Add Orthopraxy to Your Orthodoxy
April 16, 2009 · Print This Article
by Pastor Duane G. Vander Klok
Senior Pastor, RLC Grandville
Learning is fantastic. Along with reading the Bible every day, I always read some other book from which I can learn something new. My wife, Jeanie, and I are often in the middle of several books at once, and we like to read them aloud to each other and discuss them. We want to be lifelong learners who keep growing all the time.
Do you know the difference between a lifelong learner and a lifelong student, though? A lifelong student is always signing up for another class, another semester, but he or she never graduates. Lifelong students can wind up being long on academics but short on application. They seldom get around to applying what they’ve learned to a real job in the real world.
Some Christians get the two learning styles mixed up and wind up short on application, too. You’ve probably heard the phrase “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” That describes Christians who have become lifelong students-always reading and talking about spiritual things, always listening to new audio teachings and watching Christian television for hours every day-but never applying the sound spiritual principles they learn about to daily life. Often what they talk about and say they believe doesn’t line up with what you see them doing.
That’s called talking the talk. Anyone can learn how to talk the talk. It’s easy to speak “Christianese” and sound super spiritual. But what Jesus really wants us to do is walk the walk. He did not come simply to give us academic information. He is not impressed at all if you and I know all the right answers on a theology test. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew all the right answers-they just weren’t doing the right things.
Jesus doesn’t just want you to know something. Jesus said His teaching would not benefit you at all if you knew it but didn’t do it! Jesus wants you to do something with what you hear, and by doing that to become something, an effective witness and worker for the Kingdom of God.
The Christian life is not about knowing some facts, although knowing the facts is good. It is important to have your facts straight about God and His ways. That’s what orthodoxy is. The Greek word ortho means correct or straight (for example, an orthopedic surgeon corrects problems with your bones). Dox comes from the Greek word for thinking. To have sound orthodoxy, we need to think correctly about God.
Studying God’s Word, the Bible, helps us know God better and develop sound thinking about Him. In fact, Joshua 1:8 says to meditate on God’s Word “day and night,” but that’s not just so you’ll know the facts. It’s so that “you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (nkjv).
That’s what the Christian life is truly about-doing what God said. In other words, you need to put some orthopraxy behind your orthodoxy. The Greek word praxis means action, or more specifically putting your beliefs into practice. So orthopraxy is correct living-having your lifestyle line up with your words. It’s putting your money where your mouth is spiritually, so to speak, and practicing what you preach.
Jesus was an expert at orthopraxy. When He walked the earth, He was a Man of action. Yes, He taught about the Kingdom of God. Everywhere He went, “people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority” (Luke 4:32, nlt). He was often called Teacher or Master in the Gospels, yet He was not a sort of ancient religion professor. He didn’t teach on the subject of religion; He taught on the subject of life.
Jesus went far beyond teaching, though. He was long on application-He applied Kingdom principles to everything He did, and He showed us how to live productive, fulfilled lives that make a difference in this world and the next. John wrote in his Gospel, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, nkjv).
Imagine, Jesus was such a Man of action that there wouldn’t be enough room in the whole world to contain a written account of all the things He did! Think about how He saved you. You were not saved by a philosophy or a religious idea or a teaching; you were saved by Jesus’ actions. He came as a real baby born in a real manger to a real woman. He suffered a real crucifixion with real nails driven through His flesh into a real cross. He really was buried, and on the third day He really rose again. It took real action on His part to save you-that’s what He came to do, not just preach about.
Walking out our Christianity in the real world takes real action on our part, too. We cannot confine it to the few hours a week we might spend in church or the few minutes a day we might spend reading the Bible. That’s not how it works, yet all kinds of people compartmentalize their spiritual lives. They say, “I have a religious side. I believe in God! I pray, I go to church (never miss a Christmas or Easter), I sing, and I even write checks to the church! I keep up on my religion, but it doesn’t take over my whole life.”
People who say that usually mean they keep up on their duties or obligations to a denomination they’re part of, and that’s as far as their spiritual life reaches. I think that’s the attitude Jesus was talking about when He said, “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, nlt). He meant for you and me to reach the world, not confine our Christianity within the walls of a church. He wants to be Lord of your whole life, not just the “church” part!
The Christian life is about totally surrendering with all abandon to Jesus in every single area of your life. That’s how it will make a difference in your life, and how you will make a difference in the lives of others. Remember the story of Jonah and the big fish? Jonah learned the hard way to surrender in every area.
