“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.-James 2:14-17
How do we share the gospel in a culture saturated with Christian symbols and jargon?
It is not uncommon to see a homeless man lying on a dirty blanket in the streets holding a bottle of rum in one hand and reading the Bible. The children can sing hymns or choruses and pray extemporaneously and then sniff cocaine immediately after the “amen”. Even the drug gangs have adopted Evangelical Christianity as their religion. They memorize Biblical verses and write their favorites verses on the walls of the buildings to mark their drug territories. Even though I believe that their faith is real but there is no denying that something is obviously missing. Their faith does not seem to affect their reality.
As we can see from the writings of St. James above this is not just a modern problem. It has been with us since the beginning of the church. We have a tendency to keep our spirituality separate from our daily life. We want God as Plan B. The homeless children and teens believe in God but they want Him to bail them out only when they are in trouble. At regular times, they like put God in the closet and take Him once in a while to play with Him. They are like most people in this sense. I don’t think this is just a Christian problem. It is a human problem; people want spirituality, but they are not willing let it influence their daily lives.
However, faith without works is dead. It is an empty faith. It is not a life-giving faith. Most importantly, it is not the faith of the gospel message.
A young teenager, Sebastião, told us that he had an experience with God while he was in a shelter ran by a Catholic Order. He said that it was the first time he sensed the presence of God in a real way. He was new to us but he has been in the streets for years. He stayed in the shelter which he enjoyed but eventually ran away to the streets. His faith did not help him in his decision process and I don’t think he made the connection. I don’t think he knew that faith had anything do to with his daily life. Perhaps this is the fault of our Christian message today. It is faulty. It is Christianity without actions. We have forgotten to teach that genuine faith influences our actions. There is a word in the Bible that joins faith and action in a positive way. The word is wisdom.
Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. There is a lot of knowledge in the world today but there is not much wisdom. Knowledge is not accessible to everyone but wisdom is available to the poorest of the poor. However, wisdom cannot be taught; it has to be lived. This is why the Incarnation is important. Jesus lived among us to show how to connect our spirituality to our practical daily life. Knowledge can be taught by words but wisdom is seen through example. The gospel is only powerful when it reveals the wisdom of God to those around us. Sebastião experienced something real and he shared with us in hopes that we would show him what to do with this experience. He wants his experience to translate to actions. We cannot teach him, but we have to show him. To fulfill this, we need to be seekers of wisdom.
We cannot expect the homeless children and teens to connect their spirituality to real life if we ourselves do not do it. We cannot share the gospel effectively if we cannot show through our lives that it is wisdom that leads to abundant life. I guess this is the most effective way to preach the gospel in a culture saturated with Christians symbols and jargon.