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« Lines, Vectors and Morality | Main | The Identity Evolution of a Minister »

Are You A Practicing Christian?

The title begs the question: what other kind of Christian is there other than one who practices his or her faith?  Truthfully, there are none, but some operate under the illusion that a verbal assent is all that is necessary.  The key to a successful Christian life, however, is to live your faith on a day-to-day basis, no exceptions, no loop-holes, no cutting corners, no pretence and no hypocrisy.  Paraphrasing the words of Jesus, self-denial, shouldering responsibility and paying attention to the pathway that He followed comprises true discipleship.  Whoever obeys these simple instructions will break through to a powerful, personal Christian life. 

Although practicing Christianity may be simple, it is not easy.  The difficulty lies, not in the literal application of the principles, but in resisting the alternatives.  When the alternative is feasting, fasting is difficult; when the alternative is pleasure, pain seems oppressive; when the alternative is playing, praying becomes wearisome.  In fact, these alternatives have become so popular that they have led many to proclaim them as the “new Christianity.”  The “new Christianity” is not better, it’s just easier; it’s not more powerful, it’s just less demanding.  But the bitter irony is that sacrificing doctrinal purity on the altar of ease sabotages the Christian’s ultimate goal.  If discipleship is to lead one to a full relationship with Jesus Christ, it cannot be practiced halfway.

Contrast practicing Christianity with non-practicing Christianity.  I am always amused by the term non-practicing.   It is defined as a person in a particular profession who is not engaged in the practice of that profession, or who claims to believe a certain set of doctrines but does not abide by its mores.  It’s like saying that a non-living or a non-breathing person is somehow different from a dead person.  But, the only way authentic Christianity can live, whether on a personal or a corporate level, is when it is practiced just as its Founder established it.  “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” Ephesians 2:20. 

Unpracticed orthodoxy is not viable.  It is an unread book gathering dust on a shelf; a high-powered car rusting away in a garage; a rich harvest unharvested and rotting in the field.  Stated another way, faith without works is dead.  “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  (James 2:17-18).  The Apostle James was not preaching salvation by works; he was qualifying faith in terms of works.  Those who trumpet their faith but have no practical, quantifiable outcome of their faith are frauds in his view. 

Many religions have requirements in order to be an adherent.  Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Judaism, for example, all require certain behaviors of those who profess the religion.  It seems strange to me, however, that the best modern illustration we can find for this is in the continuing expansion of Islam.  Many analysts point to the radical way that Muslims practice their beliefs as the key to their meteoric growth.  Granted, their motive may be fear, but it is evident that the practice of their faith dominates all other aspects of their lives.  Whatever else you may say about them, they are all about acting out their beliefs.  For Spirit-filled Christians, our motive is not fear, but love.  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.”  (1 John 4:18).  If our love could ever lead us to practicing our faith with abandon and perseverance, the result would be a spiritual floodtide. 

Much of modern Christianity exists only in what people think, not what they do.  Because the predominant teaching has long held that performance minus belief, is nothing, many people think that believing minus performance is everything.  But the end result has not been a strengthening of faith.  Rather, it has led to a wholesale abandonment of faith.  The reason is clear: faith without works is dead!  And why should we expect anything else?  For years, the mantra of mainstream Christianity has been “once in grace, always in grace!”  Anything else, they say, is legalism.  The logical outcome of this teaching, however, is a rapidly fading sense of the practice of Christianity.  Liberty has become license.  If nothing is required, eventually nothing will be given.

Practicing your faith means living life according to the laws of God.  If you have ever put yourself on a strict diet, or if you have ever committed yourself to a rigorous exercise routine, then you know what is involved.  Walking with God means that every day, a spiritual discipline demands to be practiced: prayer, reading the Bible, worshipping, or sometimes fasting.  This is precisely where many people lock their wheels and skid to a halt.  “I am saved by grace, not by works!” they fume.  “I don’t have to do all that!”  Sadly, they misconstrue faith and works.  Legitimate faith eagerly embraces spiritual discipline; it is the way to prove love.  “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” 2 Corinthians 8:8.

Practicing your faith means turning your beliefs into actions.  If you believe in tithing, then you must pay a tithe of your income to God.  If you believe in holiness of the heart, then you must live a life of integrity, honesty, love and respect for God and your fellow man.  “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful”. Colossians 3:12-15.  If you believe in holiness of the body, you must impose strict discipline on your body and outward appearance.  “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” Colossians 3:5-7.

Practicing your faith brings your mind into unison with your heart.  “And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.”  2 Corinthians 8:10-11 (NIV).  If you believe something but do not follow your own beliefs, tension and turmoil set in and you work in contradiction to yourself.  To say, “I believe it but I don’t live it” is a destructive force in your life.  Live in accordance with your convictions.  It has the power to lead you to peace with yourself, peace with the world and peace with God. 

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