Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2007
Does your life really work? What about your faith – has learning about Jesus Christ made you a more practical and productive person? Is there a disconnect between your faith and your results? Or, has your faith made you more effective?
John Deal’s book, Decisions by the Book, states that the Bible is the ultimate source of wisdom for making all of our decisions in life. He contends that the Bible is not only a spiritual book but a practical book. There is really no disconnect between spirituality and practicality. The real believer should be effective and that effect will cause that world to glorify our Lord (see Matthew 5:16).
Our great challenge is to demonstrate to the world that faith in Jesus Christ works, and that will make telling the Gospel much easier. There are multitudes whose lives don’t work, and they are our mission field. But if our lives do not work, they, they will say, “Physician, heal yourself.” One reason that many Christians’ lives do not work is because they see their faith as simply a means to get to heaven, not a means to bring heaven to earth. Others see faith as a means to get what they want, not a means to become who the Lord wants them to be.
The message of the Bible is that transgressing the commands of God doesn’t work – it tears down what we have built up. We call that “sin.” Of course, the secular world has trouble using the word sin, but whatever name, violating creation principles is destructive and that is not practical.
The Ten Commandments could be summed up this way: love and honor God, family, and neighbor. The commands are not arbitrary impositions by a mean arbitrary Almighty; they are His counsel to us born out of His desire that our lives should work for us. He loves us–we are His children. But as children often do, often we have to discover for ourselves that His ways are better than ours; our ways lead to destruction. Ignoring or violating His instruction leads to failure. Though it may take awhile for that to be apparent, in the end it does reveal itself.
For example, take the socialist Soviet Union. It was founded on Marx’s theories of atheistic materialism. It was to some an exciting alternative to Christian faith. The Soviet’s violated God, family, and neighbor. Their philosophy grew rapidly, primarily by force, and also among academics who were Utopian idealists, and laborers who wanted more of the wealth. In the end, that philosophy had destroyed untold millions of lives. Was it practical? Absolutely not.
Winston Churchill said, “The problem with capitalism is unequal distribution of wealth. The problem with socialism is the equal distribution of misery.”
Misery not only comes to nations who choose a bad path but to individuals who do so as well. Adam lost paradise and let loose consequences upon all generations. We all know of pastors, executives, professionals, craftsmen or athletes whose violations of Divine counsel cost them dearly. Their choices were not practical. Unfortunately, we all make impractical choices.
When life doesn’t work, it is easy to become frustrated and angry. Proverbs tell us that anger is a wind that blows out the light of reason. We fly off the handle–then make a bad landing. We get angry at the results of a bad situation, which sometimes exists due to our own bad decisions. We violated some creation principle and didn’t like the consequence. We may even become bitter and angry at God.
Life regularly presents us with real challenges that require real answers in order to get real good results. We cannot afford to ignore these challenges. They only grow worse. When Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister of England in the 1930s, his government ignored Hitler who was gobbling up Eastern Europe. Churchill said of Baldwin that he was, “decided to be undecided and resolved to be irresolute.” Indecision only delays the inevitable.
The Bible brings truth to bear on our dysfunctionality. The truth can be painful because it calls for change. Harry Truman, President of the United States was nicknamed, “Give ’em Hell Harry.” He responded, “I didn’t give ’em hell. I only gave them the truth and they thought it was hell.” The truth is not our enemy; it is our best friend and hope. The truth offers to us and to the world amazing possibilities. The practical thing is to learn the truth and apply it to our lives.
Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Many of His contemporaries rejected Him and the truth; it cost them greatly. Following Jesus sets us free from illusions and our own ways that lead to destruction. Believing Him and what He did for us on the Cross sets us free from the guilt of former failure. Because He is eternal, believing Him gives us eternal life. Following Him put us in tune with creation law–the way things work. Because He is the Creator and Owner of our wealth, following His path makes us good productive stewards and allows us to enjoy abundance.
When we learn how to use resources, we become effective in causing them to grow. When we learn how to sow, we will reap. If we eat all our seed, we will fall into poverty and debt. This is “consumerism,” not stewardship, and it is impractical.
Jesus’ teaching prevents problems and His mercy helps us to solve existing ones. His love carries us through problems and His grace forgives the problems that we have created. When we hear and obey His Word, it brings:
It is wisdom and discretion for the na’ive, comfort for the afflicted, and strength for the weak (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). These possibilities are all practical; we ignore them at our peril.
