This article has been developed from an address given to around
1000 students from campuses in the wider Sydney area at this year’s
Mid Year Conference. The theme of the conference was ‘Time’, a
consideration of what the Bible teaches about the course of human
history and the centrality of Jesus Christ, and this was the final talk.
Hear the words of God from James 2:18.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds”.
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
I am going to ask you now to show me your faith. Let’s not get cultic about this—I don’t need you to show me. But I want you to see it for yourself.
It’s very easy to claim to have faith. Anybody can do it. Anybody can say, “I believe this, I believe that”. But how can you ever tell when somebody actually has faith? How can you know if someone is a true believer or merely a charlatan? How can you recognize faith in yourself? Isn’t faith a mystery, an unknowable, numinous something-or-other that is intensely private and ought to be kept to yourself?
How would you know what faith looks like? We can do open heart surgery, but we can’t look into the truths of the human heart. You can’t see faith by looking in people’s eyes. But faith can be seen.
What is it, then, that will reveal what is hidden?
The Bible’s answer is—your deeds.
Your deeds will show you what kind of faith you have. ‘Joe Nasdaq’ spends his life trading shares, gambling at the track and filling his house with as many possessions as possible. Joe has faith in the almighty dollar. His god is materialism; his gospel is “he who dies with the most toys wins”; and he is showing his faith by what he does.
‘Jan Middlemanager’ stays back at the office each night, uses weekends to catch up on her professional journals and ‘makes the lifestyle sacrifice now’ because she knows that promotion is just around the corner. Jan has faith in whatever it is that is at the top of the career ladder. Her god is success (or perhaps respect); her gospel is “when you die, make sure you are falling from the top”; and she is showing her faith by what she does.
‘Jack Weekend’ works a regular 9-5 job, and spends the week looking forward to Saturday sport (on the TV, of course), the Saturday night BBQ, Sunday morning sleep-in and Sunday afternoon in the garden. He loves his family; enjoys his holidays; and waits for the relaxation of retirement. Good old Jack has faith in comfort. His god is hedonism (even if it is in a very sedate form); his gospel is “look after yourself and your family and die happy”; and he is showing his faith by what he does and (like Joe and Jan) what he doesn’t do.
You might be Joe or Jan or Jack. Or you might have your own god and gospel. But your life will tell the story. Your faith is revealed by how you act. Faith, though hidden, is not so mysterious. Just look at a person’s life and you will see what they have faith in. Faith always acts.
So, my friends, while I listen to your professions of faith with joy, I want to see the reality of your faith in your actions. But before I can see it, I need to know what to look for, and so what it is exactly that you believe. Let me ask you five extended questions and then challenge you to act on your answers.
1. Do you believe the Holy Scriptures?
• Do you believe both the Old Testament and the New Testament?
• Do you believe they make you wise unto salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ?
• Do you believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God, breathed out by God himself, so that the words of the Bible are the very words of God?
• Do you believe that they are useful for training in righteousness, correcting, rebuking and teaching?
• Do you believe that the Scriptures thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work?
• Do you believe in the Holy Scriptures?
2. Do you believe in God?
• Do you believe he is the creator and sustainer of the whole world?
• Do you believe he is the ruler and the judge of all people?
• Do you believe he has been sovereign over the course of human history?
• Do you believe he is the one to whom one day you must give answer for every idle word and thought of your heart?
• Do you believe that God is here, now, looking over us at this moment, amongst us, present with us, knowing us even more intimately than we know ourselves?
• Do you believe in God?
3. Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
• Do you believe that by his death and resurrection he can save you?
• Do you believe that he who died has risen again to sit at the right hand of God in all glory, power and authority?
• Do you believe that he also is present here with us by his spirit?
• Do you believe that he who appeared the first time to die for us will appear again to judge the living and the dead?
• Do you believe in his kingdom, that he now rules the world, and that all the nations are his by right, his by creation and his by redemption?
• Do you believe that God is subduing all things under Jesus’ lordship so that he will be head of all things?
• Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
4. Do you believe in the times?
• Do you believe that we are in the last times?
• Do you believe that all that needs to happen before the end of the world has already happened?
• Do you believe that all that is left now is for Christ to return?
• Do you believe that these times we live in are the times the Scriptures speak of: when people will no longer put up with truth; when they prefer teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear; when the church itself is full of corruption?
