When I was a student at Walla Walla University, I decided to spend a semester at Avondale in Australia. While I was able to take classes that would count toward my degrees, my primary motivation for going was to learn to surf. I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie and surfing was the one board sport I had not been able to try. The first thing my buddies and I did when we showed up was buy a car. We then drove said car to the surf shop, purchased three shortboards, and headed to the beach. I spent the next four months getting absolutely pummeled by the south pacific five days a week and loved every minute of it. I’ve been obsessed with waves and surfing ever since.
During my experience at Avondale, there was one interesting phenomenon that I began to notice. Fellow students would frequently engage me in conversations about surfing. They would ask how the waves were that day, which beach I had surfed, what the tides were, and would even offer advice regarding spots to try. However, when I would invite them to join me, they would quickly decline and often tell me that they themselves didn’t actually surf. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing surfers there. But there were also many who embraced beach culture without ever venturing out into the waves. They looked like surfers, talked like surfers, hung out with surfers, but never truly became surfers.
Now, let’s move on from surfing the waves, to surfing the web. (see what I did there?) My son Reef (yes, I’m obsessed with the ocean and surfing) recently discovered website building. He is 9 years old and will spend as many hours as he is allowed creating his online presence. He watches videos on how to create features and scours the internet for content. He seeks out those with experience to learn more about how to create his masterpiece. He has started a website building club and is hosting Zoom training sessions teaching them skills, many of which he learned himself only hours before. He is obsessed. He has difficulty concentrating on other tasks. He is driven by a wave of passion for this new hobby which guides his actions and inspires him to share this experience with those he cares about.
Last week I looked at the Yo-Yo experience of the Christian faith that comes from a misunderstanding of Grace. So often we try to earn God’s favor or beat ourselves up over the mistakes we make. We end up oscillating between pride over our accomplishments and being held captive by shame and guilt from our failures. We forget, or never really learned that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) You can’t earn it with your victories, or un-earn it with your failures. It is a gift from God. There is freedom to make mistakes.
So, how do we deal with portions of the Bible, such as the book of James, that emphasize the importance of works? What does James mean when he says, “Faith without works is dead.”? Often the way we deal with James’ advice is to create a list of do’s and don’ts that make us feel spiritual. We create a list of criteria, perhaps 28 of them, that people must meet to be a part of “God’s Church”. Now, I think that doctrine is incredibly important, just not in the way that we often think it is and I’ll deal with that next week. However, we create a church culture that knows about God, generally knows how a “Christian” should act, but never really experiences any changing power in their lives. We spend our time looking for the next spiritual high while trying to ignore the fact that our experience with God is dry, lifeless, devoid of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s go back to my Son, and his wave of enthusiasm for building his website. He doesn’t require a List of things to do, say, wear, or believe to be a web designer. There is no checklist that he has to complete to feel like he is a legitimate webmaster. His actions are simply the result of his passion. His study, devotion, and evangelism of others is simply the result of his love.
Hebrews 8 references what Paul calls the old and new covenant. The “Old” covenant was when God presented all the laws to the people of Israel, along with the 10 commandments. They were emerging from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and didn’t even know what following God looked like, so He had to give them some guidance. The problem is, they took the things God gave to help them understand Him and turned it into a checklist. A way to earn God’s favor. (Sound familiar?) Therefore, God provided another “New” covenant. Jesus. It wasn’t like he didn’t already plan on doing this but the need for it was highlighted by the inability of His people to connect with Him using the first Covenant. In Hebrews 8:10, 11 He states that no longer will people need to be Taught about God because they will Know God. They don’t need rules because they know the rule giver. They have been written on their hearts.
See, while the things we do don’t earn us anything, they are evidence of a change that is already happening in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 5 discusses this process, calling us a “New Creation” in verse 17. Paul says we are “compelled” by the love of Christ. Like Reef and his website, we follow God out of love and passion because of the Grace that he has offered us. We don’t serve others because we are supposed to, it is just what happens when our hearts respond to the Love of God. We embrace the idea of Sabbath, not because we are trying to appease God but because we are excited to spend time with Him and the people we love. We choose unselfishness, not to avoid going to hell, but because we see the unselfish way God has treated us and we’re inspired to do the same. Faith without works is dead, simply because it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing. If we truly have faith, actions are the result. Our job is to focus on learning about, and truly experiencing the grace and love of God.
So back to surfing. There is no experience on earth like feeling the raw energy of the ocean behind you, driving you forward, propelling you the surfer and your board toward the shore. There is nothing subtle about it. Trying to fight against that power is always a losing battle. The ocean always wins. So does the Grace of God. When you let yourself truly experience the love of God in your life, you will become a new creation! You will transformed into a true surfer instead of living a pretend life on the shore.
Do you feel like your love for God drives most of your activities throughout the day? What should we do if we don't feel like doing "good works"? Is it possible to have faith if it is not accompanied by works? Why or why not? Why do you think it is so easy to be focused on the good or bad things we do?