Hebrews 13:7 reminds us to follow leaders based on their outcome–the result of their conduct. This principle is consistent with other Scriptures that tell us to promote proven leaders, not merely idealistic ones. Since following them will take us to where they are, we should look carefully at where they are. This is a practical way to choose leaders. It also applies to any theory.
Had nations practiced this principle they could have avoided following Marx, whose life was full of bitterness and rejection, or Hitler whose life was equally disturbed, or following Freud or Nietzsche. None of them was a pattern to follow.
The principle of outcomes goes much further–it goes to religion as well. What is the practical result of a particular faith? What is the practical, moral, and the economic affect of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, or Christianity? What is the practical result of a particular brand of Christianity? What is the practical result of your brand?
Paul Zane Pilzer said that bad theology is the greatest cause of poverty. I agree. The economic outcome of an idea is a real measure of its worth–not the only measure, but a significant one. If I told you, “Believe this and it will make you poor and therefore susceptible to disease and other problems,” you would certainly decline. On the other hand, if I said, “Believe this and you will be blessed with peace, joy, and you will prosper,” you would be interested. Your next question would be, ”Are you being blessed and prospering?” That is a fair question and the world will ask it of us.
False faith or faith in a false idea, whatever the idea is, will fail in the end. It will fail to make our life function properly; fail to build a righteous, peaceful, joyful, and prosperous culture and it will fail to glorify God. So before we follow an idea or theology we should examine it carefully.
Is it possible to believe good theology yet get a bad result? To many Christians and others, the word “believe” is a mere academic consent. It is “confessional faith” without obedience.
Example: I now have regular sessions with a physician who is a nutritionist. He tells me how my body works and how I can serve its needs with a proper diet. I believe him and tell him so. “I confess it.” I even “praise” him to others.
However, when I leave his office, if I go and eat improperly, I get a bad outcome. Or, I could become legalistic in attitude, imposing what I have learned on others, while excusing myself. Or, I could say, “I know my physician loves me anyway – unconditionally.” Maybe he does; but I would still get a bad outcome, not because he judged me, but because I did not apply my knowledge practically.
The word “doctrine” does not mean theology, it means practice. Doctrine is what we do, our way of life. Sound theology should produce sound doctrine. In Jesus’ life, we see that what He believed is what He did. That approach will determine our own outcome.
The Bible was written by many different people over many centuries. In most cases, it reveals the lives of the authors. The life of the central character, Jesus of Nazareth, is highly documented. The Bible is not one man’s philosophy or example; it covers most of human history, in collecting the inspired wisdom of generations. The same cannot be said of Marx’s Das Capital, or The Sayings of Mao, or Mohammad’s Koran.
Another reason that I base my own faith on the Bible is that it has produced outstanding cultures wherever it was practiced–in the Israel of old, around the Mediterranean, and in Europe. Those were not flawless cultures, since people themselves are not flawless. Even their failures have guided us to develop better lives for ourselves.
Having said that, I am deeply concerned about our current Western Culture. The Bible, once foundation for our laws, has come under serious attack from academia, media, and entertainment. Bible-based faith is portrayed as intolerant and bigoted. The truth is that a Bible-based culture gave us the freedom to choose and even criticize. Now, attacks on the biblical positions of faith and family are “chic.”
It is my confidence that practicality, not hostility, will win out. The Soviet Union imploded, not because we hated communism, but because our nation stood strong on its principles and tyrannical communism fell apart.
Impractical idealism or false theologies must be managed by tyranny. Tyranny controls what it cannot improve. What does not improve and develop practically will eventually implode–after it has cost many lives. Sadam Hussein got 99% of the “vote” in his last election. But when he was removed, the real condition emerged. Iraq was dysfunctional and had to be ruled by tyranny. Democracy does not work if the prevailing philosophy is erroneous.
True Bible-based faith deals with our real condition. When the population applies practical truth to life, tyranny and most laws become unnecessary. The result is healthy people creating a healthy culture. The economic outcome is apparent.
Our primary task is not to criticize other faiths; it is to live our own faith with strong commitment. We may be called upon to defend ourselves against those who hate us and our values. Indeed we will be. But unless we demonstrate the practical outworking of our faith in our vocations, families, neighborhoods and to the needy, ours will be a hollow defense. Neither self-righteousness, pride, or bitterness will be our salvation, but humility, faith, and obedience will be. In the end, results win.
Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:16; Proverbs 4:22; Isaiah 58:110; Psalm 119:105; Ephesians 6:14-17; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Hebrews 13:7
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.