The true Christian life is about good works flowing out of sincere faith. To put this in contrast, the true Christian life is not about an “extravagant” prayer life flowing out of a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures.
I am not seeking to minimize the importance of the Scriptures, for it is through them that we are built up and strengthened in faith toward God (Acts 20:32, 1 Pet. 2:2, 2 Pet. 1:19). Neither do I seek to minimize the importance of prayer, which is intricately tied to faith (Lk. 18:7-8, Jude 20-21). However, we ought to remember that one’s quality of prayer matters immensely more than one’s quantity (Mt. 6:7-13, Lk. 18:9-14).
The truth is, when we emphasize “extravagance”, we can miss the apostolic emphasis of “sincerity”. While we might speak of “extravagant and radical devotion”, the Apostles were aiming for “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
The simplicity of the language used in Scripture matters.
If the language used by a community defines that community, our resemblance to the apostolic community can be measured by our conformity to apostolic language. Do we sound like the Apostles? Or are we inventing new and innovative ways to disciple people unto a radicalized, external “form” of Christianity rather than “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)?
I fear that, in the name of being “radically devoted”, we are more concerned with external “forms” (Did I pray enough? Fast enough? Read enough? Give enough?), things that, apart from love and a sincere faith, profit us “nothing” before God (1 Cor. 13:3, Mt. 6:1-18). We find ourselves deeply grieved when we don’t fulfill our commitment to these “forms” while the Scriptures are whispering in our ear, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal. 5:6)
Our human tendency is to cry out, “I will be radical! I will lay down my life for You!” To which Jesus replies, “You will deny me three times. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk. 22:31-34) In our Lord’s eyes, the crisis is not one of poor external performance, but sustaining faith. He says to us, “Oh yes, your faith is weak, and yes, you will stumble, but I pray that your faith may not fail!” This matters most to Jesus because, with a sincere faith, one may even deny the Lord, but like Peter, mourn, turn back, and strengthen their brothers. A sincere faith cannot help but grow and bear fruit.
As it was for those who handed down the truth to us, I pray for “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” to be our aim; that we would heed the language of Scripture and not place upon ourselves or others a burden we were not meant to bear.