Sunday, May 22, 2011

Faith Produces Deeds, and Christ Produces Them Both

The fruit of trust is good deeds. If we trust our doctor, we will take the pills he gives us. Similarly, if we trust our Savior, we will also take His obedience "pills." If we don’t trust Him, we will not obey Him. The association between trust and obey is so tight that James can confidently write, “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Consequently, a faith that fails to produce any changes is not a Biblical faith. Therefore, if we claim to have faith, but fail to show any of the fruits of faith, we are deceiving ourselves:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:22, 27)

However, many of us have tried to live according to this prescription and have utterly failed. Instead, as “payment” for our efforts, we were left with a sense of profound guilt and shame, and also a determination to get away from this God, who we are unable to please.

For many years, I too found that being a Christian was exasperating and guilt-inducing. At first, I had been determined that I was going to successfully “look after orphans and widows,” even though that wasn’t my cup of tea. I simply committed myself to “do it,” and had long convinced myself that I could do whatever I had determined to do. However, I soon found that the harder I tried, the more difficult it became. It was like struggling against quicksand – the harder you struggle, the quicker you sink!

My confidence as a worthy Christian was quickly depleted, and I sank into a deep stupor of depression. I couldn’t even bear to read the Bible any more. It reminded me of my past failures and exposed new areas of failure. I felt judged and projected this feeling on to others, thinking that they too were judging me. Consequently, going to church felt like standing before a jury – not an outlook conducive to fellowship!

I had convinced myself that I could do everything, but I was finding that I could do absolutely nothing. It was humbling, but it also opened my eyes to the words of Jesus:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

How true! I was beginning to see that my spiritual dysfunctionality was part of God’s design. But how could I “remain” in Him? This too seemed to be impossible for me, but I found that God loves to fix impossible situations and people:

But he [Christ] said to me [Paul], "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Although my failures were initially a source of shame, they became the doorway to His blessings. Much time has gone by. I’ve been following my Savior for 35 years, and now my greatest joy is to do His will. This was something that I could never dream of achieving. Instead, He has invited me to partake in this great privilege.

I certainly haven’t arrived. There are many things I’d love to change about myself, but now I know where the answer is to be found. Although my Lord doesn’t respond to my pleadings according to my time schedule – and I struggle with many weaknesses and failings – I know that it’s all about His grace. If I remain weak, it’s for His glory; if He strengthens me, it’s also for His glory, and I am edified by His glory.

I still react with guilt and shame, but these painful feelings now promptly turn my awareness to His Cross. They have now become a glorious chariot repeatedly carrying me to grace, peace and gratitude. They are now joyous reminders of what He has done for me.

Christ has purposed that we can’t live the Christian life on our own. And He wouldn’t want us to try to live it without Him.

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