“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27
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.
– James 2:14-17
Growing up in the evangelical culture there was a constant emphasis on Bible reading, memorization, and study. I’m grateful for the countless hours that I was taught to learn from God’s word, delving into the nuances of sentences and stepping back to see the grandeur of the over-arching storyline. I did (do!) annual Bible read-throughs, 90-day Bible read-throughs (that was intense), and hundreds of studies through various books of scripture.
Evangelicalism has done an excellent job training its adherents that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. According to a recent poll 95% of evangelicals affirm that truth. When I ask young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches what they can do to grow spiritually the answer is invariably some variation of “Read the Bible more.” For many within evangelicalism Bible reading is the path to holiness and increased faith. But there’s a problem with that. Reading the Bible doesn’t build your faith, just like stacking wood doesn’t start a fire. In fact, just reading the Bible (or hearing God’s word in any form) is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand. Jesus himself says so.
How Faith Grows
Jesus says that anyone who hears his words and does them builds their house on a solid foundation. It’s not the hearing that saves – it’s the obeying and acting according to what you’ve heard that is faith. The Apostle James is even more explicit in his Epistle, saying that without action faith is dead (James 2:17).
We need to move away from the idea that reading the Bible more is the primary means of spiritual growth. If it was wouldn’t we have significantly more examples in Jesus’ ministry of him and his disciples reading and discussing the Torah together? Certainly he and the Apostles after him taught people from the scriptures deeply, but I would argue that it was through obedience to the Word that growth came.
Peter walked on the water not because he heard Jesus’ command to “Come,” but because he stepped out of the boat. To reference James again,
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
– James 2:21-25
In each case the individual heard God’s word and obeyed. They acted, and it was in the action that their faith was established.
What Bible reading and prayer do is give us the fuel for putting faith into action. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But, as we’ve already noted, that faith doesn’t become a reality if it isn’t acted out. The Gospel of God starts a fire in our soul and the Word is fuel that stokes that fire, but to gather wood and never place it in the fire is pointless.
There are too many long-time believers sitting in spiritual houses stacked to the roof with well organized, neatly split firewood and a barely flickering flame. Faith looks like taking some of that firewood and throwing it in the fire.
If you’re lacking fuel, spend time in the word and prayer. Make this a daily, frequent practice. Abide in the word and let it abide in you. But you must not stop there. Cords of firewood do no good to anyone in this frigid world of sin and brokenness if they are never lit. Let’s start putting fuel on the flame by obeying Jesus’ commands and following the Spirit’s lead.
Stoke the Fire
Two practical ways you can do this:
- Whenever you read a section of scripture, finish by asking God “What do you want me to do in response to this?” Write down what the Spirit prompts you to do and do it.
- Don’t move on from a section of Scripture until it’s become a part of your life and you can truly say it’s become a part of how you live, not just another thing you know.
We all want heart change – we want our passions and lives to align with what our Lord calls us to have. Reading words from the page of a book, even if it is inspired by God, is not the way for that to happen. Faith won’t grow simply by reading a book. Additional knowledge can’t create definitive change in the human heart. The only way that happens is if our faith is put into action. Let’s put God’s word to the test. Let’s be people who believe him and act accordingly. As we do so the flame of our faith will grow in ways that those around us won’t be able to ignore.