"Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2)
I have proof that preaching grace doesn't produce passive Christianity. Two words: Harvest Church.
Nope, neither Harvest's pastor, nor his wife worry that the message of "Sola Gracia" (the "Grace Alone", history-rending cry of Martin Luther) will cause people to be without evidence of their faith. The people of Harvest Church, though they are told Sunday in and Sunday out that they have no righteousness of their own, persist and insist on abounding in righteous works. Go figure!
In my church, I cannot think of a single member who is not actively involved in the lives of others. I mean that. Not. One.
Those are darn good statistics for "one of those grace churches."
Every single day, the saints are caring for the sick, serving little children, repairing each other's automobiles, counseling the confused, pulling off whole weddings and funerals, cooking meals for others, paying bills for those out of work, giving gifts, babysitting each other's children, clothing the poor and homeless, and preaching the gospel without regard to reward or fear of man. The people of Harvest are ever about the business of life: playing their music, painting their paintings, producing their television broadcasts, practicing their medicine, dancing their dances, singing their songs....and yeah....answering e-mails with an enthusiasm that is sincere, and writing blog entries with grace infused passion. All of it "works of righteousness".
People in whom there is no guile. That's my church, for the most part. They don't treat relationships like a game of chess - always analyzing the other person, attempting to stay "one move ahead". Their love is sincere. They won't try to impress you. They don't try to be righteous. They don't try to do righteous things. They've been taught better than that. They simply are righteous.
Tim and I do not even conceive of a life that does not abound in what Eugene Peterson paraphrases, in James, "...a seamless unity of believing and doing." Um...to us, in our personal lives, the "doing" literally often goes without saying. Our finest doings happen when we are unconscious of them. And the members of Harvest out-do us all the time.
We love to have it so. They are our letters of commendation - commending not us, but the gospel of Christ, and the message of grace.
You see, Paul said it like this: "Not by works of righteousness which I have done, but according to His mercy He saved me."
Righteous works? Paul says, "Been there. Done that. Still doing." And the big deal is....? The big deal is the mercy of God. What Paul accomplished, through grace, meant not near as much to Paul as the grace that enabled him. The works themselves really are not the big deal. They are the evidence of a reality far, far greater.
Here is another thing Tim and I cannot conceive of: Not being Tim. Not being Sheila. Tim can't be Barack Obama or John Travolta. I can't work the works of Laura Bush or Angelina Jolie.
So...when we say we are the righteousness of God in Christ, and that it is "not I, but Christ who lives in me"...we mean that the things we do, every day, become acts of righteousness. Tim and I have been made righteous. We can't be anything but righteous, just like John Travolta can't be anything but.....you know. John.
My home, its atmosphere and hospitality, is an ongoing act of righteousness. I can't help it. I am righteous. The cookies I bake are an act of righteousness, because a righteous woman created them. Our old cars...the repairs Tim makes to them are acts of righteousness, done by a righteous man, for the good of his family. When he takes his boy canoeing, it is an act of righteousness.
No one needs a mandate to just "be" who they are, in Christ.
The grace of God sets us free to abound in all the good works we were created new creatures in Christ to do. That might mean organizing an entire wedding reception for someone else, or that might mean traveling to Cambodia.
I can find you lots of people in my church who do either one or both, every chance they get, and all of it is as natural to them as breathing.
They know who they are, in Christ. They can't help but act like who they are.
Really! To them, it is no big deal.