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PRODUCE GOOD WORKS

James: A Faith That Works – Part 5

James 2:14-26

 

Faith is a key doctrine within the Christian life.  Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8, tells us that the sinner is saved “by faith.”  Second Corinthians 5:7 says the believer must “walk by faith.”  The Hebrew writer in the 11th chapter, verse 6, says, Without faith it is impossible to please God…”  In Romans chapter 14, verse 23 reminds us that whenever we do something apart from faith “it is sin.”  So faith is an important component in our relationship with God.

When I was a little kid, I used to love attending Children’s Church, especially when we would start singing those action songs.  You know, those action songs you could really get in to!  There was one in particular that was my favorite.  It was my favorite because you got to clap your hands, you got to stomp your feet, and you got to shout “amen”!  That’s my kind of song!!  Some churches would sing, “If you’re happy and you know it…”  Other churches would sing, “If you’re saved and you know it…”  And it was an enjoyable song.  But there was a phrase at the end of the chorus that would sometimes get lost in the midst of all the clapping and stomping and shouting.  Do you remember what it was?  It went something like this: “If you’re saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it…”

You see, it’s a lot more fun to clap, and to stomp, and to shout then it is to be reminded that as Christians we are expected to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”  We would much rather be entertained and inspired than challenged to service.  But don’t forget the difficult challenge, which is heeding those words and making certain your life will “surely show it,” that your actions reflect that joy which comes from having a saving faith.

We think that our Christian life is represented by a $10,000.00 bill, and that we pompously and flamboyantly come down before the altar of God and we say, “I’m yours Lord.  Here it is!”  And we place our $10,000.00 bill on an altar and give it back to God, and we go out in a blaze of glory.  But for the most part, that’s not what the Christian life is all about.  In actuality it’s taking that $10,000.00 bill and exchanging it at a bank for quarters and then spending the rest of your days putting out a quarter here, and quarter there, through acts of love and kindness.  And when you’re doing that then your life will surely show it.

That’s what James is saying in James chapter 2.  If we have a genuine faith, then our works will be visible.  Now some of you are already thinking, “Oh no, here we go again, another lesson on faith.  Boy, you think that these guys could come up with something new.  Thirty minutes of back to the boring basics of the Bible.”  Well hold on for just a second.  You may not know everything about this creature called faith.  There just might be some things that you’re not aware of.

It’s sort of like the lady who was tired of every November having her husband go off deer hunting.  She was sick and tired of always being left behind.  So finally, she said, “Honey, I think I can do anything that you can do, and I know just as much about deer hunting as you do.  So why don’t you take me with you this year!”  Well sure enough he agreed, and he took her out with him.  They both got in separate tree stands on opposite sides of a field, and after about an hour of waiting the husband all of a sudden heard a gunshot.  So he climbed down from his tree stand, went walking across the field, and sure enough there was his wife, standing next to an animal carcass, and she had the shotgun leveled right between the eyes of a man.  The guy had his hands up in the air and he said, Okay, okay lady, it’s your deer!  But can I get my saddle off it first?!!”

When it comes to the topic of faith you may not know everything.  You may not even recognize it in all its disguises.  So I would simply ask that you listen with an open mind and allow the Lord to speak to you this morning.  A genuine faith is to produce genuine works.  And if it doesn’t, then we should question whether or not our faith truly is genuine.

This passage from James that we’re studying today has received more attention in books and debates than any other passage in the book of James.  For years people have been involved in a big theological debate.  Some people think there’s a contradiction between what Paul believes about faith and salvation and what James thinks about works and salvation.

For instance, Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, say: “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.” 

And yet James says in chapter 2, verse 24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” 

Now as I see it, what Paul is saying is that faith is the root, that that’s a starting place.  And then after you’ve given your life to the Lord, faith is the root, but works are the fruit.  So James concentrates upon the fruits of our labors, the fruit of our faith.  James is writing to Christians who have been saved for some time, where almost all of Paul’s writings were to people who were just becoming Christians.  And James says 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” 

So, with that as a foundation let’s spend the rest of our time studying four characteristics of a genuine faith.

I. FAITH IS NOT INDIFFERENT, BUT INVOLVED.

First, faith is not indifferent, but involved.

James says in verses 15 and 16, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  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?”

We might paraphrase the situation by saying, “If you say you believe like you should, then why do you behave like you shouldn’t?”  And it’s a fair and valid question.

Now James is writing to certain groups of people within this letter.

