Ever seen a before/after show on TV or on the internet?
The “before” image is never good. “Before” means under-eye bags and sallow skin, or dull hair or unfortunate clothing. “After,” though – after is spectacular. “After” is carefully-tailored garments, a glowing complexion, immaculate makeup and perfect hair.
During these before and after reveals, credit is almost always given to the stylist, or the makeup artist, or the designer who worked the magic. A host introduces them, standing behind the curtain or near the audience, and the beautified product of their efforts – the glorious, improved “after” – hugs them and thanks them and weeps on them.
You found me, the thinking goes. You found how beautiful I could be under all the mess.
I have an enormous distaste for those before/after reveals, primarily because I hate the emphasis on physical attractiveness and the generic idea of what “attractive” is (read: skinny, dyed hair, contouring make-up). With that said, I do think Christians could learn something from these popular reveals.
If you’re a Christian, then you, too, are an “after.” Your attitude, your behavior, your mindset – all of those things have been made new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “the new creation has come: the old has gone; the new is here!”
This is all great. Except that I think sometimes, after a very long time of being “afters,” Christians start to believe that we are the owners and progenitors of our after-salvation goodness. That we are the ones who have made all of these changes in ourselves. And it is in that belief that the seeds of our self-righteousness and our superiority take root and grow. When we believe that we are the ones doing and being good – when we assume the responsibility for the way our life is “after” – it’s easy to get smug about anyone else who is a “before.”
But here’s the thing: you are not responsible for your own goodness. The person you are “after” Christ has everything to do with God, and very little to do with you at all.
Paul points this out immediately after reminding believers they are new creations: “all of this comes from God” (2 Cor. 5:18). The Spirit is what seals our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14); it is what teaches us and reminds us of what we ought to know (John 14:26); it gives wisdom and understanding (Isaiah 11:2); and it gives us gifts to use for others (1 Cor. 12). In other words, all the changes that take place in us after salvation are enabled by the Holy Spirit Himself – by God Himself. You’re an “after” because He gave you the capacity and the Spirit to be!
Knowing this, how can we be anything less than humble about any spiritual growth or progress we’ve made? Knowing this, how can we be anything less than gentle to non-believers who have not been enabled by the Spirit? Knowing this, how can we do anything other than throw ourselves down in gratitude over the immense grace and mercy of God?
Superiority and arrogance come from the concept of I. I did this. I am good. I serve others. I have grown and changed my life. I transformed. The I gives us power and credit and control. It tells others that they ought to look to us for wisdom and guidance. It says that we, having been saved, are now thoroughly at the helm of our own decency, and that if only others really tried, they could be good like us.
But as believers we must realize again and again that this is not so, and that our place on the mercy seat does not disappear once we have received salvation, but remains ever after. Instead of I, we must embrace in Christ. In Christ, I did this. In Christ, I am good. In Christ, I serve others. In Christ, I have grown and changed my life. In Christ, I transformed.
“No one is good,” Jesus says in Mark 10:18, “–except God alone.” And later, in James 1:17, we are reminded: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Think about that. The acts of service you do, the gifts of love you give, the wonderful beautiful amazing gestures you can make – you are not responsible for those. They do not happen because of you. They cannot, and should not, be a point of pride, smugness, superiority, or self-righteousness for you. You are not responsible for your own goodness.
The Spirit of Christ living inside you is.
As “afters,” it is to our great credit to remember that we are not the masters of the transformation taking place within us. Keeping that in mind is the root of humility, and the beginning of great grace.