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.

becoming Jesus’s disciple

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

If there’s one thing we need above anything else as Christians, I think it’s to learn to become followers of Christ. It is a false division, the idea that we can be Christians, yet not followers of Christ. That’s actually baked into Christendom, in which Christianity was more or less a part of your cultural heritage. You were Christian because you were born in a certain nation-state, infant baptism the sign of that. Or it was a part of your heritage to go to church every Sunday. It actually would be better if we would see ourselves less in individual terms, and more as individuals who are part of community in Christ. Too often in the United States, we see ourselves as individuals whom God is working on, with our personal devotions, etc.

Be that as it may, we’re faced with things as they are, not as we would like them to be. And besides, if we’re honest, we have our hands full with our own problems, beginning with the one we see in the mirror. So how do we really know what’s best?

Jesus’s invitation was to those of his day and for all generations to come. It is as someone put it, the idea of being yoked with an older experienced cow, and thereby not only beginning to learn the ropes, but being helped along. In fact Jesus calls his yoke easy, and his burden light. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t make this work. Only Jesus can do that.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Jesus first tells everyone who is weary and burdened to come to him for rest. That’s where we must start. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking we can launch right into the serious part. We must start at the beginning. We need to come to him for rest. Yes, with all our agitation, indeed restlessness, burden, worry, whatever it might be. We simply come to him. That’s where we begin in really being his disciple. In and through Jesus.

 

is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

who Jesus is determines who we are (in Jesus)

They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Revelation 14

If I just tune into some of the evangelical world today, I would think for sure that Jesus is a roaring lion, out to devour his prey. But in Revelation, over and over again, he’s called the Lamb, around 30 times. Once he’s called a lion, “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Read the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read Acts and the letters. You’ll find that Jesus indeed comes across as a lamb, meek and even lowly in his gentleness and humility.

An important desire for us as Christians is the longing to really know Jesus. The term Christian may have originally coined in derision, but we’re named after the one we name and follow. It’s a good prayer to pray, to ask the Lord to make himself known to us. And to remember too, that anyone who sees Jesus, sees the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

I think we need a total rethinking of who we are as Christians. And that must begin with who Christ is. Only as we begin to understand who Jesus is can we begin to understand who we’re meant to be, to become like, indeed, even who we actually are in him. Contradictory to what we’ve picked up from our culture, and sometimes, sadly enough too often in Christianity itself.

 

the failure of Christianity

In a certain sense, and indeed even in a primary sense, Christianity can’t be a failure because Christ is at the heart of it, by the Spirit. And yet as an institution, Christianity has failed again and again. As Christendom it failed in its unholy alliance to nation-states. Christianity continues to fail insofar as it gets away from God’s calling to it in scripture. Should the church speak out with reference to what is going on in the world? Yes, I think so. But above all we have to live out the mission Christ has called us to of making disciples of all nations.

A certain school of atheists nowadays make much of these kind of things, and indeed some of them are breathtakingly bad. Evil, yes evil is the right word. Of course not all those who name the name of Christ belong to him. And not all who are followers of the Lamb really follow him in all of life, or entirely in his way of  life. I don’t want to gloss over the failures of Christianity, which are many. Both inside and out. And yet something powerful is at work, even in spite of those failures, yes, even in spite of ourselves, not to excuse ourselves for a moment. We need to repent and change where that’s needed.

That something at work is God in Christ having reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, as God offers to the world through the church, this message of reconciliation. Jesus declaring that God’s kingdom is present in him, God’s grace in Jesus offered to all, as we await the coming of the kingdom in its fullness and completion when heaven and earth become one in Jesus. God powerfully present in Jesus by the Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus, heal the sick, cast out demons, prophesy, and even raise the dead.*

Above all, we are to be in the process of being conformed into the image of Christ as individuals and as a body, a community. There is only one answer to the world, to the plight of the world, to all the wars and fighting in the world. Only one real answer, period. It’s not western liberalism, not western liberal democracy, not a conservatism which points to the past, though there is good in all of these things. No, the answer for the world lies only in Christ, in God’s kingdom and grace come in him. The answer comes through the church, but that answer must always be well grounded in God’s revelation in Christ, and in nothing less than that. For Christ followers it must be the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection, the way of love, even to all of our enemies, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. As we look forward to the day when Jesus will come and bring in the justice in mercy which is to begin in and with us here and now.  Together in Jesus in this for the world.

