I recently wrote on The Biology of Our Own Works. In it, I talked about the necessity of everything we do being joined with Christ, for on our own, no matter how righteous our works may appear to be, they will fail to bring the life of Christ. This essay will build on that topic.
There is a particular belief in Christianity that Christians are called to not do a number of things. We are called to celibacy in regard to a number of activities. "Don't do this, and don't do that" is the motto of many Christians. And while it is true that Christians are not to do a number of obvious things, is this the end of a means? I would say no.
The unspoken deception behind all these nots is the idea of inactivity. People believe that as long as the child of God is not doing this and not doing that, then he is okay. This is a dangerous deception, and this is exactly where the devil would like God's flock to be - in the fields of inactivity. The sheep may not be eating on the enemy's lawn, but they aren't raising a standard against it either, and they aren't protecting themselves from a subtle invasion of the enemy's grasses.
The fire in our life is outwardly witnessed by our activities. We can make verbal claim to whatever faith we want, but without works, that faith is dead (see James 2:14-18James 2:14-18 (ESV)
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. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. ). "But wait!" I hear people say, "I have faith in God. I don't participate in the devil's junk. Isn't that enough?"
The very next verse in James 2 says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (James 2:19). The chapter continues with examples showing that faith on its own does not bring forth true righteousness. True righteousness is brought about by the working of our faith, in actions visible to this world. The two (faith and works) work hand in hand.
Matthew 12:43-45Matthew 12:43-45 (ESV)
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” and Luke 11:24-26Luke 11:24-26 (ESV)
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” speak to the danger of emptiness, even when one has been delivered by God. These verses say, "'When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
If we are delivered by God, and the enemy and his influences have been driven away, it is not good enough to simply clean up and apply some decoration, expecting our deliverance to hold. We can stop doing all the things that seem attached to the sins of our former bondage, but that simply leaves us swept, with our house put in order. As the scripture above says, the ending will not be good. Unless we replace what has been removed by faith filled works of the Kingdom, the devil's ploys will find easy re-entrance into our lives. We must continuously be furnishing and filling ourselves with the words and ways of Christ. To not do so exposes the neutralism in our heart - we may not be eating in the enemy's field, but we aren't working in God's field either.
The verses previous to this story in Luke 11 say "And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." (Luke 11:19-22).
In the parable of the man who simply swept and put in order his house, the enemy came back with seven additional demons, more evil than himself. If we are not actively seeking the strength and protection of God, then the enemy will be able to bind us and overcome us, but if we are actively seeking God's work and presence in our lives, we will be the stronger, and the enemy will be the one bound and overcome. As Luke 11:22Luke 11:22 (ESV)
but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. makes clear, there is no middle ground. We are either gathering for his Kingdom, or we are scattering.
American Christians are easily held complacent. With all that surrounds us and offers comfort outside of continuously seeking God, it is easy to become neutral, or as the enemy might say, neutered. It is too easy to become "cold to Christ" while standing proud that we are not "hot for the enemy." The American church (and maybe many others) would do well to heed the words of Jesus to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:15-17.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
How many Christians do we all know who would be well described by these verses? How many of us, if we looked in the mirror would have to acknowledge our own lukewarmness? Too many Christians do not realize their own need, and because of that, they do not seek to have that need filled by their Creator. If we don't realize our vulnerableness, it is only a matter of time before the enemy will, as he constantly prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (see 1 Peter 5:81 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ).
In applying the lesson of this essay, we must be careful not to mistake what it means to be filling ourselves with the works of Christ. I've heard people make fairly pragmatic statements that all Christians must serve in foreign missions, or that only those who work in a certain mission field are realizing the call of God on their lives. For each of us, our Christianity and how we serve is unique, and it is the combination of the callings of all of these unique Christians that make up the fullness of the body of Christ here on earth (see 1 Corinthians 12). The true litmus test of whether we are filling our lives with the substance of faith is simple: are we living our lives in such a way that they bring glory to Jesus? This is a two part question. If we are living in sin, that is not bringing glory to our Lord. However, if we are not acting out our faith, that too is not bringing glory to Christ. We must refrain from the first, and actively seek the second.
What brings glory to our Creator will vary as we work through our salvation. There will be different seasons of study, prayer, preaching, witness, working, helping, building, fasting, etc. But no matter the season, we can always go back to the litmus test: am I living my life in such a way that it brings glory to Jesus?
The church may want to set up a lot of rules, both of things to do and things not to do, but Jesus did the opposite. He combined all the rules of the old into a simple two.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
If we simply make sure we are fully following these two rules, our lives will bring glory to God. We will not allow ourselves to be caught up in sin, for sin pains God (see Hebrews 4:15Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. , Ephesians 4:29-30Ephesians 4:29-30 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. ) and we do not wish to hurt the One we love. God pleasures in our seeking Him (see Psalms 147:11Psalms 147:11 (ESV)
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. , Hebrews 10:38-39Hebrews 10:38-39 (ESV)
but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. ), so if we are following this commandment, then we will continuously seek God, desiring to bring Him pleasure. Lastly, if we love our neighbors, we will work to make sure our lives are an example of Christ's redemption, as we work with the Father to see salvation come to others. This can not be passive, for people will not come to salvation because we do nothing. We must work out our faith, demonstrating both God's righteousness and grace to those around us.
If we do these things, we will be following the two great commandments on which all others hang, and our lives will bring glory to God. We will not be empty, but we will be full of Christ, and the enemy will have no claim on our lives.