Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2005
Several years ago, I shared a conference speaking platform with a Roman Catholic Cardinal. I remember a striking comment that he made: “The question is not faith or works, but a faith that works.” In the wake of hurricanes, fires, wars, and other trials, this issue is all the more relevant today.
The apostle Paul tells us what faith is; James tells us what faith does. Faith and works are not two separate issues; if they were, both would be invalid. Real faith is a faith that works. Paul and James would agree.
In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul makes it clear that while we are saved by grace, we are saved to do good works (see verses 4-10). Grace is a divine substance given to us; we are to share it with others.
The God of grace also works. He worked in creation, He worked through His people, and He worked through our Lord. There are many, many references to the work of Christ (see John 5:16-23). Jesus forgave, healed, delivered, fed thou- sands, and sometimes He labored all night (see Mark 1:29-39).
Jesus also said that those who believed in Him would do the works that He did and even greater works (see John 14:12). He also said that we, His followers, are the light of the world; as people behold our good works, they glorify the Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:16).
My friend Jim Newsom has observed that “light is seen and not heard.” It is not that the world hears us and glorifies the Father, but that they see our works. The implication is that our works are done in and before the world, and that is the key to evangelism.
THE POWER OF WORKS
General William Booth saw the poor of London and began to help them through what is now the Salvation Army. The credibility of their message was established by what they did. Even the secular society has embraced the Salvation Army with much respect; during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, they have been extremely active and effective here along the Gulf Coast.
David Wilkinson saw the gang problem in New York City and began to fast and pray; then he set out to reach them. His book The Cross and the Switchblade tells the amazing story about his step of faith and the wonderful results. Many thousands of people were affected.
Hebrews chapter 11 describes the acts of faith that subdued kingdoms. History is constructed on the actions of those whose faith moved them beyond talk to walk.
The book of James is written to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” These are Jewish Christians who had been dispersed by persecution (see Acts 8:1). James is giving instruction as to how they should live their lives in an often hostile world. He is describing how “light” operates in darkness.
Jesus had prayed that His disciples would be sent into the world (see John 17:19). It took persecution and martyr- dom to accomplish this. James himself was martyred not long after writing his book. The “scattering” sent believers out into the world where their character and actions were seen. In spite of the horrible persecution, they were effective and multitudes came to Christ. Their confessions of faith resulted in acts of faith.
James gives us many ways that faith works:
In wealth or poverty
In caring for others
In obtaining wisdom
In avoiding unnecessary conflict
In submitting to God
In facing the future
In waiting for Christ’s return
In healing the sick
In other words, faith is active in all of life. It brings victory wherev- er it is applied. One of his most telling comments is that faith unapplied is deception (see James 1:22).
Perhaps our greatest challenge is to move the Church from talk to walk. For many “believers” the Church is merely an audience gathered to be entertained. Too often the experience of worship fails to produce acts of worship. The repetition of an orthodox liturgy leaves the congregants in a hypnotic state. The deception is that some believe that confession is enough. But neither the Bible nor history validate that claim.
How can we change this mindset? This is the challenge. We are being reminded that the Holy Spirit empowers us to act. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to conform us to both the character and works of Christ. Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
Noah was called according to God’s purpose and he built an ark; Abraham likewise set out on a journey; Moses led Israel to Canaan; David killed a giant and extended the kingdom; Jesus was called to the Cross for our sins; and the apostles went out to deliver the Gospel. And on and on we could we could go, speaking of those whose faith moved them to action. Their actions made our lives and freedoms possible.
The answer to the question, “How we can change this mindset?” can only be found in the Word of God, which will not return void (see Isaiah 55:11). The Word is active and activating. God’s Word reminds us of those who heard, believed, and obeyed.
Preaching psychology and “smooth sayings” will not awaken the sleepers (see Isaiah 30:10). It will only deepen their slumber. We live in times of peril. My observation is that with all of the action of terrorists and secularists, western Christians still have not awakened. My experience in Europe and North America is that most believers are still inclined toward pulpits that comfort us in our lethar- gy. The pulpit must become a sharp stick, even if the recipients kick us in return (see Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8).
A friend once told me of a vision that he had: An officer was addressing his troops. “Men, we face a great battle today. We have a tough, well-trained enemy and some of you will die. But the cause is great and you see before you the best trained army in the world. You also have the very best equipment in the world. Now, it is time to fight; God bless you.”
As the officer concluded, the men smiled and congratulated their officer on a great speech. They begin pulling off their uniforms and putting on civilian clothes. “Glad you could be with us today,” the officer said as the troops began leaving. Does this scene sound familiar?
Our Captain requires more than our attendance and appreciation. He requires action on a personal level. The war is real and the stakes are high.
RUNNING THE SAME PLAY
I grew up in a small Southern community where football was the favored sport. We had a very respected coach and we won championships. The coach taught us many offensive plays and we practiced them over and over every day.
The games were played on Friday nights and the stands were full of cheering fans. Often we would run a play that failed to advance the ball. When that occurred, we would run a different play and keep trying until we found plays that worked.
The Church has not learned that lesson. We continue to run the same play with the same results. It is time to allow the Holy Spirit to call some new plays that will advance the Kingdom cause. And by the way, this is no game.
History has recorded some great revivals, such as the “Great Awakenings,” the Welch Revival, and the New Hebrides Revival. These revivals have been launching forces for renewal. The Charismatic revival served as motivation for many believers to move into ministry. We should continue to pray for further revival.
Because revivals have produced manifestations of the Holy Spirit, many believers find themselves looking for the next place where new manifestations of the Holy Spirit are occurring. When they occur, these people begin “flocking to the shrine.” Such an attitude produces fads that are short-lived. I have witnessed my share of this.
When I was a boy, I was traveling through a certain town with my father when he said, “Do you see this town?” Of course I did. “It is burned over,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I saw no burned houses. But he continued, “Years ago there was a revival here, but it continued until the people were emotionally burned out. Now you cannot motivate these people. They only remember the past.”
I have thought a lot about that and realized that there are a lot of places and people like that. More revivals may not be our answer. More obedience is.
I once lead a strategic meeting of leaders and we all agreed on a plan of action. As we closed, one man asked, “Could we pray that we will all do what we have agreed on?” I thought about this request. “No,” I responded, “it is time to do it, not pray about it. God has spoken to us and that is His part; now obeying is our part.” And it still is.
Scripture Reference: Ephesians 2:4-10; John 5:16-23; Mark 1:29-30; Matthew 5:16; Hebrews 11; Acts 8:1; John 17:19; James 1:22; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 55:11; Isaiah 30:10; Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8