You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness...
One of the fundamental truths of my life is; "how we live our lives reflect what we truly believe." That is why faith is more than what we confess with our lips, but is what we do with our hands. Abraham, the great example of faith, was credited with righteousness because his belief and trust in God was made real in how he lived. We can say we believe in God, but if that belief isn’t manifested in action then we really don’t have faith. The simple definition of faith that I have shared with my church family is "life influenced by belief."
What this means is that faith requires that we apply what we believe to the way we live. That is why James writes: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26; ESV). Belief is the root system of faith, but our works (the way we live) is the actual plant of faith.
If faith is a life that is influenced by belief then technically a person who is faithfully following Jesus provides an example for others to follow. The apostle Paul’s life, primarily the way he loved and obeyed God, gave Timothy an example which Timothy could follow. I imagine that Paul was very aware of the reality that he was an example of what it meant to be a follower of Christ Jesus, and he did his best to provide a good example for people to follow.
In the Gospels we discover a group of people who did not share Paul’s effort. Rather than being good examples this group of people wanted to make a good impression. As you probably could guess this group of people were the Pharisees. The Pharisees interpreted Scripture for people and taught them how it applied to their lives. Yet the Pharisees missed a key component in their teaching—they didn’t live the teaching out in their lives. People were impressed by their “religious” piety and many people were discouraged because they knew they didn’t have the discipline to achieve the religious level of the Pharisees. What the people didn’t know was that for all their religious piety the Pharisees lacked true faith. They were able to put up a religious front that hid an unbelieving heart. It was at this point that Jesus confronts the Pharisees.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (Matthew 23:1-4; ESV)
The underlying theology that the Pharisees taught was not the issue. What was the issue was the fact that the Pharisees kept burdening the people with laws upon laws instead of providing the people with examples of what faithful living actually looked like. Jesus told the crowd that the Pharisees had bad faith, not that they had bad theology. So Jesus urged the crowd to listen to the Pharisees teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.
We need to keep in mind that there are two parts to effective teaching. The first part is about explaining ideas and the second part is living out those ideas or truth in life. When our lives do not reflect the Truth of the Gospel people will naturally wonder whether or not the Gospel is really the truth.
I happen to believe that the best evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the faithful lives lived by His followers. When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus real and accessible to the people around us. Without our example Jesus’ teachings remain simply a philosophy rather than a way of life.
Having the truth doesn’t do us, or anybody else for that matter, any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives. The life of faith is the life that is lived based on the truth that we know. Faith happens when we live our lives in the light of what we believe. A life that is lived by faith becomes a life that is an example for others to follow.