Always ‘Be’ Before You ‘Do’

A few months back, I purchased a pair of shoes. Printed on the side of the shoebox was the company’s slogan: Go. Do. Be.

Do you see anything wrong with this advice? I hardly gave it a thought at the time. But now I’m giving it a lot of thought, because this kind of advice destroys lives.

Now, to be fair, the shoe company’s slogan is only a pithy restatement of something we’re all spring-loaded to believe already. “Go. Do. Be.” is a core belief about what makes us who we are. It’s part of the code in the operating system of every person’s fallen human nature. But this belief is a virus — an alien code infecting everyone, including Christians — and is the cause of many of our greatest “crashes” of misery.

“Go. Do. Be.” is “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). We must examine ourselves carefully and honestly. For the degree this ethic-virus wields influence over us is the degree to which we don’t experience the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), fail to live in Christian love toward others (John 13:34–35), and neglect the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20).

To Be or Not to Be?

I didn’t notice the virus embedded in the slogan, or how much it still infects me, despite my gospel-celebrating theology, until I recently listened to a very helpful message by Ken Fish, where he describes this deadly virus with even greater clarity.

Ken emphasizes that, until the gospel really gets a hold of us, we seek our identity — who we are — through this progression of ethical reasoning: if we do ___, we will have ___, and then become ___. And how we fill in those blanks, where we believe our identity comes from, governs how we live.

This is powerfully clarifying. Think about it for a moment. Are any of your familiar, recurring anxieties and fears rooted in the belief that if you don’t do ___, you’ll never have ___, and therefore never become ___? How much of your time and energy expenditures, your financial issues, your social-media activity, your battles with envy, your relational conflicts, maybe even your ministry labors are being fueled by such “to be or not to be” fears or desires?

Ancient Hack

The “Do. Have. Be.” virus has been around a long time. The infection happened in Eden when the serpent successfully hacked our operating systems as he tempted our first forebears (Genesis 3:4–5): if you eat the fruit (do), then you will acquire God’s wisdom (have), and become like God (be).

Do you see what happened? Satan pursued our ancestors’ (and our) destruction by offering them (and us) a false gospel of an impossible identity, and selling it as the path to true happiness, rather than the path of complete childlike, soul-resting trust — the path of righteousness on which their Great Shepherd-God was leading them (and us) (Psalm 23:3).

Eve (and Adam), don’t be content with just being like God as image-bearers when you can be like God by becoming gods yourselves. God’s holding out on you guys. If you stop trusting God and start trusting yourselves, you won’t need to be an eternal recipient of divine wisdom welfare. You don’t always need to be dependent on God to tell you what to do and not do. You can decide for yourselves!

If you do this thing, you will have something better, and it will make you become something awesome.

But this turned out to be horrible, truly diabolical advice. It was a false gospel to believe, a “Do. Have. Be.” ethic-virus corrupting our operating systems, turning our lives into a chase of an identity-carrot on a stick we can never reach — a search for a holy identity-grail we can never find. This has been the history of fallen humanity ever since: a destructive, despairing rat race to hell.

Gospel Reinstallation

Until God the Son, the Gospel Made Flesh before us, stepped into the world to destroy this false gospel — this virus-work of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Jesus came to deliver us from this hellish, enslaving, futile rat race by declaring to us the true gospel and doing everything necessary so that we might be born again (John 3:3). Being born again means receiving a new nature, a new operating system that restores our three-word identity ethic-code from the satanic “Do. Have. Be.” virus, back to the Manufacturer’s original ethic-code “Be. Do. Have.

“Be. Do. Have.” is a simple description of a profound, revolutionary gospel transformation in us. Instead of seeking our identity through doing-having, our progression of ethical reasoning becomes: we are ___, therefore we do ___, resulting in our having ___. And how we fill in those blanks, where we believe our identity comes from, governs how we live.

Living out of the “be” instead of the “do” makes all the difference in the world. Instead of chasing our identity by trying so hard to “do,” we receive our true identity (be) as a free gift of grace from our loving Creator God (Ephesians 2:8; 1:4–5). We are free to follow our Good Shepherd along the righteous paths of good works (do) he prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). And we trust him to supply (have) everything we need (Philippians 4:19), knowing we will never again want for any good, necessary thing on earth and someday dwell with God forever, completely free from the effects of our old, virus-infected operating system (Psalm 23:1–3, 6).

Living with Dual Systems

But for now, we Christians live with dual operating systems: what the Bible calls the “old self” and the “new self.”

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9–10)

It’s clear in this text, and many others in Scripture, that the old, infected operating system still wields influence over us if we allow it. If we are not careful, or we’re not honest, the ancient virus will deceive us and enslave us. We will stop living in the freedom Jesus purchased and provided us and live again in slavery to our old self.

This results in the death of our love for others, for we become too preoccupied with seeking our “being” in our “doing” to want to serve others (Galatians 5:13). The cascading effect is that we also neglect the kingdom work in general, leaving some part of Christ’s commission unfulfilled (Matthew 28:19–20).

Always ‘Be’ First

Is it any wonder Satan works so hard to get us to live according to the old operating system? If he can convince us to believe the “Do. Have. Be.” lie, we no longer threaten his kingdom, since we’re too busy building our own. If he can get entire churches and wider Christian cultures to live by this lie, he significantly slows the spread of Jesus’s kingdom.

How do we know how much the old virus is affecting us?

  • We examine the anxieties and fears governing how we live — why we are so afraid (Matthew 8:26; 10:28).
  • We examine how much we serve money — why we are pursuing our educations, our careers, and our lifestyles (Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:15). As Ken Fish says, “‘Do. Have. Be.’ is . . . embodied in the middle-class lifestyle.”
  • We examine the root of our busyness — whether we are really seeking the kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
  • We examine our use of social media — how we are trying to get our “being” through the “doing” of seeking others’ approval. As we browse, do we find ourselves coveting others’ worldly identities?
  • We examine our engagement in Jesus’s mission — how much we’re trying to help free others from their satanic enslavement to the false gospel. Are we ashamed of Jesus because publicly identifying with him and his gospel will harm the “being” we’re “doing” so much to obtain (Luke 9:26; Romans 1:16)?

These are just a few suggestions, but they are helping me see my virus-infection more clearly.

Jesus came with the true gospel and the gift of the new birth to set us free (John 8:32). We must not allow the old, corrupt virus to dictate our lives. We must refuse to “submit again to a yoke of slavery,” by living out of the old “Do. Have. Be.” ethic (Galatians 5:1). “For freedom Christ has set us free,” so let us “stand firm” by living out of the liberating gospel ethic of “Be. Do. Have.” (Galatians 5:1).

When it comes to the source of our identity, discerning and then choosing which operating system governs how we live, we must always “be” first.