Should I be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others?

Q. I’m currently struggling with quantifying my salvation in light of faith versus deeds. Work, study, and parenting leave me with little time to physically serve in the manner exampled by the apostles. I have not attended church for a couple of years, since my family members are not Christians and due to split working hours this is a period where Sundays are shared with them. I do however meet regularly with Christian friends. I remain constantly insecure about the authenticity of my salvation, despite experiencing some of the smallest and most tender answers to prayer, which surely show God is at work in my life and therefore not completely displeased with me. I know it is by faith and not works we are saved, but I am afraid that I don’t perform like a Christian and that my light doesn’t shine brightly enough. Is this just a season of my life where circumstances prevail and my private efforts/time with the Lord will suffice? Or am I potentially making excuses and should be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others? With thanks.

First, let me say that I sense that God is stirring up within you a desire for your actions to be more patently congruent with your faith. The fact that you are concerned about this and asking about this shows that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and responsive to his leading. This, like the precious answers you continue to receive to your prayers, ought to encourage you that you are walking genuinely with the Lord.

But second, I need to tell you that as a pastor, I have unfortunately seen too many cases where “just for now” became a permanent situation. People who justified stepping back from Christian activity under one set of circumstances continued to justify this under later circumstances. Eventually these people lost the desire to be involved in Christian activities at all. Some of them ultimately even lost the desire to follow Jesus, and they made very regrettable choices once it no longer mattered to them to please Jesus. So while God is encouraging you in a positive new direction, I think God is also warning you about the dangers of your present direction. (We are never in a static “situation.” We are always heading in one direction or another.)

So ultimately I would encourage you to take initiative to make your way of life more openly congruent with your faith. I have a friend who says, “When you don’t buy something, don’t say, ‘I can’t afford it.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.’ When you don’t do something, don’t say, ‘I don’t have the time.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.'”

The fact is that at present you are not choosing to make church participation, for example, a priority over spending time with family. But it seems to me that you are accommodating their preferred use of time every weekend, and that it would only be fair for them to accommodate your preferred use of time on at least some weekends. For all you know, if you say that you would like to make it a priority to attend church on at least some Sundays, some of your family members might even go with you, if only so that they could spend time with you. The same thing could be said about other Christian activities, such as serving those in need in the name of Jesus.

This is not a matter of you “doing more” to prove your faith to God or to other people. The Christian life is not a matter of “doing.” It is a matter of being. Doing must flow from being. But what I hear in your story is that the doing that should be flowing from your genuine being is being blocked, not by your circumstances, but by your response to your circumstances. I would invite you to see your circumstances as something that you can control, at least to a sufficient degree, not as something that necessarily controls you and dictates your choices. When we allow something to block the doing that should be flowing from our genuine being, that is a threat to our being itself.

But I feel I should close with some words from the book of Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, in your case we are convinced of better things—the things that accompany salvation.” I believe you are showing that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and eager to obey his promptings. And so I trust that you will be able to speak with your family members and explain to them how you would like to have time for some of your priorities within the shared family schedule, and I trust that they will respond in an understanding and supportive way. God bless you as you pursue this.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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