First, we notice that the people he’s writing too are the Christian community—brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Now there are a lot of other verses in the Bible which tell us how we need to be kind and compassionate to those that are unsaved.  The early New Testament church had a faith that was involved in other’s lives, and the book of Acts shows that they were so servant-minded that they influenced an entire culture for the cause of Christ.  And even now, non-Christians notice the difference among Christians.  Even back in the first century the differences in the stark contrast between a person of the world and a person of “the Way” was so appalling to those outside the faith, they just couldn’t believe the drastic change in people’s lives.  The Roman Emperor Hadrian said this back in the first century in describing Christians: “They love one another.  They never fail to help the widows.  They save orphans from those who would hurt them.  If they have something, then they give freely to the man who has nothing.  If they see a stranger, they take him home.  And they are happy, as though he were a real brother.”  So, James is first addressing a Christian community.

Secondly, he’s talking about reaching out to those who are part of a needy community—those people who lacked the basics of food, clothing, and shelter.

Jesus says, “…whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40).

That means that we need to have a faith that gets involved in the lives of others.  George Bernard Shaw said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them.”  And contrary to popular opinion, the opposite of love is not hate.  The opposite of love is apathy, or indifference.

And James says, “Listen, if you have faith it will be backed up by your actions, how you treat other people or get involved in their lives.”

I heard the story of two guys who were talking.  One man said to the other, “All the world’s problems can be reduced to only two things—ignorance and apathy.  What do you think of that?”

And his buddy said, “Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care!”

Do you want to hurt somebody deeply?  Any psychologist will tell you that to ignore or disregard someone causes much worse damage than anything you could say to them.  Being unwanted and uncared for may be the greatest poverty of all.

In Matthew chapter 10, verse 32, Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven” (vv. 32-33).

And that word “deny” is an interesting one.  It could literally be translated not just to deny Christ, but to ignore Him, to disown Him, to reject Him.  What it really means is to be indifferent to Him.  Kipling put it like this: “O England is a garden, and such gardens are not made by saying ‘O how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade!”

Now our garden and our property are attractive, and it’s because people get involved.  We have people such as the Fishman’s, and the Heschke’s, and Kathleen, and the Drapers, and the Nelsons who spend hours making sure this building and our grounds look attractive.  And there are many other volunteers who work on the inside and the outside of this facility.  And the reason that it’s attractive for our eyes is because people get involved.  They’re putting their faith into action; they’re putting their faith to work.  You see, you’ll never grow and deepen in your faith by sitting on the sidelines.  There’s a big difference between being a spectator and being a participant.  And that’s why we need to get involved, because true faith is not indifferent.

Don’t you love it when someone goes out of their way to do something special for you and let you know you’re important?  They let you know that you’re needed.  Have you ever had your spouse tell you that they don’t feel loved?  And some of us have to say, “Well, honey, let me think back a minute.  When was the last I told you that I loved you?  Oh, I know, it was a few days ago.  Don’t you remember that I thanked you for that great meal you cooked last week?!”  And we try to rack our brain to think about all the different things we’ve said to our spouse, or to our friend.  And then they come back and say, “Yeah, I know you said that, and I know you say that you love me, but right now I just don’t feel very loved!”  And they walk across the room and they say, “Would you just hold me?”  Most all of us have heard that from someone.  And many of us have probably said the same thing to someone, too.  We all need a friend, or someone, just to listen to us.  And when somebody says something like that to us it wakes us up and we try to make a concerted effort to improve and to do those things which express genuine love.  Maybe it’s a card, maybe it’s flowers, maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it’s just sitting down and having a fun conversation and listening to one another.

But I wonder if we have ever turned a deaf ear in the direction of God and ignored, and neglected, and rejected His voice when He says, “You say that you love me, but you don’t ever read my Word.  You don’t read the love letters that I’ve sent you in the Bible.  You say that you love me, but you won’t even talk to me every day.”  James 2:17 says, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

II. FAITH IS NOT INDEPENDENT, IT’S A PARTNERSHIP.

And that leads us to the second characteristic: Faith is not independent, it’s a partnership.

Now don’t get me wrong, being independent isn’t all bad.  Kids can’t wait for their independence.  Kids can’t wait until the day when they can buy their own clothes, when they can pay for their own car insurance, when they can put themselves through college on their own, when they can cook their own meals, when they can do their own laundry.  Well, anyway, they can’t wait for their independence!

John Calvin wrote: “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.”  You see, faith is not independent, it’s a partnership with God.  There is a partnership.  Our service is prompted from our relationship with Christ.  It’s as if we’re working together with the Lord.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….”  

These days not everyone serves for the right reasons.  Faith without works is incomplete, but the converse is just as incomplete, and probably just as common—works, but no faith!  You see, it takes both.

A few years ago, while sitting in a courtroom with a friend who was in need of support, I learned of a case taking place in the next courtroom that I’ll never forget.  There was a man who had taken an early retirement, and some days in his spare time he would visit the residents at a particular nursing home.  People thought that he was a nice old man, until one day a nurse came into the room of an 80-year-old woman (an Alzheimer’s patient) and this man was trying to take advantage of her sexually.  The police came and they were only able to charge him with indecent exposure.

