Monday, October 16, 2023

Algebra Tests and Good Intentions

Suggested Reading: James 1:19-27

My brother told me once me about an algebra teacher that he used to drive crazy. My brother would calculate exactly how much homework he would have to do to get a 72 for the grading period, if he got a 100 on each of his tests. Then he would do exactly that much. No more and no less. My brother knew how to do the algebra and he proved it by doing just enough to manipulate his grade to be a 72. But my brother never got any more than a 72 because even though he knew how to do the algebra homework, he never actually did it. In terms of his grade, what my brother knew didn't matter. What he actually did and turned in was what got him the grade.

Sometimes, we confuse what we know with what we do. That is one thing James, the brother of Jesus, was dealing with when he wrote the words, "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works — this person will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:22-25, HCSB). James understood that sometimes we confuse hearing and knowing with doing. Beyond that, sometimes we confuse good intentions or compassionate feelings for good behavior. But  in the end, our feelings, intentions, and knowledge mean nothing if we don't use them to actually do something.

Far too often we confuse studying God's word with living out God's word. We confuse having the intention of helping someone with actually helping them. We mistake feelings of compassion for acts of compassion. In short, we credit ourselves with good works because of our knowledge, feelings, and intentions when we should be focused on our behavior. As James said, we deceive ourselves.

Intentions, feelings and knowledge are worthless without actions flowing from them. Don't start feeling good about yourself because you know how to live the Christian life or because you want to live the Christian life. Focus on actually living the Christian life. Until your knowledge and intentions are paired with actions, they aren't worth much.

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