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Making God credible with our lives!

December 23, 2010

My thoughts are often caught up in the balance between ‘right thinking’ (orthodoxy) and ‘right doing’ (orthopraxis) and much of the literature which I find most challenging is that concerning living correctly; that is living in a way which God wants me to live and is therefore the most loving and authentic way to be myself. For many years I have struggled with what it means to think rightly about God. I have, and continue, to study the Scriptures to ensure that my thinking is right and that what I think and say is grounded in what God has revealed to us. However, this is only one side of the coin and more recently I have been challenged about how I live, particularly in relation to that orthodoxy. As one contemporary writer, Shane Claiborne puts it:

…you can have all the right theological answers and still be mean…

or as Rowan Williams puts it in a discussion on whether God exists:

…belief in God starts for a lot of folk… from a sense that ‘we believe in’, we trust in some kinds of people. We have confidence in the way they live; the way they live is a way I want to live, perhaps can imagine myself living in my better or more mature moments. The world they inhabit is one I’d like to live in.

It’s what a friend of mine, who is a Benedictine monk, calls the struggle between head and heart. (Now of course the three people I’ve just mentioned are three people who some of my more conservative friends would immediately want to question as to their orthodoxy, but this is where I have found the challenge to live out my faith, rather than in some of the more conservative authors and thinkers who I read.) It is of course also a topic which Jesus deals with on a regular occasion, say in his Parable of the Good Samaritan, and which the New Testament writers return to again and again, here is Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

and here is James:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

So often I gauge others on what they believe, that is whether I consider them orthodox or not. I question where they stand on a whole host of issues and decide whether or not they can be trusted from how well they fit within the realms of orthodox faith. This isn’t wrong, so far as it goes, though too often I fall for the trap of seeing whether they agree with me, rather than with Scripture, but surely as Shane has already said, you can have all the right answers and still be miles from the truth. As James puts it in the section quoted above, if we claim to have faith (orthodox belief) but have not love, then we are in real danger of our faith being dead. So God is challenging me now. He is saying to me that I can have my theology solidly grounded but so long as it remains abstract, so long as it remains right only in my head, actually I am not as close to God as I might like to think.

I must go further than merely my own salvation, however important that is for me, and believe me its important, and see also my orthodoxy and my orthopraxis as a reflection of God. Paul calls Christians, Christ’s ambassadors, and if we are to represent Him as we should then we must both speak and act correctly. Rowan again:

[Becoming a Christian] a choice that may be helped by a bit of intellectual discussion but is seldom, if ever, settled by it. And when belief is rather weak in a society (like ours), the not very welcome question for believers, not least those who are supposed to hold positions of leadership and teaching authority, is whether we look remotely trustworthy.

I think back to my own coming to faith and realise that what really brought me to accept God was seeing the lives of Christian believers. Long before I finally committed I was surrounded by some lovely Christian people at my CU at University who made God credible, if you like. Later it was seeing my sister and some of her friends trying to follow Jesus and then later still as I joined a church and saw lives lived out for Christ, all of which helped me move on further down the road to faith. Now interspersed with this, though closer to the end of the process than the beginning, I read some apologetic books and asked some Christians about some seemingly problematic questions, but by this point I think that I wanted to believe or at least was open to the Christian faith being credible because of the lives I had seen lived out in front of me.  So increasingly God’s challenge to me seems to be saying that I need to be living a credible life of faith in front of the world. That I can have all the right answers but they won’t get anyone anywhere if I’m not living a life of love, if I’m only engaging with God on an intellectual level people will see that there is no heart in it and won’t be convinced for a second. Last word for Peter:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2011 7:06 am

    What a great post! I came across Shane Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution a few months ago and have found it an incredible catylyst in my faith, propelling and encouraging me to live out my faith actively, not just by words alone but lovingly, as Jesus did, through deeds. We aren’t saved by works, naturally, but the grace of God, but when God becomes our only desire and our source of strength and encouragment …of course we want to share that with others!

    I’m not one for preaching but encouraging others through my own life and I like who you bring that up at the end of this post. The fact that seeing the lives of other believers helped you come to accept God. I think that’s a powerful tool…the way we live our lives! Sometimes that’s an easy thing to forget, how it effects others.

