One Sunday morning in Sunday School, we were looking at the story of Jesus healing Bartimaeus right before coming to Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry. I forget how we got on the topic of faith, but we did, and I’m not complaining. One student asked me if all we need to do to get eternal life was to believe in God. When I was younger, I thought the same way. As long as I believe God exists and Jesus died for me, I get to go to heaven, right? Isn’t that what Paul tells us in Romans 10:9? He writes, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That doesn’t seem to be asking too much of anyone. Believe and you get to go to heaven. Unfortunately, James had to come along and “ruin” the simplicity of it all. In James 2:19, he tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that- and shudder.” I brought up that verse in class and there was a somewhat collective gasp among the students in class that morning.
I think it’s easy to get it in our heads that our faith is just an inward reaction to God’s work in our life. We put our faith in God, believe his word, get baptized, and then we’re a Christian. Is that the message we are sending to our kids? If so, I wonder if that is part of the problem that causes 80% of them to leave the church after high school. We tell them to just have faith and things will be okay. We forget that James tells us, and so does Jesus, that the Christian life is so much more than just believing. There is a whole lot of doing involved in it too. James argues that to have faith without deeds is dead. Jesus tells us that only those that do the will of God will enter into heaven. Christianity just got a lot more complicated.
I’ve had the privilege of baptizing 3 kids since moving to Ohio. I find no greater joy than to see someone come to Jesus and make the decision of following Him. However, if we teach our kids that baptism is the point of going to church, if we make it the endpoint and then heaven is inevitable, we are missing the point of why Jesus came. Yes, baptism and putting our faith in Christ is of utmost importance, the very reason God created us, but that should just be the beginning of a lifelong journey of seeing what it truly means to be a Christian, of following God. I’ve been a Christian for about 10 years now, and it’s been quite the adventure. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years are going to be like and the 10 after that and so one until I die and go to be with the Father. My life since becoming a Christian has not always been easy. I’ve been through some hard times. I’ve regretted some decisions I have made. I’m still learning. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be an Atheist, to abandon my faith in God and live how I want to live. Some of you may have that same temptation at times when following God gets hard. At face value, it may seem easy. You wouldn’t have to worry about doing the godly thing anymore. You could have more fun enjoying sensual pleasures and doing whatever you want to do. However, I am reminded of the disciples’ words when Jesus asked them if they were going to leave him in John 6. Verse 68 says, “Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” Life without Jesus in it would just be empty.
My relationship with God is not just about believing. I hope yours isn’t either. I try to read my Bible every day. I’m working on getting better at that. I pray every night before I go to bed. I do my best to read books that instruct me more on the Christian life. I do everything that I can to bring God the glory. From when I wake up to when I go to bed, I am trying to focus more on God and less on me. I’m trying to think how God wants me to think. I am trying to live like God wants me to live. Abandoning this lifestyle would mean losing what it means to be me. I wouldn’t know what to do with my life. I would have no direction. This is because I do my best to follow what Jesus says to do the will of the Father. Jesus says that we should love God and love others.
Love is active, not passive. Choosing to do nothing in order to avoid sin is not living the life that God is calling us to. We are called to love each other and glorify God in all that we do. My definition of love is to consider others’ needs before your own. This is the life God is calling you and me to. Yes, belief is important, but it is merely the starting point of the journey. I hope we don’t forget that and make the decision to be proactive in loving one another, be it through what we put on Facebook or other social media, how we treat people when we’re out in public, or helping someone through a hard time in their life.