Do actions matter?

Do actions matter? As a matter of fact, they do. Actions ‘reveal’ who we are, because they are constitutive of our personality. They are the unique means by which any person appears in the world. Actions show us ‘in actu’ who the actor is, just as Scripture reveals to us the names of God just by looking at His deeds and actions. No person, ever, can dissociate himself from his own deeds, unless someone suffers from mental illness, or is forced to act against his own conscience.

Without a name attached, action has no meaning whatsoever, Hannah Arendt contends (The Human Condition, 1958). James McClendon, too—and this is the central outcome of his Systematic Theology—keeps human actions and personal identity closely together. Whosoever thinks as a Christian, acts as a Christian. Thinking truth implies doing truth. Accordingly, it strikes me when Christians give in to our all too human inclination in denying that we actually are what we do. If a person habitually steals, we should be not hesitant in describing him as a thief; if a person lies on a regular basis, we cannot be hesitant in addressing him as a liar, and so on.

However, there are Christians who are reluctant in taking full responsibility for their actions. In Christ they are beloved children of God, holy and perfect, and they emphasize that this is who they are, in spite of the fact that they still sin, and possibly keep on repeating the same sins. For example, in the Hour of Power we watch Christians commencing their Sunday morning service with the communal declaration that they are not what they do. This is what they say, these are the opening words: ‘I’m not what I do (…) I am the beloved of God. It’s who I am.’ Of course, I understand that every human being is more than the sum of his actions. We are more than our profession, we are more than what people see of us or think of us. However, our actions, regardless of which role we fulfil (e.g. friend, father, citizen, church member, professor), can never be denied. Every action we accomplish serves as a hermeneutical indication in unravelling the story of who we are. In heaven, when the saints enter the throne hall of God, they are revisited by their deeds. The apostle John says: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (…) that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!’ (Rev 14:13) Their identity is indissolubly connected to their actions on earth. Indeed, they are what they did. Their deeds unravel, yes disclose their story.

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