Walking the Walk
Walking the Walk
James 1:19-27; 2:14-24
May 10, 1998
I’ve shared with you already that I want to preach through a couple of books in the Bible each year. And when I first began to pray about which book I would choose first, I felt drawn to the book of James because of it’s practical nature. Some scholars have called it the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because it is so full of practical advise on living a godly life. But I confess to you that I had no idea just how relevant this book would be for us as a church. I was thinking more along the lines of how it would challenge and encourage us as individuals. And certainly, I hope it has done that. But it’s been uncanny to see just how appropriate this first chapter has been for us as a church.
Let me explain what I mean. For the last two weeks, we have looked at the issue of trials and temptations. Two weeks ago, we said that we can choose joy in the midst of trial because we can fully trust that God will use our trial for good and that He will give us the wisdom we need to deal with that trial (Read 1:2-5). Then last week, we looked at the issue of temptation and sin, and we said that there is a crisis point of decision following every temptation where we must decide whether we will embrace or reject that temptation. And if we embrace it, the result will be sin (Read 1:13-15).
Now as we look back at the two weeks together, remember that we said the words “trial” and “temptation” are very closely related. In a sense, every trial is a temptation and every temptation is a trial. In the Greek there isn’t a great distinction between the two. I’m afraid we may tend to think of temptation only in the sense of the so-called “big sins” - especially since the word “lust” is thrown in there. But the temptation may be simply to lose faith - to stop trusting in God - in the midst of some difficulty. In a sense every sin is nothing more than a failure to trust God. We aren’t certain God will give us what we need, so we give in to the temptation to meet that need in a way that is not ordained by God. So, there is a very close relationship between the trials of verse 2 in which James exhorts us to choose joy and the temptations of verse 13 that lead to sin.
So what really strikes me about these two passages is that James has just outlined the two possible responses to any kind of trial - whether it is the temptation to commit a particular sin or the temptation to lose faith in the midst of difficulty. And the two choices are this:
1. We can put our trust in God because we know that He is always working for our good.
2. We can refuse to put our trust in God and give in to temptation because we aren’t certain God will be faithful to provide for our needs.
If we choose the first the option, the result will be growth and maturity. If we choose the latter, the result will be sin and death.
Now, why is this so relevant for our church right now?
Well, after two months of negotiating with Carmike and Cross Country Plaza, we found out this week that Carmike’s request to sublease the Plaza Theatre to us was rejected by the owners. Now, obviously, we were disappointed and frustrated that all the time and energy we invested in our attempt to secure that particular location were all for naught. We truly thought God was going to give us that location. It wasn’t a perfect facility. Quite frankly, it would have required a significant amount of work to make it functional for us. But, we thought God was giving it to us primarily because of it’s central location in the community. And we interpreted all of the difficulties in the negotiations as obstacles put in our way by the enemy. And part of the reason for that interpretation is that every time we began to feel it was time to give up, a shred of hope was left dangling before us. So, we didn’t want to give up just because it was tough.
But apparently, the last shred of hope is now gone. Actually, we are still talking to Carmike about a couple of possibilities that could conceivably re-open negotiations, but for all practical purposes, we are prepared to accept their rejection as a closed door.
Now, obviously, this creates some temporary difficulties for our church. It means, first of all, that we’re back to the drawing board as far as a more permanent facility is concerned. And that means we’ve got to keep setting up and tearing down this equipment week after week. It also means that we don’t have access to a facility throughout the week. We’re going to have to continue to be very creative when it comes to meetings and classes and special events. And it means that I’m going to have to keep praying real hard that you’ll stay awake during my sermons while you’re sitting in those extra-comfortable theatre seats.
But the bottom line questions are these:
1. Do we believe God has a plan for our church or not?
2. Do we trust that His plan is a good plan and that His timing is perfect or do we not?
3. And will we continue to put our trust in Him regardless of the trials we have to face in the short run, or will we not?
4. Will we choose faith and face our trials with joy or will we lose faith and give in to the sin of unbelief?
Folks, I don’t know about you, but I choose faith and I choose joy. All week long, God has given me an incredible peace about this whole situation. It has been frustrating and has been tough, but my whole life is rooted in the absolute convictions that God is good, that He’s in control, and that nothing can defeat His purposes.
Anybody can be faithful when the road is smooth and the way is easy. But the real test of our faith is how we respond when the road is rocky and the way is hard. Folks, God’s plan for Christ Community Church has not changed. It is not affected in the least by the decision of an investment group in California to refuse to let us meet in a theatre. The only question is whether we will choose to go forward with God in faith, or whether we will choose to shrink back and lose faith?
Now, another reason I think I’ve had so much peace this week is that I already know the answer to that question because I know you. Or at least I know most of you. And for those of you who are relatively new, I don’t believe you are here by accident.
