Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Faith Evidenced by Good Works

Last Sunday, in our regular Sunday adult class, we were talking about ups and downs of our faith works. The sermon that day was about “Faith that works.” We were discussing James 2:14-26 on the sermon entitled: "Faith That Works." Some in the class were concerned about Christians who ‘over-intellectualize’ their faith. Others desire to go more in depth, saying there is a great need for it in the church. It was a tough but profitable time of sharing and engaging one another. Like iron sharpens iron, all of us came away feeling refreshed and challenged. In my summary, I described the spiritual life as likened to a sine/cosine wave, or sinusoidal wave of ups and downs. The goal is to exercise a faith that is consistent (represented by the blue lines “Faith evidenced by good works.”) Human motion is never a straight line. Even when we walk, our left leg tends to swing us to the right, and our right to the left. By alternating the use of our legs with a central focus, we are able to move in a direction we want. There is a word that describes the Christian life very well. It is the word ‘meandering.’ Being human, we have a tendency to meander through twists and turns. The primary description of what being human is all about is sin. Due to sin, the human nature has a propensity to sin and move AWAY from God and the things of God. Only in the Spirit can one be led back to the center of God’s will. In the diagram, human nature tends to meander along a set path. It is difficult to ever walk in a straight line. When human tendency leads one to over or under-intellectualize our faith, we need to let God direct us back to the center to exercise a faith that is evidenced by good works. Walking and talking becomes one and the same act.

In talking about human nature and the spiritual life, David Gushee, an Ethics Professor lists 4 things we need to be aware about when planning toward a spiritual destination.
1. A clear sense of where we are going;
2. Directions on how to get there;
3. Knowledge of hazards and challenges one may face;
4. Whether our equipment is suitable to the task at hand.

He argues that the ‘starting point’ is highly critical, and it stems from the knowledge of one’s human nature. This starting point rests on our acknowledgment that human nature is essentially a quest for wholeness. It cannot be done by ourselves. To be truly human is to be able to embrace God’s way, not our way; God’s will and not our will.

Gushee concludes:
It is impossible ultimately to embrace the Christian account of humanity without embracing the Christian account of God. When we do, we find that true wholeness in life’s journey happens when God’s hopes become our hopes and God’s dreams become our dreams.” (David P Gushee, Only Human, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005, p200)
When we put more faith in our own abilities or skills, we risk moving to either extremes of over or under-doing anything, even the things of God. We talk more when we should walk. We run faster than our heads could think. Either way, we have to constantly pause from what we are doing in order to re-set our bearings. Running headlong quickly does not give us any head start if it is in the wrong direction. Procrastinating on the good that we ought to do when we are able to do so, wastes precious time and resources. Only when we are constantly mindful of Christ and discerning the movement of the Spirit in our hearts can we evidence our faith through good works.

Let our spiritual walk not become a series of haphazard actions that lead us nowhere. Neither should we allow our spiritual talk toward ‘analysis till paralysis,’ constantly talking theology that is devoid of action.

Four Examples of Faith Evidenced By Good Works
a) William Wilberforce (1759-1833), was a keen intellect well trained in Christian theology. He spent many years in school, entering Cambridge at the tender age of 17. It took a personal revival that makes these years of learning into constant moments of yearning to do God’s work. Wilberforce became a leading figure in charitable work, in providing leadership in the marketplace and most certainly the eventual abolishment of the slave trade in Great Britain and ultimately influencing similar actions around the world.

b) Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) grew up with a silver spoon. She was not content to simply listen to ‘boring’ Christian talk. She burns with a desire for a more active life, a life that is exemplified by walking the talk. In 1850, against the wishes of her family, she voluntarily entered nursing school so that she can exercise her faith in the area of health care. Her efforts to reform medical care was long and arduous. She is a religious thinker whose faith requires her to work out her faith enthusiastically and passionately. She believes her calling was to help improve the world through proper health and medical care. She has been largely credited for founding the modern nursing profession we have come to take for granted.

c) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was also a keen scholar of Christian theology. His stature was well known that he was even offered tenure at an American University, safe and far away from the horrible wars in his home continent. However, his faith does not allow him to relax and sit comfortably in the corridors of academia. He felt a calling to return to his home country, Germany to resist the Nazi regime. He spoke against the Nazi theology at the risk of arrest and torture. He was martyred in 1945, but his work and writings have lived on to inspire many generations.

d) Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) is a famous civil rights activist in America who fought bravely for establishing equal rights for all races, especially the blacks. A brilliant intellectual, he was well trained in theology. He read widely and soon his heart felt moved to action. He saw society being eroded by bad principles and wrong ideals. If no one does anything, the black people will continue to live unjustly under the tyranny of an evil system.

All these four figures have one important similarity. Their faith is evidenced in action, rooted with a conviction that God’s word is living. We dare not presume we can have the political successes of Wilberforce. Some of us dared not dream of replicating a Nightingale. Even fewer are those who are willing to give up their lives like Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. God knows us. After all, he created us. Lest we get discouraged by not being able to emulate any of these great people, let me end with the words of the first astronaut to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11:

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Likewise, as we take our faith seriously and let our actions walk our talk, no matter how small or insignificant our steps may be, any step done for Christ, is a step forward in expanding the kingdom of God. One small step in faith, one giant leap for the kingdom of God.

Walking our faith is never too tiny. After all, a mustard seed is never too small.


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