What’s the essence of Christianity? Think about your answer to that question for a moment. What does it mean for you and me to be Christians? Think of your answer to that too. What does Christianity look like lived out? Really consider that one.
After thinking about it, I’d describe Christianity as belonging to one person: the One who bought us back from death. Real Christianity is not the result of a series of outward actions: the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc. The Christ-life starts inside, when you give Jesus your heart. But it doesn’t remain there. It moves out. It changes every aspect of your life. Yes, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc. And it touches the people around you.
Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed? He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31, 32, NKJV)
A mustard seed is really tiny. Yet for starting out too small to provide even a decent bite for a bird, it becomes home to many birds. This is how our Savior works. Jesus starts inside our hearts, forgiving us, changing us, transforming us, nurturing us from newborn babies until we’ve grown up into men and women fit for heaven.
Jesus told another parable along the same lines. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13:33) That little bit of leaven, mixed in with the bread dough can’t be removed. It permeates the entire loaf. The same with Jesus once we surrender our lives to Him. He’s no longer a bystander on the edge of our lives, or a once-a-week visit to a steepled structure. He’s real, living, present, active in every part of our lives.
This is what the Christian life looks like. It’s dynamic, not static.
Now consider that in terms of the relationship between faith and works.
Faith is important, nay vital (I couldn’t resist!) But it doesn’t stand alone. Jesus intended it to be mixed with works, yet never with the idea that your works are earning you a spot in heaven. Check out these two contrasting yet complimenting passages:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26)
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:27-31)
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:15-21)
To make it even more interesting, add love into the mix. Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 alone makes it clear that even the best works without love are empty. Yet check out what Jesus said about the connection between love and obedience to His law: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) And He didn’t stop there; He repeated it again in verses 21 and 23.
Obedience is the outflow of love, not the other way around. Obedience shows that we know God. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)
These passages are important because they help us understand how to live the Christian life as we prepare for life with our coming King. Satan doesn’t want us to understand. He doesn’t want us to be ready. He wants us to be like the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24:48-51. But God has made His truth known in His word. So prayerfully take a look at these verses again and hear what God is saying to you.
My point is simple: by faith, the seed was planted in my heart and began to grow; the leaven was added to the lump of bread dough and mixed in. The end result is a life of obedience to His will, the lifestyle of the King’s daughter in a foreign land.