What does it look like to walk in the truth on a regular everyday basis? This is a dangerous question to ask and an even harder one to answer. Yet it is also a very important question that must be addressed. Another way of posing the question is this: how do we live out our faith? The danger in such questions is that, if left to their extremes, they could cause a devastating misunderstanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. On the one hand, oversimplifying the answer could lead to putting too much value on a set of rules, tasks, or activities, creating a rigid and legalistic faith that contradicts the message of the Gospels that we are saved through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8). On the other hand, ignoring the questions leads to a dead faith with little to nothing to show for the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross.
Clearing up the Confusion of Works vs. Faith.
The book of James leaves little doubt about the importance of taking action in regards to our faith. James 2:14 asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?” Just so that his readers are clear, James quickly answers his own question saying that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Yet, Paul tells us throughout Romans that the law only brings wrath and death (Romans 4:14, Romans 4:15, Romans 7:7-12, Romans 7:10, Romans 7:13). Paul also makes it clear that as Christ Followers we are no longer under the law. For example, he tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). In fact, Paul tells us that when we accepted Jesus, we died to the law and were born again so that we now belong, not to the law, but to Christ (Romans 7:4). However, there is more. In this same verse, Paul explains why we were “born again”. The purpose of this rebirth was so that we might ”bear fruit for God.”
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. – Romans 7:4.
It is true that as Christ Followers we are freed from the law. The “law” is the law of Moses which dictated every aspect of life for those who followed it. Its purpose was to show the failing of humankind and point to the fact that we could not save ourselves, paving the way for Christ Jesus to come and reveal God’s true purpose and grace.
“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” – Roman 5:20
The law was designed to highlight our failures so that we might be ready to receive God’s grace, but there is a distinct difference between the law and the “good works” which the Bible tells us to perform. The law points to ourselves and our own glory or piety. But, good deeds point to the grace of God by setting aside our own personal gain to serve those in need. The law is a personal accomplishment that we are unable to achieve, but good deeds are humble acts of kindness and love bestowed on others for the glory of God.
Our Heart vs. The Law
In Romans 7:4, Paul tells us that we have died to the law and that we must now bear the “Fruits of the Spirit.” So what does that look like when lived out? Fortunately, we are not left to guess what this means. Paul describes these fruits in his letter to the Galatians.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23.
This a beautiful verse because it once again distinguishes between the “law” versus how we are to live in Christ. Paul’s words are further backed up by Jesus Himself. When questioned by a teacher of the law about which commandments were the most important, Jesus answered saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) Paul further explains this by stating that “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9). Whereas the law gives us a set of rules to follow, Christ came to tell us that our life is not measured by rules but by our hearts. For if we love our neighbor, we would not harm them but instead would seek to help them.
Again, we see that being a follower of Christ does require action, but not for the sake of the law. Instead, it’s for the sake of our neighbor, to serve those around us and, in doing so, to point the way to the saving power of God’s grace through his son Christ Jesus. Faith in action is about our heart and with a pure heart set on the ways of God, we will thus desire to use the new life that God gave us to serve Him by serving His people. Instead of justifying ourselves through the wisdom of man and their interpretation of the law, we should instead follow wisdom, the truth that comes from heaven
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17
Faith in Action Today
So, how do we play this out in our daily lives? Once again, James chimes in with his warning that we must “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22). The words of Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors. What is love?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The Bible is full of examples of what this looks like played out. From Christ Followers standing for the truth in the public forum and against the leaders of the day (Acts 5:17-41 and Acts 7, for a couple of examples), to caring for orphans, widows, and the poor (Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalm 146:9, Matthew 6:1-4, Matthew 25:35, Luke 14:13, Acts 24:17, 1 Timothy 5:3, James 1:27, and more), to sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15, Acts 2:38, 2 Corinthians 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:5, 1 Peter 3:15, and a lot more).
Ultimately, the Bible is clear that it is through faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), but it is through our actions that we set ourselves apart. As James reminds us, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder”. (James 2:18-19). As Christ Followers, we are called to three distinct and equally important duties. These are not tasks or rituals that must be done and recited but are personal missions that we must accomplish through a heart of love and dedication and commitment to our faith in Christ. These missions will play out differently in each of our lives but are summarized as follows: Stand up for the truth in the public forum (Culture), care for and protect the orphans, widows, and poor (Charity), and spread the good news of the Gospel of Christ so that all might be saved through His life, death, and resurrection (Evangelism).
The truth is that we have been given a mandate by God Himself. He has clearly laid out our mission in life and it is not simply a matter of believing. We are called to act in our belief and our inaction has dire consequences for both our society and our salvation.
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 sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
How do we know that we are walking in the light? Light spreads in the darkness. Are we spreading light or hiding in the darkness? If we choose to spread the light, then we are with the light. In order to spread the light, we must engage in society, provide charity, and spread the Gospel through evangelism. Our faith is defined by a personal relationship with Christ, but if we truly believe, silence and apathy is not our mandate. We are called to so much more. The choice, however, is a personal one. Do you have a heart of love ready to stand for, sacrifice for, and proclaim the truth? If so, what are you willing to do about it?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. -1 John 3:7-8
Love takes action. Do you have love?
In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. -1 John 5:3-4