Recently I was talking on the phone to someone who fell away from God when they were a teenager. They decided to take a different path that led them away from Christianity, really faith all together. This person now believes that Christ was just a great man who lived long ago. They even accept that there was a sense of unworldliness about Jesus but nothing else. I have prayed for this person for nearly two decades now to find their way back to Christ. We often talk about theology, salvation, the meaning of “faith without works is dead”, and life as a Christian. But recently, our latest phone call was so different because of something he said to me. As a child, he went to a small church that was known for having a “their way or the highway” mentality. But what he said next almost left me in tears.
the unraveling truth
While talking to him on the phone, he said he would probably still be Christian if it wasn’t for that church. The church members drove him away with their condemnation of people’s actions, constant gossip, and hypocrisies witnessed from the pastor. Although a child at the time, this person turned away from Christ due to the example one single church set. The way he explained it is he loved the “theory” behind Christianity but didn’t think the lifestyle was realistic. He didn’t feel like he ever witnessed a person really living a Christian lifestyle. This person didn’t pick the church, he went there because his parents went there. But before he could accept Christ, he created a false idea of Christianity from the actions of this single church.
Never had the term “actions speak louder than words” rang truer. I realized that evangelizing to this person was not just explaining the great things Christ can do in his life but also overcoming his preconceived bias of Christians. A very negative identity I might add. The real kicker is that I couldn’t blame him for falling away! Why? Because I was raised in the same church as a child and fell away for the exact same reason. The only difference is that I blamed this church, not God, for the actions I witnessed. I kept my relationship with Christ a more personal one, without organized religion. This lasted until I met my wife who introduced me to a wonderful church. There I learned what James meant when he said, “faith without works is dead.” But we will get to that in a moment.
This isn’t what we want to hear, it’s what we need to hear.
As a Christian blogger and article contributor, I can tell you that I get the biggest response from articles that make people feel good. Tell someone that God loves them, they are special, and Heaven is waiting right around the corner then sit back and watch the comments and likes roll in. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is something we need to hear from time to time!
But today, that is not the purpose of this article. I am writing a reminder to you, and myself, that God has an expectation for Christians to stand out from the crowd. We are supposed to selflessly put ourselves aside and welcome the broken, the poor, the sinful, and the desperate through the church doors. Our faith doesn’t flourish without works; our faith leads us to God’s work. And the meaning James intended by writing “faith without works is dead” is a very deep one.
What we need to hear
Christianity isn’t like a local car dealer’s TV commercial. There isn’t any fine print or an announcer that talks too fast to understand the terms and stipulations. God is very clear through His Word that each of us walk a very different path once we accept Christ. We are changed through salvation into a new being and we are refined by God’s own spirit through sanctification. Part of that change is conviction to not shame others, not exclude sinners from church, and not alienating those who stumble along the way. We are a single body, unified through Christ from a life that we would otherwise have no chance at eternal life. From murderers and adulterers to telling little white lies or steal Slim Jims from Walmart, we are all undeserving as we lay our burdens at Jesus’s feet.
From rock bottom, we can only look up.
The truth is that many of us may not see God’s grace until we hit rock bottom. It’s when you are at the bottom that you only have one direction to look, up. These Christians are often the most faithful among us. They have physically felt the absence of God as they pushed Him away and sank deeper into the world. Often, they are the first to reach out to the struggling because they have empathy to relate to others’ situations. They know that coming to church as a sinner isn’t the wrong move, it’s the first move toward salvation.
Are we Christians or Pharisees? Faith without Works is Dead
The more I witness the gossip pews whispering about the sins of visitors the more I want to stand up and hold them accountable. Our “truth” as Christians isn’t to condemn the fallen, but to lift up and heal the broken. The real TRUTH, the Biblical truth, is that as Christians we are called to spread the message of Christianity. We are representatives of Christ, living a Christ-like life and allowing God to work through us to stand out from the world and be the difference.
Faith without works is dead meaning
So, why is “faith without works dead”? Idleness is not Christianity; God has a great purpose for each of us and that includes loving our fellow man enough to spread the gospel to him/her so they can know Jesus. This isn’t a conversation about “earning salvation” because that is impossible. This is a conversation about having the faith to give God the reins of our life and letting Him use us to fulfill His will. It’s true, you can’t earn salvation through works. But with true salvation comes conviction and through that conviction should produce the works of God. These works aren’t the necessity of salvation, they are the desire to serve as a result of salvation and spiritual growth.
The Earth is God’s fertile field, and we are called to sow the seeds and tend God’s crop for Him to harvest. It is not our harvest to reap, we are only to sow the seeds we are given. God does not say, “well don’t reach out and show kindness to that adulterer or homosexual who showed up to church today.” He says, “I have touched the heart of a sinner, like yourself, and have given you the job to plant the seed. I have even shown you how through the life of my Son. Reach out to the fallen, show them love and kindness, let them see my light shining through you.”
Idle hands lead to an Idle Heart: Faith with or without works?
One day we will stand before God, Christian and non-Christian alike. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to feel the disappointment of the Creator when He asks why I shamed and turned away one of His children. To watch a person sent away from Heaven’s doors because I was the one called to bring them to God. But there is comfort when we place our faith in Him.
We will fall short at times, and we can’t expect that the perfect words will come from our own mind. But if we surrender ourselves to God, we approach and support anyone seeking God, He will give us the words that person needs to hear. They may accept Him, they may not. But everyone (EVERYONE!) deserves the chance to make that decision for themselves. Let’s not make that decision for them by misrepresenting what it truly means to be children of God and disciples of Christ.