Participating in the Love Avenue doesn’t make us right with God—it shows we already are.
I spent most of my life studying the Bible in an effort to get right with God. I studied the Old Testament so I could be faithful to some of the law, statutes, and judgments. I studied the New Testament so I could gain Jesus’ and the apostle’s teaching on how to get right with God. My goal was to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) – again, so I could be right with God. I struggled with certain passages such as when James tells us faith without works is dead. I knew if I could study enough, I’d get right with God, and then the good works would naturally flow from me. The question was, how much study and growing in grace and knowledge does it take to “get right with God.”
One of my first pastoral superintendents made a comment to me that struck me to the core. He said, “Rick, your focus on deepening your walk with God has turned into an excuse to not participate with him.” What? Shouldn’t getting closer to God and becoming like him precede following Jesus’ instruction to go and make disciples? What if I do it wrong? What if I say something wrong? What if… What if…
I have since come to see this perspective to be more common among believers than we’d like to admit. It is easy to spend our time studying, praying, meditating, and fasting, rather than participating in what God has called us to. In other words, in all the studying, praying, etc., we miss the point. I’ve come to see that Jesus is more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. He called us to be disciples in order to help us make disciples. Let me explain, or better yet, let’s let the apostle James explain.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)
This is what my supervisor was trying to tell me. All my studying (my orthodoxy) about how to get right with God did not get me right with God—Jesus did. He made me right with God through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He wanted me to stop focusing on myself and focus on the new commandment he gave – to love others as he loves me. Practical love in action (orthopraxy) shows others I believe in Jesus, who he is, what he said, what he did and does, and his purpose. This is called living faith or living in and through your faith. Because I know I am already forgiven, redeemed, adopted and reconciled through Jesus, I want to share this good news (gospel) with others so they can live in the truth of being forgiven, redeemed, adopted and reconciled. I want to be “helpers of their joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Isn’t that what we want to do – help others live in the joy of knowing the Lord? James continues:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)
My dear fellow pastors and ministry leaders, let’s help our members put their faith to action by providing them opportunities to participate in what Jesus is doing in their community of faith, in their homes, in their work environments, in their neighborhoods. Let’s help those God has entrusted in our care to be helpers of others’ joy. Let’s help them understand that they weren’t called just to come to church, but to experience the joy of participating with Jesus in what he is doing. And let’s get practical in how this can be done.
We don’t meet our neighbors in order to invite them to church—we meet them to share life with them. We meet them to show we care about them. We meet them to show them they are valued and worthy. We develop relationships with them so we can watch their home and property while they are gone, and they can watch ours. We want to know when they are celebrating and when they are mourning, so we can share life with them. This is faith with works – living faith – because this is Jesus living and loving others through us.
Likewise, we meet our church neighbors to show we are a church that cares for the neighborhood. We want to provide safe activities for their children. We might clean up our church neighborhoods because we care about our neighbors. We might go to a neighborhood sporting event and hand out water – not to get people into church, but because it is hot, and we want to provide some relief. We might host a “trunk or treat” in the church parking lot, not to save anyone – Jesus has that covered – but to provide a safe place for children to be on Halloween, and a place for families to gather and meet one another. Whatever we do, we do for others – allowing Jesus’ love to flow through us. We talk with people, we listen to their stories, we help them feel valued and worthy.
As Dr. Walter Kim shared in his presentation to the GCI Home Office, we listen with humility, learn from others with curiosity, lament with solidarity, and love with self-sacrifice. In other words, we show interest to others because we know their value to God, and we know many feel unloved, unworthy, and unknown.
Faith without works is dead, but faith in action is participating with God by sharing his love and life with others. James never says faith is bad. Orthodoxy is good and vital, but when it is coupled with orthopraxy, it becomes very good. This is participating with God in making disciples. This illustrates what it means to be right with God.