“I love Jesus, I just hate the church.”
“I am spiritual person, but I resist any particular dogma.”
“I believe that God wants me to be happy, so following my heart is what’s most important.”
“The story of the cross is a message of hope and love, not one of sin and forgiveness.”
“The Bible has insights that can improve our lives, but we should reject notions of right and wrong.”
Statements like these are tragically common in a world that many now describe as post-Christian. What is striking to me in recent years, though, is how many people want to hold onto the idea of knowing God while simultaneously rejecting the clear commands of Scripture. Politics, political correctness, and biblical ignorance influence many to unknowingly capitulate to the world’s fallen carnality. More disturbing to me, however, is the increasing number of churchgoers who seem to reserve the right to approach God on their own terms. Far too many professing Christians live like practical atheists, boasting of deconstructing their faith as if abandoning biblical orthodoxy is admirable.
Thankfully, the book of James offers a godly antidote for the spiritual apostacy plaguing so much of American Christianity. With resounding clarity, we learn that hearing God’s Word is not the same as heeding God’s Word. To use James’ language, those who hear the Bible without doing what it says deceive themselves (James 1:22). Doing so makes about as much sense as man who sees his natural face in a mirror yet goes away forgetting what he saw (James 1:23-24). We can read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize the Bible, and even seek to explain away the Bible, but if we do not yield our lives to the Bible, it becomes a millstone rather than a milestone.
Claiming to love Jesus while rejecting the standards of right and wrong revealed in Scripture contradicts the words of Christ Himself, who said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15).” The Apostle John used even stronger language, “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4).” Calls for obedience like these do not negate a gospel of salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Anyone who claims that salvation is the result of good works not only misunderstand the grace of God, but also stands in opposition to it.
Yet, how we live is a reflection of Who we know. Obedience to biblical commands proves that our faith is real, even if it does not cause our salvation. Because grace is the means by which Jesus saves us, good works are the evidence that the experience was real (Eph. 2:10). God does not want us to admire the profundity of His Word, He wants us to live according to the principles of His Word. Simply put, faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
I understand that many are eager to dismiss the Bible simply because they do not appreciate what it says or how it makes them feel. Sometimes, like a mirror that cannot lie, Scripture discloses what others are unwilling to say about us. Even worse, it exposes moral deficiencies in our lives that we are often unaware of. Perhaps most insulting, the Bible shouts about the wickedness that we attempt to hide or ignore (Heb. 4:12). Even then, the problem is not what Scripture reveals, but our unwillingness to yield to it. God’s goal is not to disparage us, but to set us free from the devastating power and consequence of sin.
For Christ followers, all this means that the Bible, not the culture, should issue the final verdict on what we believe and practice. In an age when so many are seeking to upend the foundational norms of the Christian faith, believers must recommit to being doers of the word and not merely hearers. Only with the Scripture as a light to our path and a lamp to our feet (Ps. 119:105) can we avoid the manipulative darkness of a world that is under the spell of the evil one (1 John 5:19).
Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.