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Should Our Faith Be More Easily Perceived by What We Do Than What We Believe?

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A friend asked me,

This was in my Bible study: “‘Christianity’ is more easily perceived by what you do than what you believe.” It really made me think. What are your thoughts on this statement? I’ve been studying Paul’s life, and was reading in Acts 23-24. It was diving deeper into “The Way” that is used in chapter 24 to describe Christianity.

That’s a great question. I said decades ago in one of my first books (back in the 80s!) that while our children will sometimes fail to do what we say, they will seldom fail to do what we do. That’s the power of example, both good and bad.

On the one hand, what God says is true, whether or not we live consistently with it. An ungodly person, even an unbeliever, can share the gospel message, and someone can be genuinely saved by believing it even if the person who spoke it was living in disobedience.

On the other hand, a man who calls people to live pure lives while living in immorality is not only a hypocrite, but those around him will find his words hard to believe despite the fact they are true.

First, we need to profess what is right and true, and second, we need to live consistently with what we profess. “Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16). A person who by God’s common grace lives a good life cannot compensate for the fact that he does not believe in God. Placing our trust in God is essential to salvation, as Romans 10:9-10 demonstrates. That passage says we are to both confess Jesus with our mouth (which is an action), and we are to believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (which is faith or trust).

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:3-4). No matter what a person professes, he must live an obedient, Spirit-empowered life to effectively point people toward Jesus. This doesn’t mean everyone will automatically like us for representing Christ. Someone can live an authentic life honoring Christ, and it can be highly offensive to unbelievers. We’re told in 2 Corinthians 2:16-17, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” We just want to make sure we are offending people for the right reasons, not the wrong ones!

So yes, true Christianity is often more easily perceived by what you do than what you believe. On the other hand, true and authentic belief should always come out in our actions. However, those with discernment will understand that a claim may be true, even when a person sharing it fails to live consistently with their own words.

James 2 is powerful here:

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.