"I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it." (Philemon 1:5-6)
A common western approach to Christianity is to pit two seemingly contradictory thoughts or ideas against each other and try to decide which one is true. The problem with this approach is that more often than not, the truth lies in both. As I mature in faith (I hope), I seem more able to accept some things as true, even if I don't fully understand them in my mind.
For example, Faith or Works? Paul makes it very clear in his letters that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus. James makes it clear that true faith shows up in our actions. So which is it? Faith or Works? The answer is "yes" - both. In a perfect world, our faith in Jesus results in a constant overflow into doing the things He calls us to do; (which is, incidentally, what being a disciple is). However, there are times when I simply must "obey" or "do the right thing" simply because God has called me to. Likewise, there are times when I absolutely blow it or "ignore" God and in these moments, I must rely on His grace and forgiveness and know that I'm not saved by what I do.
Avoid the extremes - on one extreme, you have a life insurance policy - say the prayer, get into the kingdom, and then do whatever the heck you want. On the other extreme, you have Phariseeism; a works based "check-box" type of Christianity. So which is it?
Embrace both - wholeheartedly. It's not a matter of balance: balance would say %50 of one and %50 of the other. Instead, picture being sold out %100 to both.
- Embrace the free gift of ever-living and ever-lasting life, soaking in the fact that no matter what you do or how bad you are, you can never wander far enough that God will not pull you back. Grace.
- Equally, embrace the fact that God saved you in order for you to do good works; good works that He prepared for you to do. It's not enough to sit on the sidelines and spectate...there is work to be done (see Ephesians 2:10).
When we live sold out like this, then Philemon's prayer is answered; our faith "shows up" in the good things we do and people will see Jesus in us.