Can you imagine learning a language by listening alone? I have trouble learning languages when they are spelled out in front of me; yet these missionaries went to a country with no comfort in knowing the language and spent months upon months simply listening to the sounds and inferring what they meant. Now they are fluent and even helped get the bible translated in the language! Wow, God is good. And so faithful.
The whole time they spoke I tried to wrap my mind around the concept of learning a language by listening to it. By taking a language that is only spoken and turning it into writing. I thought of their courage, going where God wanted them to go even when they were surrounded by people speaking a completely foreign language. I thought about the three bibles sitting in my dorm room that I take for granted everyday. I am allowed to own a bible in my native tongue and I'm not even persecuted for having it. And these people didn't have the option of having the word of God? Let alone, they'd face the possibility of death if they did their own copy.
Before hearing about bible translation, I had never thought of what my life would be like without a bible. I can still remember the day I went to Borders to buy myself one. Growing up, I had one of those kid bibles with the pictures and stories that are true but somewhat watered down for children. I wanted a real bible with the instructions about getting to heaven in it. So on June 15th, 2010, my mom and I ventured to Borders. She roamed around while I looked at the different versions of the bible, deciding which I wanted. There were different translations. There were bibles for kids and teens and women and men and everyone in between. There were bibles that contained only the New Testament; bibles that were written as stories; and I'm sure there were a bunch of other variations of the word of God I wasn't even aware of. I picked the one I liked best, a teen NIV bible, and took it home with me.
I started reading the bible then. It was my goal to get through the whole thing, but that didn't happen. It still hasn't. But I read, searching for the rules to life. If I knew them all, surely I'd get into heaven and be guaranteed a comfortable afterlife.
I imagine some of you read that without stopping to question me. A lot of people believe that our actions on this earth determine whether or not we get into heaven, so you're definitely not alone if that's you. In my previous life, I thought works would get me into heaven. I partially still agree with this, but I know now that it's not my works alone that will allow me to spend an eternity worshiping my Savior. The thing is, I don't believe people who lead awful lives full of hatred, pride, vengeance, and no good deeds go to heaven. But I don't think that's the reason they don't go to heaven.
See, heaven isn't an "ends justify the means" deal. Machiavelli's whole concept of our end goal justifying our actions (however awful they might be) isn't how we're supposed to enter into an eternity of paradise. Doing the right thing won't earn your salvation; nothing you can do can earn your salvation. But people who spend eternity with God in heaven do the right things, don't they? We're playing with an intricate concept of what comes first. See, works are required to get into heaven. But before you can perform these works, you need to sync your heart with God's heart. You need to fall in love with Jesus. You need to place your faith in God. You need to yearn with all your heart to perform works like Jesus did. Performing them solely because you want to get into heaven, well that's works without faith.
I think the reason this topic is so debated is that the bible does specify that our lives should be lived in service of others. One of the themes of the New Testament itself is Jesus as the servant. Jesus as the giver. Jesus as the one who loves the least of these. It's easy to see that doing good things for others is the right way to live. But the reason why we do good things is more important than the good things themselves.
The book of James comes to mind regarding this topic. This is a somewhat lengthy passage but it's seriously crucial:
"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 actions, is dead But some will say, "You have faith I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions weer working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead ." James 2:14-26.
You'll notice no where in this passage does it say works alone will save us. It even goes to suggest against this with the example of Rahab the prostitute. Throughout the bible it's always made clear that we need to have faith in God if we're going to spend eternity with Him. The thing is, it's not our good works alone that reserve us a place in heaven. Our good works are a sign of the change that has occurred in us. A sign of the grace we have accepted which makes us want to live like Jesus. A sign of the faith we have in God and Jesus Christ. And our works can even help make us more faithful. But notice also that no where does it say we can get by with only works or only faith. Sure, faith is the reason we go to heaven. But if your faith doesn't lead you to do act, the devil will rejoice. Nothing is better to him than conviction that fails to lead to change.
For a while after I got my first bible, I was concerned with becoming the perfect Christian. Even after reading about Benjamin Franklin's failed attempt to achieve "moral perfection" I still felt I could reach such a state of being. All it did was lead me in an unending circle of trying and failing to live life perfectly. Of turning to sin, becoming miserable which would lead to repenting and turning back to a life that was morally right (only realizing that I couldn't always be morally right, which would frustrate me and send me back into sin again).
