A Faith That Works
The title of our message this evening is . . . . and while most of us know, and most of us love, the great truth of salvation being by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we are not really all that crazy about the equally true Biblical statement on holy living. God demands holy living from those that belong to Him, doesn’t He? In 1 Peter 1:16, But as it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy. Interesting, isn’t it? Peter is writing his epistle to Christians, right? And he is telling believers to be holy! James is writing to Christians as well, and in our passage this evening we will run straight up against one of the most ignored passages in Scripture. By ignored, of course, I mean not lived out. We read the verses from time to time, but we seldom live out in love the commands made here.
James makes a bold statement in these verses, doesn’t he? On a superficial level, he might even seem to contradict what the Bible teaches elsewhere. But properly understood, I think we will be able to see that there is no contradiction between what Paul teaches in his epistles and what James teaches in his. They don’t contradict, they complement.
And here is the deal, folks. It’s really pretty simple, isn’t it? If you and I are going to stand before men and women, and more importantly stand before God, and name the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and call God our heavenly Father, we better act like it! Amen! But the sad truth is, it is very difficult to tell the difference these days between Christians and unbelievers. And apparently, it wasn’t all easy to tell the difference back in the Apostle James’ day either.
We talk a mean game sometimes, don’t we? But you know what? Real Christianity, real faith, is not just something to be talked about, is it? It is something to be lived, and something to be acted upon. Listen to these verses from 1 John: 1 John 3:17-18 (KJV)
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
This passage from 1 John, and the verse from 1 Peter, coupled with the verses we will read from James form part of what it means to be a Christian. They point us to a faith that works, right? Because here is another deal: I can tell you just about anything, can’t I? I could say I am Napoleon Bonaparte, or I could say I was a great baseball player in my youth, or I could even say that I can walk on the water! But where the rubber meets the road of my life, there exists no evidence whatsoever for the truth of any of those statements, right? And so what James is saying here in our passage is that it really doesn’t matter what you say; because we can say anything. It really doesn’t matter how much we prattle about how much faith we have in Jesus–if our lives are as distant from His as an unbeliever’s life then we really need to reexamine our faith, because something is just not right with it!
I. Faith, Salvation and Works (James 2:14)
(1 Now, lest there be any confusion on what we are talking about this evening, listen to these two well-known verses. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. Is this truth in contradiction to the truth found in James? No! There is certainly a tension between the two, but not contradiction. As I said earlier James and Paul complement one another just as faith and works do! Look back at verse 14.
(2 James asks some questions here that he intends on answering in the remainder of the passage; and they are questions that can haunt us at times. What does faith look like? What profit, or what good is a faith that just sits and does nothing? Is it real? Is a faith that merely sits and observes the real deal? And ultimately these questions bring us round to a couple of final questions that James implies but does not ask outright: Am I saved? How can I know if I am saved?
(3 You see, one of the things that we don’t seem to understand anymore, if indeed we ever did, is the relationship between faith and works. I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 just a moment ago, that wonderful passage about grace, that passage that tells us how we come to saving faith in Christ. But the very next verse is just as relevant to the Christian as the verses that preceded it. Listen as I read it to you: Ephesians 2:10 (KJV)
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordainedb that we should walk in them. And if you put these three verses together from Ephesians and think carefully about them, I believe you can clearly see that grace is the fundamental characteristic of both works and faith. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith, but we also live our Christian lives out by God’s grace through faith as well. And when we gain a better understanding of this truth, we will gain a better understanding of what James is talking about in the passage we are studying this evening.
(4 Let’s turn to the book of Roman for a moment. Romans 8:28-31. Now we are not going to discuss every aspect these three verses this evening, that would take several sermons to do justice to it, but what I want us to see is the end result of justification, of salvation. I want us to see why God saved us. And I think that it might surprise us a bit when we find out why God did. It is not so that we might escape punishment, or so that we might have eternal life: those are things that a gracious and loving God has added as gravy. God saved us so that you and I might be made holy, so that we might be made more Jesus Himself, thereby bringing glory to Himself. that is why God saved us! For His glory! Look at your Bibles, Rom. 8:28-31.
