Too many people seem to not understand what life is all about. Even in Christian circles, there seems to be a lot of confusion. Why does Paul say we are saved by faith in Christ and not by works, lest anyone should boast? And why does James say that faith without works is dead? If the writers of the Bible are confused, why wouldn’t we be confused, also?
The writers are not confused. We are loved by God because we were chosen by Him. He chose us, we did not choose Him. We are justified by faith alone in the work of Jesus on the cross. Nothing we could ever do would earn His forgiveness. Stopping here, as many people do, would be a great tragedy.
There’s a reason we aren’t immediately teleported to heaven as soon as our sins have been forgiven. It’s because God sanctifies us on the earth. He sets us apart. Through the sweat of our brow and the empowering of the Spirit, God transforms our hearts. How? Through our circumstances (good and bad), He molds our stubborn hearts to love the things He loves. As our hearts learn to love the things that God loves, our actions begin to demonstrate this to the world. Changing what your heart loves is a slow, painful process that will happen moment by moment until the day we die. But in that time, we learn and improve on what it means to live in relationship with the God of the universe, and we will value the things He values, and work towards redeeming the world.
As an example, God loves people. All people, but His heart is especially bent towards lost and vulnerable people. And God values Justice infinitely more than any of us could imagine (if He didn’t, He wouldn’t have sent His Son to the cross). So when we see vulnerable people such as widows, children and the poor being taken advantage of, our right and proper reaction is to protect them and to seek justice. Our God-given love of people drives us to seek justice and not back down until it comes about, even at great personal cost.
Similarly when we see lost and broken people who are self-destructing because they don’t know of God’s great love for them, we have to act. God calls us to be wise, and wisdom demands that we act in a way that will be most likely to succeed. Which is why I don’t stand on street corners yelling at non-Christians to turn or burn. But I build relationships with people God loves (that’s all of them) and pray for unbelievable wisdom about how to approach it so they know the love of God. God grants wisdom that sometimes starts a conversation, and sometimes it’s patiently waiting.
Sometimes people get too hung up on the “love God and love people” thing and argue it’s too mushy. But if we’re loving people like God loves people, sometimes we extend them grace when they don’t deserve it. And sometimes we respond forcefully to defend the weak and demand justice.
There are few people who demonstrated the sanctifying power of the Spirit in her life more than my friend Sandy who passed away yesterday. We worked together on staff at RMCC, sharing an office. She did tele-care ministry where she would literally spend all day calling people in our church to pray for them and to make sure they were doing ok. For hours a day she would talk to people on the phone and give them encouragement, support and prayer. I never once heard the other end of any of these conversations, but I listened for hours to Sandy’s side of the conversation. Love for people exuded out of Sandy the same way carbon-dioxide exudes from the rest of us.
She didn’t lead a church that blew up and got 82 billion members in three years. She didn’t start a non-profit that raised 26 bazillion dollars and cure HIV. She didn’t make a ton of money, or do anything else that’s so typically associated with mega-success, even in the church world. But she loved people really, incredibly well. And I have no doubt that the impact of her care has and will continue to change generations to come. No one will know the full impact of Sandy’s constant, faithful, steady plodding on this side of eternity.
Unless you are extremely fortunate, you don’t know who Sandy is. But I’m confident her faithful love of Jesus and love of people made more of a difference in the world than most of the people you do know put together.
I want to be a little more like Sandy. Every day.