actions are more important than words

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:24

In our Christian culture there seems to be nothing more important than expressed belief, profession of faith, or acknowledgement that at one time or another a person accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. All that is well and good in its place, but if I’m hearing James and his words here correctly, it’s not enough.

A person is justified, declared righteous, made right, considered righteous- whatever the precise meaning, James teaches us, not by a faith which is alone, but a faith which acts.

The gospel is indeed the message by which saving faith is awakened, better- created. And that is a faith apart from works. We believe in Christ, in Christ’s work for us, in the victory of God in him. But that faith inevitably results in good works.

Only God is the judge, but it seems to me that those who act well without understanding the gospel are better off than those who have some understanding of the faith, but whose actions are not in line. Of course none of us are perfectly in line with the truth of the gospel. That will only occur by God’s grace when Christ returns. And there are those who are saved, yet as escaping through the flames, their works not found to be works which come from this faith. We’re getting into a gray, even rather dark area in which we can’t see well, and even if we could, probably is still well beyond our ability to discern. Somehow though, as we read elsewhere, someday God will give us the ability to judge angels.

But back to the point the pastor James is trying to get through to his readers, to us: faith is not really the faith which justifies if no works follow. It is an empty profession, which sadly enough seems to have been all too common in Christendom and even in our churches today. Though again, we all need mercy. God is the judge, one who is full of mercy as well. In and through Jesus.

secondary matters

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

Jesus’s words here remind me of my own life and even the life of the church if I were to cite concerns. We easily get caught up in secondary matters, things necessary in their place which need to be attended to. And we often are focused on issues which distract us from what’s most important.

Our theological concerns can be far too narrow, and that becomes evident in what we are thinking about and what we do as a result. Is our view becoming more and more expansive like God’s? Or are we concerned about only the things which most directly affect ourselves both for this life and the next?

Jesus makes it clear that justice, mercy and faithfulness are to take priority over other matters. A key tactic of the devil, or so it seems to me is to get us sidetracked into obsessions which seem so important, but cause us to lose out over what is of first importance.

We need to take care of what we might call nuisance questions and problems. And in this life we’re beset by them, no doubt. But we must not let what is of primary importance be crowded out. Loving others, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving even our enemies, certainly not neglecting those near and dear to us, all of this in our love for God must take priority. As we seek to follow Jesus in everything. In and through Jesus.

keeping close accounts

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

It is so important to keep a close account in our walk with God in Christ before others. There is no doubt that we sin along the way in thoughts and attitudes, sometimes in words and actions. Hopefully as we go along and grow the latter will become less and less, that God would grant us more and more the wisdom to avoid such. But at times we will. And definitely we will fall into less than godly, loving thoughts and attitudes.

We need sensitivity before God, before the light of God to recognize our darkness, what is wrong. Then we need to confess such to God and if need be to anyone we’ve offended.

Thankfully God has made provision for us and for the world in Christ. Our sins are taken care of in Christ, through his atoning work. Again, all we have to do is acknowledge them along the way. Even as seek not to sin, just as John tells us in the passage above. In and through Jesus.

Augustine: Love, and do what you will.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5

The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.

1 Timothy 1:5; MSG

Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good. …

Augustine

Augustine’s quote is taken to mean that one can do whatever they feel like and want to do if they love God. But that’s not precisely what Augustine meant, and can open us up to misunderstanding. His point in the context of his sermon was that whatever we do is to be done out of love. Love for God and love for neighbor flowing together. As revealed in Christ in his fulfillment of God’s will. And then everything we do if done in that way will be good.

I think a good way to assess our actions and thoughts, indeed the fruit of our lives is to ask ourselves whether love for God and for our neighbor is our motivation and animating impulse, what moves us. If so, then we’re living in God’s grace as God intends for us in Christ. If not, then we’re living in something else, foreign to that grace. Sometimes we may simply be struggling to accept God’s love and then live in that love at all. God understands those times. We should still try to love, even when the sense of it is far removed from us. But make no mistake, the God who is love as John points out elsewhere and Paul as well, wants us to live in love, in everything we think, do and say. In and through Jesus. 

cheerfulness, regardless

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; MSG

I am finding Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible interesting and helpful, even illuminating, though I still don’t really get well the instructions in regard to the tabernacle and priestly things, etc., in the Old/First Testament. But I get a new sense even of those things.

I found particularly helpful lately the rendering above that we’re to be cheerful no matter what. I never really connected well with the idea of rejoice always, since I’m not really a celebratory, high five kind of person. I would rather sit huddled with a book, listening to classical music, then be at a modern day praise and worship service, though admittedly in the past, I have enjoyed some of that. But rejoicing just isn’t much in either my vocabulary, or makeup. 

But cheerfulness, or at least refusing to be dour and down in the mouth about something, now that makes plenty of sense to me. When Paul tells us to be cheerful no matter what, okay, I can take that home, even if such an idea seems far fetched, just not what I do in every circumstance. 

I take cheerfulness as both an attitude and action here. It is an expression of faith, and part of how we’re to live. I like too the way The Message renders that thought, because that probably gets closer to what Paul actually means than the way I took it in the past: More or less something we’re almost swept up into in our life in Christ Jesus. Instead this brings out the necessary thought that it’s up to us to do it. We have to do it, although yes, the Spirit will help us.

So we don’t live as those left to ourselves with our normal often unhealthy, unhelpful reactions to all the difficulties and problems which come our way. Instead we want to take the way God has for us. To be cheerful no matter what, pray all the time, and thank God no matter what happens. Yes, something we do. Of course in response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. 

 

we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.