Words Without Deeds: The Vice of Religion

Chapter 7. AW Tozer, “Born After Midnight”, Christian Publications Inc., PA 1959
IT WOULD BE a convenient arrangement were we so constituted that we could not talk better than we live. For reasons known to God, however, there seems to be no necessary connection between our speaking and our doing; and here lies one of the deadliest snares in the religious life. I am afraid we modern Christians are long on talk and short on conduct. We use the language of power but our deeds are the deeds of weakness.
Our Lord and His apostles were long on deeds. The Gospels depict a Man walking in power, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). The moral relation between words and deeds appears quite plainly in the life and teachings of Christ. He did before He spoke and the doing gave validity to the speaking. Luke wrote of “all that Jesus began both to do and teach,” and I am sure that the order expressed there is not accidental. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ placed doing before teaching: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Since in one of its aspects religion contemplates the invisible it is easy to understand how it can be erroneously made to contemplate the unreal. The praying man talks of that which he does not see, and fallen human minds tend to assume that what cannot be seen is not of any great importance, and probably not even real, if the truth were known. So religion is disengaged from practical life and retired to the airy region of fancy where dwell the sweet insubstantial nothings which everyone knows do not exist but which they nevertheless lack the courage to repudiate publicly.
I could wish that this were true only of pagan religions and of the vague and ill-defined quasi-religion of the average man; but candor dictates that I admit it to be true also of much that passes for evangelical Christianity in our times. Indeed it is more than possible that the gods of the heathen are more real to them than is the God of the average Christian. I sympathize with the mood of the poet Wordsworth when he wrote to the effect that he would rather be a sincere pagan who believed in a god that did not exist than to be a sophisticated Christian who dis- believed in a God who did.
Unquestionably there is not another institution in the world that talks as much and does as little as the church. Any factory that required as much raw material for so small a finished product would go bankrupt in six months. I have often thought that if one- tenth of one per cent of the prayers made in the churches of any ordinary American village on one Sunday were answered the country would be transformed overnight.
But that is just our trouble. We pour out millions of words and never notice that the prayers are not answered. I trust it may not be uncharitable to say that we not only do not expect our prayers to be answered but would be embarrassed or even disappointed if they were. I think it is not uncommon for Christians to present eloquent petitions to the Lord which they know will accomplish nothing, and some of those petitions they dare present only because they know that is the last they will hear of the whole thing. Many a wordy brother would withdraw his request quickly enough if he had any intimation that God was taking it seriously.
We settle for words in religion because deeds are too costly. It is easier to pray, “Lord, help me to carry my cross daily” than to pick up the cross and carry it; but since the mere request for help to do something we do not actually intend to do has a certain degree of religious comfort, we are content with repetition of the words.
The practice of substituting words for deeds is not something new. The apostle John saw symptoms of it in his day and warned against it: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but indeed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” James also had something to say about the vice of words without deeds: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; not- withstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”
What then: Shall we take a vow of silence? Shall we cease to pray and sing and write and witness till we catch up on our deeds? No. That would not help. We Christians are left in the world to witness, and while we have breath we must speak to men about God and to God about men. How then shall we escape the snare of words without deeds? It is simple, though not easy. First, let us say nothing we do not mean. Break the habit of conventional religious chatter. Speak only as we are ready to take the consequences. Believe God’s promises and obey His commandments. Practice the truth and we may with propriety speak the truth. Deeds give body to words. As we do acts of power our words will take on authority and a new sense of reality will fill our hearts.

One comment on “Words Without Deeds: The Vice of Religion

  1. Som Mbadiwe says:

    This is especially true of the Nigerian church! How I wish Tozer is alive today to see for himself.
    We have become obsessed with making “[positive] prophetic confessions” and “rejecting” curses, while blatantly ignoring our role(s) in effecting such. Our witnessing has become largely ineffective as even a cursory look shows that the worst of Nigerians are found among professing Christians.
    Jesus was right: “By their FRUITS [not root or leaves or amount of post-planting activities done], ye shall know them.
    The earnest expectation of creation is the manifestation of the sons of God – DOERS, not hearers; not even “speakers.”

    LORD, by Your grace, I determine today to be a Doer; to bear fruits that last.

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