he was pretty smug: He was living the high life! He had drinking buddies! He got attention from women!
But when the money ran out, so did all his buddies. And then a famine came, and he had nothing upon which to fall back. He ended up getting a job feeding pigs, and the pigs were better fed than he himself was. Here is the point: He was a son when he took his leave from the father. He was a son when he was acting like a winebibber and a lecher. He was a son when he was in the pigpen. And, finally, had he died in that pigpen,he would have been a dead Son, not a dead pig.
But somehow God got through to him, and he realized the mess he had made of his life. He repented (he changed his mind about his values and his lifestyle: that is what “Repent” means) …and he went back to his father’s house. He only hoped to be received as a servant: But he was received as a Son!
Look in the Mirror!
Don’t allow yourself to ruin the blessings God has given you! Take a look in the mirror of God’s Word and check out the Uniform that Jesus gave you. Ask God what needs to change. Then submit to His call and change the things that are wrong. We are encouraged to use God’s Word as a mirror, for precisely this purpose: to examine ourselves before God and look to Him to change us into His likeness.
Ephesians 4:29-32 tells us some things to look for:
- How we talk, and the motive of our hearts when we speak.
- Whether we are willing to grieve the Holy Spirit who, ironically, is the very One who keeps us saved, sealed in Christ!
- Whether anger, or malice or bitterness, and any evil speaking are part of our lives.
In contrast, Kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness are to be the normal behavior for believers.
Go ahead and take the time to look in the Mirror of God’s Word.
Then, check over your uniform, and see how Jesus leads you.
Lord Jesus, we freely admit that we spend a great deal of time out of fellowship with You. We are so self-centered that we don’t even want to walk with You…we want You to bless our Sin, when our sin is what took You to the Cross. We ask that You create a genuine repentance in our hearts and change us into Your likeness. Enable us to serve You with our lives, and fill us with Your Joy.