Being born and raise, or reared as some may say, in the south, I certainly have my share of a southern drawl. It runs the gamut from mild to syrupy. Depending on the language being used, the person I’m speaking to or the circumstances I’m in, my accent or drawl will fall somewhere along the spectrum.
As a senior underwriter for a national insurance company, I would travel to many parts of our united states and would often find myself in the same situation. For a time I was privileged to visit the great state of Minnesota for many months. There I would train agents and support staff alike on new programming and processes they would use in their offices in a large classroom with some 15 or so computer terminals. I would direct them on the process of using the programming and what the individual changes from previous systems were and how this affected their process flow, etc. All of these units would work off of one server so screen changes would be slow and not simultaneous for each desk top so one must fill in the time to keep peoples attention. I suppose I should note this was in the mid 1990s and technology was not then what it is now…..duh.
The same general conversation would always be had. “Where were you born in Minnesota or did you live somewhere else in the north?”, they would ask. “I was born in Mississippi and have lived there all my life. Why would you ask?”, would be the reply. “You don’t sound like you’re from the south.”
I have, I guess I would classify it as, a bad habit. I naturally pick up the accent of whomever I am around. Predominantly, without even knowing that I’m doing it. So in Minnesota it was a lot of Oh ya, you betcha and so forth. In Nevada, I actually pronounced Nevada the way a person from Nevada would pronounce it. Didn’t know there was a difference? Well, trust me, they would let you know all about it if you said it incorrectly. Whether in California, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, Illinois, or any of the nine European countries I traveled in while a junior in college, the result was the same and ultimately I would have to correct someone. Many times they would not believe me. Not until I got on the phone to speak to someone in my offices in Mississippi and all the honeys, sugars, darlins came flowing out would they finally believe I was telling the truth. I’d also tell them, with a level of sadness in my voice that the company had made me start wearing shoes about a year earlier and that I had just broken it off with my sister a few weeks prior so that accounted for much of the loss of long vowels and loose dialect. Most laughed.
So why is this even remotely important? Well I find that I’m not just a gifted mimic for languages and accents but for life. I’ve been guilty of being a mimic of Christ. But, that’s a good thing right? To act like Christ acted? To devote yourself to a set of values that Christ portrayed? Surely you’re not saying that is a bad thing, right?
Yes, yes I am. Here is the issue. In truth, I’m called to be devoted to a person. The person of Jesus Christ. Not a set of values.
What difference does it make whether I’m devoted to values or to a Person? It’s not the way of Christ that leads to everlasting life; it’s the Person of Christ. It’s trusting Him to produce the spiritual life in us, not trusting in ourselves to produce the spiritual life by our own effort.
I could not understand this difference at first. The distinction seemed inconsequential. Yet as I learned more and more, the difference began to come into focus. It’s a huge distinction. For those who want to know God, it’s the dividing line. Do you know it?
Jesus says simply, “‘Follow me.’” When we are weary and burdened Jesus gives us rest—not our values. He says, “‘Follow me,’” He does not say “Follow my principles.” It’s His life that connects us to God, not emulating His “goodness.” If we imitate His life but don’t know Him personally, we will become exhausted. We can see that which is good, right, and pure, but we do not have the power to live up to it. Only Christ in us can live up to it.
Today church pews are filled with well-meaning people—people who sincerely want to be Christian. But they are confused. They believe (and their church often confirms) that the Christian life is a commitment to a set of values. Who would question such a noble thought? Jesus would. He said, “‘I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Not through values.
It’s not imitation that leads to everlasting life; it’s surrender. It’s not guessing what Christ would do and imitating Him; it’s acknowledging we cannot imitate Him at all. It’s accepting that His blood was spilled on the cross because we cannot imitate Him. It’s to surrender our will, heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Person who died for us.
It’s not what we follow, but who we follow; not a set of values but a Person. It’s not “the life I live in the body, I live by these values.” It’s “the life I live in the body, I live by faith.” Faith is confidence in the Person of Christ and the atoning work He did through the shedding of His blood for our sins, not in the merit of living up to a set of values.
Well-meaning people often begin their pilgrimage committed to His Person, but later place their faith in what they do for Him (the seen) instead of what He has done for them (the unseen). But, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you live by sight, you will lose the joy of your salvation.
Are you committed to a set of Christian values, or are you committed to a Person for your salvation? If you began your pilgrimage by receiving Christ, are you still living by faith, or has your confidence returned to a set of values?