*Of course God doesn’t always heal, though I agree with Jordan Seng that we should assume that God wants to heal as a default position. And demons are real, though we in the west have managed to hide them quite well. The gospel, God’s power for salvation, can drive them out, but sometimes we have to take the matter in hand with the bratty, stubborn spirits.** God does want to speak to us directly and through others in various ways. And to raise the dead. Well, that’s one I can’t at all wrap my imagination around, except to say that this has happened in cultures in which spiritual power is more prevalent in the sense of being more evident and open. Miracles are a part of scripture. The fruit of the Spirit, in a certain sense does indeed trump the gifts of the Spirit, but it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, but rather, and/both.

**I write that second hand from, I trust, a good source

being grounded in the faith (so that we are both in the world, but not of it)

Sometimes, in fact I think oftentimes we Christians are not sufficiently grounded in the faith, our faith, the faith that is in Jesus. I am not referring to Christendom and all we’ve inherited from that: much good and much not so good. Nor am I referring to our cultural brand of Christianity which is much more in the grip of the unholy alliance of state and church, the result of Christendom (I would say church and state, except when these are aligned, the state always takes precedence). Of course our reference point is Christ and his fulfillment of Israel’s calling from God for the world. By his coming, life, ministry, and then “finished” in his death out of which came his resurrection, then ascension, we experience his rule at the Father’s right hand through the continued pouring out of the Spirit on us his body the church, in the world. And Christendom or not, along with all our failures and shortcomings, which in a sense are inevitable, but in another sense, not, God’s work in Christ continues. God is faithful.

What I’m getting at infects us all; none of us are immune to this. However it helps if we begin to become aware of the problem, so that we can begin to take baby steps to correct it by God’s grace. This problem is manifest in a host of ways, not just the Christendom which I don’t believe is Christian in the thoroughly biblical, apostolic sense. The problem is that when we come to Christ, we experience heart conversion, but we tend to live in the same system with its values, as we did before. In a certain sense that is inevitable, but in another sense that is not to be. Yes, we’re in the world, while not of it. And yes, we want to be all things to all people in order that through all possible means, we might see some, even many saved. So we want to keep what from culture is good and can be used by God not only to bring people to faith, but as a vehicle or means of expressing our faith.

The problem is when we fail to take into our culture the faith God has entrusted to us in Jesus. An example of how this problem manifests itself came in the context of a discussion I had with a devout believer. The context of the discussion is important, so that I could be misunderstanding something of their intent, but when I questioned just why we Christians are to be ordering our lives according to the United States Constitution, as if that document has a final or even a primary voice in how we live, they asked incredulously what I live by. My answer to them at the time was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We well may have been talking past each other a bit. But I think this illustrates enough the problem I’m referring to. It is also manifested popularly in our attention to “precious promises” in scripture, taken out of context, or more charitably put, not considering the context sufficiently enough. For example we have promises that God wishes to bless us as his people in Jesus, but with an emphasis that God blesses us to be a blessing particularly to the poor, the outcast, the down and out.

Where to get started in correcting this problem? Of course I’m assuming a faith from the gospel, the good news of Jesus, that he is Lord, and all that flows out from that in his saving work. But both regularly praying and meditating on this text can help us become better grounded, and rooted in God’s covenant community in Jesus, the manifestation of God’s kingdom in fulfilling Israel and Israel’s calling, in a true sense the true restoration of Israel in and for the world today. And so let us pray with the words our Lord taught his disciples:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.