    This reminds me of a quote by St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

    When we live more and more like Christ “preaching” almost seems silly because our very actions are like living testimonies of our devotion and love for God.
    Ok, sorry..I’ll stop…hope I didn’t write too much!

    I really am enjoying your blog…it’s really refreshing to read from another christian who has read from some of the same authors and has a similiar perspective!

    • February 16, 2011 8:39 am

      Thanks Jessica, I very much enjoyed your blog too. The St Francis quote is a great one isn’t it, really challenging, and Shane’s books really helped open my eyes to the way the Scriptures talks about living and not just believing. I also found Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship” a valuable challenge in this regard. I look forward to reading more of your blog!

  2. wisdomandlife permalink
    June 23, 2011 11:26 am

    Good Morning, Mike:
    Love this entry. There is no RIGHT way to think about God. Everyone has their own interpretation. And I THINK that’s alright. What matters is that we have faith in something beyond this human physical realm, that there is something loving, something divine caring for us unconditionally.

    What you said about the the distinction between having faith and having love is an amazing insight. I know many people who claim to have faith and yet when they go out into the world they are so far from having it, because for the very reason they don’t or can’t show their love for their fellow spiritual brethren. It’s one of the challenges I wrestle with on a daily basis, especially when I attended several churches trying to find a place I felt comfortable. Oh yeah, the congregations were loving inside, but once they left and were in their cars many of them lost that feeling as they raced out of the parking lot. That behavior turned me off. So I completely agree with your idea about people believing they have faith but then not putting into practice.

    Don’t know the two people you quoted above. I’ll have to investigate. Thanks for giving me something to look for, Mike.

    Chris

    • June 23, 2011 11:39 am

      Thanks for your thoughts Chris, however I do disagree with your first paragraph. It does matter how we think and what we believe (orthodoxy) because, along with some other important points, our belief affects what we do (orthopraxis). Whilst my post was aimed at encouraging the orthodox to live out their right beliefs I wouldn’t want people to be confused that only how we live matters as it doesn’t. The scriptures, and the creeds which are based upon the scriptures, are very clear that there are right ways to think about God and wrong ways to think about God (heresy). God, in Christ, is very clear about what He is like and what He isn’t like and the danger of following other gods/idols which lead us away from the one true God. I hope that my post encourages Christians to think about what they believe and live out their beliefs in their lives as a witness to who God really is. Thanks Mike

  3. June 23, 2011 8:14 pm

    Good stuff, Mike. Keep it up!

  4. June 24, 2011 2:55 am

    Very interesting and thought-provoking. You seem to be on a growth path spiritually and that should lead to more and more good in your life and in the world if you are truly open to God’s personal guidance for YOU …

    • July 6, 2011 7:24 am

      Thanks Linda, sorry for the delay in replying! God is certainly guiding me and bringing me into a deeper relationship with Him. This I find is often a difficult path but one which is more than worthwhile. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. June 24, 2011 6:02 am

    I was struck by your reflections and Bible passages you’ve used in your post. I’ve just went through Jessica’s Experiencing God, and somehow this is another dimension of experiencing Him in one’s life.

    It is said that the journey from the mind to the hearts is long… and that somehow explains the discord we feel between what we think and feel… And this is our challenge, to bring to God our whole self…mind, heart and even body. The world expects of us a person “united”…serene… and it’s the best we could offer to a world that is divided…

    I was reflecting on 1 John 4 and somehow I connect this also with your reflection: (vv 19-21)
    “… whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister…

    I’ve read this as a recurring theme in your post Mike… love… love God through our brothers and sisters…

    Wonderful post. I read this sometime ago, I wasn’t able to comment. Thanks for reposting 😉

  6. June 25, 2011 1:02 pm

    Thanks Mike. I find inspiration in your words.

  7. November 23, 2011 2:01 pm

    My dear Mike, this was truly a wonderful message! It reminds me of the Proverbs 6:6-8. We see the example of the ant, which does good work without a visible supervisor. That is how we should challenge ourselves with our faith, belief and trust in God to do according to His will not ours. To always do good work for Him. Not us.

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