The problem with that lifestyle was that it was all about me: I wanted to be a "good Christian" so that I could get into heaven and I would not have to burn in hell for the rest of forever. So that I could be comforted by who I was. It's pretty typical in our society to be concerned about our well-being, and it doesn't have to be a bad thing. But here's how it really is:
This is the truth that sets us free of our broken nature.
Jesus died for us so that Jesus could take on our sins as He was completely blameless. Only someone blameless could die for those who deserve condemnation. And Jesus is the comforter of our souls because He continually shows throughout his lifetime that God provides for His people. I can't save myself from my sins. I can't find freedom by myself. Works I do might make me happy, but they don't allow me to experience real joy. Only Jesus' death on the cross allows me to experience real joy, because real joy also implies there is real suffering. For any of you that have experienced it, you know that this joy in Jesus Christ's victory is the most satisfying joy on this earth.
I think one of the bigger problems in our current culture is that faith and deeds are often separated, when the book of James clearly indicates they are intricately intertwined. Many people fall into the trap of, "I am kind to others and sure I think God exists so I have nothing to worry about." I spent many years living out this lie. Many people fall into the other spectrum; they think that by faith alone they will be saved, not realizing that true faith in God leads to a desire to live like Jesus lived. Faith in God doesn't call us just to be kind. It calls us to love. A girl I know was talking about raising money for the Syrian refugees the other day and shared some incredibly deep wisdom with me.
"I don't want people to feel bad for them," she said, regarding the 2 million people displaced from their home country. I was shocked. Shouldn't we feel bad for them? They were violently attacked so they had to flee from their home? Wasn't the main reason people donated money because they felt bad for the people? Or they felt bad for someone they knew in a similar situation? This girls' particularly wise, so I kept listening before I jumped in. with questions She described that she wanted people to think these refugees were really cool. She wanted people to read a story about a refugee and want to get to know him. Wow; what a lie I truly had been living. We should not do things for others because we pity them. Did Jesus wash feet and make the blind see and heal the sick because he was kind? Because he felt bad for these people? No. He did these things because He had the love of God in his heart. Because He loved these people. Because by loving the least of these, the glory is given to God. Because Jesus wanted to know people when He was on earth just as God knows every part of our being now. This, too, should be our purpose. To love other people so much we yearn to know them, to help them, to care for them. To give them the smallest glance at God's enormous love for us.
My life was a lot of doing good things for others because I knew it was the right thing to do. And anyways, I was blessed to have so much. It was only logical that I give my time and my money and my talents for people that could benefit. But I was doing it because I felt bad for them; I felt bad they were in the situation they were in. I didn't want to help them because I wanted to get to know them or because I loved them like Jesus does.
Tying Up Cancer is actually one of the first times I've expressed an idea of this love for others. Even so, Tying Up Cancer started out of a feeling of conviction that I needed to do something for others. Not out of a desire to love others. But more recently, one of my favorite things to do is to read the blogs of cancer patients; especially those written by the parents of pediatric cancer sufferers. Now I'm realizing I like to read these blogs because I yearn to know these kids who really truly are so awesome. They shine bright full of happiness despite going through chemo treatments that burn their bodies from the inside out and facing bleak prognoses. These kids are 2 and 4 and 8 and they know more about life than I do even though their grammar is slightly imperfect and their voices are squeaky and cute. They are seriously just the coolest people and I want to know them. The blogs help me do that. My heart aches for them as God's heart aches for them. I love them so I want to help them. These works are rooted in my faith in God.
It's not our good works that get us to heaven. It's our faith, which propels us to do works to bring glory to God by our love for His people. It makes sense to me why I've met such wonderful people who make me feel loved in an incredibly new way. It's not that these once strangers wanted to be kind because it's the right thing to do. It's because they have accepted the love of God for them and it has filled them with such joy that can't help but want to love other people, as God does.
If you've never experienced the feeling of joy only God can give, I encourage you to seek it. If you feel called to help cancer patients because you think they are super awesome, let me know. Tying Up Cancer would love to add you to our team of volunteers. And if you feel it's on your heart to go sit with the kid who eats lunch alone everyday, go sit with him. But don't do it because you pity him. Do it because you know he is God's son, and if anything makes us cool, it is the fact that Christ is in each of us. Whatever it is God wants you to do, accept His love for you in faith. It will give you the strength to courageously follow His plan for you to love the people of His kingdom.