This essay contains spoilers to the movie. Though this movie is well over seven years old, we would still hate to be “those guys” and ruin it for you before watching it. That said, you have been warned!
One of the most fascinating lines in Batman Begins is when Bruce Wayne comes out of the hotel drenched from swimming in a hotel lobby decorative pool with a couple of models. He passes Rachel Dawes, his childhood friend he hasn’t seen in seven years, who is incredulous at the sight of her old friend’s surprise return and new-found behavior. Though Bruce is merely following his advice from Alfred, which is to pretend to be a playboy billionaire in order to cover up his secret identity as Batman, it is still not without its consequences.
Bruce tries to convince Rachel that what she sees is not the real him, that in fact, there is more to him inside. Rachel then says that powerful line, “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Punch to the gut, especially since Bruce’s façade is merely to allow him to do good more efficiently. I thought it would be good to discuss the validity of this statement as a Christian.
First of all we should discuss if this is true. “It’s not what you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” One thing that is refreshing about this comment is the attention given to inaction so common among men today. Like Bruce Wayne, men try to justify their actions, or lack thereof, by saying that their actions are not indicative of who they really are underneath. This reminds me of the famous quote by Abigail Adams, the wife of the American Revolution hero and the second president of the United States, John Adams. She writes, “We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.” This brings to mind the words of James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14)
But the problem with this comment from Rachel Dawes is that it might assume that one’s identity comes solely from the actions of a person. According to Rachel what’s underneath does not necessarily have to correspond with external action. The external action gives definition. This false dichotomy could lead one to believe that mere good actions can make one good.
Martin Luther said that we are not bad people because we do bad things. We do bad things because we are bad people. Scripture agrees: “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) Jesus calls out the Pharisees saying, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outward appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
What’s underneath matters. Christ died for the whole man, within and without. In fact, in order to have truly good works the inside must be redeemed. Once Christ has liberated us from the bondage of sin we are then truly free to serve God. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) This comes after God has “made us alive together in Christ.” (Ephesians 2:5)
So, what does this mean for us? If we are truly followers of Christ, then out actions will correspond with what’s underneath. This is where the quote is most applicable. We cannot just claim to be Christians and not live out what God has called us to be. We must act and our actions must reflect Christ. This does not mean we are perfect, but we strive with the power of the Holy Spirit to be more and more like Christ.
Interestingly, enough, at the end of the movie Bruce Wayne as Batman saves Rachel for the eighteenth time without her knowing his true identity. When she asks him, his reply is, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Batman proves by his actions what is underneath. We as believers must live out what God has redeemed us to be.