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Do you think faith trumps deeds, or the opposite—that if you live a life filled with good deeds, you don’t need faith?

Religion teaches that we manifest our faith through our deeds. Acts of service to others are called for by God in every Faith, and lauded by our fellow human beings.

How often have you heard someone speak of another by calling them a “good Christian” or remark, “That’s very Christian of them.” Usually, they’re not speaking directly about the person’s belief in Christ. Instead, they’re noting the individual’s selfless acts of charity and service to others, which in itself demonstrates that belief. Peter counseled:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. – 1 Peter, 3:1-12.

My Baha’i friends similarly refer to those who selflessly live a life of service as being very Baha’i-like, because Baha’u’llah said:

O Brethren! Let deeds, not words, be your adorning. – The Hidden Words, p. 24.

Likewise Judaism teaches:

Not study is the chief thing, but action; and whoso multiplies words, multiplies sin.Mishnah, (the oral tradition of Jewish law).

The Hebrew word, Mitzvah, commonly used today to signify a good deed, literally translated means commandment. That is derived from the idea that God wishes us to do good:

He that is gracious unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and his good deed will He repay unto him. – Proverbs 19:17.

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. – Psalms 34:15.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and cherish faithfulness. – Psalms 37:3.

From Islam, in a letter to Ziyad, the Imam Ali cautioned:

Remember a man receives the reward according to actions he has done in this world because in the next world only the result of such deeds as he has done during his lifetime shall reach him. -Ali b. Abi Taalib, Letters from Nahjul Balaagh.

In Native American teachings we find the Lakota Instructions for Living:

Friend do it this way — that is, whatever you do in life, do the very best you can with both your heart and mind. And if you do it that way, the Power Of The Universe will come to your assistance, if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People, one must be responsible because all of Creation is related.

And the hurt of one is the hurt of all. And the honor of one is the honor of all. And whatever we do effects everything in the universe.

That secular saying, “Charity begins at home,” makes it easy to excuse a lack of helpfulness and put ourselves first before we consider the needs of others. But Abdu’l-Baha asked us to change that way of thinking. If we would all heed his advice, we could turn this world around:

To the orphans be ye kind fathers, and to the unfortunate a refuge and shelter. To the poor be a treasure of wealth, and to the sick a remedy and healing. Be a helper of every oppressed one, the protector of every destitute one, be ye ever mindful to serve any soul of mankind. Attach no importance to self-seeking, rejection, arrogance, oppression and enmity. Heed them not. Deal in the contrary way. Be kind in truth, not only in appearance and outwardly. Every soul of the friends of God must concentrate his mind on this, that he may manifest the mercy of God and the bounty of the Forgiving One. He must do good to every soul whom he encounters, and render benefit to him, becoming the cause of improving the morals and correcting the thoughts so that the light of guidance may shine forth and the bounty of His Holiness the Merciful One may encompass. Love is light in whatsoever house it may shine and enmity is darkness in whatsoever abode it dwell. – Baha’i World Faith, pp. 216-217.

You’re probably saying to yourself after reading that, “Wow! That doesn’t sound easy. I don’t know if I could be like that.” But think of it as a goal, as something to strive toward. It is definitely worthy of our efforts. None of us is likely to transform ourselves overnight. Just keep this advice Abdu’l-Baha once gave, according to an account recalled by one of the Baha’is:

… someone expressed discouragement to Him, saying they could not possibly acquire all the qualities and virtues that Baha’is are directed to possess, and the Master replied, “[little by little; day by day].”  – quoted in Baha’i World, Volume 12, p. 706.

2 Comments

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  • Melody Logue
    Dec 17, 2017
    Wonderful article. Not long ago when a relatively new friend found out that I was a Baha'i she said, "And here I thought you were a Christian because you act like one." One of the best complements I've ever gotten. I am also reminded of a football player named Gale Sayers (he is 74 now and has dementia) who wrote a book called I am Third. Gale said, "God is first, others are second and I am third." Thank you.
  • Aires Mario da Cruz
    Dec 15, 2017
    A VERY BEAUTIFUL ESSAY.