Well on this particular morning they were to sentence the man.  The judge was firm.  She said, “You are a sick old man who needs counseling.  Your actions are inexcusable, and for you to choose as your prey a helpless elderly woman is the height of all cruelty.”  Then she read his punishment and she listed a number of restrictions and agreements that he would have to adhere to.  And finally, she said, “I also sentence you to spend the next 30 days in the county jail.”  And I’ll never forget the first words out of the man’s mouth that day.  He said, “Your honor, I can’t do that!  I’m supposed to serve in church this weekend!”  And there was just a loud gasp throughout the courtroom, people couldn’t believe their ears.

It’s sickening to see works without faith!  We hear something like that, and we question, “How could someone be involved in the church and do all the right things for others to see, yet on the inside their heart be so far from God?”  On the outside he appears to be servant doing good deeds, but in actuality there is no partnership with Jesus Christ.  That’s service for selfish reasons.  You see, true Christianity begins from the inside and then radiates outward.

 

III.  FAITH IS NOT INVISIBLE, TRUE FAITH SHOULD BE ON DISPLAY.

The third characteristic that I want us to look at today is that faith is not invisible, true faith should be on display.

You say, “Now wait a second.  We’re not supposed to be arrogant; we’re not supposed to call attention to ourselves.”  But that’s not what James is talking about.  He means that we’re proud of our faith.  We want others to know that Jesus Christ is real to us.  And you say, “Well that’s not my style, that’s not my temperament.  Maybe that’s fine for you, David, but that’s just not me!”  Maybe you’re a “secret service saint.”  Chuck Swindoll calls them, “Clairol Christians—only your Heavenly Father knows!”

James 2:18 says, “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.” 

And we all know people like that, people who say they’ve got enough faith to get them to heaven, but then they don’t even have enough faith to get them to church!  There’s something wrong!

So James says, “It’s challenge time.  It’s time to put up or shut up.”  And back in the 14th verse I like the way James words the phrase.  He says, “…if a man claims to have faith…”  Notice that he doesn’t say, “If a man has faith,” but he says, “…if a man claims to have faith…”  We like to say a lot of things, but it becomes harder when it comes to actually backing them up.

Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane, chief surgeon of the Kane Summit Hospital in New York, had been a surgeon for almost four decades.  He was fascinated by the possibility of the use of local anesthetics in areas that had always used a general anesthetic.  He was concerned about the dangers of what he considered the overuse of general anesthesia.  He wanted to find an appendectomy candidate who would be willing to undergo the procedure with only local anesthesia.  Since Dr. Kane had performed nearly 4,000 such operations, he was confident this would be a good type of operation to do with such an approach, but it was tough to find someone who was willing to stay awake through such an operation.

Finally, Dr. Kane found a willing candidate.  And on February 15th he wheeled in the patient, prepped him, and prepared for the operation.  The surgeon deftly cut into the patient, found the troublesome appendix, and took it out without a hitch.  The operation was a rousing success, and the patient recovered nicely.  The date was 1921 and the patient was none other than Dr. Kane himself!  He had succeeded in taking out his own appendix under local anesthetic.  Dr. Kane gives new meaning to the expression, “Physician, heal thyself!”

You see, there are so many people that claim they can do things.  “O yea, I can do it!”  They can talk the talk, but they have a real hard time walking the walk.  James knew his readers pretty well.  There are many people who talk about faith, but few who follow through with it.  Emerson said, “What you are speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Sometime back I read a headline which appeared in a Florida newspaper that read: “Healing Services Canceled.”  In the brief article underneath, it said: “The healing and restoration services that were to be held for four local churches this weekend have been canceled due to the illness of the speaker.”  Now that’s claim without any verification!

In Titus 1:16 Paul describes a lazy group of supposed Christians called the Cretans.  He says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” 

You see, a real faith is something which permeates every aspect of your life—your priorities, your conversations, your disposition.  It’s on display for all the world to take notice of so that through your example God will be glorified.

The goal is faith and works working together—a faith that is so strong and courageous that the only logical explanation is that you love Jesus so much that you’d be willing to die for Him.  And in the meantime, you’ll spend your time and energy living for him.

Acts 4:13 says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” 

You see, not only did people notice their acts of love and kindness, but they saw a boldness.  Their faith was not invisible, but on display.

Ask yourself this question this morning: “When people look at me, do they see anything that remotely resembles Jesus?”  If you have a genuine faith, then I’ll bet they see a resemblance to Christ.  What a compliment that is!  You need to share your faith openly and proudly.  A genuine faith allows Christ to change you from the inside out, and to influence others.

IV. FAITH IS NOT MERELY INTELLECTUAL, IT’S FROM THE HEART.

And the final characteristic of a genuine faith is: Faith is not merely intellectual, but it’s from the heart.

