Christian faith is not just a badge

It’s terrible when people don’t practise what they preach! We are so quick to point a finger but completely forget to look in the mirror. Only when words and deeds coincide is a person authentic.

Many talk the talk, but do they also walk the walk? Talking alone achieves nothing. You also have to practise what you preach. And those who like to give advice to others which they themselves do not follow are hypocrites. Since the days of the Bible they have been called Pharisees.

Jesus’ confrontations with them are legendary. We find strong words, moments of reckoning, and striking demands: “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23: 3–5).

Holy talk does not mean a holy walk

And here the Pharisees were actually a credible group within ancient Judaism. For them, believing in the Law of Moses and obeying Jewish religious rules was not a formal matter of an everyday life defined by piety. They called themselves the “separated”. The word Pharisee can be traced back to the Hebrew pārûšh (Hebrew: פרשׂ).

Of course, their understanding of this separation implied: Jews in one place, foreigners in another; the devout here, the Gentiles there. They were also politically active and quite popular, especially among the bourgeoisie owing to their strict politico-religious goals. Their main achievement within the ancient history of the people of Israel is considered to be the Oral Torah, or Oral Law—in other words the transfer of temple worship into the daily activities of the devout Jew.

This was not a bad approach at first, but as often happens with oral transmission, personal views slipped into the canon. Ordinary people were unable to meet the stringent demands of the Pharisees. The disparity between expectation and reality was enormous. Their preaching was soon reduced to threats: “If you don’t listen, God will punish you.” Unfortunately, this image of a God of wrath has survived the centuries and is still etched in people’s minds.

When a sheep falls into a well

In essence, this led to exaggerations, which Jesus criticised strongly. For example, there is His famous reply: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In other words: a hard-nosed law that applies regardless of the circumstances causes hurt. What if a sheep falls into a well? Do you let it drown there just because it is the Sabbath?

To avoid any misunderstandings: ongoing reflection on the will of God and delighting in His law are a good thing. This is why Jesus said: “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do.” Obeying the law is right. But not for fear of punishment!

Christian in name only

The epistle of James contains the telling story of the rich and famous man who came to worship in the temple: “Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes. If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, ‘Have this best seat here,’ but say to the poor man, ‘Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,’ then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgements based on evil motives” (James 2, Good News Bible).

Of course this is black and white thinking, but it certainly brings out the contrasts! God loves all people without distinction. We humans don’t. We make distinctions even where there should not be any. For example, when it comes to Christian love. If we only ever received what we do not begrudge our neighbour—what would we receive? Most likely the spot in the very last row, in keeping with the biblical example.

Being a Christian 24/7

The fact that word and deed do not coincide is therefore not only a problem of the ancient Pharisees, but also a problem of today. There are still plenty of Pharisees. How often are Christians not accused of making fine words and lacking the corresponding deeds! And this accusation not only applies to preachers but to those listening to the sermon as well!

Shouldn’t the real question be: “Do I only talk about love for God and other people or do I put it into practice?” There is a Bible verse that supports this: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4: 20).

Christian faith is not just a badge or a mere formality. Sincere, genuine faith proves itself through deeds: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25: 40). A Christian is a Christian because he lives a Christian life, not because he is called a Christian.

“Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car,” said Albert Schweitzer. Cars are made for the road, not for the garage. Christians are not only Christians on Sunday but also on Monday! Anyone can sing religious songs, but putting their verses into practice every day is much more beautiful. If it says Christ on the label, it better have Christ inside. That is the only way to be an ambassador of the gospel.

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Peter Johanning
Bible Study