Ever seen (or been) a couple in love, to the point where everything they say to each other is absolutely ridiculous (and maybe a little gross)? This results in phrases like: “You complete me”, “No, you hang up”, and “I love you more”. Couples caught up in this world don’t notice the effect that they are having on those around them, because their entire focus is on each other.
It’s true, that another person may complement us. I love my wife and enjoy her company to the point that it’s often like we’re the only ones in the restaurant or movie theater. However, we’re not teenagers anymore, and have found more socially-tolerable means of professing our love for each other when in public.
The purists among you, especially those of the Christian faith, may be expecting me to say that we are only complete in our relationship with Jesus. That’s a true statement, but it can be a discussion for another day. He does provide us other people with whom we can have meaningful relationships here on earth, though, and I believe that others – especially those with the same heart for Jesus as us – are meant to be part of our Christian walk. Regardless, that’s not the point of this particular article, but I’m still glad that you were thinking about it.
Have a look at this passage from James:
You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.
James 2:22 NLT
Here, James is referring to Abraham, who James’ original Jewish audience would have learned of since their youth. Abraham is recognized as a man of faith (for instance, see Hebrews 11:8-12 and elsewhere). However, his faith was not merely mental assent or an unsubstantiated claim, which – these days – is sometimes what the word “faith” has been diluted down to. Instead, Abraham’s faith was strong enough to impact the choices that he made. Said another way:
This was a belief that drove behavior.
There was simply no way that Abraham could fully believe in and trust God (whether from God’s speaking to him, God’s demonstration of His power and commitment, or God’s promises), and not actually do something about it. If Abraham’s claims to have faith in God were empty words, his actions would have reflected different behavior. There would be no reason for Abraham to follow God’s command to move to a new country (sight-unseen), unless Abraham actually believed – that is, unless he had true faith – that God would be good to His word.
I think of this like our own sense of self-preservation. We’ll typically only step out onto surfaces (or sit on chairs) that we are confident won’t fall apart under our weight. Thin ice or rickety crates don’t have our trust, and – in most cases – we choose not to venture onto them…no matter how much bravado we may claim in front of our buddies. Our “faith” in these simple things results in actions that match what we really believe – not just what we claim to believe.
(On the other hand, faith is only warranted when the object of our faith can live up to what we believe. I may have all of the faith in the world that last week’s leftovers from the back of the fridge are still OK to eat, but if they have gone bad, I’m likely to be disappointed – and pretty sick!)
Like Jesus forgiving the paralytic, in Luke 5:17-26, a mere claim of faith cannot be evaluated by others on its own. Anyone could have said that the paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven, but Jesus backed these words up with a demonstration of results. Because Jesus was God and had the actual ability to forgive sins, He also had the power to heal physical illness. In the same way, true faith within ourselves results in decisions that demonstrate the sincerity of our beliefs (not perfectly, but predominantly).
For those who may wish to take this too far in the other direction, Paul reminds us in Romans 4 that we’re not saved by living up to God’s perfect standards. None of us are good enough to earn that salvation. However, the faith that we have is shown and tested – and proven – by our choices to act upon that faith:
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT
The statements we make when they are popular or “safe” don’t show others what we truly believe. (These statements might – and should – match our heart’s position, but there’s little way for anyone else to tell if we’re genuine, or just trying to fit in.) Instead, the hard actions that we take when our belief collides with opposition are what show others – and ourselves – the true nature of our faith.
So, if your claims to faith seem a little hollow these days – if you feel a twinge of guilt when you tell people that you follow Jesus, because you’re not exactly sure whether you are sincere about that – let me suggest this: Don’t just try to “do more good things” to make that feeling go away. Instead, seek to cultivate and develop your faith: Learn more about Jesus. Talk with Him and listen to His words. Prove to yourself that God is faithful and can be relied on. Once you are sure of this, your choices (as well as your words) will demonstrate what you believe, and your actions will complete – rather than create – your faith.