“The faith that does nothing means nothing.”
In my first year of theological studies I attended a singles Sunday school class of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. One particular morning a student asked if he could address the class. He shared that five years earlier he had made a profession of faith in Jesus and was baptized. He continued that since receiving baptism he had done nothing with his faith so his faith had done nothing for him. “That needs to change,” he said, “And I need your help.” Here was a class member asking other class members to hold him accountable for an active faith. He had grown bored of an idle faith.
Active faith is dangerous. It is dangerous because control of one’s life is handed over to another – it is handed over to God. For all that our faith teaches us about God, there is so much more that we don’t know. As the Apostle Paul writes in First Corinthians 13, seeking to understand God is like looking in a mirror that has become darken – you can see something but much remains unclear. Yet, Christian baptism is nothing if it isn’t handing personal control of life over to God. It is a dangerous move.
Active faith also holds a promise. There is a promise that life will be experienced with greater vibrancy. A life that is tightly grasped by the individual misses what cannot be imagined. But a life that is imagined by God – and directed by God in that imagination – holds unfathomable possiblities and surprises. Simply, God has larger eyes for what is possible than our own.
Perhaps the greatest wound inflicted upon the church is an idle faith by persons who otherwise assert that they are followers of Jesus. Absent in their life is evidence of listening to God, submission to God, actively learning all that Jesus taught and obedience to those teachings. There is an unwillingness to walk the narrow path – to be peculiar – as William Willimon would say. Life is left untouched and unchanged by the hand of God. The result is people living lives that look no different from the lives of those outside the church. The result, of course, is the question of popular culture, “Why follow Jesus?” “Nothing seems different.”
That young man in the singles Sunday school class finally realized that he wanted more from his faith. An idle faith wasn’t working. He started new by asking for accountability. With that simple request he became to all of us a great teacher for how to begin moving toward an active faith.