I recently heard someone contrast the Roman way of faith with the Celtic way of faith. The Roman way, said my friend, follows this progression: behave > believe > belong. People coming into the community of faith first have to clean up their act. They need to follow the rules and not offend the faithful. Then they can then listen to the gospel message about Jesus, and place their trust in him. Once they have accepted the tenets of the faith, they can finally belong.
The Celtic model, according to my friend, follows this progression: belong > believe > behave. With this understanding, people are welcomed into the community of faith, even before they believe. We model the acceptance of Jesus and let them experience God’s love. After all, God demonstrated his own love for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Having friendships helps people open up to hear the truth about Jesus. They can learn about his love in the Bible and see his love in practice among his people. The love opens people’s hearts so that they can trust and believe. Once they have placed their trust in Jesus, he helps them know how to behave. The Spirit living within helps every believer live rightly.
The truth is that we can have good outward behavior – at least for a while – without being changed on the inside. I think that such people are among the most miserable in the world. Eventually this façade of goodness cracks, and the resentment of forced conformity comes pouring out.
Jesus welcomed people before they behaved. When they saw that he really cared about them, they listened to him. Once they came to believe in Jesus, they wanted to do what was right.
Jesus changes us from the inside out. That’s the good news!