Day 3: Obedience— Faith in Action
What good it is, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James 2:14-17 NIV
Faith without works… dead. Works without faith… also dead. And I can’t read these verses in Matthew without shaking a bit.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (7:21-23)
This very weighing of obedience versus faith leaves me squirming. Which is it? What makes the difference? The answer is not found in the either-or, but the both. Obedience always moves me to a stronger faith in Jesus. Works alone leaves me empty. For me, the closer I get to Jesus, the more I want to obey… the stronger my faith. Sometimes He moves me to do something, meet someone’s need, go the extra mile. Other times I’m moved to sit still, listen, pray… even do nothing. It is not “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” It is better to ask Him and obey.
I’ve been guilty of it so many times. Seeing someone in need, heart squeezed by the Spirit’s compassion, yet I do nothing…
Obedience requires action. Hearing the Word of God is not enough. Going to church and Sunday school every week, listening intently, understanding the Word thoroughly, even memorizing much of it is only partial obedience. And partial obedience is disobedience.
Being a faithful disciple of Jesus is not about knowing what to do, but doing what you know.
“… If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. …”—Jesus
—John 12:47 ESV
Jesus says anyone who hears His words will be judged by His words on the last day. Judgment will be based on how we received His words when we heard them. The Greek for receive means to come to believe something and to act in accordance with such a belief (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains/Louw-Nida) Acting on His words verifies our belief, our acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior. Ignoring what He says and continuing to do things our way is equivalent to rejecting Jesus. Obedience is evidence of salvation.
As broken proud people, we have a huge capacity for self-deception and self-righteousness. Many study His Word, memorize it, talk about it, but choose not to live it for whatever reason or excuse. Yet, Jesus said, Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. This is a scary truth. We can deceive ourselves right out of heaven.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
—James 4:17 ESV
Deeds. Works. Action. They are essential to discipleship. Arguments may arise regarding salvation by faith alone versus salvation through works (James 2:18). What Jesus and James are saying is not about working our way to salvation. Acts of faith occur naturally (perhaps supernaturally) as we grow spiritually and become more like Christ. What compels Jesus to act, compels us in the same way. We will not be able to let needs go unmet or see injustice without interfering. We will not be able to see someone heartbroken and not offer consolation. We will not be able to drive by a small child waiting to cross a busy street without praying for their protection and safety. As we grow closer to Jesus, we become more like Him. Driven to acts of compassion and an increased desire to obey Father God, in every situation.
In addition to obeying His Word, God has prepared specific works for each one of us. Ones He planned before the earth’s foundation was laid (Ephesians 2:10). The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is all about faith in action. Obedience to specific calls of God.
Read Hebrews 11:7-12 and verses 17-30. List the specific people and their faith in action in your journal or underline them in your Bible.
All these — Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Moses’s parents, the Israelites — had faith that led to obedience. But really, there is no faith without obedience. We can’t just talk the talk and not walk the walk.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
—1 John 2:4-6 NIV
Obedience is faith in action. Following God’s commands. Loving our neighbors as ourselves. Forgiving. Being kind to our enemies. These are not suggestions, they are commands. Jesus obeyed them and so must we. Not because we are working our way to heaven, but because we already have heaven in us.
The Holy Spirit blesses Believers with the ways and means to obey. Yet, it is still up to us to choose to act, to throw off whatever may be hindering us, take the step of obedience, and let Him empower our actions. God delights in our obedience to His Word and to His call on our lives.
Be a delight. Obey.
Talk It Out
Talk it over with yourself:
What most often keeps you from being obedient to His Word or a specific call on your life?
Talk it over with God:
Ask God to reveal places in your life where you consistently fail to obey.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:12 NIV
Exercise Your Faith
What two actions in faith you’ve taken lately?
Give thanks for the strength God gave to take those steps.
Do _________ ________ ____________ that ______ _________
_________________ _____________________ to _________________ as
_________________________ ________________, __________ are
______________ of _______ ___________ whom _______ ______________,
_________________ of ________, ______________ ____________ to
________________, _________ of ________________________, which
__________________ to ___________________________?