Statistics consistently show that US Christians behave the same as the general population. And yet my friend Lutherant rightly says that “true Christians display the works of Christ in their lives. No one who lives contentedly in a selfish life centered on their own needs and desires should think that they have faith (James 2:17).”
What gives? Why such strange Christian fruit?
Three weeks ago Lutherant and I simultaneously blogged about a video called “Three Lies of the Modern Church” where we tried, from our own faith persuasion, to wrestle with this issue. If you haven’t already, read Lutherant’s and my takes on these 3 lies:
- The Gospel Goes forth by Political Power.
- The Gospel of The Sinners Prayer
- Prosperity and Power Prove the Message
I love Lutherant, otherwise known as The Rev Charles St-Onge, a pastor friend from Memorial Drive Lutheran Church. He has a passion for Christ and people, is brilliant and an excellent blogger. He also at one point tells me flat out he thinks I’m wrong. You have to love that Christian brothers can disagree today in a healthy way without disengaging from relationship, or worse. In our faith tradition we highly value a document called Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love, that, without previous discussion, I experience coming from Lutherant.
His posts and reflections on these 3 lies were encouraging and corrective for me to flesh out my own thoughts. They also helped me to see one reason Christians don’t behave differently is lack of spiritual empowerment for Christian living. How am I going to live the life I feel called to live? And “Christian Living,” as I think about it, is tightly connected to these three lies. Paul talks in Romans 6 about Christ’s work, our living, and baptism. Saying in essence that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ, and so we should “consider ourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.” It’s this stunning work of grace that allows us to live as Christ.
Elsewhere in Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages us to “work out our own salvation,” which might sound hollow, as if it were missing the grace of regeneration, right? But Paul goes on to say why we should work. It’s not because we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. No! It’s because, “God is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).”
Anabaptists agree that salvation is a gift of grace and cannot be earned. But we read in the New Testament that God’s gift of faith brings with it responsibility. Human beings need to do their part in response to God’s gift of faith. Menno Simons, namesake of our faith family, said, “The regenerating Word must first be heard and believed with a sincere heart before regeneration, the putting on of Christ, and the impulsion of the Holy Ghost can follow.”
Balthasar Hubmaier (another key 1st generation leader) was interrogated in a Lutheran court (oh the irony!) and responded:
Q: How many kinds of faith are there?
A: Two kinds, namely a dead one and a living one.
Q: What is a dead faith?
A: One that is unfruitful and without the works of love, James 2.
Q: What is a living faith?
A: One that produces the fruits of the Spirit and works through love, Galatians 5.
But a second reason we Christians don’t behave differently is our theology. When we come to know the gospel of God we are overwhelmed by “the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding,” and which spills out into every area of our lives. But if our theology places limits on the Gospel’s access to every area of our lives, of course we’re going to live like everyone else.
Yes, I believe deeply that God’s gospel is for all of life. No compartments, no distinctions. Faith matters at home, work, and play. That core belief distinguishes me from the health and wealth gospel addressed in the previous post. Our economic lives are to reflect a life of generosity and simplicity, understanding that there is no separation between faith and finances. 100% of our resources (not just 10% or less) belongs to God.
And this core belief distinguishes me from Lutherant on the other hand, who makes a clear distinction between The Kingdom of this World and The Kingdom of God, and allows for different behavior in each context. Perhaps I’m missing something key here, but it appears to me that a compartmentalizing life in this way suggests Christians shouldn’t be living differently than the rest of the world. Instead, I believe our political lives are to reflect the politics and kingdom of Jesus, understanding there is no separation between faith and politics. We are to be “the peculiar people” in all areas of life.
Lutherant, thanks for a great learning dialogue! Here are my Three Truths More Christians Need to Learn from Lutherant:
- God’s love is totally free, totally necessary, and overwhelmingly marvelous.
- God’s love will empower you to live a new, refreshing, and healthy life.
- God’s love opens doors of dialogue with people you disagree with, and gives you the humility to love them just the same.
Peace to you Charles. And to all our readers!