We focus a lot on our “who” and not our “do,” and for good reason. A lost person can “do” good things. God looks at our heart and our motives behind what we do. Just ask the Pharisees. They were really good at doing all the right things through outward obedience to the Law, but Jesus rebuked them because they lacked the love for God and others that the commands called for.
Jesus summed up the Law with two commands:
“Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'”Matthew 22:37-40, NIV 84
But if we truly consider what these verses mean, we will understand that we are to love God with all we are and then treat others the way we want to be treated. Following these two commands requires a heart that is surrendered to God and willing to obey the leading of His Spirit.
God is concerned with both our who and our do.
The same Jesus who said, “‘Be careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” before men, to be seen by them'” (Matthew 6:1) also said,
“‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.'”Matthew 5:14-16
Many young people raised in the church are turning away from the faith. One major reason they cite is that the world often looks more loving than the church. Granted, when we stand on the truth of God’s Word, we may come across as unloving, simply because we don’t conform to the world’s idea of love.
To the world, loving others means that we not only don’t offend them, but that we accept and approve of all beliefs and lifestyles, even if they are contrary to God’s Word. So, to an unbeliever, the church may at times seem less loving than the world.
But can we all admit for a second, that sometimes it’s because we don’t behave as we should?
You and I both know it’s true.
When we don’t take seriously God’s commands in Scripture, we are just as guilty as the religious leaders of the New Testament. We do all the outward religious things, but we do them to keep up appearances, not really from a heart of love and obedience to God.
We have focused on knowing our identity in Christ (our who) in music, books, movies, and blogs, which is great. But our identity should then spur us on to obedience to Christ (our do), even when it hurts, even when it’s not convenient, even when it’s not what we would choose.
We are obsessed with self, and that’s a hard habit to break. But God calls us to a higher standard. There are many commands in the New Testament that we can focus on this year–commands to know, follow, believe, repent, love, give, listen, abide, pray, fast, shine. I could go on and on.
So, while our faith and intention are the heart of the matter, our actions should go hand-in-hand. No, we aren’t saved by our works, but they should be the overflow of a heart that loves God.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”Ephesians 2:8-10
We hear the first part of that passage often, but fail to remember the last part: we were created to do good works. It’s how the world will know who He is–when they see us shine in the darkness.
I love James’s heart on this matter. James (who wrote the book of James in the New Testament) was the brother of Jesus. He grew up with Him. And even though he didn’t initially believe Jesus was really the Messiah (would you have believed your brother was divine?), he became not only a believer but a servant of Christ who went on to lead the main church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18, Galatians 1:19). He said this:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.”James 1:22-25
James goes on to discuss controlling our tongues, looking after orphans and widows, and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. Then he shares these words about the connection between our faith and our deeds.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”James 2:14-17
James is referring to a false faith (if a man claims to have faith). You see, we can have a “faith” that believes in God and maybe even follows the outward signs of a Christian–going to church, giving money, wearing a Christian t-shirt. But if our hearts are truly surrendered to Jesus, we will follow Him in faith that expresses itself in obedience to His commands.
Our do will match our who.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”1 Peter 1:13
What if we went into the new year less focused on our obsession with ourselves and more intentional about obeying the Word of God? What if we grew beyond knowing who we are in Christ and got serious about obeying the commands of Christ, the Word made flesh?
What if each one of us committed to start every day in the Word so we could know the commands and do all in our power (along with the Spirit’s power) to follow those commands?
Let’s commit together to grow in this new year, to truly love God with all we are, and to follow Him in radical obedience to His Word. Let’s put our faith into genuine action.