(Friday March 29) 6:12 AM This morning I opened my eyes and, before getting out of bed, grabbed my favorite Bible translation of all time. It’s the Bible I used when, at the age of 16, I “fell in love” with the Scriptures for the first time. (Remember when that happened to you?) The Good News Bible had just come out. Three things about this translation struck me. It was readable. It had nifty line drawings (I’ve always enjoyed good art). And it had a glossary of terms.
My text this morning was Galatians 6, and here I saw an interesting connection between v. 2 and v. 9. See it?
When we help each other, we obey the law of Christ. And when we do good (for others), we reap the harvest of eternal life. In Basel, theology was divided into two parts: dogmatics and ethics. The Germans might say Glaubenslehre and Sittenlehre, what we believe and how we live. Christianity involves knowing the good, but it always involves more than knowing. Ethical theory is quite worthless without ethical practice. The Christian life involves knowledge and action. Can Jesus be Savior and not be Lord? Those who think so need not bother themselves with ethics.
God’s Word is a songbook. Did you know that? His mandates are melodies. Today’s church suffers from a double malady. Some of us have the statutes without the song. Others of us have the song without the statutes. But we must have both words and music. Joe Aldrich used to tell his evangelism students at Biola, “Don’t say the words without playing the music.” I grew up in a church that prided itself on its strict orthodoxy. But it didn’t sing. The joy of one’s salvation, the first love, the sacrificial caring for others — these were scarcely evident. There were statutes but no songs. Other churches in Kailua tried to sing the song without the words. To be sure, they could whip up a synthetic joy, a simulated happiness, but it wasn’t grounded in God’s Word. After all, truth doesn’t matter as long as we feel good, right?
A true Christian will always have the right music and the right words. Evangelicals who care about social justice aren’t becoming liberals. They’re simply trying to be faithful to their biblical heritage. A frustrating thing about God’s character is that He always expects us to act on what we know fairly quickly. He first captures our hearts, but soon after He captures our hands, as James puts it. You see a need? You can’t just say “Best of luck!” Roughly two-thirds of unchurched adults were formerly churched. They’re not necessary anti-church. They just see the church as irrelevant to the real, hurting world in which they live.
Please hear me. I’m not saying “Go Right!” or “Go Left!” Today, American politics is utterly bankrupt. And it always nets zero converts. Did you read the news this morning? I did. Our politicians are willing to kill with words and insults. I came to Christ at the age of 8 not only because of the truth of the Gospel but because a man named Rudy Ulrich was willing to lay down his life for me. No one cared about me more than my pastor. As for me, I’m going to gamble on the fact that Jesus is calling me to do the same. Yes, I’m a truth-lover. I’ve even written a few books about the Bible. But if I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of mercy and let Jesus sort it all out on that Day.
Maybe it’s because I grew up at the bottom (socially, economically, emotionally) that I have a bias toward people at the bottom. In his book Simplicity, Richard Rohr says “We cannot think our way into a new kind of living. We must live our way into a new kind of thinking.” Too many of us have become hyphenated Christians who build a false wedge between evangelism and social action. James makes it unmistakable that if a person is a Christian he or she will be something else too. We’re not talking about perfect Christians. There are no such Christians, but there can be no avoiding our responsibility to the least of these.
I think it was F. F. Bruce who conjectured that the word “Christians” was derived, not from Christos (Christ) but rather from the very similar-sounding chrestos, “good/kind.” (Both words may have been pronounced identically in the first century.) Followers of Jesus were known (and mocked) for being “Goody-goodies.” This is how serious the Gospel challenge is. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40). If our God could set aside privilege and power for the love of humanity, can’t we?
I truly believe that the evangelical church can stand on truth and at the same time share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a hurting world regardless of social status, political affiliation, and ethnicity. The unchurched want both the words and the music.
Thank you, Father, for all those who have shared good with me so sacrificially through the years. Thank you especially for those special friends, loved ones, and family members who give without question or hesitation. Please help me to do the same. Amen.
(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)