Someone once told me that followers of Jesus are caught, not taught, the point being that people are more attracted to people who are trying to make a difference through the things they do as they talk about Jesus than people who only talk about Jesus. When people see what following Jesus looks like, they become more open to hearing about who Jesus is. James, Jesus’ brother gets this. He writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 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.”
There are 2 parts to following Jesus, becoming deeper and more intentional disciples and making disciples. Today, making more disciples most often happens as the people we are trying to reach see us actually living out our faith in the community. This is where Paul’s words come in. Paul is talking about what freedom in Jesus and following Jesus looks like. Larry Richards writes, “in all of life’s adventures, we can live in total honesty with ourselves and with God. We will never deceive ourselves into believing that Christian freedom is a license to sin. We can always commit ourselves to doing good, sure that “at the proper time we will reap a harvest of joy.” Richards connects our faith with doing good, and in the doing good, the Holy Spirit reaps a harvest of souls for Jesus.
Paul starts off by calling us to restore those who are caught in sin and to do it gently. This is more than just forgiving someone, it’s about working with the person to get their relationship with Jesus and the church healthy and right again. James 5:19–20 says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” Sin is a serious business to God, it cost Jesus his life, sacrificed on the cross, because we’re sinners unable to save ourselves. God is a God of justice as well as of love. The reality is that we still sin, even after the cross, this is why followers of Jesus are called to restore instead of condemn those who mess up. This takes love and effort to reach out, gently confronting and having those hard conversations because the relationship is too important to give up on. Our example is Jesus who died but was raised up from the dead to show us that our relationship with our heavenly Father is restored again. We’re called to make our relationships of chief importance out of gratitude to Jesus. This is a powerful witness to our community.
Following Jesus isn’t always going to be easy, it isn’t going to revolve around us, but rather on how we follow him. When we do good works, we’ll still often face rejection and even persecution, but we’re called to carry on anyway because it’s all about Jesus. This takes humility and a sacrificial spirit shaped by the Holy Spirit. We can accept that we need to carry our own burdens, but Paul calls us to also help others with the burdens they carry. There will be times when it gets tiring, especially if we’re doing it out of a sense of obligation instead of gratitude to Jesus. We can get bitter, feeling that others aren’t doing their fair share, this is why we’re warned about not comparing ourselves to others. Faith can easily become a Sunday only thing that creates a lack of love or compassion. This is emotional and spiritual burnout stuff, when our hearts, souls, minds and bodies get tired and we wonder if the good we’re doing makes a difference.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus and his grace to us helps to keep us going when we get tired. We’re reminded Jesus sacrificed himself out of his deep love for us. Jesus knows we’ll have times when we get tired, this is why he calls us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus tells us to come to him when we get tired in doing good, when we find it hard to keep up our compassion. He renews our strength, hope, and love.
“True spirituality arises out of a grace-based relationship with God,” according to Daniel Bush and Noel Due. Our relationship with Jesus is a constant reminder of why we do good, why we focus on blessing and helping others. Many people who don’t follow Jesus also do good in the world, the difference is that they take care of people and forget their souls because they don’t believe in souls. They fight poverty, abuse, trafficking, and for mental health and so many other really good things and we need to join with them, it's important that we are working alongside those in our communities are blessing others. But we also get to offer Jesus; we get to offer unconditional love, spiritual strength and endurance for those times when their situations don’t change, we offer the life transformation of hope that lies in eternity where Jesus’ justice and rightness waits, the very things we are working for right now. We offer freedom from fear and bitterness, from anger and hopelessness because we offer Jesus. We offer freedom to dream again, freedom to hope again, freedom to love again. More people are caught into the faith through goodness than are taught into the faith.
A lot of the good that needs doing has nothing to do with physical doing. What does doing good look like when physically you’re unable to actually do anything, when you’ve worked hard your whole life and now have come to a place where physically you’re unable to do good like you have in the past? Doing good also looks like offering encouragement and praying for those who can do the physical work. It looks like financially supporting groups and ministries that are doing good, because they’re unable to do good without generous people supporting them with material and prayer support and words of encouragement.
I’ve often been blessed in conversations with you as you make it a point to encourage me, and it helps me to not grow tired. You’ve been part of Jesus’ rest for my soul. This is an important act of good that blesses so many people. I’m no longer amazed at how many people I meet who are discouraged, tired, not sure how to move forward. A word of encouragement is a powerful act of good today, whether it’s for someone in your family, the church family or perhaps the grocery clerk, the person you meet in the condo hallway, or even in McDonalds. Remember, people are more often caught by kindness into following Jesus than taught.
Jesus often uses the image of farming and Paul picks up on that by encouraging us that there is a harvest waiting. “A person reaps what they sow.” According to Jesus in Mark 4, what we sow is the Word of God and it’s going to fall in different places, but there’s a harvest and it will be a great harvest; 30, 60 and even a 100 fold. It’s a harvest that’s all about hope and new life and eternity with Jesus. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, understood the power of Christians when he wrote, “These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape (Christian love), they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests).”
Michael Craven writes, “Emperor Julian clearly saw the writing on the wall. The Roman Empire would not succumb to political upheaval or force but to love, the love of Christ. Julian's dying words in AD 363 were "vicisti Galilaee" (You Galileans [Christians] have conquered!).” Jesus wins because his followers love people into the church.