By: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
At the day of doom, men shall be judged according to their fruits. It will not be said then, “Did you believe?” but, “Were you doers, or talkers only?” — John Bunyan
Better they should be accountable in the present.
Dear Jonathan, As you know, John Bunyan wrote Pilgrims Progress, which was a fictionalized dramatization of the path of the soul’s journey through life to perfection of character on the Christian walk.
John Bunyan has made a statement which sounds non-Biblical; let us examine the different aspects of this quote. The question, “Did you believe?” is an important question, since according to the Bible it is by faith that we are saved, lest any man should boast.
Ephesians 2:1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
But, the faith that saves us is inherently bound together with works. A faith that simply believes and does not penetrate into action is empty. Belief which does not transform the heart and reflect in the face, resound in the voice, and move hands to service is without value and will be accorded no more value on the day of reckoning than the empty recitation of verses memorized without understanding.
James 3:15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
The quote, “Were you doers, or talkers only?” must be put in proper context. Doing is important as emphasized above, and talking only is the equivalent of faith without works. For salvation to be complete, we must combine belief/faith/talking with a sincere reflection of our hearts in the way we act.
If works alone were sufficient to transform our hearts and bring us into right relationship with God, then we would need no relationship with God at all. We would be in essence gods ourselves. Such a philosophy is very seductive since it supports our innate belief that man alone is in control of his destiny. The common secular view of life is that “I am a good person; I will be judged as adequate and worthy by God.” Such a view of life requires no relationship with God, and no posture of obligation, submission, or humility need be exhibited by man. But, God has created a firewall that protects the entrance into His presence. We must acknowledge our insufficiency to save ourselves, accept His grace and provision for our salvation, and then attempt to act in a manner as closely reflective of the spirit of Christ as possible.
Yes, it is good to be accountable in the present; that is the only place we can actually live. But, acts that proceed out of faith are of a higher effect than simply good works. In Colossians 1:11 Paul was writing a letter to the Colossians re: the benefit of Christ having died for our sins. Of course the belief in Christ’s blood being beneficial is predicated by the belief that Christ was divine and the Son of God, and therefore had authority to offer Himself in propitiation for the unavoidable error of mankind. The promise associated with the symbolic and effective value of Christ’s sacrifice is well elaborated in this passage:
Colossians 1:11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. 14 God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins. 15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. 16 Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. 17 He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together. 18 Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything. 19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross. 21 This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, 22 yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. 23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed by God to proclaim it. 24 I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am completing what remains of Christ’s sufferings for his body, the church. 25 God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his message in all its fullness to you Gentiles. 26 This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to his own holy people.
The point is, accountability in the present is tightly interconnected with eternal consequences, and current accountability is connected with culpability. Our hope in the sacrifice of Jesus is that a change of heart, an acceptance of His sacrifice is sufficient and acceptable for the cleansing from eternal spiritual consequences.A perversion of this concept has been made by those who take this hope as license, expecting that God must forgive; claiming that God must forgive them because they believe. God will not be mocked. Such an interpretation is a perversion of scripture and the spirit of God’s purpose in providing a way of remission of sins. The simple act of belief has within it the sacrificial turning away from the paths of evil, as well as accepting the grace God has extended in offering a way of redemption after having fallen.It is a choice to see Christianity as based on an interpretation of scripture which shows that God is unfair, unjust, or whimsical; or looking for that thin line of balance which reveals God in the light of absolute justice, being constrained by His own laws and the construction of His universe, but nevertheless judging with absolute fairness. Philosophers have long made it their primary task of intellectual examination to show that scripture contradicted itself. To show contradiction would violate the laws of logic, and hence give evidence that the Bible was untrue. If the Bible declares itself to be True, and if Truth is unique and non-contradictory, then the premises and laws stated within the Bible must internally consistent, and consistent with reality.
When Christianity is examined for the purpose of producing doubt, the logician will be successful, because the Bible speaks to the same circumstance under many different conditions. Likewise, words have latitude in their reference, and those who wish to prove inconsistency can choose the definition and implications of phrases. But the same is true of those who have faith, and wish to prove consistency and scriptural integrity to justify their faith. Thus, the argument is enlightening to a degree, but it is not adequate to produce faith. Ultimately the heart must be drawn to the Lord. Again, if one chooses to believe that scripture is true then the truth can be found. If one chooses to believe scripture is false, then one will see only error. Faith, working, either way, will produce its object. The acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ as atonement for our transgression, and belief in the significance of God’s provision for release from the curse must be accompanied by a sincere desire and attempt to transition from a desire to serve one’s self and our selfish desires. Many will claim to be sons of God, and work great works in His name, and God will say, “I never knew you.” Performance and the state of the heart are two aspects of a sincere expression of belief/faith that has a deep and transforming effect on the soul and establishes a true trust relationship with Jesus as Lord. Criticizing people in government, in positions of Church leadership, and those who profess to be Christians as being poor examples of Christianity may be well founded at times; no doubt they will all fall short of perfection in appearance, attitude, and action. Regardless of the accuracy of the accusation of the individual Christian, or even a whole group of people who claim the title, the truth of the underlying philosophical/belief structure of Christianity is untouched by the ability of people who are attempting to actually live it. Christianity is not a mystical ritual that transforms a person just by saying a few words. A simple prayer of acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, and a heartfelt intention to live a new life is a start down the path. But usually, the real transformation of the heart comes when there is a sincere and persistent desire for release from their prison of personal passion. With a sincere heart the transformation can sometimes be dramatic. Even if a miracle of grace is received, the recipient of the gift must fight to maintain the changes by staying vigilant against the temptations that seek to draw him away. Christianity is a struggle, a hard-fought battle, every day attempting to overcome the evil within.
