I had plans as to what I wanted to do this past week, but things didn’t work out like I wanted. Surely, you can relate.
Trouble is, when my plans started going down the drain, I began to get frustrated, irritated, and grumpy. It expressed itself in my demeanor and tone of voice. Can you still relate?
I had to remind myself that it’s not about me. I had to force myself to follow the Spirit’s leading despite what my human nature wanted to do.
Real faith expresses itself in changed behavior. It’s not just something we think, feel, or say.
In 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, 71% of Americans said they were Christian. In a 2015 US Gallup poll, 75% of the people identified with a Christian religion (down from 80% in 2008), 5% with a non-Christian religion, and 20% no religion.
In other words, there are lots of people who give themselves the Christian label. It’s easy to label others, too. Whenever we hear someone on TV say, “Thank God!” or “I just want to thank the good Lord…” we automatically think, “They must be a believer.” The problem is, though, people often say things they don’t really mean or believe. Whether it’s for the approval of others, to not hurt someone’s feelings, to not rock the boat, or because it’s the easy way out, I’m not sure.
Faith is more than just saying, “I believe in God.”
Faith is more than bargaining with God or making rash promises in order to get something you want.
Faith is more than just calling on the Lord when you’re in trouble.
In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
Lots of people use Christian words and phrases to make themselves sound more religious. They say things like “Praise God!” and “Amen, brother!” and “God bless!” Do you remember the phase some years back, where bracelets and t-shirts and other things were emblazoned with the acronym WWJD, (which stood for “What Would Jesus Do?”) and how often Christians would quote that one?
I don’t think any of those sayings are wrong, in and of themselves, but I do think that people sometimes use them to sound Christian, almost like a smoke screen to fool people into thinking there’s more there than there really is.
True faith is more than mere words. Talk is cheap.
Anyone can sound like a believer, but it needs to be evident in our lives. James sums it up in Chapter 2:19, “You say you have faith, for you believe there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
Can you recall listening to a gifted speaker or reading a touching piece of writing can probably where you were moved, stirred up inside, perhaps even brought to tears, by what was said? That happens in church as well as in secular situations.
The first time I was exposed to the church was when I came to the States. After a few months of attending weekly services with the family I nannied for, the church had a revival. One evening I was moved by the sermons, went down the front, professed my faith, and ended up getting baptized.
Trouble is, I didn’t fully believe. I still thought the Bible was just a book written by a bunch of men, rather than God inspiring people to write His words. I wasn’t fully convinced that Jesus was the Son of God or that He took on my sins and died in my place so that I could spend eternity in heaven instead of going to hell. I wasn’t even sure there really was a heaven and hell. It didn’t all make sense to me yet. Such was the agnostic/atheistic influence growing up.
Although I admired how the others I hung around with from church had such good behavior and yet still seemed to be enjoying life, I knew I could never be that good. In other words, I was not transformed by my profession of faith and my behavior didn’t change as it should have.
In Romans 8:8-9, it says, “⁸That’s why those who are still under control of their sinful nature can never please God. ⁹But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)”
I did not belong to Christ at that point. I had not surrendered my life to Him. I had no clue about the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing in my life changed. I still behaved just the same as the week before.
Don’t confuse feelings with faith.
I was swayed by the emotion of the moment but not by the evidence. Although emotion may accompany the decision to believe, the feelings are not evidence of faith.
Faith doesn’t automatically come from having all the evidence either. Just because you’re a religious scholar, a bible teacher or preacher, or a theologian with a doctorate, doesn’t mean you’ll be given eternal life in heaven. Jesus is the only way to eternal life. He tells us that in John 5:39-40: “³⁹You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! ⁴ºYet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”
Head knowledge is a far cry from real faith.
Some people treat faith as a philosophical topic, something to sit around and discuss, debate about, argue over. Many people have strong opinions about God, the Bible, Jesus, and church rules, regulations, practices, and traditions. People take polarizing positions regarding certain doctrines or creeds, acceptable music styles, particular rituals or order to the service, and specific symbols. Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus say, “I’ve come that they might have religion.” Legalistic religion won’t save you either.
