“A unity between the self as knower and doer, of theory and practice, is necessary, observed Kierkegaard, otherwise there is no unity within the self… It is acknowledging there is no meaningful thought without action… The gospel is not merely a series of ideas that theologians write about: it is an event. We only “know” about it truly when we have participated in and through that event – as participants indeed, not just spectators.” – James M. Houston, The Mentored Life
In Protestant Christian circles there has been a good and important emphasis on our inability to save ourselves, on our total dependence upon the grace of God to receive salvation and to be God’s children. We certainly are more sinful and broken as human beings than we like to admit, yet God is more loving and gracious than we could ever imagine.
That being said, it is likewise often a struggle for Christians to recognize the appropriate response to these truths. Many Christians without being consciously aware, live out their “faith” in this way: they hear about, learn about, and talk about God’s love and grace, but they stop there. For these Christians inevitably their faith becomes stale, apathy grows, and there is a disconnect between what they “know” to be true and their experience of life. This probably does not result immediately in the most heinous of sins; but slowly and surely their life is headed in a trajectory of further and further incongruence with what they “know” to be true.
If the gospel is not just an idea but an event in human history, then it only makes sense that the gospel must be something we participate in ourselves. In other words, obedience is not optional to the life of faith. Of course, volumes of books have been written about the practicalities of following Jesus, but what follows are a few good reality checks.
First, has the knowledge of God’s love and grace in Christ translated into time spent in prayer? If it is true that I am accepted as God’s child, not based upon my own spiritual performance or merits, but because God simply chooses to love me in Christ, then it only makes sense that I would actually spend time talking to God. If I talk about God but don’t talk to God, my faith is incomplete.
Second, do I love the people around me? This is more than asking myself if I have feelings of warmth about friends, roommates, classmates, etc. (though not unimportant). But it is important to reflect upon whether or not I am taking any action to display love for those around me, out of the overflow of God’s love for me. Maybe I need to consciously choose to take steps to reach out to someone, to spend time with someone, to express encouragement to someone.
Third, am I taking steps of faith? I know that my faith is incomplete when I reflect upon my life and conclude that I have not taken any action recently where the results will be hard to predict, where I feel there may be risk, where I am out of my comfort zone. If my faith seems dry and I sense apathy growing, it is likely that I need to consciously decide to do something beyond what is in my normal routine (in step with God’s immeasurable love for people).
These reality checks are far from exhaustive; obedience to Christ is a life-long journey. But if these practical steps are not happening you are likely becoming someone far less than the person God is calling you to be. Thankfully, we have a forgiving God who always offers more chances to jump back on the right path.