Remember, James is addressing Jewish Christians, and their whole background is the Law.  They are experts at having a knowledge in the head, but the hard part is getting that knowledge into a faith that is within their heart.

James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  

And the word that we translate “shudder,” this is the only time it’s used in the entire New Testament.  What it really means is to have the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  It would be like when a cat is in a confrontation with a dog and its hair stands straight up because it’s so terrified.  And James is a little sarcastic.  He says, “Hey, you believe that there is one God?  Big deal!  Whooptie doo!  You just lumped yourself in the same company as the devil’s finest.”

Demons are convinced of the existence of God, and according to Mark 3:11 even the deity of Christ.  Whenever a demon would be in the presence of Jesus, they bore witness to the fact that He was the Holy Son of God, and they would submit to the power of Jesus’ word.  In Mark chapter 5 we find a man that’s demon possessed.  He has a number of demons residing within him.  Jesus commands those demons to leave the man and He casts them into a heard of pigs, and they obey Him!  The pigs go running off the side of a cliff and they sail down through the air into a lake.  Someone has said that this is the first documented case of the “swine flew.”

James 2:24 says, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” 

Now please do not misinterpret this passage in James to mean that through our good deeds, and our prayers, and through our church involvement, that God owes us heaven in return for our efforts.  Salvation is a gift.

Every October I have a birthday and I normally receive gifts.  Now I’ve done nothing to deserve them.  I had no say in the matter 60 years ago.  I am worthy of absolutely no credit for the occasion, but yet I still receive gifts—no strings attached.  And salvation is a gift from God.  We can’t earn it, all we can do is humbly surrender and present ourselves as a candidate for God’s grace.

If there is anyone here today that believes or thinks that because you attend this church, or you teach a class, or you give generously, or you volunteer in some capacity … that because of those things God is forced to look favorably upon you because you’re trying to earn your way into His good graces and favor … if you believe that, then give up!  Forget it!  It’s useless!  You’re working for the wrong reason and God doesn’t operate like that.  He wants to see good works as a result of what’s in your heart, not because you want Him to slip you two free passes to heaven.

You and I are sinners, and we can’t impress a holy God.  It’s impossible.  We’re in rags; He’s robed in royalty.  We’re paupers; He’s a King.  And we have no hope of heaven until we realize that we are nothing apart from Him.  And when we allow Jesus to come into our hearts, and that relationship begins to take root, and the result is the fruits, then those actions—those good works which we want to do—are not in expectation of salvation, but they’re in appreciation of that salvation.

Sometimes I think we get it backwards.  We believe that through the acts we perform, through the things that we do, those big accomplishments, that those are the things Christ is looking at.  We erroneously think those big things that we do for God, that those are the things that someday God will call to our minds when we stand before Him on the Day of Judgment.  He taught a Sunday School class.  She was president of the Women’s Fellowship.  They went to such and such church.  And so many times the recognition that we receive for titles in this world, I think, is the only reward we’re going to get for them.

I believe God is more concerned with how you treat your neighbor, how you respond in the work environment, who you go out of your way to say a word of encouragement too, how you act when you’re in a hotel by yourself and you are miles away from home.  We’ve got it backwards.  God is watching how you demonstrate your faith in the small things—which to a selfish, preoccupied society will go completely unnoticed.

One of the greatest men I’ve ever known and admired—and I know I talk about him a lot—is my father.  Though by this world’s standards he never achieved a level of greatness, he spent his living years doing things for others.  In particular, he spent many hours, even days, working with one of his granddaughters, Becky, who was mentally and physically handicapped.  One of his greatest joys was caring for Becky while her mom and dad both worked, making her things that would help to make her life a little easier with her disabilities.  And in my mind, I can still see people as they watched my dad get Becky in and out of the car, and as they saw him doing things for her.  I think the thought that passed through a lot of people’s minds as they saw him sacrificing for Becky was, “When he could be spending his time climbing to the top, why does he spend his time with somebody at the bottom?”

But people like that don’t understand that if you’re a true Christian with a genuine faith, they don’t understand that you descend the ladder to greatness, you don’t ascend it.  They don’t understand that in the kingdom of God there is no position higher than that of a servant.  And though the world can’t understand that type of behavior, God can!  Because He knows that through those little acts of love that go unrewarded on earth, those are a byproduct of a deep faith in a Christian’s life.  And some day they will be rewarded in heaven.

Has your faith produced good works in your life?  At the beginning of this lesson I said a genuine faith is to produce genuine works, and if it doesn’t then we should question whether or not it’s genuine.  When was the last time you demonstrated your faith by your works?  Are you involved in the hurts and needs of those around you?  Are you communicating with the Lord to determine what service you can perform together as “partners”?  Is your faith evident, or is it hidden?  Has the gospel story found a home, not only in your head, but in your heart as well?

David Hall
First Church of Christ
July 26, 2020