God is the best communicator in the universe, and He gave Jonah very clear instructions about what to do. The first words in the first chapter of Jonah say, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me’ (Jonah1:1-2, nkjv). But instead, Jonah decided to flee from the presence of the Lord.
You already know that’s not going to work well, right? God tells Jonah to go one direction, and he goes the exact opposite. Running from God didn’t work for Jonah, and it won’t work for us either. You cannot get away from God, but Jonah still tried. He headed to Joppa, found a ship bound for Tarsus, and got on board. Jonah went down into the lowest parts of the ship, laid down, and went to sleep.
Whenever you or I run from what God is telling us, we wind up going the same direction as Jonah-down, down, down! That’s the only direction you can go when you’re not living the spiritual life God wants you to live or doing what God told you to.
God didn’t say anything else to Jonah right away. He sent a terrible storm, though, that threatened to sink the ship. That got everyone’s attention. The sailors cast lots to see who was responsible for the storm, and the lot fell to Jonah. When they questioned him, he admitted he booked passage to flee from the presence of the Lord. As soon as he said that, his shipmates were “exceedingly afraid” (Jonah 1:10). Even hardened sailors knew running from God sounded like a bad plan! So they threw Jonah overboard to calm the sea.
Throwing Jonah overboard worked for them, but not for him. God had a big fish swimming alongside to swallow Jonah whole. And again Jonah went down-down into the belly of the fish, then down into the depths of the sea. He finally hit bottom and cried out to God, and that’s when things started looking up again. The fish spit him out alive on dry land, and God started speaking to him again.
If Jonah hoped God would say something new or different the second time around, though, he was mistaken. God didn’t open a huge theological discussion about Jonah’s sin and repentance or rehearse the important reasons someone needed to take His message to Nineveh. Look what God told Jonah: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you” (Jonah 3:1-2).
God gave Jonah the exact same instructions the second time around, and Jonah found out that it’s not about picking and choosing what you want to do for God. Walking with God means unconditional surrender and obedience to Him-24/7.
The same goes for you and me. If God put something on your heart and you’re not doing it, then you’re running the opposite direction. There’s nowhere to go from there but down, down, down like Jonah into a deep, dark, and no doubt awful place. That’s why when someone seems spiritually in the dark and says things like, “I just can’t hear from God” or “I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is telling me to do,” I ask them if they did the last thing God told them. God won’t give you or me a new or different set of instructions if we haven’t obeyed the last thing He told us.
The Christian life is not about selective hearing, and it’s not about feelings, either. Many Christians make that mistake by making Jesus their “drug of choice.” They want to go from spiritual high to spiritual high, always seeking a newer, bigger experience with God in prayer or worship. And afterward, they ask, “Wow, did you feel the Holy Spirit moving? It felt like we’d be raptured any minute!”
Experiencing God is awesome, and while such times are special, they’re not what Christianity is all about. I think our Western culture has been more influenced by the drug culture of the sixties than we realize. In some Christian circles you’re considered spiritual only if you go from high to high in prayer or worship, yet what you’re doing with your life and time to advance the Gospel outside those highs is a poor second. Nobody who lives on the mountaintop all the time will get much work done in the valley. Accomplishing anything eternal for the Kingdom takes work. Jesus just isn’t a drug of choice you use for a boost whenever you need Him, and you can’t inject some Scripture verses into your life in a crisis or when you want a blessing, and then forget to obey God’s Word the rest of the time.
Living for the Kingdom means laying down your life. You forgive when you’re wronged, you love your spouse (lovable or not), work hard for your employer, serve your church, fast, pray, give, and have compassion for the poor, the lost, and the broken . . . You don’t live by feelings or experiences. You walk out your Christianity 24/7 and build your life on the Rock, not the sand.
Sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? Think about laying your towel on the sand at the beach. The sand is nice and comfortable; it conforms to your shape. When you get up, your imprint remains. If you lay your towel on a rock, though, when you get up, you’re dented. You conform to the shape of the rock, not the other way around. Rock is solid and immoveable, so wise builders build their house upon the rock, not the sand.
Jesus talked about that in Luke 6:47-49: “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great” (nkjv, italics added).
Jesus was saying that to build a solid Christian walk, we need to both hear and do what He says. We need to add some orthopraxy to our orthodoxy and combine some right living with our right-sounding words. As I said earlier, orthodoxy certainly has its place. Psalm 119:15 says, “I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways” (nlt). Continually understanding more about God’s ways is vital-yet we don’t stop there.
Moving from orthodoxy to orthopraxy is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the walk lines up with the talk. As Psalm 119:34 goes on to say, “Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions, I will put them into practice with all my heart.”