But what is it that we’re supposed to do? And how do we go about doing it?
First, we must understand that the question was already asked and Jesus answered it (emphasis mine)…
“Then they said to Him,
“What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God,
that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28-29
It’s human nature to want to do many good things for God. We feel good about ourselves when we do them, and whether we want to admit it or not, we will look down on others with a sense of religious pride when they’re not doing them.
And it gets worse when we equate what we do for God with our relationship to Him.
You see, we’re looking for what we can do. Jesus is asking us if we will believe.
Jesus will only accept one work–to believe in Him. That’s it.
Religious people do works, believers do one work.
Okay, I hope I’ve got you asking by now, “what does that mean?” Am I saying we should do nothing? Just sit back and spiritually navel-gaze, calling it doing the work of God?
At the heart of our problem is that we don’t understand the full implications of believing in Jesus. And because we don’t understand this we don’t value believing more than doing.
We equate “only believing” with doing nothing.
But it’s really just a different way of doing.
And believing in Jesus is the same thing as believing like Jesus. So, are we believing like Jesus? Let me clarify my question by posing a couple of questions…
Jesus said He would sent us the same way the Father sent Him (John 20:21). What does that look like? Do we believe we’re following the Father the same way Jesus followed Him?
And if we’re being sent the same way Jesus was sent, and He did nothing except what He saw His Father do first (John 5:19), are we “doing” this?
I think we’re initiating a lot of things we’re not seeing the Father do first, don’t you?
Why is this? Because, again, we value doing for God more than being in relationship with God. We prefer what we can understand in the natural realm more than developing a relationship with the Father in the spiritual realm. This “walking by faith in the Spirit” stuff is too strange to us. We have no grid for this and we don’t really see the value of developing one…or we see it as secondary to “getting out there and doing something.”
But wasn’t Jesus’ point in Matt.7:21-23 that all our good doing is “lawlessness” if we’re doing it on our own, without His initiative or intimate knowledge?
Of course, we can’t talk about doing for God without bringing up James. After all, didn’t James say that faith without our works is dead? Yes, he did (James 2:17, 20, 26). But how does this “work” work? Does it mean we just get out there and do something? Anything?
It means two things here…
First, if we’re loving people with God’s love we will show the same mercy and compassion that Jesus showed to people (James 2:8, 15-16). It doesn’t mean that we must start a social justice program (not that those are wrong), but that we respond to people with the same love that Jesus has because we have received the same love Jesus has. This work is the overflow of love. I wrote about this before.
Secondly, James tells us that our works are responding to what God says to us and about us by faith, like Abraham (James 2:22-23). What was Abraham’s “work?” He believed. And he demonstrated his believing by offering Isaac.
In this light, you who point to this passage to tell us to get off our blessed assurance to feed the poor and clothe the destitute, I say, praise God. But are you also going to sacrifice your son or daughter on an altar with equal passion? I’m serious. Because James gives both illustrations the same weight. So, if you’re going to do one “because the Bible tells us so,” you better do the other.
Of course, that’s absurd. But it makes my point.
And I think it makes James’ point. We are selective about what we obey (see James 2:9-10). We think obeying is following the Law but we won’t follow every jot and tittle of the Law. We want to help the poor but we don’t want to sacrifice our children. Therefore, James is saying this is not really obeying Jesus at all.
What I’m trying to do is to get you to stop serving God like an orphan and start serving your fellow man like a son or daughter who has his or her Father’s heart and knows what He want him or her to do.
God told Abraham to offer Isaac. He initiated the conversation. Abraham believed God by taking Isaac to the mountaintop. Abraham didn’t offer Isaac because he read it in the Bible. He did it because he heard God. He heard and responded by faith, not by sight.
Do you see now how our good intentions have gotten the proverbial cart before the horse? We’re trying to do for God when we’re not hearing what He wants us to do, or seeing what He’s doing…and doing that.