Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
We have reached the point in discussing the practical approach to the Christian life that is not easy to write about because plain, truthful speaking is never easy to do well. How do we call ourselves and others to a higher standard of living without risking offending? In days of old, preachers like Jonathan Edwards embraced the fire and brimstone approach with sermons like, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Today, some pulpits are so afraid to drive off potential parishioners that their watered-down sermons don’t seem to resemble God’s word at all.
But as the book of James plainly tells us, we are not meant to just hear God’s word. I believe we are also not meant to just believe God’s word. We are meant to hear it, believe it, and act on it.
I heard minister Matt Soper put it this way:
Do you live by your conviction or by your convenience?
If we live our religion according to our convenience, we are very far from shining the Light of Christ. Convenient religion–(I say religion because it would be blasphemous to connect the words convenient and Christianity, wouldn’t it?)–goes to Church some Sundays, usually holidays, follows the rules when it will feel good to pat oneself on the back after, usually self-reflects only when there is something positive to reflect upon, easily sees the flaws in others and tends to lean toward the desires and needs of the immediate moment instead of the eternal. James warns of this kind of religion: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder” (James 2:17).
Christian conviction, on the other hand, realizes that one must, as Paul admonished the Philippians,:
. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (2:12-13).
James puts it another way:
. . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (2:17).
In action, Christians become the salt and light to a world in the dark. In action, we prove our convictions about what we believe. Our actions, in fact, are our most practical approach to Christianity of all.
As Professor/Author Randy Harris explains, “I find it very interesting that both salt and light require two things. First, the elements salt and light need to be different from the things that they are a part of. . . . Second, salt and light need to penetrate their environment or other ingredients in order to make a difference in them” (from Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount).
When you study the Sermon on the Mount as a way of life, you begin to see what Christ means to be different from the world but penetrate that world at the same time in order to make a difference, in order to shine His love for a world lost in darkness. Living according to the model given us by Christ is not convenient. You must be kind, non-judgmental, slow to anger, a devoted helper, generous, hospitable. You must love others as you love yourself and act accordingly.
Christianity takes conviction. It is the narrow way up a steep hill that many seek and few find. It is thinking before acting. It is praying daily, or even moment-by-moment, for the will of God to be done in one’s life. It is choices made due to the same insight. It takes God behind you serving as the counterweight up the hill.
James offers several, practical tips to Christianity by conviction:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:13-16).
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3: 17-18).
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:17).
Convenient things are quick and easy. They go by so quickly, we often do not take time to enjoy them, just get through them. But loving Christ and acting on that love is something worth taking all the time in the world for. The things of this world last only a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things, but the eternal reality of Christ literally is the grand scheme. Conviction means slowing down enough to feel yourself breathing, to give yourself time to think before you act, time to pray before you act.
Conviction is Christ, God Himself as man, allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross for the sins of you and me, we who too often lean toward convenience.
The practical approach up any steep hill is slow and steady, taking the time to know where one foot needs to go next and where the other foot has been. It takes patience and strength and the will to succeed. When you accept Christ as your Savior, you take the last step up the steep hill by yourself. The Holy Spirit will guide you from there, as long as you get out of the way.