In the last week I’ve had three conversations with people who struggle with the issue of legalism in their faith. They point to upbringing, a past church, or their own “efforts” to get God to bless them by “doing the right things.”
So I’ve been thinking about living my faith and the old question, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?”
All of us have had some experience where recognition, appreciation, and acknowledgment were tied directly to doing the correct or acceptable thing. That is the way our culture does things. We learn fast; do a good job at what your boss expects and you get promotions. Treat a member of the opposite sex just right and he or she will respond with love. Even parents praise the “well behaved” child and tsk, tsk at the kid who disappoints. And, of course, this can spill over into some churches where the entire focus is on the outward appearance of dress, conduct, and what is said with very little thought or teaching on what’s actually in the heart.
Many a Jesus follower will talk about living by grace and not by works. The difficulty with that statement, although true, is that it is lived out incorrectly. Too many of us think that because we’re totally accepted by the amazing grace of God that there doesn’t have to be an action attached. Therefore the non-believing community looks at us as hypocrites who “talk” a good story but don’t live it in actual fact.
Jesus talked about this in Matthew chapter 7 when He says that we can know true believers by their fruits,
“So then, you will know them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:20–23
Don’t we all like to talk about knowing Jesus. We can talk and talk and talk about it. But, is that all there is?
If we keep reading in Matthew, Jesus answers the question.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. Matthew 7:26
So on one hand we have our salvation given freely by grace not as a result of anything we can do… and on the other hand we have the things we do as a result of the wonderful gift of salvation so freely given us by Christ.
The question is, then, what are we doing with both hands?
This same week Dr. Leslie Segraves shared a fantastic illustration that got me thinking. She told me that in China (one of the areas in the world in which she ministers) they have an expression, “The sound of one hand clapping.”
(A little side note: Leslie and her husband, Chad, run a wonderful interdenominational ministry that equips believers to engage the least reached people groups living between the lines of 10 and 40 degrees latitude. – Here’s a link to their website www.1040connections.org.)
If Christ-followers just talk about our salvation and do not demonstrate our thankfulness in receiving that gift by “showing” it by our faith-fueled, energized actions, half our Christian duty and function is gone. What are we doing with our two hands? Are we using both our faith and our works to share the great, life-changing strength of the gospel? Or are we just hypocrites, sitting on our hands?
The challenge then is to consider… your hand of faith and your hand of serving actions… are you clappin’ with both hands or just flappin’ with one?
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18
Think about it…