A common phrase used when entering a restaurant is, “how may I help you?” Underneath this is the ever present question, “What can I do for you?” Is this the sum of the Christian lifestyle? Doing and striving for God and others?
I believe in doing good deeds. It is essential in our walk with Christ. But I do not believe I can accomplish anything truly good without outside help. This is where Jesus comes in.
When I first met Jesus, I had a feeling of a peace and joy that the world could not duplicate. After a time, it seemed to leave me. Sound familiar? Some would say that this is a normal occurrence because you are maturing in the Lord. I believe the exact opposite is taking place. Losing his peace in your life is the first sign that something is wrong with your walk in Christ.
It is at such times many are tempted to compensate for this by doing good works apart from his grace. We ask the question, “What can I do for you Jesus? How may I help him?” He is standing behind us, not with demands but a simple request to return to his peace and joy. The bible says it this way, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” This means the same faith you used to receive him is the same faith you walk in to abide in him.
Christians who simply “do” often miss the other side of the coin. They don’t have a full understanding of the grace of God, walking in the Spirit, or abiding in Jesus and his love. The reality of life is this, doing things only gets you so far. Jesus knew this and so taught us a deeper reality.
Christians don’t increase their faith in Christ by doing things. Doing is a symptom of faith. We don’t focus on good deeds alone. Buddhist, Muslims, and many other religions already focus on doing good. Christianity is different. It isn’t so much about doing good works as it is about receiving the good news of Jesus abundant life, and then spreading it to others. This is done by focusing on Jesus, by resting and abiding in his finished work.
This doesn’t mean sleeping on the couch. It means to lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your path. No matter what situation we are in, we can have peace that Christ will direct our paths. We can trust him. Out of this rest, we cannot help but do good for others.
But what about the law? Shouldn’t we focus on acting good towards others and ourselves?
The truth of the law is this. Only Jesus could do it. So in that we abide in the only man that could fulfill the law. Sometimes our desire to do great works has blinded us from the source of the greatest work. Abraham was not great because of what he did. Paul says it was his faith in God that made him great. Out of that faith great works came fourth in abundance. For us the source of great works is Jesus himself and not the law. Jesus finished his work on the cross and resurrection so that we might have an abundant life, full of his love, peace, and grace. It is from this revelation that we go and love others.
Many Christians do this backwards.
In John 15:12 Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. But before this, in John 15:9-11, he says that we are to abide or remain in Jesus and his love for us. It is out of this that we love one another.
1 John 3:11 also says that we should “love one another”. Before this though, in 1 John 2:20-27, it says (paraphrased) that after receiving the Holy Spirit who is to teach you truth… we are to remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns we will be full of courage instead of shame. Then it says in verse 28: “Since we know that Christ is righteous, we know that all who do what is right are God’s children.” It only says this after commending us to remain in fellowship with Christ.
James 1:22 is an often quoted verse that says you aren’t supposed to just listen to the Word of God but you must do it also. The previous, less-quoted verse states, “You must humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” So in this verse you find the power to salvation comes from God’s word and not by your works. Only when that power is realized does James asks you to do.
Here is something I read on a well-meaning church’s website.
“WE BELIEVE…Sanctification Initially Occurs at Salvation and is not only a declaration that a believer is holy, but also a progressive lifelong process of separating from evil as believers continually draw closer to God and become more Christlike.”
I really like this wording. It has all the main points, “Sanctification occurs at salvation”, “separation from evil”, “draw closer to God”. But I don’t think it is clear enough for us to use in a practical since. It could tempt us to see our works as bringing us further from sin and closer to God. The last part should read thus, “a progressive lifelong process of drawing closer to God and from that becoming more Christlike, which will separate you from evil.” The focus is no longer on separating yourself from evil, which only Christ could do successfully. It is now on Christ’s finished work of power in your life that separates you from evil.
I spoke to someone about this who claimed I was worried about semantics. I disagree. He and I may believe in the same things, but where we differ is which part should be focused on first. He focuses on doing good works for Jesus and therefore becoming righteous like him. I, in my faith, focus upon Jesus himself and what he has accomplished on the cross and resurrection. Then it is not my righteousness but his. This is the key to an abundant and peaceful life. This is what makes all the difference. I think Jesus said it best in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” If you are not resting in Him then you are not abiding in him.
It is about Jesus and not about us. If we even try and do what Jesus did without his power and strength in us, then we fall headlong into self-righteousness. By trying to do works for Jesus before learning to be full of his restful peace, we are trying in our own strength to be righteous. This is how Christians lose that initial peace and joy in Christ.
Doing deeds for Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is done through him. The Crusades are perhaps the greatest extreme of self-righteousness. They entered Jerusalem claiming they were fighting for God and country. They claimed they were doing all sorts of things “for Jesus”. All the while they were killing and raping innocent civilians. Many Muslims, Jews, and Christians who lived inside Jerusalem were killed by the “righteousness” of the crusades. Was this the righteousness that Christ was talking about? Of course not!
If you are doing a “good deed” no matter how good it looks and feels to the world, if it is done apart from Jesus then it will amount to nothing in God’s eyes. Sure you can cast out demons in his name, heal people in his name, and put on the appearance of goodness, just like the Pharisees did. But because you do it for Jesus instead of by and through him, you are doing nothing. In the end he will say that he never knew you.
It is like trying to relate to be a servant when he has asked us to be a friend. If God only wanted servants than he never would have sent his son to die so that we could be more. We would still have the old law to try and follow, something that only Jesus could accomplish.
God has done all good things through you. Even the supposed goodness that is done for others by a self-righteous man have come through Jesus and not of their own strength. This is how a pastor cheating on his wife can still be used by God to heal others. It is for the others sake that God uses the sinner. If he only used perfect people, than no one would be used at all.
Even a selfish Christian’s manipulative deeds can be used to help others. This is because it has never been about us. It’s always been about Jesus and what he has done for us.
And so what needs to happen? What is it that many Christians are missing? They are missing Jesus and the abundant life he has for us. How do you receive it?
All you need is faith in Christ!
Trying to be a Christian apart from faith is a hard way to live. There is no abundant peace or joy without faith in him. Was his pure and innocent death enough to cover our sins? Was it enough to save the world? Can we ever do enough to thank him? Does he ask us to do enough to thank him? No. He asks us to simply rest in faith in his finished work. Then that finished work does a work within us. Paul calls it being transformed by the renewing of the mind.
Jesus is enough! Abide in his love then go and love others as he has loved you. Love them with a powerful love, based upon your relationship with Christ. This is how we can help Jesus.