It is often said that today’s Judaism is more about “deed than creed” – actions more than belief. It’s all about “halacha”, which means “walking” – the bottom line of do’s and don’ts. Among Jewish people this is considered a perfectly natural and obvious thing, but to Christian ears this sounds terrible – almost sinful. We who love Yeshua are united by what we believe, but the bottom line in rabbinic Judaism is more about a collective identity found in history, action and deeds. Streams of Judaism may have wildly differing theologies, but pretty much everyone who toes the halachic line of living out the Torah according to the rabbinic instructions is considered kosher, no matter what they believe. Sometimes Christians and Jews polarise to these extremes of faith and works. Sometimes Christians even shrink back from valuing actions and works as somehow unholy. “It’s not about being good!” Really? The Message paraphrases James 2:18-20,
“Not so fast! You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?”
What a powerful image – the cadaver on the slab – the murder of severing faith and deeds from each other.
It’s called “Acts” for a reason
It occurred to me the other day that it is interesting how the book of Acts is called The Acts of the Apostles… rather than The Miracles of God. But no – it’s Acts… of the Apostles. In Acts 28:8 we read, “Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him.” It sounds almost blasphemous to say that Paul healed him, but that’s what the Bible says. Paul visited a guy, prayed for him, put his hands on him and healed him. We know that the healing power comes from God, but the book of Acts makes it quite clear that the obedient actions (visiting, praying, laying on of hands) of the Apostles mattered. God’s action is evident the whole way through the book, and without his sustaining power there would be no apostles, no heathens waiting to hear, and not even any countries to go and visit. It’s all down to God ultimately, yet the Bible has arrived in our hands under the sovereign supervision of God with this book entitled: the Acts of the Apostles.
Here’s what I’m thinking. It is good parenting never to do for a child what they can do for themselves. And God is a perfect Father. He will not do the part that we can do. When we reach the end of our capability, he steps in to do the impossible bit. But he will not do the possible bit for us. Toddlers are often keen to do things on their own, and even to join in to help with activities, and the more they are allowed to struggle and learn, their more their confidence and capability will grow.
“Today, there seems to be an epidemic of entitlement and helplessness among our young. Employers talk about the social incompetence of a young work force more focused on what they are entitled to rather than on the work the company expects of them,” recent research shows, and overly helpful, pampering parents are often to blame. In her academic paper on the subject, Wendy Calise explains, “Once you start doing for your children what they can do for themselves, there is a tragic feedback loop: The less your child does for himself, the less you think he is able to do. The less you think he is able to do, the less he thinks he is able to do. The less he thinks he is able, the more convincing he becomes to you that he is not.”
God of the impossible, not the possible
But to go back to the book of Acts, God is certainly not guilty of mollycoddling his children! When Cornelius’ devotion caught God’s attention in chapter 10 (he feared God, prayed continually and gave alms generously to the people, verse 2) God sends an angel to him: “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God”, he is assured. God loved his faith AND his works. But now it gets interesting. Why didn’t the angel just tell him the gospel since he was there anyway? He totally could have done. But no. He told Cornelius to send messengers all the way down to Yaffo (Joppa) and fetch Peter. God wanted the message to come from Peter. You can probably see a few reasons for that smart decision yourself, but you get the point – sharing the gospel can be done by human beings. The words of truth can come out of our mouths, but the convicting power comes from the throne of heaven. And that is how God likes it to be done.
So Cornelius’s messengers trekked all the way down to Yaffo, and found Peter (who had just been supernaturally prepared for this event) and brought the willing apostle back up to the Gentile, Roman household. Peter had to listen to the sent ones and believe them. He had to get ready and make the journey to Caesaria, much further up the coast. He had to go into the house, open his mouth, and declare what he had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit fell upon them, and salvation came to that house.
Two chapters later we see another great example – Peter is now sitting in prison, chained up and beaten up. An angel comes into the cell and strikes him, telling him to wake up and get up quickly – busting him free from his chains supernaturally. The angel could just have easily supernaturally elevated Peter to his feet, but no. Peter was responsible for that possible part. Then the angel says put on your clothes and your shoes and follow me. Again, God is quite capable of supernaturally dressing and transporting Peter, but then, Peter was capable of it too. What Peter could not do was make the prison doors swing open. So the angel saw to that.
It’s such a beautiful partnership. God trusts us – and expects us – to be involved and active in the supernatural journey he has called us to. With God, we can do great exploits – tag teaming together. What would have happened if Esther had not gone into that throneroom? If Daniel had not fasted and prayed? If Abraham had not left his home country and gone wandering with God? In reality, God needs no helpers, but he loves us to work together with him in relationship. It’s how he likes to do things. And it would have been them who would have seriously missed out. Are we up for death-defying antics with God? Sacrificial activities that cost us? (Or maybe are just a bit inconvenient, like Peter traveling to another city?) Praying persistently until things come to pass? This does not mean flailing around wildly in a whir of activity in hope that we win God’s approval, but eagerly listening for his voice of instruction, watching for God-given opportunities to do good acts, and being ready to take risks when he prompts us to.
Our faith is more precious to God than gold, but our obedient actions are our expression of love to him. Good deeds can never bring us salvation – only faith in God’s provision can do that. But Spirit-filled righteous, generous and kind acts can help bring God’s kingdom to earth and connect people him. Are you up for some action?
 Sally Koslow’s research: Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-so-Empty Nest, Viking, 2013
 1 Peter 1:7, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
John 14:23, Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
1 John 5:3, For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.