We live in a culture of busy Christians. I read stories of the stresses of pastoral ministry driving pastors away from the church and into sinful lifestyles. I hear the struggles of my fellow seminarians as they attempt to juggle the demands of school and ministry and work, often walking the edge of burnout as they long for rest. I understand the weight of many responsibilities, often feeling both burdened by the load yet unable to slow down. We whose lives are marked by busyness would do well to remind ourselves of Jesus’s words on the subject of obedience.
In his Sermon on the Mount, after stating that his followers will recognize false prophets by their fruit, Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
As we read Jesus’s words, we likely understand his point easily enough. Our entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of words but of actions. Our lives will evidence our true beliefs. The legitimacy of our faith is proven not in what we say but in what we do, not in our confessions but in our obedience. James’s words come to mind here: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).
Yet Jesus then continues with another point.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Here, we read of a group who apparently did many deeds in the name of the Lord. Their actions, by many accounts, would appear to reflect a genuine faith. They looked the part, busying themselves with the very works that Jesus himself did. Yet they were strangers to the God they claimed to serve.
We find in these few verses a profound truth which should affect the daily lives of all who claim to know Christ, namely that words and deeds must be the fruit of genuine faith. Otherwise, they have no bearing on our relationship with God. Actions reveal a relationship, but they do not equal a relationship. Just as faith without works is dead, so works without faith are dead.
For those of us who keep busy for the Lord, the tendency arises to drift toward one of two extremes concerning this truth. The first is to focus too much on the relationship and too little on the works. We cannot claim to know Christ while never actually obeying him. Faith without works may be no faith at all (see James 2:14-26). Yet we must also avoid the other extreme of focusing too much on works and too little on the relationship. Busyness in the things of God does not necessarily reflect either nearness or obedience to God. We may be working hard, but we may not be working in the Spirit. Balance must be maintained here as we learn to see faith and works as two necessary aspects of a healthy relationship with the Lord.
This week, let us be people whose lives are marked by bold faith worked out in devoted obedience. May we rest in our relationship with the Lord as we evidence the genuineness of that relationship in our deeds. And may we learn to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling,” remembering that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).