(This sermon was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO, on Sunday, January 29, 2012. To listen to the sermon, click here.)
As you know, I spent the weekend in Trinidad. I’m understanding that I need to clarify that I was in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean, not Trinidad, Colorado. I went there to preach for my friend who was being honored for his years of ministry as a preacher, church planter, and mentor of young pastors. The place was packed—so good to see so many coming that God has touched through this man. The service lasted just over three hours which a lively time of singing, testimonies from other pastors, plus I had the opportunity to preach.
What I didn’t realize was that this service would be televised! Yet as I was sitting there through much of the festivities, my attention kept being drawn to the cameraman, someone who was sent on assignment to be at this worship service. I remember thinking, rather cynically, “I bet this guy is hating life, being at a worship service of this nature for three hours!” I was quickly taught a lesson about how God works.
After the service, he asked some of us to do an interview about Roddie Taylor (how we met, what was his heart/passion, etc.). As he was setting up the camera, he looked at me and said, “What you said it there . . . I’ve never heard anything like that!” I told him, “Well, glory to God—thank you for the encouraging word!” He said, “I knew all that from when I was young, but never heard it put like that!” When I asked him his spiritual background and upbringing, he said that his mom is a Christian and his dad is a Muslim—so in elementary school he went with his mom to church, but in his teenage years he went to mosque. So I asked him a question that I ask a lot of folks who present things to me that just do not seem to go together: what does that look like? He went on to explain it—and I’m thankful for the opening to share the gospel with him. Please pray for him—his name, if I understood him correctly, is Trevor.
“What does it look like?” I personally and all of our members at ARBC believe in the perfection of the Scriptures and its full authority in every sense. It is God’s inspired word. It is with this understanding that we approach matters that seem to us contradictory. As we started this look into James’ letter, we noted that James and the apostle Paul seemed to, on the surface, contradict each other. We saw that with Paul, he repeatedly says that one is justified by faith alone. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). What does James say?
Let’s take a look at the questions that propel his theological and doctrinal argument:
- James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
- James 2:20: “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
- James 2:22: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.”
- James 2:26: “”For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
So this is the idea that James is seeking to communicate—and like a good communicator, he puts the same thought in different ways to drive this all-important concept home: Jesus lives so He empowers us to live and work for Him! Remember, the apostle Paul who wrote that we are saved by grace through faith, not of our selves but by God also said in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” So Paul and James are not apart at all. James, like Paul in Ephesians 2:10, is telling Christians what Christianity looks like after you are saved.
But here, James doesn’t stop at merely stating something correctly! It’s helpful to know—but it’s even more helpful to see and to visualize what this looks like. Let’s take a look.
1. A practical example of a faith that works (James 2:14-17).
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).
By practical, I mean that that this is a day-to-day example, one that can be put into practice (thus, practical). He takes something that is theological (faith/works) and puts those groceries on the bottom shelf for us. It’s practical and relational—for our faith must splash over into how we deal with people.
James knew this from Jesus Himself—when Jesus began His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount, after speaking of how we are to be salt and light, and that he came to fulfill the law and not abolish it, he goes into numerous different areas dealing with what? How Christians are to, in their relationship with God, also deal with people in regards to anger, marriage, divorce, lust, vows we make to people, retaliation, dealing with our enemies, and giving to the needy.
We must notice something interesting here is that James is talking about a ‘brother or sister’ in need. Who is he talking about? In verse 14, James talks to “my brothers,” meaning those who are Christ followers! So in verse 15, are these ‘brothers and sisters’ to whom he is referring Christians?
This can be asked of Jesus as well in Matthew 10:42: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
The question is, are Christians simply supposed to take care of themselves? Not exclusively, but the idea here is if you aren’t taking care of even your brother or sister in Christ and helping them in their time of need, it’s no good to anyone. It’s a bad reflection of your relationship with Christ, it’s a bad sign of your view of your fellow Christians, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the watching world.
But keep in mind that we are to help those in need, even if they aren’t in Christ! As we saw with the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 this past Sunday night, the story was not simply about helping those in need, but the Good Samaritan represented Christ who helps us who are dead and dying spiritually on the side of the road. Did not Christ come and rescue us when we were against Him?
Imagine if Christ treated us the way we Christians often treat others. See the object lesson here: “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?” (James 2:15-16). This “go in peace” is a Jewish way of saying, “Goodbye” and served as an ending of the conversation.
Do you see the dichotomy here? Doesn’t it exist today? We say, “Well, we are all about the spiritual! This world is passing away, so let’s just take care of spiritual needs.” And in the process, those churches that spend a great deal of time trying to improve the community and help with justice among those among us as a conduit to the gospel that people are seen as ‘liberal.’ But if this is us, not working among those in our midst as Jesus did to minister to physical needs as a way to point to those spiritual needs, we are having a faith that, as James said, is “no good” and likely “dead.” He has placed us at 780 E. Arapahoe Road here in Centennial to make a gospel difference and a gospel witness.
2. The spiritual example of a faith that works.
Join me in reading James 2:18-19:
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!
I recently heard an interview by Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn of a man who produced a documentary entitled, “A Mormon President”—interestingly not about Gov. Mitt Romney who is running for president, but about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church who also has the distinction of being the first Mormon to run for president, running in 1844.
