One of the fundamental truths of my life is; “how we live our lives reflect what we truly believe.” This is the reason why I believe faith is more than what we confess with our lips, but also includes what we do with our hands.
Abraham, the great example of faith, was credited with righteousness precisely because his belief and trust in God were made real through his actions. We can say we believe in God, but if that belief isn’t manifested in action then our faith is weak and shallow. One way I describe faith is “life influenced by belief.”
True faith is the application of what we believe to the way we live. That is why James wrote: For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26; ESV). Belief is the root system of faith, but our works (the way we live) is the actual plant of faith.
When we live a life of faith, a life that is influenced by what we believe, then our lives become examples of what it looks like to follow Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote; And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; NLT). I imagine that Paul was aware of the reality that he was an example of what it meant to be a follower of Christ Jesus, and he conscious to provide a good example for people to follow.
In the Gospels we discover a group of people who were not concerned about being good examples. They were more concerned about making a good impression rather than leaving a good example. This group were the Pharisees. The Pharisees interpreted Scripture for people and taught them how it applied to their lives. Yet the Pharisees missed a key component in their teaching—they didn’t live the teaching out in their lives.
On the one hand many people were impressed by their “religious” piety. On the other hand many people were discouraged because they knew they didn’t have the discipline to achieve the religious level of the Pharisees. What the people didn’t know was that for all their religious piety the Pharisees lacked true faith. They were able to put up a religious front that hid an unbelieving heart, but their lives were not influenced by their belief. The Pharisees lived lives influenced by the desire to be admired.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:1-4; ESV).
The underlying theology the Pharisees taught was not the issue. What was the issue was the fact that the Pharisees kept burdening the people with laws upon laws instead of providing the people with examples of what faithful living actually looked like. Jesus told the crowd that the Pharisees had bad faith, not that they had bad theology. So Jesus urged the crowd to listen to the Pharisees teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.
We need to keep in mind that there are two parts to effective teaching. The first part is about explaining ideas and the second part is making those truths and ideas a part of our lives. When our lives do not reflect the truth of the Gospel people will naturally wonder whether or not the Gospel is really the truth.
I happen to believe that the best evidence for the truth of the Gospel are the faithful lives lived by his followers. When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus real and accessible to the people around us. Without our example Jesus’ teachings remain a simple philosophy rather than the best way of life.
Having the truth doesn’t do us, or anybody else, any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives. The life of faith is the life that is lived because it has been influenced by the truth. Faith happens when we live our lives in the light of what we believe. A life that is lived by faith becomes a life that is an example for others to follow.