To say that Christians do evil things is a trivial observation, they are human, and their nature pulls them toward evil. But, God is always pulling the other way. In other words, we are not alone in our struggle to control the passions of the flesh. The pull of the flesh and satanic temptation is always opposed by the encouragement and conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is committed to listening, obeying, and honoring the commitment to righteousness made before God.
The problem with sin is that it is sweet. And the problem with sweetness is that the short term attraction obscures the long term pain and death that follows. The path to diabetic decay is accessed through the door of sweetness, and the seduction of sweetness today hides the horrors of diabetic ulcers, amputation, blindness, and kidney failure in 40 years.
Christianity is not about being perfect, it is about biasing one’s life toward a commitment to ongoing purification, resisting temptation, and submitting to the wisdom in the Way of the Lord. The sacrifice of Jesus was necessary according to God’s rules of creation. Accepting the sacrifice as sufficient is by divine fiat the ritual that God has ordained as the symbolic gesture that must be embraced as the object of faith representing a submission to God’s plan and Way. The distinction in the hierarchy between faith and works is probably one of the most difficult and divisive concepts of Christianity. It was the question at the heart of the Protestant movement initiated by Martin Luther and precipitated the split with the Catholic Church. Looking at an individual person who is a Christian, and then judging the value and truth of their religion by their actions, speech, and attitudes is tempting. But, it is better to judge the entirety of the religion, namely its scripture, its people, and its effect on the large social system. Judging the spirit of an entire philosophical-spiritual system requires a rather comprehensive view.
Bad people give a good cause a bad name, and given the weaknesses of humanity, looking at individuals will be disappointing. There is no one worth using as an example of the potential of mankind, except Jesus. That is why we should look to the source for our judgment of the standard of Truth. If we look inside for divine revelation of Truth, we have opened a pathway for intervention in the soul that cannot be otherwise accessed. Such a trek for Truth is far from a simple process and will not be successful when engaged as a dilettante, rebel, or mocker. The posture of sincere and persistent desire produces the most excellent results. If we dedicate ourselves totally to God’s guidance and ask persistently for the truth to be revealed, eventually the Truth will come. The proper method of searching for the truth is not with force that attempts to break down the barriers and blockades protecting God’s mysteries, but rather with an open and perceptive heart, looking for the clues and invitations to the Truth.
Your habit and attitude of criticizing and absolutely dismissing Christians (e.g. Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, etc.) for their failings is destructive rather than cleansing. It appears that your agenda is to tear down their positions of respect and Godliness so as to cast doubt on the validity of their political positions. It is possible to note the errors of a believer, and still trust in the intention of their heart to do good works. Instead, you have found what you believe is a speck in their eyes, and have condemned their entire ministry for the imperfection you believe they do not live up to. You are displaying a “holier than thou” attitude which neither you nor anyone else can live up to. Absolute perfection exists, but you cannot judge it perfectly. Yes, we should look at the fruits in people’s lives as well as in our own. It is important to be skeptical of another person’s motives and the purity of their heart when they have been unfaithful in the past, at least until they have made sincere confession and repentance or have shown the accusation to be false. It is good to avoid the appearance of evil; but more important to actually avoid it.
Dwell on the positive aspects of a person’s ministry rather than attempting to prove that their entire intent was evil and that their ministry and message was without value simply because of an error in the past, an accusation of impropriety, or the appearance of shortcoming. Let go of your habit of cursing the ministries of people who are sincerely attempting to advance the cause of Christ. Look for the good they have done; try to find the Truth and value in the teachings of the Word of God. Simply pointing out other people’s flaws is the equivalent of the life function of a dung beetle. Yes, it helps to break down waste and refuse, and it helps make way for future growth, but without planting and watering, seeds never grow. Focus on the positive intent in people’s ministries, not just their failings. You will then be part of lighting a candle that dispels the darkness instead of just cursing the darkness, an activity which produces only darkness.