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~ Dead Faith Smells Like Dead Fish ~

     An innocent prisoner was guarded by a very big jail keeper. For years he kept hearing the gate of iron bars slamming shut his tiny cell. The guard would sit at his desk just a few yards down from the prisoner’s cell. Prisoners know how to take their little plastic mirrors and hold them between the bars to see what’s going on in the cell block. The face of the big guard always loomed in his mirror with a big grin. What thoughts were behind that grin? Such pondering would only induce fear into the prisoner’s innocent heart. He knew the Scriptures warned to “discern the spirits.” What spirit was behind that grin on that huge face?

     One morning, after a night of prayer mixed with sleep, the prisoner was waiting for the dawn. Of course, the dawn would be announced only by the changing of the guard shift, since his cell was always the same, either dark penetrated by flickering shadows or lit by a bare light bulb. But he could delightfully imagine the dawn outside.

     But on this morning a different dawn produced the light. He realized there is a such thing as negative faith. He had faith that his cell gate of bars couldn’t be moved from within his cell. That is a negative, unproductive faith. Given that realization, he stood up, gripped the gate, and pushed. It swung open! And easily. “The guard must have forgotten to lock it,” he thought, justifying his former negative faith. He pulled it quickly shut. “If that guard saw my gate swing open, I’ll be charged with escape...another 10 years to my already unjustified sentence.”

     The prisoner fell back onto his iron cot. He had locked himself in. What a strange thing for a prisoner to do. “How many people lock themselves in,” he thought. “We all do that out of fear and negative faith. My greatest fear is that I am not in the care of God and He can’t be trusted.” With that last thought, he got back up and swung the gate open again.

     The prisoner stuck his head out of his tiny cell, after turning off his bare light bulb so he would be less visible. The big guard was looking right at him, still wearing that perplexing grin. The prisoner walked out, down to the guard, and continued past him. The guard just kept grinning.

     “Hey!” the guard yelled, finally talking. Fear paralyzed the prisoner for a moment. He stopped to look back at him. “Your cell was never locked all these years. Your faith was placed in fear. It’s about time you placed your faith in your freedom. Your courage to trust me set you free. Too bad it took so long.” The guard was wearing that same grin. The prisoner saw in that face the Christ. He was finally learning discernment of spirits and faith supplanted with action.

     If we do not practice looking for Christ in all things, we will be blind to His presence in all things. Some people don’t like the truth that Christ appears in many disguises. But He does, as He did on the Emmaus road (Luke 24). “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus” (John 21:4, NIV). “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Matthew 25:37-39, NIV). Of course, the righteous did all these things out of compassion for the needy, the afflicted, the oppressed, the prisoners. They just didn’t know these are the disguises of Christ. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (v. 40).

     Do you consider the afflicted, the disordered, the needy, the prisoners, your brothers and sisters? Christ declared they are. But in the above Scripture account, Christ is going further than that: He is declaring them to be HIS brothers and sisters. As my spirit partakes of my sister’s spirit and that of my parents’, the Spirit of Christ partakes of and is in solidarity with these “least” of people. If we nurture the attitude that these people deserve their lot in life because they are lazy, sinful, perverted, criminal, or  irresponsible, Christ tells us we hold the same attitude toward Him. That realization should induce in you “the fear of the Lord.” It does me.

     “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?...Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14, 17, NIV). You can smell the decay of death. Dead faith smells like dead fish. Such a faith is not “the fragrance of incense rising with the prayers of the saints” but “a stench in the nostrils of God.”

     Your prison may be physical, or one of addiction, unforgiveness, an attitude toward the divinely professed brothers and sisters of Christ who are disordered, perverted, oppressed through their own doing or that of others (it doesn’t matter to Christ), or pride and moral superiority. The guard of the prison bars may be Christ in His many disguises and forms. He will delight in your faith and action in pushing your way out toward Him. You will see Him grinning in love and applause, not condemnation. For He was “made sin” and stood the condemnation of sin for us. The Father thus adopted us as His children and we are then the brothers and sisters of Christ, even the most lowly and wretched of us.

     Upon arriving at this point in our spiritual journey, the very narrow path presents us with a dire warning: “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison...Then the master called the servant in...In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:26-30, 32a, 34-35, NIV).

     Once redeemed and forgiven, that first servant forgot his solidarity and brotherhood with his fellow servant. His faith in his master was not accompanied or supported by compassionate acts toward his fellow servant who was in debt to him. His faith died and decayed, releasing a repugnant stench.

     If I am redeemable, so is everyone else. Christ declares the least of us as not only our brothers and sisters, but His. He is disguised among them. When asked of Christ, “Who is our neighbor?” He responded with a story identifying an alien lowlife and despised resident of Jerusalem’s slums, a resident of Samaria. We just cannot grasp the gut-wrenching response of His Jewish audience at that suggestion. We, instead, feel good about identifying with “The Good Samaritan.” We have elevated that outcast to someone noble. But can we feel good about identifying ourselves with any of the despised enemies of our country? A story about “The Good Iraqi Nationalist” wouldn’t go over so well in the US at this time. That story would not invoke American sensibilities towards a noble and compassionate regard to declared despised enemies. Exactly the point Christ was making to the Jewish establishment. (Our Christ is so much more radical in profession of truth than our most outspoken preachers of today dare to be.)

    Christ went beyond mandating we must “love our neighbor as ourselves.” He said, we must “love others as He loved us.” And love without action is dead too, and smells bad after a while.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © August 9, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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