Title: THE GENUINENESS OF YOUR FAITH SHOULD NEVER BE IN QUESTION
Text: James 2:14-26
A missionary returned home after serving many years in New Guinea. He was asked to report what he found when he arrived there. He said he found a people without any moral sense. He saw a mother carrying her baby, and when the baby began to cry, she threw it into the ditch to let it die. He saw a man with his father who broke his leg and so he left him by the roadside to suffer all alone.
The missionary was asked what he did for them. He replied, “I thought the most I could do for them was to show them my faith by what Jesus would for them. I took the baby home to console it and raise it. I took the man home and mended his broken leg. When I found people distressed or hungry, I took them in, comforted them and fed them. When they asked me why I did this, I had my chance to preach the Gospel.”
His friend asked him if his plan succeeded. The missionary replied, “Yes. When I left to come home, I left a church!”
Someone once said that faith is like calories: you can’t see them, but you can always see their results! And that is the major theme resonating throughout James’ letter – results. Joe did an excellent job this last week of showing us the need to keep growing by following God’s Word. Chapter 2 of James takes off from that springboard to the next phase of our spiritual growth…to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith. Genuine faith is active; it doesn’t sit around and collect dust. Read Text.
I’m aware that just the mention of the word, “works,” sets off a siren in some people. When we isolate scriptures, it produces extremes. I’d like to bring these two extremes to a point of reconciliation by understanding the true intent of the Scriptures. One extreme isolates Paul’s view and says we are saved by faith alone and works have no role in the Christian’s walk. The other extreme isolates James’ view and says that you have to earn your salvation. As is the case with extremes, isolating scriptures leads to wrong conclusions. Let me give you some advice that my own errors have taught me: Whenever you hear extremes, look for the common ground in the middle, and you will find the balance of truth. Once we obtain the correct interpretation of Scripture, we will find out that BOTH Paul and James are right. Two understandings will help us find the middle ground.
1. First, it’s important to understand that the emphasis of Paul & James’ writings are different. Paul stresses the root of salvation, which is faith in Christ alone brings about our salvation. James, on the other hand, stresses the fruit AFTER salvation. So the common ground is that every believer is rooted in Christ by faith will bear fruit.
2. Second, the contrast between Paul and James is a matter of perspective. Paul sees the fire in the fireplace, while James sees the smoke coming out of the chimney. Paul’s position is before the cross, where James’ position is after the cross. And so the common ground is this: We are saved by faith alone, not by any work that we have done to earn salvation…but faith that saves is not alone - it is followed by demonstrations that prove the genuineness of our faith!
So you see, Paul & James are not soldiers of different camps fighting against each other…they are soldiers of the same army fighting back-to-back against enemies coming from opposite directions.
Now that we are standing on common ground, let’s look further at what James has to say. He opens with two rhetorical questions. 2:14a James asks, “What good does it do to say you have faith if you have no works to justify that claim?” You could reword it, “What good is it to have a driver’s license if you don’t drive?” Answer? NONE! Then James probes with a deeper question: 2:14b. The answer? NO! Genuine faith is accompanied by fruit…not hollow words of profession that are void of any validity that their faith has changed their life.
I. Characteristics of Genuine Faith
A. First, genuine faith is not indifferent…it is involved. 2:15-16
B. It’s easy to understand this illustration because most of us have been that needy person! We can still remember the empty platitudes we received instead of real help. What’s missing? Real food and real clothes!
C. No one echoes this point better than the Apostle John. 1 John 3:17-18
D. Second, genuine faith is not independent…but is in a partnership. Ja. 2:17
E. Faith and works go together like a horse and saddle…a CPU and a monitor. You can’t have one without the other. If you dissolve the partnership…faith dies! Faith was never designed to dwell alone from the partner that proves its existence!
F. Third, genuine faith is not intellectual…but from the heart. 2:19a
G. James is illustrating by a conversation with an imaginary partner. We are going to call them the religious intellectual. This person has no works, so they hide behind an impressive knowledge of God’s Word. “My theology is impeccable! I believe God is One, just like it says in Deut. 6:4.”
H. James says, “Wonderful! Then join hands with the demons!” 2:19b The demons have their religious facts straight……..but they are still demons! We can know all the religious facts of thick encyclopedia, but until our faith moves us into action, we are no more Christian than the demons, according to James!
I. The demons have one thing over the religious intellectual: they believe and shudder! They get goose bumps when they think about Christ. James says the dead faith of the religious intellectual doesn’t even produce that much of a reaction! (Boy! James doesn’t mince any words, does he?!)
J. So James has one word for his imaginary friend, the religious intellectual: 2:20 If you take away the element of applying of your faith…you’re left only with mere intellectualism that neither glorifies God…and it doesn’t do anything for them either…faith without works is useless!
II. Examples of Genuine Faith
A. James next illustrates genuine faith has good works with Abraham and Rahab. 2:21-25
B. James couldn’t have picked two more opposite people as proof that works prove our faith. Abraham was the father of the Jews; Rahab was a pagan prostitute. Abraham was moral and was admired as a patriarch; Rahab was a despised harlot.
C. Yet both had evidence that they had faith! Evidence!
D. Abraham proved his faith by offering up his son Isaac.
E. Rahab demonstrated her faith when she risked her life to protect two Israelite spies.
III. Concluding Principle
A. James summarizes his point with verse 26. 2:26
B. The principle is simple: When you don’t exercise your faith…you DIE!
C. It’s true physically – when the soul separates from the body, there is death.
D. It’s true spiritually – when you separate faith from works, there is death…and the undertaker takes it away and hurries to embalm it, because putrefication will rapidly set in!
Lest you take my message to an extreme, let me say this:
1. This passage in James is NOT saying that our salvation is dependent on works.
2. Nor am I trying to get more works out of you through guilt or fear.
So here is the middle ground: If anyone asks you to help in a ministry…don’t give them an answer until you have first bathed it in prayer, and you are prompted by the Holy Spirit that this is indeed where the Lord wants you to serve! But find SOMEPLACE to exercise your faith…or you will rot away on the vine! Let me encourage you to make sure it’s the Lord speaking to your spirit, and not your own desires to do just what you want or don’t want to do.
Let’s go back and look at one of the verses from Joe’s message last week: 1:22 If you are going to grow in the Lord, you can’t just let the Word of the Lord pass between your ears…you’ve got to put it into action…otherwise your faith will atrophy!
Faith, like calories, cannot be seen…but James says that you can always see its results!
Let’s pause and compare the characteristics of genuine faith with our own. Genuine faith is involved with people in need… is yours? Genuine faith is a partnership with action…is yours? Genuine faith is displayed…is yours? Genuine faith is from the heart…is yours?
It was Helen Keller that said, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”
Is God prompting you to step out in faith and SOAR?!
I want to conclude with the most vivid illustration I can think of to inspire all of us to exercise our faith with a genuine display of God’s love for others. I could tell you a long story, but I will conclude with just their name: TIM AND LAJUANA FICKESS!
Let me capsulize their demonstration of faith and works by what I said to him at his good-by party. (Read “How Can It Be?”)
Is God prompting you to step out in faith and SOAR?! (Pray)