“Faith in Action”
I want to start with something funny. I think I shared this story before: There was a preacher who fell into the ocean, and he couldn’t swim. When a boat came by, the captain yelled, “Do you need help, sir?” The preacher calmly said, “No, God will save me.” A little later, another boat came by, and a fisherman asked, “Hey, do you need help?” The preacher replied again, “No, God will save me.” Eventually, the preacher drowned and went to heaven. The preacher asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “Fool, I sent you two boats!”
Last Sunday, I talked about “the meaning of faith.” Faith is what we trust; God makes things happen as we pray. Faith comes only by the grace of God. Therefore, we believe that we are saved in the faith of Jesus Christ by the grace of God. It is like the Bible says, “everyone who believes in Jesus Christ may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). But, at this point, a question arises. Do we deserve eternal life by only believing in Jesus? Yes, indeed! That is the good news for us. If it was only by our good works without any sin that we would be guaranteed eternal life, no one would be guaranteed it. But, the good news is that we deserve eternal life because we believe in Jesus Christ, “the eternal life insurance.” He is all we need to save us from our sins.
You may remember the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus; one was on his left and the other on his right. The two criminals hung there at the same time. One insulted Jesus, and the other confessed his belief, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43). They both had an opportunity, but one got it, and the other lost it. The one who got the promise of Jesus was a criminal also, but at the last moment, he caught the chance of grace. God’s grace is open to everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, barriers, and it’s even for criminals. Methodist Christians believe that even if one doesn’t know about God yet, God’s grace is still on the person. Remember “The Proclaim of Pardon” at every communion time: “Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! Amen.” While we were yet sinners, we are forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ by God’s grace. We were forgiven not because of our good works but because of our faith in Jesus Christ by God’s grace.
So, we are curious if doing good work as Christians is necessary. Some may say, “I believe in Jesus, and I am saved in faith by the grace of God. That’s enough. I don’t need to attend Sunday service, support mission work, or join in fellowship. Right?” Well, that’s a different story.
I want to share a gardening story. I planted cucumber plants. They grew well at first, but gophers ate them. I planted them again and I planted all the seeds I had, hoping if gophers eat some of them, some would still remain for me. I gave them good nutritious soil and watered them every morning and evening if we didn’t have rain. Later on, they grew, and some of them bore cucumbers, but some of them didn’t bear any cucumbers. Guess what I did with them! I pulled out the barren ones to give the others which bore fruit enough space. If they don’t bear any fruit, I don’t need them because my purpose in planting them is to get the fruit. However, we may call the barren cucumber plants “cucumber plants.”
Likewise, Christians are expected to bear fruit by helping the Holy Spirit, such as the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This kind of fruit naturally comes along with being a Christian. As the cucumber plant grew and bore fruit, we are expected to grow in faith to Christlikeness, bearing fruit. Among these fruits, love is the best fruit Christians can bear. The love is that God gave us his only Son, Jesus Christ, and the love is that Jesus gave himself up for us. Furthermore, the love is that Jesus taught us and commanded us to love God and love our neighbors. Remember, even though we don’t bear fruit, we can still be Christians if we believe in Jesus Christ. However, watch out if you have barren faith or dead faith.
The Letter of James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his 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).
Today’s scripture, as we read the last Sunday, is also about the “faith of our ancestors” in the Bible. The believers have experienced many miracles of God, such as “passing through the Red Sea,” “the Wall of Jericho Falling,” and “victory in wars.” On the other hand, they also have experienced much suffering to keep in their faith, such as being persecuted, wandering in the mountain, imprisoned, mistreated, and so on. They, by faith, have experienced both blessings and suffering. At the same time, by grace, they could overcome all their difficult circumstances. These believers are examples to us in our faith journey, showing Christians may experience blessings and suffering as Jesus has experienced death and resurrection. We shouldn’t forget that our ancestors in faith kept the living faith, not a dead faith, even though their faith wavered sometimes. Moses and the people have passed through the Red Sea by “action.” Joshua and the people have marched around the wall of Jericho by “action.” Abraham and Sarah left their hometown by “action.” They acted in their faith and moved forward, keeping God’s promise.
When Israelites reached the wilderness, they felt exhausted after a long journey, and they complained to Moses, “if Moses didn’t bring them out of Egypt, they would stay in a comfortable place.” It was not true. They prayed and cried out to God to save them from Egypt. However, they felt they were suffering facing the current situation, just walking and walking in the wilderness. God sent them poisonous snakes. Anyone who they bit died. Moses prayed to God for the forgiveness of the people, and God answered him. God told him, “Make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who was bitten can look at it and live.” Moses, according to God’s direction, made a bronze snake, put it on the pole, and said to the people, “When a snake bit anyone, look at it and live” (Numbers 21:4-9). Some who looked at it lived, but some who didn’t look at it died. Looking at it is to act in faith to be healed. It is the living faith. The living faith is to act on faith.
We are Christians whether we act in faith or not, whether we grow in faith or not, whether we bear fruit or not, like if a cucumber plant doesn’t bear cucumber, it is still a cucumber plant. However, if we are Christians following Jesus Christ, we should love one another. Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35). Some may say, “you have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18). As our ancestors of faith did, let us look at Jesus everyday life, and keep the living faith as those who looked at the bronze snake, and lived. The living faith is to act on faith. Thanks be to God. Amen!