A few years ago, I wrote a bulletin article concerning “Freedom in Christ.” While preparing, I became aware of a wonderful blessing. Under the Old Law, the Jews were expected to keep hundreds of rules and regulations. I realized that as Christians, while we are expected to keep commandments under the New Covenant, we have the freedom to choose the way we wish to serve God. This makes the Christian’s service joyous.
Today we are discussing the importance of an active faith. Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter,” but calling it the “Active Faith Chapter” is also appropriate. Here, the writer reminds us of Noah, who lived in a time of great wickedness. He was commanded to build a huge ark in order to save his family and the world’s animals. This was no small undertaking. Not only was it physically challenging, but took many years. All who watched thought he was foolish. They had not seen rain, much less a flood. Also, the writer tells us of Abraham, who left his home when God called him. He was not even certain where to go! Can you think of a harsher climate than in the Middle East? With large families, animals, and all their belongings, it must have been a tremendous effort to move even a few miles. Noah and Abraham are men who listened to God, really believed Him, and followed His instructions. We are here today with the hope of salvation because of their active faith.
Most of us are familiar with James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Perhaps less familiar is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Here we find our purpose as Christians. We were created so that we can perform “good works.” Amazingly, our loving and omniscient God prepared these opportunities ahead of time. We have the choice of accepting these opportunities, but we are humbled that He would consider us worthy. Our decision to demonstrate an active faith serves a greater purpose. God tells us why we are to perform good works in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”
Unfortunately, after we obey the gospel of Christ it is easy to become complacent in our Christian walk, becoming caught up in the problems of life. Our faith can weaken, and we can neglect opportunities to serve God.
While we are usually motivated by God’s love, fear of punishment is also effective. Jesus used the parable of the talents to warn against complacency and laziness when it comes to making use of our abilities and opportunities. What happened to the man who hid his Lord’s money? In Matthew 25:26 Jesus described this man as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and he was cast out into outer darkness (v. 30).
The verses which follow in Matthew chapter 25 are sobering. Here Jesus is describing the judgment, and one’s destiny was determined in very practical terms. Those who were blessed to inherit eternal life had cared for their fellow man: the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, imprisoned, or naked. Those who did not were rewarded with everlasting punishment. Jesus said that when we care for others, it is as if we are caring for Him. When we neglect others, we neglect Jesus too. He expects us to have an active faith and to demonstrate our faith by our actions (James 2:18). James then reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).
Over the years I have seen Christians of all ages and backgrounds serving God in practical ways. The remainder of this message is a practical application of the preceding Scripture.
For the child, one of the best ways to serve God is by honoring and obeying parents. Nothing honors a parent more than to hear from a teacher or neighbor, “Your son or daughter is so well behaved.” While the child does not understand what faith means, the habit of obedience is developed.
For the Christian teen, it is a blessing to be part of a youth group which serves others while having fun. Youth groups can visit older people, those who may need help with cleaning the house or yard, and the blessings are mutual. I remember a sweet older Christian who insisted on serving lemonade after our youth cleaned her yard. Looking back, these were joyous memories.
After high school, we can demonstrate an active faith through our chosen vocation or during higher education. For those who can attend college, I think it is a blessing to attend a Christian school. However, many state universities have a Christian support group and this can offer tremendous encouragement at a time when we become independent. Several of our local congregations support a campus minister who helps our young people remain faithful.
I remember the wonderful congregation and Christian friends we had during military service. My wife and I were newly married, and a local church took us under her wing. For me, learning to lead during worship services was a blessing. My sweet wife was encouraged by the older ladies, and sometimes we would take communion to an elderly Christian. We now look back to those years as formative in our relationship, and these were simple ways to put our faith in action.
Whether we remain single or marry and start a family, we can find opportunities to serve in our congregations by teaching, preparing communion, helping in the church office, holding a Bible study, inviting others to services, feeding the needy, donating clothing, or simply asking the church leadership what needs to be done. For those with young children, getting in the habit of bringing our children to Sunday School is one of the difficult but most rewarding aspects of being a parent.
During our middle years, it is a blessing to be a part of a congregation with elders and deacons. By now we know more about our talents, our strengths, our interests. A deacon and his wife gain valuable experience in helping the church. This is the time when some with children are older, and it becomes more convenient to open up our home to others. Often, we can be of tremendous assistance during Vacation Bible School and other youth activities because we are old enough to be more mature, but young enough to have the energy. By now we are often settled in our home and community and there are many ways we can give back, glorifying God by our actions.
As older adults, we usually have a little more time to put our faith in action. In the congregation, the younger ladies look up to the more mature ladies as examples of faith and service. Perhaps there is time to attend a ladies Bible class, visit those in the hospital, or prepare food and flower arrangements for various needs. Also, this is the time when we often begin to lose friends to death. We can be an encouragement to the depressed, downhearted, and those who are facing financial hardship or difficulties with children.
For the older man, this is the ideal time for self-reflection, perhaps offering to serve as an elder in the congregation. This is also the time when an older gentleman may be an encouragement to the congregation’s minister, since the preacher is often overworked and goes through the same hardships as others. Many older men and women are ideal teachers. In the community, there are ample opportunities to help our neighbors and those in need. In our congregation, some with financial means help support an orphan’s home, a widows’ ministry, and a Bible camp where our youth interact and some respond to the gospel.
Some of the greatest examples of active faith I have seen are by our most elderly sisters in Christ. I remember one who continued to teach Cradle Roll, getting down on the floor even when her knees were arthritic. Another took the time to teach the young girls how to bake unleavened bread and in the process conveyed the importance of the Lord’s Supper. Yet another would call members of her Life Group, providing updates on the sick, requesting various needs in food, and simply encouraging the lonely. Age was not a hindrance to serve.
In summary, there are endless ways to exemplify an active faith, demonstrate Christ in our life, and bring glory to our Heavenly Father. Good works which God has prepared for us are waiting. Just as in Matthew 25:23, we yearn to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC. He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.