The Jesus Circle
It’s in the Bible that there’s this symbiotic relationship between faith, fruit and works.
If a Christian, you should have faith in Christ, His God-ship, His crucifixion, His rising from the grave on the third day and His coming back again. All of these you must have faith in. It’s all there in the Apostles creed.
Truly, one cannot buy their way to heaven through works. The old covenant is witness to the fact that man was unable to dig himself out of his mess. And so our beloved Savior gave His life as a ransom for us, that we should no more find ourselves trying to be right in God’s eyes through works.
Before the reformation and the revolutionary Guttenberg printing press, regular people did not have their own copy of the holy Scriptures.
Oral transmission was an art form in the Middle East and actually touted as more reliable than actual written transmission. But was not true with Western Civilization.
Westerners needed the biblical narrative displayed in stained glass at the local church (because of much illiteracy in those times). Otherwise “Joe-Euro” would have to wait and trust the local Abbot to read the bible out and hopefully exegete it properly Sunday morn.
And so in confusion, and unable to compare life with the way scripture said life was to be, people, in ignorance, struggled their way to God by works, monetary gifts or what was termed “indulgences” (buying or working off the time their good ol’Granny may be wasting away in purgatory or even Hell). All of this, of course, is dead wrong.
And this led to Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door.
We do find mention of the importance of works in the Bible.
But how do the two work together if it takes just faith in Christ to be saved? The answer is found in placing the two into what I term the “Jesus Circle”.
A Christian’s struggle with works
I remember the zeal I had when I first came to the Lord.
It was a fearlessness; this knowing that we had Christ living in us.
Our focus was on Him
Our focus was on eternity.
And unfortunately, I also remember the slow dissipation of that zeal as time marched on. During times of struggle, I remember even doubting my salvation.
Nothing was going on in my life. I was certainly not shaking the Kingdom up for Jesus. All it would take was the testimony of a brand new fire-filled Christian to have me stacking my works against his or hers and coming up way short many, many times.
Reformer Martin Luther himself struggled during his time as a Franciscan monk with trying to earn his way to heaven. Each work feeling like it was not good enough.
This of course prompted him to squirm over the thought:
“How do I know that I am saved? That I’m accepted by God?”
After much self-loathing and self-punishment (Luther would some times punish himself by sleeping out in the snow over night without any winter garments) he realized that it was by faith that we come to Christ, not by works. And of course he was right. It’s through faith in Christ Jesus that we come to salvation. And yet, the Bible is quite clear and deliberate in saying:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Cor 13:5
Well how do people examine their own faith?
What is there to examine? Faith is an existential concept. I cannot show you my belief. I cannot open my bag and throw my faith on the table. Faith can only be examined through the works and fruit it produces.
James 2:26 says:
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
We also see James 2:19 state:
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”
Both these verses allude to the fact that just having faith is not the answer. It has to express itself in some kind of tangible means.
“But that makes Christianity a religion of works! We find ourselves no different than the Israelites with their many sacrifices, customs and rules!”
The answer to this is not found in the works themselves, but in the heart of the Christian as he or she does these works. Why are you doing them? God already accepts you. God loves you to the maximum He can love you. Your flesh may have you convinced that this is not so, but the cross says otherwise!
Can any of your works match Christ’s gift on the cross? I think not!
Your salvation is paid for.
A passing grade when examining one’s faith rests in why they are doing the works. It should not be out of hoping for God’s acceptance; you have that already. Your works should appear out of a genuine heart that was resurrected with Christ, a heart that is the result of you being a new creation. Works are a result of Jesus, the very Christ of God, dwelling inside you and spilling out! Bursting at the seams of your inner spiritual person.
You do these charities, these works, because you have experienced the living Christ! And you just can’t help yourself acting out in worship to the God that saved you from an existence without true hope.
If you find yourself not acting out charitable acts of worship to God, it may be a sign that the relationship between you and Jesus is not really where it should be.
