Of Squares and Rectangles (Part 3)

MERE ACTIVITY

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

For the remainder of this series, I want to dive deeply into the distinction between MERE activity and FAITH activity. The apostle Paul had all of the trappings of godliness, yet none of the inward work of righteousness, until he met Christ on the road to Damascus. In that encounter, Paul was changed, and he would continue to be transformed by the indwelling presence of the One with Whom he now identified. Activity moved from mere folly to display God’s marvelous grace through faith. I don’t want to dive too deeply into this now, as I won’t have much to write about later. I want to be able, in coming posts, to practically work through the dangers of mere activity… activity that is outside of the Identity we have in Christ. Not obviously sinful activity. If we are engaged in obvious sin, we need to repent and believe in the grace working of Christ in our lives. Instead, I want to look at “good” activities that often try to replace the dangerous nature of true discipleship that says “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We have a new Identity in Christ, by His grace through faith in the Son of God. Therefore, this must be the root of our activity. Our “righteous” deeds MUST flow from the righteousness of Christ that is now ours through faith if they are to truly honor Christ. Let’s look at two quick questions to help us as we analyze the difference between Mere Activity and Faith Activity.

  1. What reward will you be satisfied with by doing your “good” works?
  2. How long are you willing to wait to get your reward?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

I have a good friend who claims to be an atheist. At best he is an agnostic. In reality it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know Christ. One thing though, he is probably the nicest person I have ever met. He is humble, caring, giving. I literally saw him give the shirt off of his own back to a guy who needed one. A “good” deed. A rectangle. But not a square. Somehow, in the providence of God, this good deed would not be the same as if I had done it. But only if I had done it out of my Identity in Christ, delighting in his marvelous grace, by faith.  Because of the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, his action was a “filthy rag” righteousness, but mine was a jewel In a crown of righteousness. Why?

In Matthew 6 and in Matthew 25, Jesus gives similar warnings to His hearers, and to us. Activity matters. But Faith makes Activity matter eternally. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns His hearers to not be like the Pharisees in giving to the poor, in fasting, in praying, in “practicing your righteousness.” The warning was not that they should stop doing these things, no, the assumption was that they WOULD do these things. The warning was about reward and the seeking of reward. The Pharisees were satisfied with the rewards from men of accolades, authority, and admiration. They got their “attaboys” and “good jobs.” But that was it. That was the whole reward. What a cheap substitute for what Jesus calls us to seek. He tells His hearers to seek a greater reward, to realize that the reward from the Father is greater. But there is a problem with that reward. We have to WAIT for it.

That is the real issue with Mere Activity. Mere Activity often gives immediate gratification. We can have the reward of seeing how much better we are than we were last year, how much more we have done. Usually, we can have the reward of seeing how much better we are doing than others. Of course, we only choose to compare ourselves, in those instances, to those with whom we compare favorably. We can have the immediate reward of plaques, honorary titles, bricks in walkways. In many churches around the US, stained glass windows, pews, pulpits, Sunday School rooms, libraries, buildings, chairs, commodes (maybe not), are adorned with immediate rewards to honor those who practiced their righteousness before men. But Faith Activity looks a little different.

Faith Activity has to HOPE in something greater. Faith Activity doesn’t need immediate gratification. In Matthew 25, two groups of people are standing before Christ at judgment. Once again, the issue is not mere activity. The issue is the hope of eternal reward. One group was not willing to help anyone who could not help them back. The poor, the destitute, the prisoner had nothing to offer back as immediate reward. Oh, the shock when this group found out that they had not been serving Christ. But the other group is JUST AS SHOCKED. Their activity of serving those who could not serve them back was rewarded, not on this earth, but in the Kingdom of Heaven. They were dumbfounded by the fact that all of those prisoners and homeless people were actually conduits of God’s grace in Christ to sanctify them into people who delighted in serving Christ and into people who were willing to wait for their reward. That is the TRUE evidence of Faith Activity. SHOCK and AWE that Christ would reward what we DELIGHT in doing.

So, what reward are you settling for? How long are you willing to wait for your reward? Can you pray, as Jesus directed His disciples to pray, that His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, and then gladly delight in the One Who will give great reward on that day.  Are you longing to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant?” from Jesus, or are you satisfied with hearing an “attaboy” from the world? The danger is not one of “missing the mark.” The danger is one of missing Christ in the midst of trying to gain something that can only be given to you by grace.

The good news of the Gospel is NOT found in gaining accolades, but in giving accolades to Christ. The good news of the Gospel in NOT found in “finding yourself” or self-discovery, but in losing yourself, and Christ living in you. The good news of the Gospel is found in the fact that Jesus Christ lived out the righteousness that you and I never could, and in His death and resurrection, now GIVES us that righteousness by grace through faith, not by works. Instead, He now sets us in good works so that we can show others the glories of His grace.

Is your activity geared towards demonstrating the glories of His grace or toward gaining the glory of immediate reward? The difference is life and death.

Ponder this verse with me as we wait for the next post… and consider your willingness to do your “good” deeds to bring glory to Christ… and  your willingness to wait to get your reward.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.(Matthew 5:16)

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