There is never a passive Christianity promoted in the Bible as an option for believers. There’s no model of Christian life that rather casually ends at 12:10pm on Sunday, and doesn’t pick back up for until 10:45pm the following Sunday. We want easy. We want to be told if we check this box once a week, we’re good to go. Frankly, that’s not an image of Christianity that is found in any translation of the Bible.
James is a very practical writer. You don’t find a lot of ceremony, pomp, or circumstance in his New Testament letter. What you do find is a gloriously direct view of the intended Christian life. He doesn’t pull punches, and that means some of these are going to sting when we examine our walk in light of them. James is never more blunt than when he states in 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”.
How easy it is to deceive ourselves. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:5 warns of those “having a form of godliness but denying its power”. It is possible to sit regularly in church every week, listen to the sermon, sing the songs, nod along at the appropriate parts, take Communion, and completely miss out on salvation. As important as listening to the Word is, we cannot be content with that. We have to do what the Word of God says. In fact, in the Greek form of verse 22, “do what it says” is presented in a manner that is more akin to “continually do what it says”. It isn’t a Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday application; it’s a whole-life application.
The Christian life can’t be reduced to 90 minutes a week, an offering, and a few handshakes. When we read John 15, Jesus is very clear that we are to “remain” or “abide” in Him. He is the vine that gives us our spiritual life; we are branches, that need to remain in Him to have that life. Have you ever seen a branch broken off, put briefly back on a tree or vine for an hour once a week, and then taken off again that could be said to be alive in any sense?
There seems to be this idea that has crept into some corners of the modern church that Jesus was almost a spiritual anarchist, and never made demands past a certain gauzy, permissive, abstract “inclusiveness”. Yet time and time again, Christ brings the conversation back to living fully in him and following the Word. In John 14:23, Jesus says “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”. In John 15:14, He says “You are my friends if you do what I command”. In John 13:34, we see “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”. These aren’t suggestions or informal guidelines; they are calls to living our lives under the Lordship of Christ.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. That’s such a total, complete view of discipleship and of following Christ. It leaves no room for a situational, Christmas-and-Easter-only type of Christianity. Jesus Christ cannot, and will not, be compartmentalized.
Hearing the Word of God is so very important, but if we let it just roll over us, without any sort of change in our lives, without any submission to Christ, how are we treating the sacrifice Christ made for us? Is it some sort of side accessory in our lives, or is it the light that changes everything? If we believe the gospel, does it show in how we are living? To truly begin to understand the depth of grace, and to begin to realize that we were saved from what was justly an eternal punishment, should mean joy in our lives—an incredible, breathtaking joy that we want to share with others. It should mean we do not hold grace as something cheap or expected, but something radical and holy.
We have a Lord and Savior presented in the Bible who calls us to action through His relationship with us. Christ, sinless, blameless, with perfect love, took on the full wrath that by rights should have been poured onto each of us. All the accumulated guilt and sin of our world, then, now, and to come, was put on his shoulders. His physical pain, as terrible as it must have been, was magnified an infinite amount of times by the full spiritual agony of that sacrifice. When we understand that it was done so that each of us called to salvation may live, it cannot leave us unaffected or unchanged. To be able to treat the gospel impassively or merely academically is to not understand the nature and impact of the gospel.
Time and time again, the Bible tells Christians they must not—indeed, they cannot, if they understand salvation and grace—be simply passive hearers. They are to be doers for God’s Kingdom, in every part of their lives. Titus 2:14 says Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”. We are to stir one another towards good works (Hebrews 10:24). We are to have an abundance of good works in our Christian walk (1 Timothy 6:18). We are not to speak of love as an abstract, but in “deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Apathy or disinterestedness is not what God his intended for his beloved people. For those who are God’s people, there is a clarion call in the great news of our salvation to go through this life with an intense passion, faith, and joy in serving our Lord!
When we become not just hearers of the Word, but doers, and live our lives abiding deeply in the love of Christ, there are challenges. The Christian life, the one we are presented with in the Bible, is not easy. Frankly, when we stop playing a sort of mix-and-match on the Bible to fit modern social conventions, it’s going to call us to obey some things our sinful natures are not going to want to do—things that secular society will tell us are backward or wrong. It means being uncomfortable, it means sacrifice, it likely means at the very least social persecution, if not a more dire type. But we know that in this short life before eternity, Christ is also waiting to give us so much through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us of what fruit we can expect from a life in the Spirit. We can expect love, joy, and peace. Patience, kindness, and goodness. Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yet we can’t get there from a barren, uncaring type of religion, any more than we can get there from our dead, sinful natures. We need to truly submit to Christ as our Lord and Savior, and understand we are His, through whatever this life may bring.