When was the last time you experienced something that was quite demanding? I recently had the joy of observing one of my children play basketball. Now the sport itself is rather demanding. You have to maneuver just the right way. You have to handle the ball just the right way. There are indeed rules that players have to abide by. There is a sense that in order to play the game, you must agree to abide by a particular set of rules. If you agree to play basketball, you agree to its demands. Is Christianity demanding? Does Christ make any demands of His people? For many today, the answer is a resounding “no”. They would never say that, of course, but their lives would preach such an “accommodating” gospel.
Should being a Christian change how you speak to people? Should being a Christian alter what you do with your body? Should being a Christian affect what you think about? Should being a Christian affect you at all? Again, most individuals would say “yes” with their lips, but for some reason, we have rejected such basic biblical ideas in our lives.
The sort of Christianity found in the Bible is not such an easygoing Gospel. In fact, what we see affirmed from beginning to end is simply this: a believer is saved by grace alone through faith alone, yet that grace is always accompanied with good works. To put it another way, we might say that good works are the necessary consequence, or effect, of becoming a Christian.
So often people have pursued an easy-believism. This manifests itself in a hollowed-out form of Christianity that has all the outward show, but none of its power. We do well to remember that Christ’s harshest language came upon the scribes and Pharisees because they knew all the right religious ideas and lingo, but it never manifested itself in their lives (cf. Matthew 23). God did not reveal Himself so that we might merely have new ideas about God and the world. God reveals Himself through nature and the Scriptures so that our minds would be renewed and our hearts reformed in His image, so that all of life would be a manifestation of our adoption in Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2).
One of the reasons we belittle this necessity of good works as the natural effect of our being born again (or “regeneration” as it is called in theology) is because we have separated the gifts of Christ from Christ Himself. If we have been united to Christ, then Christ is at work within us. To deny this evidence of life in our daily living, is by necessity to deny the very presence of New Life within us (cf. Romans 6:5-11). Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) Fruit lies at the heart of the Christian faith. (Galatians 5:22-25)
God is not interested in our production of an empty faith. A faith which demands nothing. A faith which expects nothing. A faith which produces nothing. As James warns us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14 ESV) James goes on, “faith apart from works is useless…” (James 2:20 ESV) Sadly, there have been many throughout the church who have sought to pit James and Paul against each other needlessly. But this is entirely unnecessary.
Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, commented on this portion of James and said this, “The sum, then, of what is said is, that faith without love avails nothing, and that it is therefore wholly dead.” Because we separate the person of Christ [our Savior] from the gifts of Christ [our salvation], we forget that these good works are inward and outward manifestations of love to God and our neighbor. We forget that as a bird demonstrates its ability to fly by its flight, so a Christian demonstrates the presence of Christ in their life by displaying His love. What sort of love is this? It led Christ to speak of the heart of the law in this way, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39 ESV)
A Christian is called to reflect Christ, not to earn their right standing with God, but as an evidence and natural effect of God’s work within them. A Christian is called to live a life full of good works to display to themselves – and the world – that Christ is at work within them. Such things are the ordinary features of the Christian life, though they may be forgotten or hidden in our present day. But Scripture reminds us, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).