the test

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1.22)

Seeing these words this morning reminded me of something a friend said to me this week. Someone had told him that a popular theology they were interested in was "primarily a thought experiment." That didn't impress him much. "If it's not practical, I have no interest," he told me.

I agree that theology or beliefs that cannot be put into practice aren't worth much. Except perhaps to distract us, or give us something to do when we're bored. Actually it's the practical living of our beliefs that tests them. To see if they have any validity, any reality, outside our heads. I read a line once about a philosophy that "didn't survive the test of a man's life." That's the test that matters.

For Christians, though, I think the test may be a little different than we expect. It's not just the test of whether our theory or belief "works." Whether or not we can survive living by it, or whether we can get many others to believe the same thing with us. The test should be whether this belief and action is a work of man, or a work of God. That's what a follower of Jesus should care about. And I think it can only be discerned in practice, in doing.

The work of God makes itself known in that it glorifies God's power, not our own. "My power is made perfect in weakness." This may appear in a life that seems miraculous, like Jesus' life was. This also means that it does not depend on our own strength, which actually takes the pressure and weight off us (unlike so many human-driven ministries that drive their workers into the ground). And the work of God is often not immediately successful; Jesus showed us on the cross that God's work usually takes us by the path of darkest failure. But God's work is always vindicated and successful in the end. The same cannot be said for the work of man.

But we don't find any of this out until we put aside our thought experiments and become doers.