If you’ve been hanging around Misfits for a while, you’ve probably come across some discussion around the words “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy”. In short, in the Christian conversation, orthodoxy is a question of correct belief, and orthopraxy is a question of correct behavior. The Christian life requires both. If our beliefs are incorrect, they lead us to live in an incorrect way. Likewise, if we are making choices that are incongruous with the truth, we reveal our incorrect understanding or belief of the truth.
Jesus emphasizes these two principles in his discourse on the true vine in John 15. Notice the themes of God’s word, love of God, and abiding, which relate to orthodoxy, and love of each other and bearing fruit, which relate to orthopraxy, in these verses:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the earth-worker. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the words I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is who bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
So let’s trace the progression of Jesus’ thought:
- The proceeding thoughts are rooted in Jesus’ initial statement: Jesus is the vine that everything flows from, and his Father is the one responsible for tending to that vine, encouraging growth in what bears fruit, and cutting off what does not bear fruit.
- We possess the ability to grow in Christ because we have received his words, but we cannot bear fruit unless we are abiding with him and adhering to his words. (Orthodoxy)
- The Father is glorified when we bear fruit, which proves that we belong to Jesus. (Orthopraxy)
- The end of our abiding in Jesus is that we may possess the fullness of his joy.
So then, if we must have orthodoxy and orthopraxy in order to glorify God and receive the fullness of his joy, what must we do, and what must we believe? Jesus anticipates these questions:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command, so that you will love one another.”
So what is orthodoxy according to this passage?
- Believing that not only has Jesus loved us, but that he has demonstrated the fullest extent of love by laying down his life for us.
- Believing that we are friends of God through the love of Jesus. We have been given free access to the heart of the Father, and that access prompts a free willingness to fulfill his commands.
- Believing that God has chosen us, not only so we would bear fruit and glorify him, but also so that we would have the freedom to ask him for anything and know that he will give it to us.
- Believing that God’s commands are given so that we will love one another. They are not given to limit our freedom (because he gives to us freely from his fullness), nor are they given to flatter God’s ego (because God is love, and to love is to lay down one’s self for one’s friend).
And what is orthopraxy according to this passage?
- Loving one another as Christ has loved us, meaning that we lay down our lives for each other.
- Acting in accordance with the knowledge that we are friends of God, because God has freely shared his intentions with us.
- Bearing fruit, lasting fruit, in accordance with our love for God and his love for us, and asking God for, literally, whatever we wish in Jesus’ name.
- Again, loving one another.
Why am I thinking about orthodoxy and orthopraxy at this time? Well, it’s largely because of covid. When this season began, I became very aware that this was going to be a time of testing for us. The verse on my mind was Matthew 24:12:
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
It didn’t take me long to see that the stress of covid had the power to produce two things out of the stores of peoples’ hearts: either their love would grow cold, and they would turn against each other, or they would guard the warmth in their heart, and their love for others would abound. I think we have all seen these two responses displayed in the news. There have been shocking stories of people hoarding supplies, harassing essential workers, and refusing to appropriately socially distance, but there have also been amazing stories of people loving others sacrificially by providing groceries to essential workers and vulnerable communities, donating large amounts of support to charities, and finding inventive ways to encourage each other.
For the Christian, the only appropriate response in times of trial and testing is to safeguard the warmth of your love. We are not excused from loving people just because loving people got harder. But we cannot sustain the warmth of our love by just trying to love people better. That will just make us burn out even more quickly. If we want to have a sustaining love for those around us, we must abide with Jesus.
I have been shocked by the faithfulness of God during this season, and not in the ways you might normally think. My financial situation stayed secure, my family has stayed healthy, and many aspects of my life have not changed that much, so I didn’t have to worry about God’s faithfulness in those tangible ways. What I had instead was a huge amount of frustration, confusion, and hurt, because covid threatened to even further delay my plans to move to Wales and work with the church there. I had already been pursuing that end for two years, and just when it seemed like things might finally be coming together, covid happened. Part of me realized that, of course, God knew covid would happen long before I did, so why would that make me question his calling now that I knew about covid? On the other hand, I knew that, depending on vaccines and visas, it could be another several months or even another couple of years before I could actually make it to Wales.
So I, like many in this season, entered into this weird kind of monastic life, where I really didn’t have anything to do other than sort out my feelings with God. That meant weeks of pouring out my frustrations to him, surrendering my plans to him, and asking him to help me know what exactly he had promised to me and whether or not those promises had come into season. And then my family experienced the death of four loved-ones in the span of a week, and my frustrations gave way to the peace that comes from realizing life is too absurd to make sense of it. A couple weeks later, a friend came to me with a prophetic word, and it was as if God had given me eyes to see through the smoke. Whether I was bringing my frustrations or my praises, God was faithful to hear me, and now that I have the joy of knowing I am heard, my thankfulness is overwhelming.
Despite the fact that I spent weeks feeling horribly frustrated with God, I knew that things had to make sense beyond what I could reason out, so I kept coming to him during that time. And I was able to keep coming to him during that time because I trusted in something despite the fact that I was having trouble seeing it: that God was willing to be won over by me. It’s an idea that he’s had cooking in my head for about a year now, and holding onto that truth is how I found the place of security to guard the warmth of my love even when life was frustrating, confusing, and painful. And it happened that as I was struggling with whether or not I could really believe the truth of God’s love for me, I found that God was using me as an instrument to convey his love and warmth to others. My love and warmth for them increased because as I was walking with them through their struggles and providing them a place of security, I was having to rely on God to constantly give the same to me.
Friends, God wants you to come to him.
Bring him whatever it is you have to give – your frustrations, you anger, your weariness, your thanksgiving, your time, your willingness.
God is ready to receive whatever you have to give him, and in giving those things to him, you will be abiding in his love. It may be hard, and you may have to give him those things for a long time, longer than you expected, before you feel like that love is bearing any fruit. And then one day, before you realize it, the bud will bloom, and the fruit will mature, and you will have joy.