These are the words spoken to Bruce Wayne by his childhood best friend and idealist love interest Rachel Dawes, who is trying to get Bruce to see a vital aspect of character and life—one way or another we are defined by our deeds.
You can feel compassion toward those who are suffering at the hands of injustice. You can imagine ways to help them, and you can even believe that those things are wrong and must be righted. But unless you do something about it, it doesn’t really matter.
It was Bruce, after all, who reassured Rachel he was “more inside than all of this,” referring to his ongoing charade as a rich billionaire playboy. We may like to continue to believe better things about ourselves than what everyone sees of us, but in the end our actions define us to the world. You can’t pretend to be something “inside” that doesn’t also show up “outside.”
That was Jesus’ point about fruit trees as symbols of human persons: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). Your deeds define who you really are inside, your nature, your essence. It’s not as if a person can think of himself as good while all the world knows of him is rotten obscenity.
Of course we see this all the time in our daily lives (we may even be the embodiment of it). The man who cheats people and cuts corners and commits adultery but insists all the while that he’s really a good fellow inside. The religious person who says inwardly they despise abortion but publicly and politically must support it. These are the kind of people we call hypocrites (guilty as charged). But even in their hypocrisy notice this—they are still known by what they did and not by how they thought of themselves.
Rachel’s comment caused Bruce to act on what he thought he was internally. So he stood up to the organized crime bosses, risked his life to protect the City of Gotham, and displayed his righteous opposition to injustice through his self-sacrificial deeds.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to consider: is the image I have of myself a reality manifested in my actions? Can people see who I think I really am in visible forms? Are my most prized ideals displayed in my everyday actions (I say I’m a sacrificial husband, but how do I respond when asked to change a diaper or take the trash to the curb)?
The question is, What story will your life and actions tell to the watching world? This is, by the way, one of the most glorious things in all creation about my friend Davin—he will forever be remembered for what he did, for the consistency of faith and action in his life. He conquered through Christ, he counted the cost and followed Jesus, he let go of his life for the joy set before him. He lived what he believed.
In Revelation we’re told that Jesus’ work of redemption through the cross resounds to the praise of his glory on into eternity; we’ll never stop singing about what he did. And imagine this about Davin as well: he’ll be known by his Lord as the loyal servant who obeyed his King even unto death. He will be remembered this way before the throne forever. Maximus was right when he said, “What we do in life echoes in eternity” (Gladiator).
You can think of yourself as one thing all you like, but that really doesn’t matter. It’s what you do that defines you.