Thursday, March 30, 2017

Called to Be Participants, Not Spectators

What would you think of football players that go to all the team meetings, take part in every practice, even suit up on game day and engage in the pregame warmups, but sit on the sidelines eating snack cakes and refuse to get into the game?

How about an aspiring sales executive who goes through weeks of sales training, gets her sales kit and spends many hours familiarizing herself with the presentation, follows guidelines to “dress for success” (as the best-selling book of years past suggested), but never makes a sales call?

Sounds silly, right? Why bother making the preparations, obtaining the necessary equipment and putting on the best possible appearance, only to remain a spectator while others become actively engage in the work to be done?

Too many of us are sitting along the
sidelines watching, when we should
be getting into the game.
Yet these could describe many who would classify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. They show up every time the church doors are opened and attend every special meeting. They sing and sway to the music, sometimes raising their hands, attend Sunday school classes, and know the prescribed jargon. “God is good” and “praise the Lord” are phrases they often express.

Sadly, there’s a disconnect. The folks they are inside the “stained-glass aquarium” look surprisingly little like the persons they are outside the church doors. I know, because I was once among them.

I’d take part in various church functions, walk and talk the proper way in those surroundings. I even held leadership positions within the congregation. But I barely knew this Jesus I claimed to believe in. Outside the church environment, I didn’t look, speak or think much differently from my unchurched friends and coworkers. I acted as if God were confined to the church building and had no idea what I did when I wasn’t there.

Only later did I discover the difference between belief and faith. We see the distinction described in the New Testament book of James. It cautions, You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19). But we won’t be seeing demons in heaven.

True faith, the Bible tells us, can’t be divorced from action. The same book offers this warning: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).

This doesn’t mean we’re saved or made right with God by what we do. The Scriptures are clear on this: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works…” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Titus 3:5 confirms this, noting, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy….”

So why is it important to be participants in God’s eternal mission, and not just spectators cheering on those that are “in the game”? Because the Bible clearly declares being a Christ follower is not a spectator sport. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Being casual observers is not an option.

Then what are these “good works”? They start with the two greatest commandments that Jesus summarized – loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). But this involves a lot of things, from being kind and compassionate toward those in need to engaging in the last command Jesus gave before His ascension:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Some might respond, “Well, my faith is personal.” To an extent that’s true, but we’re also charged to share our faith with others so it can become personal for them as well. If Jesus and His gospel message are indeed Good News, as He said it is, we have no right to keep it to ourselves. We need to get off the sidelines and into the game – one with eternal consequences and rewards.

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