Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Dangers of an Affected Faith

Once a disciple’s response to God’s initiative of grace fixes the ultimate goal of becoming Christ-like, “doing” becomes the focus in expressing our “being.” I continue to emphasize a delicate balance here because every action that we encourage believers to take in expressing their faith faces the danger of being undertaken for the wrong motive. If “doing” gets ahead of “being,” hypocrisy becomes an enormous threat.

I was going to quote here the biblical admonition, “By their deeds you will know them”; but I discovered that quotation is not in the Bible. If you look up the quotation on the internet, you will discover how frequently it is quoted by weirdos who try to read sinister motives back into peoples’ actions. Actually the closest the Scriptures come to this quotation is Jesus’ statements in Matthew 7:16 and 20, “By their fruit you will know them” (KJV). Paul in Titus 1:16 gives a slightly different twist, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him” (NASB). “Fruit” speaks of the end of a long process. “Deeds” is plural, and we must be careful not to identify one action as indicative of an entire life.

My caution here is focused on the fact that we can encourage certain kinds of behavior for believers and get ahead of their personal faith development. Sometimes we try to transform them from outside in rather than changing their hearts and letting those changes in their being find natural expression in their living. The affectation of faith (that is, the pretense of having faith and expressing it through behavior designed to impress others) is one of the greatest dangers in making disciples.

I personally believe that much of what we do in the church related to children fosters a disjunction between being and doing. By pushing them to make an early response to grace, we encourage them to begin “doing” before their “being” has matured enough to express itself intentionally. I would argue that our entire focus on children in the church should be on God’s initiative of grace (columns 2 and 3 in the “Making Disciples” Chart). We ought to be fostering their sense of being part of the family of God and helping them discover that each of them can have a personal relationship with God and can become a child of God.

The need for laying that foundation, however, is not just a children’s issue. Adolescents and adults also need that same foundation and that intensive focus on grace before we call them to discipleship and invite them to respond to God’s grace by their deeds. Before we start focusing on believers loving God and neighbor, we must be sure they fully understand God’s gracious love for them personally. When disciples have been nurtured in the family of God and have discovered God’s gracious purpose for each of them to become a child of God, then they can surrender themselves to a life of discipleship and begin to focus on how they can love God and neighbor in return.

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