There are two statements that have stuck in my heart this as I listened to Jesus Manifesto, a book I had previously read.
- "Jesus didn't come to make bad people good. he came to make dead people live." -Jesus Manifesto
- "It's possible to serve God without loving him, but it is impossible to love God without serving him." -Anonymous
Our lives are a testament to the God we love and serve. But the world is not always seeing the true testament of God through his people. They only see a mere picture of our hypocrisy. What happens when we say we love God, but are afraid of taking scripture too seriously? The nonbelievers around us might never pick up a Bible. They have only our lives as a window to the greatness and glory of God. What do they see? How do our lives translate scripture to the world?
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. -James 1:27 ESV
Instead of seeing James 1:27 lived out in our lives, does the world see something else? Do they this:
Religion in its' purest form before my neighbor is this: Dress up on Sundays, smile pretty and convince everyone that your life is a dream. Carry a big Bible, sing and clap (but not too enthusiastically or they'll think something is wrong with you) and attend church at least three Sundays per month.
The two statements at the top of this article remind me of what James says about faith.
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. -James 2:14-17 ESV
Serving God and loving others, is the natural product of a living breathing faith. Because God loved us first, (while we were still sinners) and we are filled with his love (in Christ), his love will overflow and touch everyone around us. If we love him, we will love others.
I want to be clear. I am NOT saying that we work hard and discipline ourselves in order to prove our love for God is real. What I AM saying that the more we fall in love with God, the more we will naturally obey and keep his commands - the more natural it will be for us to love others. The anonymous quote above could be rephrased like this; It is possible to do good works without a living faith, but there is no such thing a living faith that does not produce good works.
If you are feeling that your faith is dried up or you feel burned out, then it may be that you have been attempting to do the good works on your own. Perhaps you have previously thought of good works as a penance. Maybe you thought you had to prove your love to God by doing good things for him. There is a better way. Fall in love with Jesus again. Discover again in scripture how much you are loved and treasured by God. His word is a love letter to you, not a check list of good works to do. Let the power of HIS LOVE change you. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Let him do it. Just as we can not save ourselves, we also can not transform ourselves. You are NOT the potter. You are the clay. It is Jesus who has brought you from death into life and Jesus who makes you new.
Trying to do good works without a living breathing faith is like manually tying ripened fruit to the branches of a dead tree. The work is laborious and exhausting. The fruit quickly perishes and the tree is incapable of producing more fruit to replace it. So you begin the laborious and exhausting work all over again. Burnout is inevitable! Real living breathing faith that naturally produces good works is like a tree, healthy and beautiful, planted by streams of fresh water, whose roots run deep into soil rich with the essential minerals to nourish it. It produces the best fruit season after season - fruit that is a blessing to all who encounter the tree.
Discipline is good. A living breathing faith that reproduces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is better!