We are a people of faith. And we are a people with a vision. And our vision has very little to do with buildings. We’ve been saying boldly that we are the church - that ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where we meet. Wherever we are is where the church is. Do we mean that or is it just a good line? I believe we mean it. And that’s why this isn’t a crisis. It’s just a temporary detour.
God is going to give us a building. We know we can’t meet here forever. I don’t want to meet here forever. These chairs really are a little too comfortable. Don’t think I don’t see your eye’s drooping out there. But God will give us a building when the right building is available. And because we’ve been through what we’re going through right now, when we get there, we still won’t be focused on the building. We’ll be thankful for it, and we’ll be good stewards of it, but it will always be a temporary refuge. A place of renewal and healing so we can get back into the world where the church belongs.
So, we choose joy. We celebrate the fact that God is good, that He’s in control, and that His purposes cannot be defeated. And so we move on.
And that brings us to this morning’s scripture (or scriptures, rather), and again, I am amazed at its relevancy for our church. But I’m not going to focus on that relevancy yet because I don’t want us to miss the challenge of it in our own lives. Without question there is a challenge here for us both individually and corporately. So, let’s just begin to work through the two passages.
Hearing and Doing
First of all there is James 1:19-27. Only a portion of this is printed in the front of the bulletin. So, please follow along in your Bible.
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror
24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Now, what is the connection of this passage with the one that came just before it? Well, you’ll notice in verse 18 that James says, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…” And he says in verse 21 that we must “accept the word” that has been planted in us. That’s significant because what James is doing in this passage is explaining to us that “accepting the word” involves both hearing and doing.
He begins with hearing. He says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Now, that’s a great one-liner that we ought to all commit to memory. Because most of us have this nasty habit of doing just the opposite. We fly off the handle, shoot of our mouth, and then - maybe - we step back and listen. If we could learn instead to follow James’ example, we’d all be better off.
But James isn’t really talking here about the way we communicate with one another. What he’s really driving at is how we communicate with God. And communication with God begins not with talking, but with listening. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” God wants a teachable spirit.
Don’t you think it’s interesting that those who consistently tend to speak first before they listen often end up with an angry spirit? They’re always trying to prove their point. They’re always trying to win the debate. And so they end up like the pharisees: talking a great game, but completely missing the spirit and heart of the very message they speak.
That’s why humility is such a vital part of the Christian life. Where pride says “I know it all,” humility says, “I haven’t even begun to uncover the riches of God’s truth.” Where pride says, “I’ve got the answer,” humility says, “God, show me the answer.” Humility is the seed of a teachable spirit because it leads us to listen before we speak.
But notice that James doesn’t stop with listening. He goes on to say, “But don’t merely listen to the word. Do what it says.” He says in verse 22 that we’re deceiving ourselves if we think that listening by itself will do us any good. You’ve heard the phrase “in one ear and out the other.” That’s what James says will happen if we hear the word and fail to act on it.
And I love the image he uses. He says that the man who hears the word and doesn’t act on it is like a man who stares at himself in the mirror and then walks away and forgets what he looks like.
You want to know what that looks like in real life? You come to church, you listen to the sermon, and lo and behold, the preacher actually says something worth listening to. He says something that grabs you by the heart. And you say, “Man, that’s a great point. I’ve really got to address that in my life.” And as you’re leaving church, you’re thinking to yourself, “This is really going to impact my life. It’s really going to make a difference.” But then you get home, you dive into the pot roast and mashed potatoes, and then you flip on the Braves and settle in for your Sunday afternoon nap, and then you hang out with the family, and then you get up the next morning and drag yourself to work, and about Wednesday, you’re asking yourself, “What did that preacher say? I remember it was good, and it was going to change my life, but now I just can’t quite remember what it was!”
Amen or an “Oh Me!” Hey, I haven’t been a preacher all my life. I’ve been there and done that.
But what was missing in that picture? Application. Action. When we take new information and act on it, we internalize it. It becomes a part of us. But when we take new information and simply store it in our brains, it’s nothing but information. We may understand it, and we may even accept it as truth, but if we don’t act on it, it will never end up impacting our life.
And if we do this long enough, do you know what we become? We become hypocrites. We’re full of knowledge. We’ve got lot’s of Christian information. But our lives are not changed.
When I was a teenager, there was a saying that we threw around a good bit. It went like this: “It’s not how you talk the talk. It’s how you walk the walk.” And I’ve got this theory that the reason some people end up just talking the talk, is that they forget that the Christian life really is a walk.
You see, it takes two legs to walk. If you’ve only got one leg, you may be able to hop around, but you can’t walk without some kind of help. And the Christian life is the same way. It takes two legs. One leg is knowledge. The other leg is application. And in order to walk the Christian walk, you’ve got to use both legs. If one of them is stuck or won’t move, the other one can walk all day long and you won’t make any progress at all. You’ll just be walking around in a circle. We’ve got to take one step with this leg and one step with that leg. Another step with this leg and another step with that leg.