From age 17-20 I lived in a four-bedroom house with three others — flatting, as we call it in New Zealand. All the others were professing Catholics. I had never met any Catholics before that and knew nothing about the religion at that point. The interesting part was that their behavior wasn’t any different from mine or anyone else we hung around with. The only difference was they would confess their sins to a priest every now and then. At the time I thought that was a strange religion.
Now I know not all Catholics are that way, by any means — Caralyn from https://beautybeyondbones.com professes to be Catholic, and she is a wonderful, faith-filled, Spirit-led example of a committed Christian.
After we invite Jesus into our lives, he changes us on the inside and it shows on the outside, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”
Faith is a commitment. Faith is a decision that changes your lifestyle.
That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy or the path will always be clear.
Remember where it said in Matthew 7:14 that “the road is difficult”? The difficult part is surrendering our will to Jesus and submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit instead of trying to control our own life and forcing our will over God’s. It has to be a daily, often moment by moment, purposeful, dying to self.
Human beings are naturally strong-willed and selfish. We want what we want when we want it. In Romans 7:19, the Apostle Paul documented this struggle with his sinful nature: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t do it. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” But don’t think God can be fooled. He knows what’s in our hearts. John 2:25 says this about Jesus: “No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.”
I think that struggle with our sinful nature is where a lot of us fail because it’s easier to let that side win the battle for control. That was my struggle over the last few days but it’s funny how God works things. I don’t think He wanted me to write something without being reminded of what it was like to live it, without putting into practice what I was preaching, so to speak.
I was wanting time to write so I could get this piece finished and sent out on time, and work more on my novel outline, but it didn’t happen and I fell behind schedule. At the same time, though, I was being nudged by the Spirit for being selfish and hypocritical, especially since it was this post I was working on. I still believe God called me to write and wants me to write and will help me succeed in my writing, but I also think that God wants us to be flexible and obedient, open to His leading.
So I had to ask for forgiveness and yield to His plan.
You see, James 2:14 asks a valid question: “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”
Pretty much all day Thursday was taken up with a doctor’s appointment before the grandkids came over that evening and stayed the night. I got to spend a little quality time with my husband Friday night, after I helped out during the day with an estate sale for a sweet elderly couple who are downsizing to an apartment. While keeping an eye on the steady stream of customers there, I got a text about a church workday the following day.
I found myself disappointed and a bit annoyed.
I didn’t really want to spend my Saturday working up at the church but, except for needing that time to write, I didn’t have a valid reason not to help out. I wrestled with the decision to go and help, or not go, and it wasn’t until Saturday mid-morning that I decided to give up my will, my desire to not go, for what God’s Word said was the right thing to do.
I thought, “I’ll just stay for a couple of hours and I’ll still have some time to write.” It ended up taking three hours longer than I had planned and then the grandkids came over and stayed until the following night. Don’t get me wrong, I love having the grandkids over, but they require full time attention and it’s hard to get anything else done. Sunday morning was my rotation to help out in the nursery. And, before I knew it, the weekend was gone.
James 2:17,18 says: ¹⁷“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. ¹⁸Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’”
I didn’t want to be hypocritical and write about faith in action if I wasn’t going to put into practice what I was writing. Not that any of you, my readers, would know, but God would, and I would, and that’s what convinced me. “So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (James 2:24 NLT)
This was a busy week for me, volunteer-wise, but I’m not saying any of this to toot my own horn. I don’t do nearly as much as some other people though, but I’ve learned not to compare myself to others. I only do what I feel led to do. And sometimes my human nature fights even that! 😉
It says in Galatians 6:9-10: “⁹So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. ¹ºTherefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith,” but I think we have to be careful not to go to the other extreme, too.
People get caught up in the busyness of church work, making that more important than their relationship with Jesus, which is not the way it should be either. We shouldn’t do “good works” to impress anyone, to prove how spiritual we are, or to earn God’s favor. None of that does any good and it won’t get us into heaven either.
A relationship with Jesus is the only way to be saved.
John 14:6 says, “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’”
If it’s genuine, that relationship with Jesus will be evident in your life and your life will bring glory to God as you let him transform your behavior. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Thank goodness that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect! After all, we’re all still human. Although the positive change often seems painfully slow, we are, like my writing, continually improving works-in-progress. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13, NLT) “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)