“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:17-18 (NIV)
I’ve referenced the story before, of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, which was the custom of that time. According to the Law of Moses, the priest had to examine you and verify that you were cleansed of the disease. So Jesus told them to go present themselves – but they were not immediately cleansed at his words. The Bible says, “They were healed as they went.” It was their obedience, I am convinced, that netted that result.
I remember as I was growing up, every year around Easter time, the major television networks would present a new Jesus movie about his life and crucifixion. He was always portrayed, in my mind, as a bit of a milksop – no emotion, walking around bestowing miracles upon the common folks with this benign, I-am-not-of-this-world look on his face. (All he needed was a fairy wand!) That portrayal, of course, denies his very humanity and the passion behind his actions. His love for us is why he died for us. I know that he had emotions – his very actions prove the depth of his emotions. Neither is God passive, sitting high up on a throne, looking down on us mere mortals as we try to figure it all out. His very name, his personal name, means action. “I am”, is similar to the Hebrew verb or phrase, “to be” – it signifies that he constantly is. In action, that is. In fact, he is so concerned with our lives and so invested in the outcome that he set a plan in motion to save us, even before we knew we needed a savior.
Society, in presenting a very watered down version of Jesus, has done a disservice to us all. Namby-pamby, washed out, bland and one dimensional – who wants to be like that? And Jesus’ image is not the only thing that has suffered. Our concept of faith has also been corrupted. As much as we view Jesus as very passive (as in, “turn the other cheek”), we see faith as something belonging only to religious fanatics. “The name and claim it bunch,” as some refer to them, are given to zealously sprouting scriptures regarding faith in an effort to draw blessings to themselves. But for all the aggressiveness displayed in quoting scripture and calling down blessings “In Jesus’ name!” this too, is passive. True faith doesn’t belong to those who only claim it.
Real faith does. Faith is actually an action – think of it as a verb, rather than a noun. It’s something you do, rather than something you possess. I will show you my faith by what I do and how I live, not just by what I speak. Actions can be very revealing. For instance, if I believe that second hand smoke will kill me as surely as if I were a smoker, you couldn’t pay me to be in the same room with someone who smokes. If I believe chemicals and pesticides are harmful in my food, I would purchase and consume only organic foods. And, if I really thought that sitting too close to the television or reading in the dark would ruin my eyesight or that when I make a gruesome face, it might quite possibly be stuck like that, I wouldn’t do it. My actions are driven by my beliefs.
One of my favorite cable TV shows is Rob & Big on MTV – I am a fan of Rob’s sidekick, “Big,” a huge, black bodyguard. He has a phrase that can encompass all that faith is: “I do work!” As evidenced by the 10 lepers – the blessing is in the doing. It is in our obedience (or sometimes, like Abraham, in just doing something and hoping for direction along the way) that we receive our blessing. The lepers were healed as they went. They were healed as they obeyed. They were blessed as they acted. A simple “I believe” was not enough. They had to put their faith to work.
All evidence, I believe, points to a God who values action because he, himself, is action. I like to say He is a Nike kind of God, putting me in mind of the old commercial and slogan, “Just do it!” I see him as always working, always moving on our behalf. If we are to emulate him, we too, must become people of action. We must believe, we must speak and then we must have the actions that accompany what we believe and say.
As Christians, we are forever being scrutinized. It has been said that people will always remember how you made them feel. I would add to that, they will remember what you do, what you say and also, if your actions line up with your words. People can be quick to assign the “hypocrite” label when they see otherwise. Your life is your testimony, not just your words. The apostles had their testimonies, or written accounts, of their encounters with Jesus and how it changed their lives and the lives of those around them. They wrote letters, especially Paul, detailing their accounts to believers in their times. These letters have survived the test of time and been handed down to us, in the form of the Bible. But our own letters, our own accounts, are still being played out. As living “epistles” or letters (2 Corinthians 3:2-3), our lives are being read here and now. It could be that the greatest letter has yet to be written. And people everywhere are watching and reading us, that they may emulate us. So let’s get to work.