• Do you believe in the times?
5. Do you believe in the preaching of the word of God?
• Do you believe that now is the day of salvation when the word must be preached urgently?
• Do you believe that the preaching of the gospel is the means by which the nations will come under Christ?
• Do you believe the times are short?
• Do you believe that we must put convenience aside, for now is the season for the message of Christ to be proclaimed?
• Do you believe that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes?
• Do you believe in the preaching of the word of God?
These are not questions that have come out of my own head. I am not so bold and arrogant as to suggest I can demand such belief of you.
No. The questions above arise from the word of God itself. These are the truths he has revealed to us. They are the demands of faith that he places upon us and to which he calls us. We see a magnificent summary of these concerns in the words that the apostle Paul passed on to his great friend and preacher, Timothy, as Paul approached the end of his life:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5
Do you believe in this message?
If so, don’t just say it. Do it. How can you believe these things and not show them in your lives? If you can assent to the creed without it being visible in your life, there must be some point at which your belief has lapsed. There must be something that you don’t truly believe, for otherwise you would act.
So how might a person reveal this faith? How would we see it expressed in a Christian’s life? There are some clear priorities that every Christian person needs to set. Sadly, very few seem to have worked this out, or else we would be seeing the gospel going forth at a much greater pace.
Your life and time should be ‘framed’ by one particular activity—the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Over this last week, we studied ‘the times’, and we have seen that the time we are now living in is the age of the gospel. It is the time when the risen Christ sits on the throne, and sends out his messengers to gather his people from the ends of the earth. This is what both Paul and Timothy believed. And what is the person who believes these things supposed to do? To “continue in what you have learned”, to “preach the word”, to “correct, rebuke and encourage”, to “keep your head in all situations”, to “endure hardship”, to “do the work of an evangelist”, to “discharge all the duties of your ministry”.
But we are not all Timothys—let us not misuse the Bible. Timothy had a particular gift and responsibility for preaching. You may or may not share his gifts and responsibilities, but you will show your faith in the word of Christ by the way you support the preaching of the word of God:
• as you teach children in Sunday School;
• as you invite someone to church;
• as you use your money to support missionaries;
• as you write a letter to a friend;
• as you pray for your fellow Christians;
you will be showing the priority of the Lord Jesus Christ in your life.
As you talk, let that priority show. Let’s make it clear to the community around us that we love the Lord Jesus Christ and believe he is king whether they will accept it or not. If we do so, we will be persecuted. If we keep our mouths shut, we won’t be persecuted. But the Bible reveals to us that everyone who wants to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
That is the character of gospel living. It is too much to expect people who are receiving the gospel as the “odour of death” to love us (2 Cor2:16). But we can’t act on the basis of what people like; we must act on what we believe.
Friends, we are failing too often to set our gospel priorities. Christians think they do really well when they establish a respectable life for themselves, and then add something Christian to it. We get our job, the best house possible on our income; we start our family, and only then think about what we can do at church. We congratulate ourselves for not being like “the pagans”, but we are identical to them but for a few addenda—a bit of tacked-on church life. For people who are to live by the Spirit rather than our natural urges, this comes far too easily!
The gospel shouldn’t be at the end of your priority list. The gospel must be at the top of the list. Our beliefs—our faith—demand it. Our priorities ought to look upside down in the eyes of the world. What if we were to look first at where and how we will serve Christ, and only then fill in the other details of life? How would that affect our choice of:
• where we live?
• how we spend our money?
• what we do on the weekend?
• whether we take that job promotion?
• which field we work in?
• how much effort we spend reading God’s word?
• what importance we give to prayer?
• whom we marry?
• whether we marry?
From this list, I hope to convey just one idea: there is nothing in your life that is more important than the preaching of the gospel. You may not be the preacher–you may have any number of other roles to play. It doesn’t matter: your priorities will still be the same. Gospel preaching first, and daylight second.
If the gospel and its preaching is just an extra at the end of your list of life’s ambitions, something has gone wrong with your beliefs.
• Don’t you believe in the Holy Scriptures?
• Don’t you believe in God?
• Don’t you believe in Jesus Christ?
• Don’t you believe the times are evil?
• Don’t you believe in the preaching of the word of God?
• Don’t you believe God is delaying judgement in order to give people time to repent?
You say you believe, but show me your belief, says the God of the Scriptures.
Show me your faith.