Often I find myself embroiled in controversy and arguments about legalism, “old time religion” Baptist Theology, fundamentalism and assorted other topics concerning modern Evangelical Christianity. Some say we need the rules and regulations. That the command to be separate from the world is also a command to act separately. That any discussion of obedience to Christ begins with a change in manner of lifestyle.
I suppose there is some merit to that argument. A heart change will always yield an action change. Nevertheless, an action change is not always indicative of a heart change. You can follow rules simply because you were told to, trained to or guilted into following them. You can perform for the sake of performance and never have a real change of heart. You might not even know why you are living a certain lifestyle except that someone in authority over you told you this was “right and proper” living.
These folks contend that living for Jesus requires behaving like others who are living for Jesus…as they define living for Him of course. However, aping someone else’s behavior doesn’t mean you’ve had the same experience that caused that behavior. “Acting like a Christian” doesn’t mean you’ve actually encountered Christ. It could mean that someone simply told you that this is what it looks like if you have. And this person holds enough sway over you to induce you to act this way. You could even convince yourself that you have had this encounter with Jesus if you follow the code closely enough. If you were just like all the other Jesus followers in your circle, why would you ever question whether you had a head-on-collision with Jesus?
The other side of this, of course are those who claim that there are no requirements to the Christian life. That since Grace covers all; we are bound to no performance standards at all. That to even suppose that we could bring God happiness by behaving in a certain way is heresy. I understand this. I held this position for a long time after leaving the legalism of my youth and young adult years. And to be honest…this position is more Biblically sound that those demanding lifestyle performance as a sign of my love for Jesus and the depth of my relationship with Him. However, they too, take this too far.
As I approach my fiftieth year and my 24th year of knowing Jesus and having this relationship with Him, I find myself grasping the truth of both Ephesians and James. “For by Grace we are saved…not by works.” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8. However, James wrote, “Faith without works is dead…” James 2:14-26
The Biblical principle is both. Faith without resulting works is not really faith. Not in a life changing way. And believing you have Faith because of your works is just as wrong. The truth is your life yields works because you have been given faith. And that faith yields works. They are inseparable.
So what is the real motivator for a real lifestyle change? What constitutes “Godly” living? Is it rules made by one man governing another man? Doesn’t this eliminate the need for change and reduce it simply to the need for obedience? Doesn’t this change the impetus for change from internal to external and from loving obedience to Jesus to grinding obedience to the Law?
Of course it does. The truth is that the only real change…the only change that will take root and never fail is the change wrought by Jesus as a result of an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. I can never please Him by any action of my own, save one…that of letting Him love me. He does this when I let Him come close to me as I am, and let Him stay there. When I let Him draw closer each day and in the proximity, He changes that which He desires to change. Not my Pastor. Not my Theology professor. Not the TV preacher. Jesus. Whose blood was shed to purchase that right.
My focus has shifted from trying to do this or that to get Him to approve of me to trying nothing. Spending more time quietly in His presence letting Him walk around the hallways of my heart, springing the trap doors and sweeping the cobwebs out from under the furniture.
From this depth of relationship comes an obedience that takes almost no effort. When you love someone who loves you it’s easy to make them happy…because you already do.
From this depth of relationship come the changes that mold me ever closer to the image of Christ that He has for me. Close to being called by that special name He knows me by…a name I have yet to hear. (Rev 2:3)
Is it effortless? No, of course not. But it’s a labor of love instead of a grinding effort of my flesh or a shameful frolic through the world with the attitude of someone with a “Get out of Jail Free!” card. Neither resembles the reality of a lifelong walk with Jesus of Nazareth. A walk where every step draws closer to His until quite often only one set of footprints is visible. Instead of the sweet sentiment of the old Christian illustration that says, “That’s where I was carrying you,” the truth is that “That’s where you were so close to me in every step that we took them together”
I hope someday that is true of me.