What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a 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
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. – Romans 15:1-2
(all the images in this post are from the Internet)
Best case scenario, I magically bring each one of you (my readers, anywhere from 100 to 1,500 depending on the day) as participants, one at a time, to church for one of our small-group Bible-study meetings. That way you would get a more accurate read on the conversation, the authenticity, the faith, the love, and the encouragement.
However, seeing as that’s not going to work, let me try to get across a little of the content, representing two meetings this week and more than twenty men. We were talking about the “faith in action” imperative of the Book of James and I believe we made some useful progress.
James creates some tension:
Some folk can get hung up around James’s implication that people who fail to live faith out loud are fooling themselves if they call themselves followers of Jesus. That idea seems at odds with Paul’s emphasis on grace alone. Our conversation was excellent, including the observation that James was writing to a Jewish-Christian audience, people who were raised in a faith system built around behavior. Being Jewish was something you did and it makes sense to suggest that Christianity must have a behavioral component too.
Then there are the following illustrations I shared. I’ll try to keep them brief.
Can I call myself a cook?
First, we all know I am a foodie. I love good food. I enjoy watching cooking shows on television – chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, The Barefoot Contessa, Rachael Ray, The Galloping Gourmet (way back years ago), and others. Then I enjoy looking at cookbooks and food magazines; I have several favorites and I have been known to thumb through, read in detail, cross-reference, research techniques and so on.
But does that make me a cook? No, not at all! I can read up and watch and study all I like, but until I get into the kitchen and follow the recipes, make a few mistakes, practice, learn, experiment, try again, and continue practice practice practice then I am no more a cook than someone who never practices their faith is a follower of Jesus.
Practice is the key word here.
Lighting up the Amygdala
The other illustration is taken from some TED talks I listened to. The subject was altruism and especially helping others with no thought of personal gain. A researcher studied the brains of altruists making use of the same measurements utilized with violent offenders who lacked empathy. Noticeable differences (from the “normal” brain) were noted at both ends of the spectrum.
People who are givers had a larger amygdala – or more activity lighting up that portion of the brain, sometimes up to 20%. Those who lacked empathy had around 10% less than average.
Here’s what’s interesting, and instructive. Inmates assigned the task of caring for elderly incapacitated prisoners demonstrated real change. First, they didn’t necessarily want to do the job; then – because of practice – they became more caring and “naturally” giving over time, eventually volunteering to work extra hours.
My guess is that, were they to have further testing, we’d see each amygdala begin to light up like the fourth of July.
The practice of faith is the same. We don’t always “do good works” because we can’t help ourselves – although it’s wonderful whenever our response to God’s great grace and mercy goes like that. We make the disciplined (disciple-like) choice to follow Jesus by loving and serving and giving and encouraging… and then we begin to do it more naturally. Maybe our heart, our soul, our spirit, or our amygdala will light up too.
Regardless, being a Christian isn’t like reading the Joy of Cooking and watching some celebrity chef on television; it’s like reading the Joy of Cooking and participating in a class and then getting in the kitchen to feed the family.
Like they say, The proof of the pudding…
In love, and because of love – DEREK