Aaron Armstrong blogs at BloggingTheologically.com. This post is an excerpt from Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, a book that examines the biblical roots of poverty, how Christians can faithfully respond and our hope for truly resolving it in the return of Christ.
We cannot separate what we believe from what we do. We may want to “act our way into a new way of thinking, not think our way into a new way of acting,” but Jesus has not given us that luxury. We may want to proclaim “deeds, not creeds!” but Jesus has not given us that authority.
We may want to separate Jesus’ ethics from his identity, but Jesus has not given us that right. William Wilberforce, the famous abolitionist, warned believers of the danger of divorcing our doctrine from our deeds:
“Christianity calls on us,” he wrote, “not merely in general to be religious and moral, but especially to believe the doctrines, and imbibe the principles, and practice the precepts of Christ.”
For the Christian, Wilberforce wrote, it’s not enough to be a “good,” moral person. Our calling is much higher than that. We are called to believe the doctrines, drink deeply of the principles, and practice fully the precepts of Christ. What we do is the fruit of what we believe about Jesus. That’s what Wilberforce is telling us above. That’s what John the Baptizer taught in saying, “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” And that is what Jesus taught throughout the Sermon on the Mount.
In the same way, it’s not enough that the Christian care for the needs of the poor—you don’t have to be a Christian to want to help the unfortunate. As we seek to help in genuine, meaningful ways, through it all we have a greater goal: the glory of Jesus Christ.
The more I consider the question of why we should help the poor, the more I realize this is the answer. We are called to care for the poor because God is glorified in our doing so. We care for the poor because we know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of grace. We were the poor in spirit. We were lost and without hope. We were separated from God and enslaved to sin.
But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, then took the punishment we deserved by dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus took our sinfulness and gave us his righteousness so that we, on the Day of Judgment, can stand confidently before God and spend eternity with him.
That is the grace he offers. That is the grace that frees us from guilt and shame over our sin. That is the grace that sustains us even in the midst of difficulty. That is the grace that enables us to consider others as greater and more important than ourselves. And that is the grace that we share when we begin to invest in the lives of the poor.