There is a common belief among the most fundamental Christians that says a person can only do the work of Jesus if they are knowingly following him. Now it is true that as a person comes to understand the nature and person of Christ, that they are often so drawn into him that they truly desire to do all they can to live a life that will showcase him to the world and expand awareness of his presence. This can be very humble and sincere, or it can be tragically weird to our culture.
Many of my atheist or agnostic friends have a legitimate complaint when Christian people invalidate their moral effort. Sometimes religious people claim that unbelievers can’t really be moral people because in the end they don’t have to be. This really is a shame and truly insulting.
I believe when Christian people think this way, they have missed the key message of the Bible that they claim to believe. Since when does the spirit of Christ only work in believers? C.S. Lewis says this is like the woman in the war who was not concerned about the famine of bread because she only ate toast. See the point? No bread–No toast. No help from Christ–no acts of goodness by anyone.
As a believer, most come to realize that any good thing that happens really does come from God and not from that person’s true nature because Christianity has a way of helping a person see clearly just how selfish we really are.
And as an unbeliever, it is insulting to say that the acts of righteousness are not really ours because there is a part deep within us that really celebrates and enjoys doing acts of goodness toward others, so why would anyone want to invalidate that?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that the Spirit of Christ is working in both cases. For believers we mature into a place where we realize that God was drawing us and beckoning our hearts and motivations long before we ever made any commitment to him. Many spiritual people who serve in other religions may be drawn to the Christian story and interested in the idea that the energy, or power, or force that is inspiring them is called Christ and not mother earth, or the force. Still others struggle to see how any of those good thing that inspire them could be the spirit of Jesus because the picture of Jesus that they have seen is so distorted by the Christian people they have met.
Scripture seems to be in line with what I’m offering here. Samuel had no idea God was calling him and yet he was inspired to follow after his voice and learn it; “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” (1 Samuel 3:7).
But I think the most vivid picture is in Matthew 25:37-40. Notice who is asking the question, the RIGHTEOUS. These are people who had no idea they were doing anything for Christ, they had no awareness, yet they are righteous.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”
Imagine that. People doing the right thing. People doing the work of Christ. People doing work for Christ, and not even knowing it.
I think this calls people to review how fundamentalism has influenced their interpretation of things. If so, perhaps the aroma of Christ wouldn’t be such a stench to some people.