“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
These next pages get deep, and can be summed up by reading James 2:14-26. However let’s go deeper and see how faith and works should be married in our walks with Christ, for we truly cannot divorce faith and works if we are Disciples of the One who calls.
“For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience…In one case faith is the condition of obedience, and in the other obedience is the condition of faith.”
Divorcing faith from works creates multiple problems. Works in and of themselves cannot save us- they only provide an external show of religion. On the flip side, as James says, “Faith without works is dead.”
Bonhoeffer delves deeper, “If a drunkard signs a pledge, or a rich man gives all his money away, they are both of them freeing themselves from their slavery to alcohol or riches, but not from their bondage to themselves. They are still subject to the commandment of works, still as submerged in the death of the old life as they were before.”
This external show of obedience has left the heart unchanged. Faith was left out of the equation.
So how does one know if their hearts are aligned with their external works?
“[W]e can only take this step aright if we fix our eyes not on the work we do, but on the word with which Jesus calls us to do it.”
Next Bonhoeffer explains the account of Peter walking on water. Before he stepped out of the boat, he asked Jesus to bid him to come and Jesus complies. Jesus calls, Peter fixes his eyes on Christ (for a time) and takes that step of faith necessary to walk on water-remember there was a storm going on. Faith + Works = Miracles.
Time to get your toes stepped on.
“Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.”
Re-read that statement.
When I do, I hear that unless I am willing to obey in EVERYTHING, I am not believing in Christ. But my brain immediately rejects this saying, “I’m a Christian, I believe, I follow my Savior.” But do I? Is there something I am holding back? Some area of my life that is off limits to God? Some hurt I refuse to let go of? If so, I am lacking in faith, I am being disobedient- even if it is unintentional.
“The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe.”
Is your walk with Christ difficult? Do you struggle with hearing God? Is reading the Bible boring and your prayer life stagnant? Perhaps there is an area of disobedience (even unintentional or subconscious) that needs to be addressed first. Perhaps before God can expand your faith, re-kindle your passion or answer your prayers you first have to become obedient by aligning your faith with your works.
When I read this chapter, I think not only of people who are trying to work their way to heaven, but also of those who take too much pride in their works and their works become their trophy/idol/god in place of Jesus.
We must make sure we are fixing our eyes on Christ, listening to His directives and following HIM, not our works.
Relating this back to the original call to follow Christ (look at last week’s post) we know that when Jesus calls and we must decide if we will follow. This next statement by Bonhoeffer is true of our first calling to follow, as well as all future callings to listen and obey.
“Do not say you have not got faith. You will not have it so long as you persist in disobedience and refuse to take the first step. Neither must you say that you have faith, and therefore there is no need for you to take the first step.”
Growing up in a Baptist church, each Sunday we had an alter call. Each Sunday the preacher would say we could be saved if we sat in the pew and prayed the prayer but he encouraged us to take that step of faith and come forward. Looking back, I think this is wise. That step doesn’t save you, neither do magical words/prayers. It is faith in Christ’s work on the cross that saves and that faith in Christ requires action by us.
Christ does not call us into inactivity. His ministry was extremely active, that hasn’t changed. Following Christ is hard WORK! But we do that work by and with FAITH. Faith + Works = Discipleship
Now to those who want to argue that they don’t have the faith to step out, that they are not sure if they ‘believe’ or ‘hear the call’(whatever that call may be) here is what Bonhoeffer says, “If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it.”
Do you hear?
Will you obey?
Questions: (you do not have to answer these on this blog, but I encourage you to prayerfully meditate over this). Of course comments are greatly appreciated and help others learn.
1. Is there an area of your life you are struggling to surrender to Christ? If so I encourage you to acknowledge it and to ask God to help you let go. I also encourage you to realize it has taken a life time to make you into who you are, change will not happen overnight. Discipleship takes time, it requires training to become like Christ and to follow Him- give yourself some grace, Jesus is.
2. Can you see how crafty Satan can be by twisting the message of faith and works? What are some other distortions to this Biblical truth you see/hear/witness/experience?
3. Is this message difficult for you? Are you struggling with your faith and works? If so, I pray you ask God to bring revelation to your heart and mind and to reveal HIS word for YOU.