Summary: What happens in our lives when we confuse doing with believing in our relationship with God.
Two people can do the exact same thing for entirely different reasons. For example, imagine seeing two different women doing housework: doing the laundry, vacuuming the carpet, picking up the toys. Just by looking at them, it appears that they’re exactly the same. But one is a stay at home mom, who’s committed herself to keeping her house out of love and devotion for her family. The other woman is a paid housekeeper, who’s simply performing the service she was paid by her service to do. Both women are doing the same things, but the motivation behind what they’re doing is entirely different. There’s a world of difference between a stay at home mom and a housekeeper.
It’s possible for two people to do the same thing for entirely different reasons. That principle is true in the realm spirituality as well. Although spirituality is a very private matter, how we express our spirituality is something other people see. For instance, two people might read the Bible for entirely different reasons, yet by looking at them from the outside they look the same. It reminds me of a story about the actor W. C. Fields, when someone saw him reading a Bible. Some said, "Mr. Fields, I didn’t know you read the Bible." He smiled, and clenching his cigar between his teeth he said, "Just looking for loopholes." Two people might go to church, volunteer in community service, or give their money to an ministry organization for entirely different reasons.
Since we can’t see a person’s faith, we tend to identify a person’s faith by the things they do. So we identify Christians by certain behaviors they engage in, because that’s what we can see. Christians generally read and study the Bible, go to church for worship, spend time each day praying, give a tenth of their income to ministry, volunteer in ministry, and so forth. So we tend to identify Christians as people who do these things. There’s nothing wrong with expressing our spirituality in action.In fact, the Bible questions the genuineness of a faith that doesn’t express itself in action.
But it’s easy for an outsider to look at what we do, and to conclude that being a Christian means doing certain things. This person might think, "I look at John and he’s a Christian. He goes to church, he reads his Bible, he prays, he gives money to church. So if I want to be a Christian, then I should go to church, buy a Bible and read it, learn how to pray and give too." This person might conclude that being a Christian means doing certain things. Yet that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called "Good News for Our Times." In this series we’ve been in chapters 9-11 of Romans, as we explore "The Good News About God’s Faithfulness." Today we’re going to look at the danger of confusing doing with believing.
Five hundred years ago, a Christian named Martin Luther realized that he’d confused doing with believing. When he made that discovery, it changed his life and sparked the Protestant Reformation. The terms Luther used were "law" and "gospel" to express the difference between doing and believing. For Luther, "law" refers to anything God commands us to do, which includes the ten commandments, the golden rule, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and so forth. "Gospel" was Luther’s way of describing what God promises to do for us, as a free gift of grace. In Luther’s thought, law is the equivalent of doing, and gospel is the equivalent of believing. Luther had been a really religious guy, yet he realized that for all his doing, he had no peace until he understood the difference between doing and believing.