In the midst of the discussion, he began telling of the historical inaccuracies and contradictions found in the Book of Mormon. When he would begin presenting these inaccuracies and contradictions to his Mormon friends, often they would listen and start tracking with what he is saying—yet quickly they would break it off and appeal to their experience. They would come back and tell them that while all of those things may be true, my experience tells me otherwise. What you need to do is to read the Book of Mormon, and feel the ‘burning within your heart.’ This is their test for the authority of this book.
We say, “How foolish!” But isn’t this what many Bible-believing Christians do as well? We appeal to how it “makes me feel” in regards to preaching, church music, or any other experience there is. Even in times of singing/worship, I hear worship leaders tell people to disengage their minds and just have a “spirit of worship”—yet not qualifying what that means! Even some of our hymns say this. Consider this popular one:
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart,
You ask me how I know He lives—he lives within my heart.
Now, I love that hymn and find it to be mostly true. This hymn was written in the 1930s in reaction to liberal preachers and scholars who questioned the veracity of the Bible. Many church members did not have the education these men had, so their response was, “Well, I know He lives—He changed my life!” But we do know that He is alive not just by our experience of the quickening of our hearts by the Spirit, but by the written Word of God, given by the eyewitnesses of His resurrection! Our experience must be fueled by the truth of the Word, not vice versa.
So we must be careful. The faith we hold, dear Christian, must not be seen as sufficient if it simply remains internal. It must be tangible to be believable. Otherwise, we are no better than the devil.
Why does James do this—why bring up the devil? Because the devil has a type of belief. Do you believe that he is a believer? You see there are three types of belief that are mentioned in Scripture. Some of you may have come across those Latin names of notitia, assensus and fiducia! This first time is simply believing he exists. The second type believes that He not only exists, but is true in his nature and by what he says. Fiducia is a form of word where we get fidelity—it means you not only believe he is true, but you are committed to Him with all you have.
You see, Satan is a fallen angel who ranked high in the angelic ranks (Isaiah 11:12-14). Think he believed in God? Yes, he knew he existed first hand. And he even knew he was true! But consider what one commentator said: “If the demons might hold to such a faith and remain in perdition, men might hold it and go to perdition.”
If you are here this morning, and your faith is “in God,” on one side of the coin I want to tell you that that’s not enough. The devil and his minions are in a much better position to know who he is and what he’s all about that we do. They know His power, they know His majesty, and they know His holiness—He doesn’t put up with sin in His presence forever. Yet, if we say we believe in God—do we understand who this God is? Do we tremble as even the demons do? It’s not enough to know he simply exists, to have warm feelings or even respect for him—or even to believe he is true. Have you surrendered to Him? Have you come to God through Christ?
3. The biblical example of a faith that works.
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 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? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Here James gives his readers two examples from the OT: one expected, one unexpected. First the expected example: Father Abraham. Again and again, the apostles come back to Genesis 15:6 which is quoted in James 2:23: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness,” then James adds “—and he was called a friend of God. From Genesis 15 to Genesis 22 when God called his boy Isaac to be offered up, Abraham may have stumbled at points, but in his heart of hearts—at the core of his very being—he trusted God.
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:20-25)
So this is one way we can reconcile faith alone and a faith that works. When God works his saving, justifying work in us—that will work in and through us. We become His instruments of righteousness. We becomes ones who are so changed that we realize that God will keep His promises that are recorded in His Word always—even in the 24 years between the promise and the fulfillment. And the only person through whom that promise could be fulfilled (Isaac), Abraham was ready to offer up because God told Him to—that’s a faith that works.
You say, “Yes, but Abraham blew it on a number of occasions!” And so will we—but how will we react? Will we just say, “Oh well, God’s a forgiving God—once saved, always saved” and use that doctrine to excuse our behavior? Or when we do sin, will we repent because the promises of God mean more to us ultimately than the present pleasures of sin?
What about Rahab? Rahab? The prostitute? One thing about this line of work is that faithfulness is not one of their attributes. But she is not only mentioned as faithful here but also in Hebrews 11 in the Hall of Fame of Faith: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Spies?
Yes, back in Joshua 2. Moses had led the people of Israel for 40 years to head into the Promised Land. But Joshua took over and had sent spies into the land to the city of Jericho. Rahab’s place could have also served as an inn—a place of lodging—at the wall of the city. She hid these men of God and redirected those from the city on a wild goose chase so these spies could go free. Listen to what she said to the men:
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heart it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man, because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death (Joshua 2:8-14).
What happened here? She heard about the testimony of the Lord—His previous actions were a witness to her and all of Jericho. She knew of the power of God in such a way that her heart melted. She saw who she was before God—someone destined and doomed for an eternal punishment. She confessed that the “LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She did not want to be identified with her countrymen, but wanted to be identified with God and His people.
And her faith was put into action—for she “let them down by a rope through the window” and gave them a way of escape. Her inner faith translated to outward action!
This morning, you see the Lord’s Supper table before us. You see how Christ and His faith in what God had sent Him to do was put into action! He did not simply say what needed to be done from afar, but he put that into action! If he hadn’t, how would we really known His nature? And since now one can come to the Father except by Him, how could we have gotten to the Father if He hadn’t come? The Lord’s Supper is an example of faith in action! Jerry Bridges said, “"Faith and holiness are inextricably linked. Obeying the commands of God usually involves believing the promises of God." Have you surrendered to Christ? Do you today believe in the promises of God that the one who made you born physically can rescue and make you born again, this time spiritually? Do you want to be identified with Christ and to have Him first in your life by turning from your self and sin and trusting in Him?