Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The High Standard That We Will Be Held To

Are we, as fallen people, capable of doing good things apart from God?

I think the answer is a qualified "yes." Please let me explain what I mean by that.

Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson with children attending a school built by the Central Asia Institute.

We were created in God's image. God is love. We are obviously capable of love. But I do not think we can love, perfectly, apart from God's help, and the motivation He provides for truly loving unconditionally.

An unbelieving soldier gives his life for his country, and a father takes a stand against a mugger to safeguard his family. Or perhaps, a mother who does not know the Lord carries to term a young child even at the risk of her own life. All are acts of selfless love. They are inspired by (godly) ideals, ideals placed into the heart of man by a God who created us in His own image.

That image was, of course, grossly tainted and distorted by sin in the fall. Too often, now, we are capable of the opposite of love ... or perhaps of acts of what we think is love, but what is in reality, at its core, something far worse and not God-like in any sense.

While traveling last year I enjoyed very much reading a book called "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, the inspiring story of a former mountain climber who began to build schools in impoverished communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after a failed attempt to summit K2.

So it was very painful for me to watch a "60 Minutes" expose recently which claims that many of the stories shared by Mortenson in his book were either gross exaggerations (at best) or outright fabrications (at worst) -- and that, while Mortenson had indeed helped many poor children by building schools in the area, he hadn't built near as many as he claims, and much of the tens of millions of dollars raised for this purpose by his speaking and his writing and through his nonprofit organization have actually been spent for other, less noble purposes.

Disappointing, if true. (And I'm also naturally suspicious about the media's role in uncovering these seeming inconsistencies.) I think the jury is still out on these claims against Mr. Mortenson.

But I do remember wondering, as I read about Mortenson's philanthropy, of his core motivation. As far as I can tell, he's not a believer, at least not in the sense that you and I classically understand that term. Are nonbelievers capable of doing good things? Yes, of course. But even those good things will be put at risk of being tainted by evil, if the godly motivations for doing them are absent or in question.

Far sadder, of course, is the case of people who should be doing good works as a demonstration of their authentic faith in Christ, but who fail to do so. James writes in the second chapter of his epistle:

 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
 18 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 ....
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

If some good can be done apart from God, what kind of good should be done by those of us who claim to be acting together with God?

In other words, how much higher of a standard will God hold us accountable to? There is a great deal of media scrutiny on faith-based organizations such as World Vision, and perhaps deservedly so. If we claim to be loving people in the name of Christ, we had better do so in a manner worthy of Christ -- selflessly, with the high level of excellence, and with the motivation, He demands of us.

We as a church are just beginning this adventure of demonstrating our sincere faith, through our deeds. Through the Elikya Center we are seeking to show God's love to orphans and widows in the Congo. Through KidREACH we are tutoring at-risk children. Through MOPS we are reaching out to young moms with the love of Christ. Through Freezing Nights, the Salvation Army, and Francis House we are seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ to the homeless and vulnerable in our community.

My prayer is that as we seek to do good, we will share the Whole Gospel with the Whole Person, and do so in a manner worthy of those whose motivation is the true grace, mercy, and love of Christ, extended compassionately and without condition to the Whole World. He is holding us to a higher standard! In response to His amazing work in our lives, let's pursue this goal with our Whole Hearts!

Reprinted from Elim Evangelical Free Church's The Last Word.

No comments: