September 24, 2019
Do you have a faith that works? A faith that is living, a faith that is changing you? Let me give you a few examples of what I mean: First, when something bad happens to you, does your faith help you hold onto God and trust in Him regardless of the outcome? Over the past few months I’ve been following the journey of one of my former students: Tami Wilson Doughty. She’s a wife and a mom of two boys. But she’s been fighting cancer. And every step of the way, her theme has been: God is Bigger. She’s held onto to God and has been very clear on how God has held onto her. In fact, the Scripture she has held onto during this time is Psalm 138:8 ‘The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me, His Love is Eternal’ Tami has a faith that works. And now even as she is loosing her battle with cancer, she continues to proclaim: “God is Bigger.” That’s a faith that works in adversity.
Here’s another example: Three weeks ago I announced that we’re forming an Eloy Mission Team. The reason we are doing this is so we can come alongside the needy and distressed of Eloy and serve where God calls us. Right now we have a team of at least four people who are willing to do the hard work to determine where God would have us serve. That encourages me, because I can see in them a faith that works – a faith that is willing to be the hands and feet of Christ to the less fortunate.
Two weeks ago we looked at James 2:1-13, and saw that a faith that works plays no favorites – a faith that works doesn’t judge a person based on their outward appearance, or their status, or intelligence, or their political affiliation. In other words, when you have a faith that works, you willingly include people who are not like you, because Jesus died for them. That’s a faith that works.
So I ask you again: Do you have a faith that works? Do you have a faith that is changing you? Do you have a faith that is producing the life of Christ in you? Do you have a faith that is causing you to love others, care for the helpless, have patience with difficult people, stay the course through hard times? If so, as we return to the letter of James, then you will be encouraged by what he has to teach us about a faith that produces good works. But if you have a faith that seems to be stuck in neutral, or isn’t producing the kind of faith James has been teaching us about, then what God’s Word has to say today might just help get you unstuck.
For as we come to God’s Word today, James wants us to know: There is no faith without works. Either you have a faith that’s changing you, or you don’t. Either you are beginning to live like Jesus or your not. You’re faith is either making an impact with others or its not. There is no middle ground when it comes to faith. God didn’t save you to simply have you rest in neutral until He comes back. No, the moment He redeemed you, He put a faith in you that will produce good works in your life. But some people claim they can have faith without good works. So today, James is going to destroy that myth by showing us the contrast between a false faith and true faith. So if you want to have a faith that works, then let me encourage you to open your Bible to James 2:14-26, where James begins to dismantle this idea you can claim to have a faith without works. For as we will soon see, a faith that doesn’t produce good works is really no faith at all. In fact, it’s what the Bible calls, a false faith. This where James begins today. And he begins by asking us a question and follows it with an illustration to make his point. He asks:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? James 2:14 Now this is a great question. Another way of asking it is like this: What does it profit you, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith, but does nothing with it? Can such faith save you?
Now, what he is NOT talking about is doing good works to earn your salvation. What he is referring to is the doing of good works that are now the evidence of your salvation. He’s asking us to look at the fruit of our lives to see if our faith is genuine. To see if our faith is real. And by this he is saying the same thing Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:16-20 In other words, if you look at a tree with oranges hanging from its limbs, you know it’s an orange tree. What is on the outside is evidence of what is on the inside. That’s what James is saying. It’s the fruit of our lives that proves the faith in our hearts. And if there is no fruit, there is no faith.
So now He illustrates his point, saying: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:15-16 What James is describing here is a Christian brother or sister who is in dire straights. In their poverty they don’t have enough clothing to protect them from the cold, and they have no food; they are literally freezing and starving because they are unable to care for themselves. He’s painting the worse case scenario so that the application is obvious. But this person, rather than helping them, says, “Go in peace,” which was the traditional saying for, good-bye. And then he adds, “keep warm and well fed” which is a lame way of pronouncing a blessing upon them. This person is trying to being “nice,” but does nothing to help. So what good is his faith? The answer is obvious: It is absolutely no good whatsoever! It’s worthless. So James concludes, In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17 It’s a false faith!
So lets turn this around and apply it to what genuine faith would look like, and I would say it this way: Genuine faith is more than “being nice” to someone in need! A brother or sister in Christ who is standing before you freezing and starving to death doesn’t need our platitudes, they need our help. You see, somewhere along the way, Christians have adopted a mindset, “If I’m a nice person, I’m a good Christian.” But James is saying, no you’re not. You are deceiving yourself. If you claim to have faith, but do nothing to help a brother or sister in Christ who is in great need, James says your faith is dead. And the logical conclusion of someone with a dead faith is this: You are even not saved. This is pretty much what John says in 1 John 3:17: “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need – how can God’s love reside in him?” The implication is clear: God’s love doesn’t flow from him, because God’s life doesn’t reside in him. He has no real faith. His faith is dead.
So Genuine Faith means more than being a nice person, but James doesn’t stop there. Next he says Genuine Faith is more than believing right doctrine! Look at verse 18, But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:18-19
James now tells us that believing correct doctrine isn’t a mark of genuine faith. His illustration is telling. Giving intellectual assent to the truth that there is only one God is a good thing. Belief in One God is a central tenant to Christianity. And James acknowledges this saying, “you do well to believe this.” But then he says the demons believe this same truth and they shudder. Do you know what this term “shudder” means? It refers to uncontainable, uncontrollable, violent shaking from extreme fear.
So why do the demons shudder? They tremble in violent fear because they have rebelled against the one true God, and their rebellion leaves them condemned. They know what’s coming, and they shudder in uncontrollable fear of God’s wrath to come.
So the point James is making is pretty clear: you can believe in one God and still stand condemned. Or let me say it another way: Intellectual faith cannot save you. There is always an action connected with faith – a response. Knowledge of God alone doesn’t save you. You can believe in one God the same way you believe that George Washington was our first President. But how many of you are trusting in George Washington for anything today? So just knowing a truth and believing that truth is not enough to save you. It’s only when you act upon what you know, or should I say, who you know, that’s what saves you. That’s why salvation involves a change of understanding, a change of heart and a change of direction:
When you come to understand that your sin has separated you from God, because your rebellion offended the very One who created you; your change of understanding leads you to a change of heart. And in saving faith, it causes you to act: to turn from your sin and turn to God to receive the righteousness He provides. You humble yourself before God and receive His Son who died in your place. That’s the work of saving faith. Jesus did the work to save you. Your work is to turn from your sin and receive Jesus as the forgiver of your sin. And once you’ve received God’s Son by faith, you will begin to live a true faith that produces good works. Because good works are the evidence of the new life of Christ in you…
Now, before we look at how James illustrates this faith that produces good works in you; I must to ask this question: Have you turned from your sin to trust in Jesus? This is where faith begins. You can’t save yourself. No amount of your good works can earn you salvation. Salvation is the gift of God. It must be received by faith. Jesus has done the work to save. So now all you need to do is take a step of faith: turn from trusting in your self and trust in Jesus. Have you done that? If not, you can do that today. Humble yourself, turn from your sin, and receive Jesus as the forgiver of your sin. And if you can do that, then God’s Word says when you receive Jesus, you receive eternal life. And now you can begin to live a new life by faith: a faith that will produce acts that verify your faith in Jesus: True Faith. So let’s look at James argument for:
True Faith… a faith that produces good works James gives us two illustrations of faith that produces good works. The first comes from the life of Abraham. He writes: You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. James 2:20-24
Let me make four brief of observations here: First, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is the “act” that justified Abraham’s faith as true. He was willing to give up what was most precious to him because He believed God. The writer of Hebrews explains Abraham’s faith this way: It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. Hebrews 11:17-19 So Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness because He believed God could bring his son back to life. So he acted upon this belief. That’s true faith.
James next explains how his faith worked: You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. James 2:22 This is the second observation. James says that “his faith and his actions were working together.” In other words, it was Abraham’s faith that produced his action. The picture is of a partnership: faith works to bring about the action. So faith and action always work together. His willingness to place his son on the altar and carry out the sacrifice flowed out of His faith, and gave evidence that his faith was genuine. Faith always works in concert with action. That’s a faith that works. A living faith, not a dead faith.
The third observation has to do with the second phrase in verse 22, his faith was made complete by what he did. In other words, with this act Abraham’s faith was brought to maturity. This is a picture of completion. Faith had been growing in Abraham’s life. But if you know his story, God needed to grow Abraham’s faith. After all Abraham’s faith failed on a number of occasions. He didn’t have a mature faith early on. He didn’t trust God with his wife’s safety, but took matters into his own hands twice and lied, telling others that Sarah was his sister. On another occasion he didn’t trust God to provide the child of promise, and so he took his maidservant and had a child by her. But here, near the end of his days, God had matured Abrahams faith through all kinds of trials and tests. So with his willingness to sacrifice his son, the growth of Abraham’s faith had fully matured. He had passed the greatest test of faith: his faith was made complete by what he did.
One final observation from Abraham’s faith: Abraham is called God’s friend. In other words, Abraham’s faith in God pleased God so much, that God responded to Abraham’s faith by calling him His friend. Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 God rewarded Abraham’s faith with an intimate relationship. Do you want to experience a closer relationship with God? Then act on your faith. Obey His commands. That’s basically what Jesus said in John 14:21: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and disclose myself to them.” That’s what friends do. They reveals themselves in a loving relationship. Abraham pleased God and God called Abraham His friend.
But he doesn’t stop with Abraham. He gives us one more example: In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:25-26
Why does he share the story of Rahab? Rahab differs in almost every way from Abraham. Whereas Abraham was a wealthy, moral male, the father of the Jewish nation, and a major figure in his society; Rahab was poor, definitely immoral, a female, an outcast of the Canaanite nation, and a minor figure in her society. By adding “the prostitute,” James emphasizes her status as a classic sinner. But what he does for us by including her, is that he tells us this: anyone can have true faith – for faith always produces good works.
So let me ask you: Do you have a faith that works? Do you have a faith that trusts God in adversity? Do you have a faith that helps you reign in your tongue? Do you have a faith that moves you to care for the less fortunate? Do you have a faith that keeps you from playing favorites? That’s the message of James. He wants you to have a faith that works. Not a dead faith. So examine yourself. Do you have a faith that is changing you? If you do, then thank God. If you do not, maybe it’s time you took that step of faith and put your trust in Jesus. Receive His gift of eternal life, so you too can live the life God has prepared for you: a life of good works.
This is why God saved you. Not to sit on the sidelines, but to live out your faith as a blessing to others. Just as Paul spelled it out for us in Ephesians 2: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10