If you read my post on studying the Word recently and it didn’t really feel helpful because you were well-versed on studying the Word, this might be the pendulum swing that steps on the toes.
I find there are messages depending on our personality and views that are not universally beneficial. A rule-follower doesn’t need to be constantly reminded to obey. They need to be told to rest in God’s grace. The person who abuses grace needs to be reminded that obedience is still apart of it.
So this post is on the opposite coin of my challenge to us to study the Bible more.
Today’s challenge? We can’t get stuck there and miss out on the spiritual formation that happens as we live out what we see in Scripture.
Our culture is scared of a “works-based” view of faith or legalism so we can spend more time learning Bible study techniques, methods, etc and far less time on other spiritual disciplines like serving, tithing and fellowship.
James 2:14-17 says:
“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.”
Doesn’t it sound a little too much like buying our ticket to heaven by being a good person?
Apparently Martin Luther even wanted to take James out of the Bible because he felt it opposed the idea of justification by faith alone because it talked so much about works (among other reasons). He said in letters:
“We should throw the epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”
I don’t think this passage from James contradicts justification through faith alone at all. I think it’s simply saying that if someone claims they have faith, there’s gonna be fruit of that and if there’s no fruit, how can it be true?
A year or so ago my husband presented a pretty counter-culture idea to me that took me a while to wrap my Bible-loving brain around. He talked about how we value prayer and Scripture as where we learn and grow in our faith, which is 100% true, but He said he feels like our culture is missing out on how God uses simply loving others and generosity. His argument was that service and essentially “being the church” aren’t second-class spiritual disciplines.
Around that time my husband shared a verse at a deacon’s meeting on James and reiterated how taking out the trash on Sundays or making coffee (part of the deacon duties) feels practical and not spiritual. But they are literally operating as the hands and feet of God. And it’s not just something really good to do. It’s an actual way we experience God and grow to be more like Him too.
In our Christian culture of round the clock opportunities for Bible studies, Inductive studies, online resources and more, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t what the early church looked like. Don’t get me wrong. They had Scripture and listened to others preach, but they also gave radically, ate together and prayed with each other.
Would we feel more uncomfortable or like we missed out if we skipped a quiet time or missed an opportunity to serve that homeless man at the corner? If we were feeling distant from the Lord and just longing to be with Him would we pull out a Bible or pull up a chair to share Jesus with someone?
I know what my answer would be. Give me all the Scripture and prayer and I’ll meet with the Lord faster than any act of service can do.
I’ve recently been feeling a bit melancholy. Blame it on the dreary weather or the fact that I’m taking a break from chocolate but regardless, I’ve felt sadder than usual despite very consistent time and honestly, alot of quality time with the Lord. Then we spent a day celebrating and serving other people and as I fell into bed that night, I thought just how much joy I experience and how little I thought of me.
It was a spiritual experience to get to serve others in a big way and I know that will sound funny to some but even though I can’t articulate the nearness of God I felt, I think it falls right in line with how the early church, with no book shelves of Bible study materials (or prayer journals!) experienced the Holy Spirit and growth as people and a church.
We can Americanize our faith assuming the central theme is our Bible tray (and man what a blessing it is! Just read my recent post) but how is it that the early church knew God without those things?
There are some powerful, yet, uncomfortable Scriptures that call us to action.
- “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” – James 4:17
- “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” – Proverbs 21:13
- “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2
These verses shouldn’t scare us, but they should call us to action to be reminded that serving others, giving generously and loving our enemy are not bonus spiritual disciplines if I can fit them in. They are essential to living out (don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying EARN) our full faith.