Faith and Works: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Comprehending the full scope of God’s redemptive work means that the church’s mission cannot afford a false dichotomy in our understanding and pursuit of the gospel. Anything that diminishes life is sin.

That means personal salvation is critical, but so too are issues of social justice and mercy. Dealing with institutional racism and poverty must be addressed along with restoration of right standing with God. One cannot be complete without the other. After all, one side of a coin alone does not constitute a real coin; it is counterfeit without both sides.

The missional church acknowledges both dimensions of redemption. “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) combines the two as one action, inseparable. We do not truly serve people if we withhold from them the truth about their condition and the hope that Jesus offers. However, people will not hear a message of love delivered by angry people through bullhorns and loudspeakers announcing judgement.

Redemption is a message that must be delivered by us on our knees holding a towel and a basin. Acts of sacrifice and service will inevitably spark interest and lead to conversation. This is why followers of Jesus must be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). The apostle’s admonition presumed that we would be queried. Increasingly, our engagement in redemptive pursuits will prompt those questions. Doing good sets the stage for God-conversations with others, and followers of Jesus must not shrink back from these opportunities.

Partnering with God in his redemptive mission does not allow for compartmentalization of life. We cannot wall off our engagements in the world from our spiritual lives. All our relationships are arenas of spiritual formation, not just those with other followers of Jesus. All efforts to improve the quality of life for people are kingdom efforts, not just church activities, reflecting Jesus’ promise that abundant life was the gift he brings. Shrinkwrapping God’s interests down to church activity is not just ludicrous; it’s idolatrous. Yet the North American church by and large continues to pursue a church-centric set of activities with church-centric metrics to evaluate its ministry success. Seeking the welfare of the people and places around us has up until now been off the screen of most congregations. But that is changing, thanks to the missional conversation.

Reggie McNeal, excerpted from his book Missional Communities