I have a friend, we'll call him Joe, who has had kind of a rough history with his family. A few years back, Joe said some hard things about the spouse of one of his sisters, mostly because of the way the guy was treating the rest of the family, and there's been a rift in the family ever since. Joe's sister barely speaks to him now. And Joe's sister's husband is usually as mean and cruel to Joe as he can possibly be.
A while back, Joe had a major verbal argument with his sister and her husband, stemming from all the water under the bridge. He came to see me that evening, and we talked about how to handle the situation. Joe was understandably angry. He was furious. But it was clear to me (the objective outsider... ah yes, how easy it is to see things when you're not right in the middle of it) that the anger had already begun to turn to bitterness. I let Joe vent for a couple of minutes, and then I simply said. "Joe, I think this is an opportunity for you. I think you need to pray that God would give you love for your sister and brother-in-law again."
Cue the chirping crickets. It was dead silent for at least 10 seconds. And then Joe protested. And I just said, "Joe, the anger and bitterness has the power to destroy your soul, if you let it. You've got to surrender that to God, and let him transform you. This is the opportunity to see God at work in your heart and your life, to remake you to be more like Jesus."
I left that evening not knowing whether Joe would follow through. Two paths were clearly in front of him. One to death and destruction--of relationships, of the ability to love and find joy, of many things. The other was the path toward life and wholeness and healing.
It's been a long year. But when I talk to Joe now about his sister & her husband, he's different. He has a softness and a gentleness toward them. He sees a little more where they're coming from and can look past some of their offenses against him and the rest of his family. He clearly took the path toward life, and now he's reaping the benefit of peace in his soul.
This is just an amazing story to me. It's the gospel--the story of how God transforms people from the inside out. We can make ourselves conform to spiritual expectations on the outside. We can do all the right things, and say all the right things. But transformation of who we are on the inside and what we naturally want to do--to lash out in anger or frustration or hatred--that's only changed by the power of the Spirit living inside of us. And that change only happens when we surrender.
Transformation to being a people of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control--that is the fruit of a surrendered, spirit-filled life. The surrender part is difficult. It's scary. It's counter-intuitive.
But the fruit is something you can live with, that you can live in, that gives you rest.
So Joe, if you want to know how to know that you're a follower of Christ, this is your answer. It's clear that you are. Not because of everything you're doing on the outside. But because you've given God permission to transform you from the inside out. It's such a privilege to be your friend and to be able to walk beside you on this journey.