The most frustrated Christians I know are those who have been trying to walk with one leg. Either they’ve been immersing themselves in study and never taking the time to act on any of it, or they’ve been out there knocking themselves out, but doing it all in ignorance. Knowledge without application leads to spiritual laziness at best and self-righteousness at worst. Application without knowledge leads to error and confusion. There must be a balance of knowledge and application. Or as James would say it, hearing and doing.
You want to learn how to pray? You can read all the books in the world on prayer, but until you start praying, you’ll never learn how to pray. You want to learn how to love and be loved? You can read 1 Corinthians 13 till you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never learn about love if you keep yourself insulated and isolated from people. You want a passion for the lost? You can read a dozen books on evangelism - and some of them may inspire you - but if you never get out there and spend time with the lost - getting to know them, befriending them, finding out what’s lacking in their lives - you’ll never move out of the safety of the church.
Life change is a function of both hearing and doing. The doing takes the hearing out of the abstract and makes it concrete - makes it real.
Faith and Works
Now, it’s interesting and significant that James comes back to a similar theme in chapter two where he talks about faith and works:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
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 what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 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.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
Now this passage of scripture has been viewed as one of the most controversial in the New Testament by some scholars. They say that it completely contradicts the gospel as Paul understood it. And in fact, Paul does say in Ephesians 2:8-9, “You are saved by grace through faith, not by works lest any man should boast.”
So what do we make of it? Is it a contradiction? Not at all. What James is saying is this: genuine faith is always demonstrated or expressed in our actions. He’s simply restating in different terms what he already said in chapter 1. The internal must always find its expression in the external. Hearing must always result in doing. Faith must always result in works. You can’t separate the two. They are two sides of the same coin.
And there are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that back James up:
1. 1 John 2:4-6: The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.
2. Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father…”
3. Matthew 28:20: “..teach them to obey.” Jesus was never interested in simply passing along information. He was interested in changed lives. And changed lives come as the result of obedience to God’s Word, not just hearing and understanding it.
4. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”
So, you see, there is no contradiction with James and Paul. Only a difference in emphasis. Paul was emphasizing faith to those who were trying to earn salvation by their works. James is emphasizing works to those who thought an internalized faith was all they needed. I love what he says in verse 19: “You believe there is one God. Big deal. So do the demons. In fact, they’re so certain God exists, they shudder in his presence.”
Belief or faith, if it is genuine, will always be expressed in the way we live our lives from day to day. Belief or faith that is not lived out is not belief at all. So, you see, we’re back to the walk again. Faith is one leg. Works is the other. If we’re going to walk the walk, we’ve got to exercise both legs.
Now, why did I say that this scripture is so relevant for our church today? Well, I have been feeling for several weeks now that we have been in a state of semi-paralysis while we’ve waited for word on the theatre. Actually, I should begin with myself, “I have allowed myself to feel paralyzed by the uncertainty, but I have sensed it in the church as well.” And to a degree it’s understandable. When you think you’re in transition, there is a tendency to wait until the transition is complete before you launch into new things.
But when we got the word that Carmike’’s request had been rejected, the one thing that I felt most strongly in my heart was that God was saying, “It’s time to go to work. It’s time to start putting feet on our vision again.” I felt God saying, “If you start waiting for all the circumstances to fall in line, you’re never going to move.”
Folks, we can’t wait on the perfect facility to start being the church God called us to be. Now, I know that some of you aren’t familiar with our vision as a church. So, let me just say that our vision has never been to simply show up here on Sunday morning, bask in the presence of God for a while, and then go our separate ways.
Yes, God did call us to Himself first - to worship Him and adore Him and love Him - but then He called us to one another - to love one another, to minister to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to spur one another on to growth and maturity - but then He also called us to the world - to reach out to the lost, to minister to the hurting, to give hope to the hopeless. This was our vision. This is our vision.
But vision is kind of like hearing and faith. It’s an internal thing that must be expressed externally. Vision without action is like hearing without doing or faith without works. In the same way that James said “faith without works is dead,” we can also say that vision without action is blind.
Now, please understand me. I’m not saying any of this out of disappointment, and I didn’t feel that God was disappointed. What I heard was a positive rather than a negative. I simply sensed Him saying, “It’s time to get moving. It’s time to be the church I’ve called you to be. Don’t be satisfied with talking the talk. You’ve gotta walk the walk. And the walk starts now. Not when you get your building. The building will come when I’m ready to give it to you. But the walk starts now.”
Now, I’m going to give you an opportunity this morning to be doers of the word and not hearers only. I’m going to give you the opportunity to act right now while the Word is fresh.
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