Most people judge Christians by the bad works they have done; the sins, the slip ups (and absolutely, we do things that we shouldn’t). But when it comes to your faith and God, just as important are the things you haven’t done (the sins of omission), because they are a tell tale sign that you may be out of sync with Jesus.
Now God is reasonable and your lack of good works may simply be that you are tired or burnt out for a season; God sees that, He understands. As well, He is there to restore you when you find yourself so burdened.
But if for an extended time you have found it a struggle to “…treat others as you would have yourself treated” (Luke 6:31), this may be a sign of ‘lukewarmness’ (read Rev 3:16 to see what Jesus thinks of the lukewarm lifestyle).
So how do we avoid becoming works centered instead of faith centered?
- You need to respond to the Holy Spirit as He moves you to act in charity. Don’t try and fill in the gaps if the Holy Spirit is not tugging on your heart to (unless it’s super obvious and there is an injured person lying on the ground in front of you). This also requires you to be communing with God in order to hear His promptings.
- I believe James 1:27 says it better than I can explain it:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
- Make these works a lifestyle, not something you consider done for only a specific time.
I worked in a church that used to do the 40 days of purpose (I used to call it 40 days of Porpoise). People would temporarily “interrupt” their lives to live out real Christianity to the world around them and then high-five each other when done the period. They would celebrate what a wonderful job they did in helping the poor. Only to go back to their self serving lives, when all was said and done.
Gross, just gross.
Let’s see what the Jesus Circle looks like if injected into the Christ followers life shall we?
You get saved!
Out of your conversion, there occurs a heart change.
You start doing charitable acts for mainly two reasons:
- You can’t help yourself. Because Jesus truly lives in you, when you submit to His will, good things can only come out. Things like mentioned in Matthew 25:31-46: You feed the poor, you clothe the poor or you maybe visit the sick and imprisoned. (If you are truly a new creation, doing such things should give you a great satisfaction).
- You want people to become closer to Jesus. You want them to know His love. You want people to know that the good being done originates within the heart of the living God who now lives inside you.
Because there is no other way to put it, you are high folks! No other description can do it justice. This high therefore drives you to the very throne room of God in worship. Imagine that! Something not dedicated to pleasing yourself gives you immense glee? What a concept!
As you worship God, your spirit is encouraged to do good and to make Him known. In essence, you want God to receive the glory! Of which He is more than worthy!
Because of the worship which is in your heart, you therefore do good to your neighbor, because again, you can’t help but want to, to make this Jesus known!
And now because of the euphoria that comes from doing good in Jesus name, you do this as a lifestyle.
And the whole Jesus Circle feeds itself in a cyclical manner. Doing good in the name of Christ, feeds our inner man and worships Christ. As our inner man is fed and worships, we want to do more good because our minds are in tune with Jesus’ will.
We do more good and get closer to God!
And so on…
And so on…
And because we are more in tune with Jesus’ heart, our prayers become more focused on God’s will.
And because we pray out God’s will, prayers have an immensely better chance of being answered!
Something that is so cool about this way of life, is that Matthew 25:31-46 and the Jesus Circle can be acted out anywhere, by anyone!
What’s even better is, that by allowing Christ to “ooze” out of you in charitable acts, leads to a satisfying life, and a life of opportunity to share the Gospel with those you are serving. And shouldn’t sharing the gospel be our goal? Let’s be frank about helping others without bringing them to Jesus as well, all you are doing is really helping their temporal body squeak out a few more years. Our goal is to be fishers of men and enlarge our spiritual family!
The Jesus Circle gives eternal purpose and meaning for every Christian in existence.
Is your job boring?
Try the Jesus circle and watch a new vigor take hold because what you are living out brings eternal results.
- Faith is the beginning of our life in Christ
- Works should be a genuine outpouring of love that the Jesus inside us encourages, not a way to get to the heart of Jesus.
- We can use Matthew 25:31-46 as a template for how our lives should look as Christians.
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