Acting on Good News

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!…Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. (James 1:22, 2:14-18)

Let me tell you what I hear James saying here. James is worried about the converts in the churches who say they accept Jesus, but don’t do anything to reflect that. Maybe they are just quiet, meaning they aren’t out taking care of their neighbor. Maybe they are showing favoritism (2:1-7).

In some way, they are still reflecting the values and concerns of the world, instead of doing what Jesus asked us to do. He asked us to renounce the world in order to live with the mentality of God’s Kingdom.

To these people James is saying, “You say you’re a Christian, but you act like the world. I say I’m a Christian, and I will act like the Kingdom of God. The world is flesh, and the Kingdom is spirit. You show me what’s more alive.”

James is also worried about people who might say, “I love Jesus. I’m saved,” and then they act in ways that contradict the life we enjoy in God’s Kingdom. They hate, or commit adultery, or lie, or cheat, or steal (2:8-13). When you do that, no one is going to see that you are saved.

Do you know what’s going to come out of that? Not the fruit of the Spirit. Not love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. There is a lot of other stuff that’s going to come out of it, obviously. James also says that sin eventually gives birth to death. So you’ll die, inwardly. You’ll be a shadow person, dead inside, and you won’t reflect Christ at all.

This part of James is controversial, and we sometimes worry about a disagreement between James and Paul. But that’s because we put too much focus on performance. Paul and James see things the same way. God’s grace, freely offered to us, saves us. We can’t save ourselves. Think about the whole New Testament’s message on grace. Think about what Paul says: “The Law is rubbish. I no longer want to perform. It doesn’t make sense.”

You can’t achieve salvation by works (Greek: erga, works, acts, deeds). James knows that. But there will be a judgment. God will look at us and divide us into sheep and goats. If you love your neighbor as Jesus describes in Matthew 25, then you’re a sheep. That’s not performance. That’s living in the Kingdom of God, not performing in order to get in. Love is alive, and where there is life, there is action. That’s why James says, “Faith without works is dead. I’ll show you my faith with works, and you’ll see that it’s alive.”

See you Monday.

What Makes a Christian?

I’ve never been in the back of the room at a church meeting, but I can almost see it. “Hey,” they say, “How are we going to get people saved? We’ve got to figure out how to get them to say the prayers.”

We’re used to thinking in terms of numbers. It’s only human to play the numbers game. Think about it. In baseball, or anywhere in sports and entertainment, the question is, “How many fans can we get in the seats?” After all, that’s where the business is.

So we see it in the churches. We see it a lot!

  • “How many butts can we get in the pews?”
  • “Fifty people got saved today!”
  • “One hundred people got saved today!”

After all, there’s our tithe.

But Christianity is a lifestyle that we live, not a decision that we make. Becoming a Christian doesn’t end with being saved. Being saved is where the life of a Christian begins.

That’s why the churches should be asking, “How are we going to get people to live a life of Jesus?” We should focus on that concept, because that is a life of joy. That is a life of true joy.

Too often, someone will say they’re a Christian because at some point in their life they said, “I believe Jesus is Lord.” They made that decision at some moment in time. How does that belief affect their lifestyle throughout the next 30, 50, or 70 years of life?

Too often, it doesn’t. I think that’s why you see Christian marriages failing at the same rate that you see non-Christian marriages failing. If our churches rely on salvation theology alone, Christianity does not become a lifestyle that people live. It’s just a momentary decision they make.

Confessing that Jesus is Lord is not what makes you a Christian. Confessing that Jesus is Lord is your salvation. You are saved when you confess that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose again three days later.

His resurrection empowers you. It’s the source of the salvation that you’re looking for. You are justified by your faith. You’re in the family of God.

This is great. It’s a great start. But there is so much more to the Christian life! There is so much more fulfillment that Jesus wants to give you!

Fulfillment comes from a life of discipleship. A disciple of Jesus is someone that lives this life by living as Jesus lived. Scot McKnight expands on these concepts in his book The King Jesus Gospel. He writes that if you end by confessing that Jesus is Lord, you’re not going to feel fulfilled in this life.

If you feel empty, like you can’t accomplish something in life, it’s because you don’t understand why you’re here. I believe it is the lifestyle of Jesus that helps us understand.

If being saved and justified was the whole of Christianity, then the world would be a completely different place. In the Psalms it says that the King’s throne is made up of justice and righteousness. If salvation is all that’s needed, then all Christians would be living lives of justice and righteousness.

But we don’t do that, do we? At least, not very well. You can see that. We could be doing so much better.

If the life of a Christian began and ended with confessing that Jesus is Lord, then His love, mercy, and grace would be lived out through all Christians everywhere. Salvation would be all that’s needed. The decision we made to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior would be enough. We wouldn’t have to do anything else.

But we don’t love very easily. We don’t. We don’t show much mercy. In fact, McKnight talked to a number of non-Christians, and do you know what they said?  Sometimes Christians are the meanest people they’ve ever met!

It can’t be justification and salvation alone that make us different. The world will see Jesus in Christians when Christians live a Spirit-led life.

See you Thursday.

Heart Change

But what does [faith] say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13)

The Bible says that you must make a confession with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. The key to salvation is the acknowledgement and confession of who Jesus is. You must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved. There has to be an admission there, and it has to be real.

But the Bible also says that the word must be in the heart. I believe a lot of people say “Jesus is Lord” without understanding what salvation really entails. It’s not enough to just say the words. Verbal acknowledgement that Jesus died for us is not the whole deal. There has to be a commitment of the heart.

When the word comes into your heart, it brings a heart change. And when you see a heart change, you’ll see a lifestyle change. Saved by the Spirit, you will then live by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)

You could go through a really emotional time, and meet a Christian who says something that touches you. So you make the confession that Jesus is Lord. You’re saved!

You could go to a big conference, and a speaker or a song hits on a message that really touches you. Maybe you’re touched because you’re having a difficult time, or maybe you experience an emotional high. Someone says to you, “Do you believe in Jesus? Do you want to be saved? Come forward!” So you go forward. You say the prayers. You’re saved!

But this is not enough. What happens to you after you get home? You’ve been saved, but nothing changes. Your struggles continue. You have come from a time of high emotion and high expectation, and you have said the words. But you only said them because it was the right thing to do at the time. What if you don’t go on to live out your newly found salvation in the lifestyle of Jesus?

Becoming a Christian involves a passionate, lifelong commitment to being in a relationship with God.

If you want to really understand Jesus in your life, you have to live in the mentality of discipleship. You won’t understand it if you don’t live it. You won’t understand it if you just say some words. Mere words don’t substitute for infinite passion. They can’t substitute for a relationship with your creator and savior. It has to be heartfelt.

If you’ve been saved but you feel unfulfilled, just try a little discipleship mentality.

More on this next time. See you Wednesday.