(5 God has glorified us so that we might glorify Him! And we glorify Him by being displays, or trophies, of His grace and love, and by our growing in Christlikeness! Chapter eight of Romans is one of the favorite’s of a great many Christians. And rightly so. It has been said that if the book of Romans could be likened to a great cathedral then chapter eight would be the highest spire of that cathedral. The sheer breathtaking scope of its language and its power and its deep theological truth is breathtaking.
(6 But what I want us to see right now is what God is doing in the lives of every believer. All of us are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We are being made over into the very likeness of God’s own Son! In other words we are reflections of the very character of Jesus, right? And what was Christ’s character like? In the Gospel of Luke we find one of the more interesting revelations of Christ’s character in the NT. In Luke 5 Jesus is on Peter’s fishing boat and the miracle Jesus performed, that of filling two boats with so many fish the boats nearly capsized, caused Peter to recognize that this man he was with was just not the same as other men. Peter recognized the holiness of Christ. Listen to what Peter said after the miracle: Luke 5:8 (KJV)
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
(7 Listen, the character of Jesus that you and I are supposed to reflect is one of holiness, people. We are supposed to so mirror our Savior’s life that when others see us they see Jesus! That’s right! They are not to fall at our feet and worship–we are reflections of Christ, the image, not Jesus Himself–but they are to see something in us that makes them hunger for the real thing, that points them to the cross!
(8 Paul wrote that we are being conformed to Christ’s image. James wrote that faith without works is dead. Paul wrote that this transforming of our lives is a supernatural work done to us. We submit to the Holy Spirit and He works in our life producing good works. What does your life look like? Go back to James with me. II. An Example of Faith (James 2:15-16)
(1 In one of the most significant verses in this Epistle, James tells Christians something of such overwhelming importance that we must take it as the command that it is. He wrote in James 1:22 (KJV)
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. Listen people, we really need to see these words in James as on a par with the great doctrines of grace taught by the Apostle Paul. We need to understand that nowhere in Scripture is it taught that once we are saved we can live our lives any way we choose. We need to understand that the Christian life involves sacrificially giving of our time and our resources to those who are in need. We need to understand that the Gospel is not just about the giving of the plan of salvation and then walking away leaving that person we witnessed to naked and hungry. We need to understand that the Gospel is both pointing men and women to the cross and then taking care of their material needs as well: the spiritual and the material go hand in hand. Look at your Bibles, verses 14-15.
(2 There’s the story of the English preacher who happened across a friend whose horse had been accidentally killed. While the crowd of onlookers expressed empty words of sympathy, the preacher stepped forward and said to the loudest sympathizer, “I am sorry five pounds. How much are you sorry?” Then he passed the hat. Profession requires action or it is not real!
(3 The implication in verse 16 is this: someone comes to a brother in Christ who has a great material need. Perhaps through no fault of his own, or perhaps through mistakes of one sort or another. And this other brother has the means to help out this person, whether by feeding him or clothing him or whatever it may be. Instead, this brother, this Christian, says, “God will provide for you! Let me pray for you! And then go on your way.” James says that this attitude is not a proper Christian response to a brother or sister in dire straits. He is saying, “What’s up with this? You’re going to pray for them? Good! But not give them something to eat? Something to clothe their body?”
(4 Listen, faith and works are as inseparable as sun and sunlight. Faith is the sun; good works are its rays. If we allow brothers and sisters to wander through this life hungry and ill-clad, people we are worse than pagans. And listen again, as I said a moment ago, there is an unfortunate attitude loose in the church today that the only thing we owe people is a clear presentation of the Gospel! We owe them that, no doubt. And we better give them that, too! The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important thing that believers share with others. But it is not either the Gospel or the material things needed for life, it is both! They’re inseparable!
(5 Listen to this little poem: I was hungry, and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned, and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my nakedness. I was sick, and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless, and you preached to me the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely, and you left me alone to go pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God, but I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold! III. A Dead Faith (James 2:17-18)
(1 James is so concerned that his readers understand this truth, this truth of the inseparable nature of faith in Christ inevitably giving birth to good works, that he proceeds to give the most severe condemnation possible of a Christian life lived without any evidence of holy living or good works! He very clearly says it is dead! It ain’t real! Look at your Bibles, verses 17-18.
(2 Alright look, we are in the midst of a crisis in the church today. The only bright light in an otherwise dark scenario is the fact that it is nothing new. The early church went through this very same thing, according to James. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written this, would he? Our churches in America are filled with fat and sassy people who love the good life America has to offer more than they do the Kingdom of God.
(3 Now, everyone knows that we are going through some tough economic times in our country right now. Any of you here tonight who have been looking for work are well aware that there just isn’t that many jobs out there, are there? Another of the consequences of this recession is the plunge the stock market has taken. It has really gone in the tank, hasn’t it? I don’t know if anyone in here lost any money in the stock market as a result of the Dow Jones plummeting, I know I didn’t. It’s real hard to lose any money when you ain’t got any in the first place! But as a measurement of the economic health of our country, the stock market is pretty important.
(4 But since a little over a year ago the Dow Jones average has dropped from an historic high of 13,000 to a low of 6400. It has now regained some of that lost ground and rebounded to 8100, but that is still a significant drop, isn’t it? Translated into dollars this means that approximately 1.2 trillion dollars just poof, vanished! That is with a T, by the way. Some of that money will come back if the economy and the market improves, but some of it is gone for good.
(5 What’s my point here? Much of this money, perhaps the majority of it, was lost, not by the very wealthy, but by folks who had savings placed in 401(k) retirement accounts or any savings plan that invested that money in the stock market. And that includes Christians and Christian organizations. It included people who cared about the Kingdom of God and it included people who only paid lip service to doing God’s work.
(6 But as a people, the church has gotten just as caught up as unbelievers in the frenzy of materialism that has swept our country. We care more about capital campaigns, church buildings, and our own personal wealth than we do Kingdom work. And you see, God is sovereign over history, isn’t He? And He sovereignly allows calamity to fall on individuals and on entire nations. Why? If God is judging our nation, and I believe He is, then He is not doing so because of the atheists and all those who are antagonistic to Jesus Christ, but He is doing so because His people, all those who name the Name of His Son, are virtually indistinguishable from the unbelieving world around them. We look just like everyone else!
(7 Listen, we care more about our comfort than we do the Gospel! We are marching into a post-Christian night and God is either judging us in preparation for our destruction or He is judging us in an attempt to bring us back to Him. In a well-known OT verse from 2 Chronicles, God said this about His people. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)
14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. God didn’t say, if the pagans turn, He said if my people turn, didn’t He?
(8 People, wealth isn’t sin, but if the material things of this life are our primary pursuit, and if we call ourselves Christians, then you bet that God is going to take action, right? And if we do have wealth and do nothing with it but use for ourselves, we better take a spiritual inventory, because something ain’t right? James says “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”—nekros, an ugly word.
(9 And you know what? We don’t get off the hook just because we’re poor either. While the focus of James’ thought is certainly on the rich doing nothing for the poor, it can’t be limited to that. Nowhere does God say it is OK for us to be selfish because we’re poor. Even if we don’t have anything of material value to share with someone else each one of us has something that is of enormous value: Time! When is the last time you took the time to serve someone else? To listen to someone? To truly listen! Not just your standing in front of them while they are pouring their heart out to you, and you’re thinking about eating Moon Pies, or something. When is the last time you prayed with someone who was hurting? When was the last time you showed your faith instead of just telling everyone about it? When was the last time you lived out your faith in love and sacrifice?
(10 There is the story of Vance, the African-American who lives in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. And because of that he kind of stands out from the rest of the crowd. But what really sets Vance apart is that he is a servant-hearted father who cares not only for his own kids, but also for the many other kids who play in the streets by his building.
One night at 9 p.m., there was a knock at Vance's door. The 16-year-old boy who lives a few doors down needed help tying his tie. He had a big presentation at school the next day, and he had no father to help him get ready. After Vance had finished tying the tie, the boy sheepishly asked, "Do you have a pair of black dress shoes I could borrow?"
Immediately, the Spirit brought to Vance's mind the $60 pair of shoes in his closet that he hadn't even taken out of the box yet. He was certain God was telling him to give the boy those shoes.
Vance cringed inside. He told the boy to wait at the door as he headed into the apartment to look for any pair of shoes but the expensive pair. Before he went to the closet, though, he told his wife what he sensed the Spirit was saying to him. She agreed that it sounded like God had given him a great idea. So Vance got out his new shoes and brought them to the boy. His last hope was that they wouldn't fit. After all, how many 16-year-olds have size-12 feet?
They fit perfectly.
Just a few weeks after Vance gave away his new shoes, he and his wife sensed God telling them to start a Bible study for the kids in their building. After much prayer, they decided to invite the kids to their apartment for a Sunday evening study. They ordered four Bibles in case any kids came. That Sunday, seven kids showed up at Vance's apartment—led by the 16-year-old owner of a new pair of shoes. The following week they ordered more Bibles, and 14 kids showed up!
Who would have thought the kingdom of God would come to the kids of that apartment complex just because one man chose to give away a new pair of shoes?
(11 This man wore his faith like a badge of honor, didn’t he? It was there for the all the world to see. More important, Vance actually lived out his faith instead of merely jabbering on and on about it. He actually touched someone’s life is a way that changed that kid’s life and indeed changed the life of his neighborhood. And more important than even all that, he honored the Christ who died for him. What a witness this man was for the Kingdom of God, wasn’t he?
(12 People, I can say all kinds of things about my life, can’t I? I can stand in front of you and tell the most amazing stories about me you would ever want to hear. I can say that I am a great thinker and preacher; I can say I am a great spiritual man, that I pray and read my Bible for hours and hours every day; I can say anything at all, can’t I? But listen, if what I say doesn’t match up with what I do, then guess what? Doesn’t profit much, does it?
(13 We can say we want to take care of the poor, but people if someone has need, and we have the means to meet that need, and we don’t–James writes that our profession of faith in Christ is as dead as all the bodies lying in the graveyard! It ain’t real! If our faith is never evidenced by any good work, James says we are deceiving ourselves. Remember James 1:22, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. But we don’t really want to make those kinds of sacrifices that Christ commands of us, do we? But listen, C.T. Studd (Charles Thomas Studd) (1860-1931) had this motto: "If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” And that almost seems trite to some people; some people will read or hear those words and mock them, won’t they? Some people in here will go outside to smoke in a few minutes and mock and cast doubt on everything preached in here tonight. Some people will hear of great sacrifices that people make for others and equate that with weakness, won’t they? Some people will even look at the cross and instead of seeing the glory of the Gospel and the wonder of God dying for their own wickedness will laugh and ridicule and spin fanciful yarns designed to protect them from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Some people will embrace all manner of nonsense: New Age earth worship, Wiccan magic, reincarnation, the genuine nuttiness of eastern religions, (I am sorry if you are offended by that, but any religion that has as its primary goal the emancipation, really the annihilation, of individual consciousness, is at a fundamental level, absurd), but some people will embrace any, or all, of those so-called religions and then reject Christianity as superstition! But most damning of all, is the tragedy of professing believers who loudly proclaim the truth of Christ crucified and Him resurrected yet wouldn’t walk next door to give a divorced woman, a woman who has lots of boy friends, one who is struggling to support her kids, a loaf of bread because they say all they owe her is this thing called soulwinning! Or maybe she just isn’t our kind! James says we owe both! James says, how in the world is anyone going to see your faith if you never live it out where people can see it? If all you do is pray for the souls of people and totally ignore their great physical needs! IV. The Devil and Works (James 2:19-20)
(1 Listen, here is a true statement: There is not demon in existence who is an atheist! There is not anyone throughout all of history who have already died who is an atheist either. All of them are all too aware of the reality of a sovereign God. Right? In our final two verses from James, he makes us aware of these real facts. Look at your Bibles, verses 19-20.
(2 Another way of looking at the first phrase of verse 19 is, You believe that God is one? Good! You do well! Either way, the truth remains essentially the same. There is only one God, right? But that one God is three in His being. And the devil and all his demons are well aware of that truth.
(3 The point here is that there is a belief which is not true faith. You can sit out in this room tonight and actually believe that Jesus is the Son of God come to this earth to seek and to save that which was lost, and still be on your way to a Christless eternity in a devil’s hell! Right? Saving faith involves more than just a recognition of the truth of Jesus Christ, or that the living God is three Persons in one Essence! Saving faith will have that component in it, indeed you cannot be saved without proclaiming Jesus is Lord! But here is where the rubber meets the road in our salvation: it is a belief that trusts in that reality for eternity. You know, it is one thing to say you trust that airplane to get you off the ground and to your destination, it is quite another thing altogether to climb up on that plane trusting it do so. There are people in this room right now, no doubt, who if pushed will tell you they believe Jesus is real; they believe the Gospel is God’s truth! Yet they have never placed their faith on Jesus, and Him alone, for their salvation!
(4 Why? They don’t want to let go of their pride? Their sin? How can you tell they haven’t been saved? Their faith is a dead faith! They have never done a thing for the Kingdom of God! There are no good works at all in their life. Their lives are characterized, not by Christlikeness, but every worldly lust imaginable.
(5 O vain man! That word vain means empty, foolish. O empty foolish man, don’t you know? Yes, you are saved by grace through faith! Faith in the glorious sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Yes, God has graciously given you eternal life, victory over death! Why? Because that same Jesus walked out of that tomb, alive! But O vain man, faith without works is dead! We are justified by faith, but faith will never stand alone, it will always be accompanied by works. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
(6 There was this parable written by the philosopher Kierkegaard. One Sunday morning in Duckland all the ducks dutifully came to church, waddling through the doors and down the aisle into their pews where they comfortably squatted. When all were well-settled, and the hymns were sung, the duck minister waddled to his pulpit, opened the Duck Bible and read: “Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!” It was a marvelous, elevating duck scripture, and thus all the ducks quacked their assent with a hearty “Amen!”—and then they plopped down from their pews and waddled home.
(7 Brothers and sisters listen: You and I been given the wings of eagles also. Right? Listen to this passage from Isaiah. Isaiah 40:28-31 (KJV)
28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renewg their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
(8 When are we going to start acting like Christians? This is serious business, isn’t it? God didn’t save you so that you could continue in sin. He didn’t save you so that you could yield to temptation all the while thinking in the back of your mind that it’s OK, God will forgive me anyway! God saved you so that you could soar with eagles not waddle like ducks, people! He saved you so that the world could see Jesus Christ shining like glory through the good works of your life! God saved you so that you could honor Him and glorify Him with everything that you do.
(9 But you can do none of these things: soar with eagles; glorify Jesus with your good works; or honor the God who gave you everything until you actually know this Jesus as your Savior. And people, salvation changes your life! If it hasn’t changed your life, you are on your way to hell tonight. James says, Faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone. Paul wrote that salvation is nothing more than free gift of God, not of works. In Rom. 3:28 Paul wrote: Romans 3:28 (KJV)
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. Faith and works! Both are true of the Christian, aren’t they? What God commands of us, what the Bible teaches, and what Christ provides for us is A Faith that Works! It is all about Jesus, isn’t it?
(10 Do you know Him? Do you know Jesus? Have you trusted in the only one who can get you from here to there. From this life to the life to come. There is only one way, isn’t there? John 14:6 (KJV)
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
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