Text: James 2:14-26
Theme: Stop pretending, and start living.
Image: pretending to be someone else
Need: actions proving their faith
Message: get off your duff, and get to work
Stop Pretending, Start Living
James 2:14-26 (ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
When I was in grade two I pretended that I had a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do. See, I had a friend who was in tae-kwon-do, and I wanted to be like him, but my parents would not commit to the travel and expense of the lessons. So I started to pretend that I was in the classes while I was playing around at home. I wanted to be cool, to be respected, to be valued, and so I began to tell anyone who would listen that I had a black belt. One day someone questioned me on it, and told me that I was lying. He asked me to prove that I had a black belt by bringing it in. Instead of admitting right then and there that I had been pretending (really lying), I swore that I did have it. Then I brought in some silly little outfit that my great uncle had given me that had a dragon emroidered on it and claimed that was the black belt I had. There were very few people who would trust me, or even talk to me, for a while after that. I had pretended so much, that I began to live a lie.
I wonder if that is sometimes how we approach our faith. Our lives during the week do not seem to fit with the way that we act while in church on Sunday. Often it seems as though we are pretending our piety. James is telling us this morning, stop pretending, and start living. If someone were to look at our lives, would they assume that we are pretending to believe the things we confess or could we point to things in our lives which prove we are Christians? Could we give evidence that we have faith, or would we be stuck, as I was in grade two, realising that we have been caught.
For most of us this passage may sound a bit strange. We are used to the Reformed creed that justification is through faith alone, yet here James tells us “that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” In fact, the only place within the scriptures in which faith and alone appear together is in this passage. When we read through Paul, however, we get a very different impression from what James says here.
We are used to Paul heavily emphasising that faith is a gift of grace to us, that we are not justified by our works. As he says in Eph 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” or in Romans 3:28 “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” Or in Galatians 2:16, “A man is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ … because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
The message of James, however, does not contradict that of Paul, it simply begins at a different place. James is writing to a much different audience than Paul. In ch 1 he addresses this letter “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (to Jews who have spread out from Jerusalem). Then, in ch 2:1, he says, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” (James 2:1) James, then, is writing to Jewish Christians. He was not dealing with a Gentile community which is being forced to live according to Jewish laws, as Paul was. He was dealing with a Jewish community which wanted to reneg on their responsibilites as good, decent people on the claim that their works do not save them anyway. He was writing to Jews who had grasped the true method of salvation, but did not understand the true meaning of salvation.
James's message is one which is heard throughout the scriptures, especially the New Testament, but to which we often close our ears. All of the letters of Paul finish with specific instructions on how a Christian ought to live out their lives. After the passages in which he extoles the virtues of salvation by faith and not by works, he exhorts the reader to then live a different way than they were before. They are not to continue in their old ways, but to live in the new creation which has been granted to them. Both Paul and James, along with most of the other writers of the scriptures are saying, “Stop pretending, and start living.
James writes this letter challenging Christians to live out the faith they profess. He tells them that living faith is faith that works, faith that causes actions, faith that leads to good deeds. If faith is not lived out in the life of the believer, it is, quite frankly, dead. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Look at the world in which we live. There are many people who are suffering. There are many people who are struggling. There are many people who go without the daily necessities of food, water, and shelter. These people are not just in so-called developing countries, but they are in our own backyards. It may not be as obvious in a town like Strathroy, where those who struggle can hide behind a fading facade. But if you go to a place like Sarnia, or London, or Hamilton, or Toronto, or Vancouver, the misery that plagues many people becomes all too apparent.
How can we sit idly by in our large and comfortable houses and allow people to suffer and die? How can we spend hundreds of dollars a month in selfish entertainment for things such as cable TV, eating out, or going to the movies? How can we do this when millions of people in the world do not have a house to live in, or food to eat, or water to drink? How can we call ourselves Christians when there are people in our own neighbourhoods who are lost, lonely, and hurt?
Dan is a person who lives out his faith in a radical way. He has given up the life of luxury, or even mediocrity, and instead has chosen to live his life in poverty, in service to God. He is currently living in a Christian community house in Vancouver's downtown eastside. The community of which he is a part is focusing increasingly on journeying alongside of people who are sexually exploited in their neighbourhood. They offer open meals once a week. They live to give hope and comfort to the hurting. One day he had an encounter with a group of Christian young people which impacted him deeply. He wrote this account on his blog, his website (http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/115909.html).
(I have changed some of the wording as it was a bit explicit.)
“What the heck are you laughing at? Hey? What the heck? How about I cut those smiles off of your faces, then we'll see if you're still laughing.
This, or roughly this, was what a working girl was yelling at what appeared to be a group of Christian young people on some sort of tour of my neighbourhood. I know this because I was walking behind her when she was yelling at the group -- and because I wanted to say the same thing to them.
Because they were laughing at a naked woman.
A naked woman at Main and Hastings, the busiest corner in the neighbourhood, trying to walk and cover herself by pressing a small piece of cloth to the front of her body. She wasn't even wearing shoes. I am sure of this because I was looking at the ground when I stopped and offered her my shirt. As I was in the process of giving it to her, the working girl caught up to us, stopped, gave her an outfit, a few encouraging words, and then moved on. And I moved on, too. It was then that we passed the Christian young people who were smiling and laughing awkwardly. I wanted to yell at them, too... but I didn't. What difference would it have made? So I just turned to my friend, a woman who was visiting from out of town, and said: "I'm sorry, I wanted you to see more of what my neighbourhood was like, but I didn't expect you to see this." Then, later that night, I cried while saying grace at dinner.
How does a woman end up walking through that sort of nightmare? Was she stripped and dumped at the corner by a "bad date"? Stripped and turned out by a boyfriend? Stripped in the alley over some sort of debt? Who knows. All these things have happened before and will happen again. But how, how the heck, does nobody offer her clothes? Everybody stops and stares, but nobody does anything. Unbelievable.
Sister, I'm so sorry. Sorry for all of this. Sorry for their apathy and for my powerlessness. You have come and you have gone, and I will almost certainly never see you again. I could not save you from this hell. But this much I do know: I would rather burn here with you than laugh with those whose apathy damns you to this place.”
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:18-20) James says we cannot separate faith from works. We cannot profess with our mouths that Jesus is our Saviour, our Lord, our Master, and then not follow his instructions. Faith and works are not separate gifts given to different people. One person cannot say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Nor can someone else say, “I have faith, and you have works.” It does not work this way.
True faith has an impact in our lives. When we do not do things for others, our faith is not worth a dime. When we talk the talk but do not walk the walk, then we are hypocrites and are not giving any evidence of the love of God within us.
If a person claims to have faith, but does not give evidence of that faith, then they are just pretending and when a person is pretending to be someone they are not, they are living a lie. We might even be able to fool ourselves for a while. There will come a time, however, when our faith will be put to the test. It is at those times we will know for sure if we are pretending our faith, or living it. Stop pretending, and start living.
Strangely enough, this is not the burden that it seems. Living out our faith turns out to be the most rewarding thing in the world. Our call to worship this morning was Psalm 1. In this psalm two ways of life are outlined, the person that lives by the law of God, and the one who does not. The person who delights in the law of the Lord, is like a tree planted by streams of water, whatever he does prospers because the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked selfdestructs.
James gives us two examples of people who proved their faith by what they did, two people who lived lives that give hope and comfort to millions of people. The first is Abraham. Look at verse 21; “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God.” (James 2:21-23)
Abraham's willingness to offer Isaac, the son of the promise, as a burnt offering to God, showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that his faith was sincere. Rahab also showed that her faith was sincere. As the Israelites were finally entering the promised land, she recognised God's authority and said to the spies who she harboured, “for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11) On the basis of this confession she risked her own life and saved that of the spies.
There are people in this congregation who live out their faith everyday. There are people who give of their time to go and visit others. There are people who give generously to all kinds of Christian causes. There are people who help out the hurting and lonely in their neighbourhood. I could give you examples, but I am sure you can think of some of your own. This past week has been a perfect example of this serving attitude. The way that the church has rallied together to make the Vacation Bible School a success has been a blessing to see. To see so many people giving of their time to teach, or help in the classes, or prepare snacks, or work in the craft room, or clean up, or register kids, or direct the whole thing. To see so many people give of themselves to be a blessing to children, many of whom are from the surrounding community truly gives evidence of the faithfulness of this church.
Our faith is evident in other ways as well, ways in which the Spirit is working through us to bless others. The commitment of so many people to the various committees and programs which are required to keep the church going gives evidence our faith. The love and community expressed when people care enough about each other to listen and learn from others gives evidence of our faith. When we look at the church, our faith is evident, and it is easy to be excited about what God is doing through us.
When our lives give evidence of the grace that is poured upon us, we feel the joy of Christ enter our hearts. We begin to mould our lives to what Jesus is asking of us. When we live our faith we experience the blessing of God as we feel God working through us blessing others.