Action Versus Reaction In Christianity
Posted by Job on October 12, 2008
Newtonian physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. When we consider the wretchedness of our sins versus the holiness, righteousness, and sovereignty of God, we should be grateful that the grace of God does not follow the laws of physics, for the equal and opposite reaction of every single sin in every single person would be eternal destruction in the lake of fire! Christianity is not the “ying yang” or “tao” system of many eastern religions, which is dualism based on the same observation of the natural world on which Newton based his theories and calculations. With God, one is either holy by being justified by and reconciled to God through His Son or one is not, and all that is not holy will be ultimately destroyed.
Since we Christians obviously benefit from such a grace, we may consider how we can behave more like it, in effect be more Christlike. In this context, it should be in our approach to this sinful world, particularly to false doctrines and movements and wicked behaviors in the church.
Opposing sin and evil would tend to be reaction. You see someone sin and call him a sinner. You see a preacher promoting heresy and leading people into apostasy and call him (or her) false. You see a nation or culture that is violent, lascivious, or oppresses the poor and you announce that God will judge it. And so on. This behavior in these times is often associated with fundamentalists, who are frequently called “reactionary.” That label is not incorrect, nor is it at all a thing to be wrong or ashamed of. Not only did the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament fill their sermons and writings with condemnations of sin, but since the fall God’s entire dealing with man is a reaction to sin. Judgment and punishment are reactions, sure, but so are saving grace, forgiveness, and restoration.
However, things cannot be distorted. Reacting to sin and sinners, who will always exist until Jesus Christ comes to set things right, cannot be a disproportionate function of our ministries. After all, the acts first recorded by God in revelation were not reactions to sin or anything else. Instead, they were ACTIONS, those being creation. How long did creation exist before Adam (and for that matter Satan) rebelled? No one knows, but even if Adam fell on the eighth day, that was sufficient to establish the spiritual principle.
This spiritual principle is that while reproving, rebuking, warning, and chastisement, reactions, are required of every born again Christian (and yes a person’s willingness to engage in such behavior is a test of spiritual maturity and commitment, because it indicates someone’s zeal for God’s holiness and righteousness, their love for the truth, their concern for their neighbor, and their willingness to endure rejection and persecution), it should not dominate our private and public ministries, worship, and praise. It should not be some balance, as again we are not dualists.
And it is not “negative versus positive.” Why? Because calling a heretic a heretic is not negative, because a Christian’s standing up for and expressing God’s holiness, righteousness, and truth and resisting evil cannot possibly be negative. Only submitting to that evil by being silent in its face and saying and doing nothing is negative. (This is not to say that it is always going to be God’s Will that you speak out, but rather it applies to your refusing to speak out when God wants you to.)
Instead, serving as representatives, symbols and actual moving, functioning parts of God’s grace in the world (as the Body of Christ after all), we should be primarily actionary. Instead of reacting to sin, evil, Satan, demons, etc. we should act towards Jesus Christ. We should act towards the gospel. We should act towards the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We should act towards and with preaching, acting, and our testimonies. The social gospel? Not a chance. The apostles did not espouse or live any social gospel. But the apostles were men of action! They had an advantage in having seen the risen Savior Jesus Christ, who did plenty of reacting against Sadducees, pharisees, and scribes. But this same Jesus Christ primarily and most prominently acted towards God the Father, and described His role and leading His elect church to His Father and reconciling the elect to His Father with His own Blood.
Jesus Christ did go to the cross because of our sins. But make no mistake, His death on the cross was completely totally actionary and not the least bit reactionary. Jesus Christ’s driving the moneychangers out of the temple was reactionary. But the veil ripping in the temple was all action! The incarnation? Action. Jesus Christ’s baptism? Action. Jesus Christ’s choosing the apostles? Action. Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead and ascending to heaven? Action. His often rebuking Simon Peter’s faithlessness and inability to understand? Reaction.
Through Jesus Christ’s life, work, and ministry, we should know what we are supposed to do, which is to act primarily to God by nature and to act against evil when it is necessary. As to what determines when we are to act and when we are to react? Well, this is yet another example of how effective Christian living is impossible without the direction of the Holy Spirit. As such, we must pray, study the scriptures, worship, praise, fellowship, and fast often so that we might be sensitive to this direction of the Holy Spirit and heed His commands rather than grieving Him with either our inability to hear our refusal to obey. So then, action is required even in getting to the place where we know when to act rather than react.
By the way, no accusations that I am in any way promoting salvation or sanctification by works. But the book of James does say that faith without works is dead, and the book of Hebrews says that we gain spiritual maturity through our Christian service. Further, action and reaction are both works. The soul that either does neither or fails to do both is a dry barren vine that will be rejected and cast into the furnace.