Do Actions Matter?

Question: What do you do when your friend is involved in Christian activities but doesn't get anything out of it. For example: she dedicates her life to the Lord at church retreats, but comes home the same person she was when she left. She cusses, uses the Lord's name in vain all the time (people remind her not to, but she doesn't care), listens to music that talks about sex, lies, reincarnation, and hate. I always remind her that it's wrong, but it doesn't matter enough for her to do something about it. What should we do?

Answer: A person's ongoing actions reflect the condition of their heart. Jesus spoke of this clearly when he said that many who call Him "Lord", yet continue to willfully practice lawlessness (i.e. keep on in a state of rebellious sin against God), will not be saved. This in spite of the fact that they obviously consider themselves to be saved and hold up the "good" works they have professed to do in His name.

Matthew 7:22-23 "Many will say to Me in that day, `Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (NKJ)

Ultimately 1 John 2:3 says actions are the only way each individual can be sure they are a follower of Jesus. This is not to say that works can save you (they cannot, see Ephesians 2:8-9). This is also not to say that you become perfect when you are a Christian. All Christians stumble, or fall into sin, but the difference -- on the long-term -- is the issue of repentance. It is the unrepentant ongoing practice of sin which shows a persons spiritual state. Anyone who has truly become a follower of Jesus has turned from following the world (i.e. sin). When they fall into sin, and are convicted of it (and they will be), they will turn away from it and seek forgiveness from God. God works differently in people's lives, not every Christian is convicted of sin right away and not every Christian stays out of that same sin permanently from that point forward. But, in all Christians, God does work to convict of sin and to change them... A process known as sanctification (or to be made holy).

I John 2:3-6 "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked." (NKJ)

Sanctification is a process that continues all of your life. The Holy Spirit of Truth, who dwells within each believer, must convict of sin and guide into all truth.

John 14:16-17 "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you." (NKJ)

John 16:13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth..." (NKJ)

John 16:8 "And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment..." (NKJ)

In contrast, anyone who can willfully enter into sin over and over, finding nothing wrong with it, ignoring correction and right instruction, has shown that they are a follower of the world rather than Jesus Christ -- and no one can be both!

James 4:4 "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (NIV)

Many are misled into believing that they are Christians by those who would tell them that praying a prayer, walking an aisle, or going to an altar, etc., makes them one. They use this as license to sin, pointing to their "experience", but disregarding God's word that says their lives must change as a result of His grace.

James 2:26 "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (NKJ)

As for what you should do. You need to live a consistent Christian life as a testimony, or witness, to her. Don't forget to pray for her. And as the opportunity arises, the Bible tells us to "speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)" -- this means expressing God's unchanging truth out of love (first of all for God) and Christian concern for her. Using God's own words (i.e. Scriptures from the Bible) is the best way to do this.

Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (NIV)

If you have presented scriptures and a person is offended by it, they are offended by God and not you. If she accepts the message and repents, you have gained a sister in Christ. If she resents you, reviles you, mocks you, etc., don't be surprised -- Jesus was too. And even if so, keep on loving her, Jesus loved his friends and enemies.

John 15:18-21 "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." (NKJ)

Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you..." (NKJ)

In summary: Actions become proof of an individual's spiritual state. Good actions are a result of salvation, not a cause of that salvation. Ultimately each person must examine themselves by the standard of God's Word and by His Spirit.

2 Corinthians 13:5 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" (NIV)

PS. Taking the Lord's name in vain also speaks volumes about one's spiritual condition. When someone mocks the one they profess to love and follow through casual misuse of their name, their profession rings hollow.

Psalms 139:20 "For they speak against You wickedly; your enemies take Your name in vain." (NKJ)

For more about what it means to be a Christian, read the article "Christians".

By Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries