Hold on to your hats. Recently a nine foot, one ton statue of Satan was erected in the city of Detroit. The idol has a human figure with a goat head. On either side of it stand the likenesses of two small children, looking up at it with rapt adoration. I suppose whatever a guy wants to put in his backyard is his business, but Satanists had earlier attempted through legal channels to place it on Oklahoma public property next to the Ten Commandments.
Time magazine (online edition), said, “In a sense the statue is a stress test of American plurality: at what point does religious freedom make the people uncomfortable?”
My question though, is, at what point does our ideological purity rob us of our common sense? We can laud progressive applications of freedom of religion, but some things actually seem like a slide backward to a more primitive time. The picture coming into focus is one of diversity, but the diversity of ancient Rome, when gods were as thick as flies and morality was ambiguous at best.
In our current matrix of pluralism, beliefs and opinions of all kinds clamor for equal attention and claim equal viability. How are we Christians supposed to rise above it all with the gospel of Jesus as the message to heed?
Beyond billboards, tee-shirts, and social media blitzes, is there an approach that will commend our faith to the world?
Typically when a question of this magnitude gets asked, the answer won’t be something new or innovative. Marketing chutzpah won’t come to the rescue. The answer lies in something biblically foundational—probably something we’ve all dismissed due to over familiarity.
So here it is: For a Christian concerned with evangelism, living out your faith is one of the most radical things you could ever do. It’s at least as radical as Satanists erecting statues of the devil.
Take a look at James 2:18.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
James pegged it. Somebody always gets around to separating faith from works, usually for misguided theological reasons. “We are not saved by works,” is the frequent refrain. I agree. We’re not saved by works. But this discussion isn’t about faith that saves. It’s about faith that’s shown.
“Show me your faith,” James challenges. Think what a great and awesome thing it would be to provide proof of the mysterious interior reality that exists between a believer and God.
Jesus Christ died for sin, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven where He was made Lord of all.
Wow. If this is true, please show me.
Many of us would react to this challenge if not in words, then by attitude, saying, “My faith is an invisible and mystical union between me and Christ, that occurred when I believed in Him, like in 1 Cor 6—“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” Because of this, Romans chapter 8 tells me the Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am a child of God and so together with Paul in Gal. 2:20, I can now say Christ lives in me.”
But James again says, “Show me!”
Of course he’s asking the impossible. Like trying to catch the smell of pizza and paint it green. Thankfully James answers his own challenge, and says, “I will show you my faith by my works.” Then he launches into a discussion from 2:18 to 2:26, where he establishes that works have evidential value—they prove something to you as well as to all your onlookers.
Works say your faith is real. They demonstrate the height and depth of it, even the shape of the teaching that provides its structure.
In verse 26, the apostle concludes his passage with a striking thought: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” It’s hard to find a more dramatic illustration than this. Take a human body, subtract the spirit from it, and you’ve got a corpse. Without spirit and soul, the body doesn’t “work” anymore. It’s dead.
Just the same way, if you separate faith from its ability to operate, to work, to do things—if you somehow frustrate it, tell it to lie down and get still because it is inconvenient or painful to live out, then it becomes a dead faith.
That’s exactly the way the world measures your faith. If what you do mismatches what you say you believe, then you’re the proud owner of something busted or twisted or just plain dead. It doesn’t take a Savior to die and resurrect to give you that sort of thing. All you need to do is watch a couple of YouTube videos and nab some inspirational concepts.
When faith doesn’t work, it becomes a target of contempt in late night comedy acts. But when it does work, it’s hard, if not impossible to dismiss. Though people may still not agree, you will note that the laughing has stopped.
In 1994, the National prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. featured keynote speaker Mother Theresa. Of course, Theresa hardly needed an introduction, having invested her entire life to serve the most destitute people on earth—the poor of Calcutta. That day the diminutive nun found herself surrounded with heads of state and important people.
I’m not trying to portray Theresa as some sort of card-carrying evangelical Christian, but she got up and spoke about how Jesus died on the cross for us. Then she launched into a sustained rebuke against the entire western hemisphere for its participation in abortion.
At the end, she received a standing ovation.
Only certain “enlightened” politicians remained seated in stony silence. What else could they do? When faith has proven itself by the works of costly self-sacrifice and service, opponents have very few choices left. They can either cheer for it or shut up.
Photo credit: John Cobb