I was sitting in a church service recently. The pastor used the phrase “Religious activism of the insecure.” to describe our attempts to do good in order to earn merit with God.
This phrase stuck me. I did not hear much more of the sermon!
As believers we are great at promoting activism or good works. And rightly so.
James tell us “Faith without works dead.” (2:17)
But the statement caused me to take pause and wonder, “How much of our activism is rooted in insecurity?”
How many good deeds are actually attempts to earn the favor of God rather than as a loving response to it?
Some of the modern activist issues surround human trafficking or issues of justice. For the last few decades, the rights of the unborn have been a huge source of activism.
Justifiably so. These are major issues.
But, we must ask if we engage in these issues to earn the favor of God; attempting to climb the ladder towards Him. If so, we are merely insecure activists.
If this is true, how are we any different than our humanist or atheist friends who serve for the good of humanity? What distinguishes us from Muslims who do many good things in an attempt to please their god?
These people are doing good things. How are we any different?
One might argue doing the right thing, even for the wrong reason is better than no action.
Wouldn’t it be better if we could engage in issues near and dear to the heart of God without trying to impress Him. Rather we rally for causes as a response to what he has already done with us.
Some of the strongest language in Paul’s letters are reserved for those doing the good things for the wrong reasons.
Paul seems softer when it comes to sin (1 Cor. 5) or leadership issues (Titus, 1 Timothy 1:16-17) than he does legalism.
Paul says doing the right things as an attempt to add to what Christ did is a different gospel (Gal. 1:6). He calls the Galatians “foolish” for engaging in this kind of thinking. (Gal. 3:1)
Jesus himself rebuked the Pharisees for doing the right things for the wrong reasons. He called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27) They looked good on the outside, but were dead on the inside.
Please, hear me on this. I am not advocating sloppy agape or an unengaged faith which is irrelevant to the communities we live in.
We simply cannot let our good deeds be motivated by some sense of insecurity.
We do not act in order to receive. This is a humanistic, self-centered gospel.
Believers who are motivated by some ideas of a future reward are more concerned about what they will receive rather than focusing on what they have already been given.
I’ve met too many missionaries over the last twenty plus years who are serving out of guilt. They are miserably attempting to earn the favor of God through misguided service.
Scripture is clear.
We don’t want to do the wrong things.
It is also clear from both Paul and Christ, doing the right things for the wrong reasons is not ideal either.
Gordon MacDonald tells us :
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer Grace.”
What makes us different?
Grace is what makes Christianity different.
Grace gives value to our activism, to our humanitarian efforts, to our service
Let’s do the right things for the right reasons, and see an impact in our societies and cultures.
Let’s serve as a response to the grace which we have been freely given.
Freely we have received, freely we give.