It’s not safe to stand on the sidelines!
I grew up in central Indiana in the 1960’s and 70’s. We played basketball year-round, even when there was snow on the ground. In the summer we played baseball and whiffle ball in the backyard and a few months of the year, we played football. Some of the best games were in two feet of snow when you’d come home and your hands were frozen and you’d run hot water over them to warm them up (which actually makes them hurt worse).
In our neighborhood, we’d play in the street, in backyards, in the school yard, and in the front yards of our homes without trees. One day, we were playing in Brent and Greg’s front yard. My brother Gary was standing along the sideline watching us play. He claims we did in on purpose, I don’t remember it that way, I say it was an accident. The play, a run around the right end of the line, ended up with the ball-carrier being tackled on top of my brother. Tackle football, no pads, kids 10-14 years old, and my brother got tackled and he wasn’t in the game. Oh, it also broke his collar-bone.
It’s not safe to stand on the sideline. But that’s the way a lot of Christians do. They don’t get in the game of church (though they attend church services) and faith (though they believe) and witnessing (though they claim to be a Christian) and service (though they’re thought to be good people), they watch from the sideline, maybe routing for those who are doing, maybe wishing they could be in the game, but they sit on the outside of what is going on that they are supposed to be a part of and they will regret their failure to participate.
James, the brother of Jesus wrote in his letter to Christian believers, some who were sitting on the sidelines, that they needed to get into the game. That they couldn’t just believe and still be living faith. Listen to this:
22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. [Italics mine]
A lot of Christians just believe and do not do. James helps understand what that means when he says “faith without deeds is dead.” I understand that to mean that faith that isn’t involved in the doing of faith, belief only, is not really faith at all. I think we should realize how significant that is. Because there is obviously eternal consequences to failing to be involved in Christianity and the church.
John wrote Jesus’ words about who will not be making it to heaven. Revelation 21:8; “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The cowardly won’t be there. Who are the cowardly? Those believers who are not involved in the faith. Believers who fail to witness, to care for other believers, who became a Christian but are not active in being a Christian (and church attendance is not enough to count). Standing on the sidelines . . .well . . . it’s not safe. We’ve got to get in the game.