Some Differences Between Vibrant and Dead Faith


For some, the Bible is a comfort.

For others, it is a disruption.

Through the Bible, God heals with reassuring words of forgiveness, kindness, and welcome. Also through the Bible, God pierces with warnings meant to stir us toward repentance, restoration, and peace.

Jesus, the center of the biblical story, afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted; he opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble; he is kind to shame-filled prostitutes and fierce with self-filled Pharisees; he gives special attention to the poor and denounces those who ignore the poor.

One of the most disturbing things Jesus ever said is that at the Last Judgment many will say to him, “Lord, Lord” and he will respond, “Depart from me, for I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). He will also say the following:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me… Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

These words should jolt us, especially because they will be spoken to religious folk—people who spent their lives attending church and reading their Bibles and giving their money and praying their prayers and getting their theology right and even preaching sermons and writing Christian books. And yet, like the ancient church at Laodicea, though they will have built reputations for being spiritually alive, Jesus will expose them as naked, poor, wretched, and blind (Revelation 3:14-22).

James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the church at Jerusalem, linked genuine faith with an active concern for the poor. He wrote, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

James answered his own question, saying, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:” James went on to say, “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

In context, the “stain” of the world that the Holy Spirit spoke about through James is the stain of replacing Jesus’s call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him with our own, self-serving path in which we deny our neighbors, take up our comforts, and follow our dreams.

The apostle John, who was likely Jesus’s closest friend on earth, also said we should lay down our lives for others since Christ has laid down his life for us. He wrote, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

One of my predecessors at Christ Presbyterian Church, Dr. Charles McGowan, says that our doctrine—that is, our stated Scriptural beliefs about God, ourselves, our neighbor, and the world—is the “skeleton” of our faith. Our doctrinal skeleton is a foundational, necessary structure around which the muscles, tendons, veins, and vital organs of faith must operate and grow. In other words, our doctrinal beliefs provide the foundation for our Scripture reading, listening to sound teaching, prayer, spiritual friendship, involvement in a local church, observance of the sacraments, and active love for our neighbors, including those most disadvantaged.

As it is with the human body, so it is with faith:

If the doctrinal skeleton is the only thing or even the main thing people can see when they look at our faith, it means our faith is either malnourished and sick…

…or it may even be dead.


Scott’s latest book, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen,
releases June 14, 2022.
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2 responses to “Some Differences Between Vibrant and Dead Faith”

  1. Melissa says:

    I hear what you are saying but I do not see what you are saying in our society. This is why I no longer attend or believe in corporate worship.

  2. Maggie Permer says:

    Amen, Scott. God bless you for speaking the truth.

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