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Beware An Impotent Faith
The ever-present danger of hearing and not obeying
“With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD! I will keep your statutes. I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.” (Psalm 119:145–146)
One of the hallmarks of genuine faith is an express intent to do what God commands: “With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD! I will keep your statutes. I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.” Faith, in other words, does not stop short at mere admiration of God’s Word. It doesn’t settle for bare recognition of the truth or rightness of His testimonies. Rather, faith sees all of these things, and gladly gives voice to them, but is nevertheless incomplete until it has been manifested in the world through action.
Just as a groom will not be content to admire his bride-to-be for very long, but at some point must actually marry her, so the same is true of faith. Faith, unconsummated through obedience, is in the end no faith at all. In order for faith to be true, it must produce doers of the word, not hearers only (Js. 1:22).
The reason this is important to say is because we live in a time where it has become acceptable — even normative — for Christians to experience the Word of God washing over them week after week while remaining substantially unchanged. Sure, we tell ourselves, our lives may not look all that different on the outside, but our hearts are being encouraged! Our “love,” as intangible and ethereal a thing as Casper, is warm and fuzzy and brimming over with good intentions!
The trouble is, the Scriptures use pesky phrases like “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5) and “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). They expect, in other words, that faith is the kind of thing that, though itself invisible, will nevertheless produce visible and concrete effects in the world. Indeed, the New Testament has a word for these effects: “good works.” And Christians are to be zealous for them (Tit. 2:14).
The current disconnect between faith and obedience, however, is not a novel development. It has happened before, at many times and in many ways. Sinners, it seems, are quite adept at buffering their consciences from the full weight of God’s commands. Even so, the Bible reserves strong words for those found in this state of spiritual hypocrisy, and we would do well to hear them in full:
“‘As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, “Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.” And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.’” (Ezekiel 33:30–32 emphasis mine).
Gathering to hear the Word of God, then, means little unless it is accompanied by a fervent resolve to obey what is heard. Without this, we only heap judgement on ourselves. And God’s judgement against us is just.
Take Care How you Hear
A practical application from all of this is that we need to, as Jesus said, “take care” how we hear (Lk. 8:18), which is necessary because there are many different kinds of hearing. There is hearing that is quickly sabotaged by the devil and thus never amounts to anything (v. 12). There is hearing that is marked at first by joy, yet pitters out in times of testing (v. 13). There is hearing that begins well, but is eventually choked out by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life (v. 14). And finally there is hearing that “holds fast” to the Word, in an “honest and good heart” and bears fruit with patience (v. 15). This, and only this, is the kind of hearing that is pleasing to God, having its roots in a sincere and Spirit-wrought faith. And this is the kind of hearing we must pursue by His power.
May God raise up many such hearers in our day, for our good and His glory.