August 13, 2016
“The Book of James”
Part 4 – Authentic Vital Signs of Faith
James 2: 14 – 26
We are moving up to part Four (4) of the Book of James.
Since we have taken a few weeks away from our study in James I remind you that James is a pretty simple and straight forward message that doesn’t necessarily take anyone else to help you figure what the bottom line message is. If we simply sit down and spend a little quality time with the Lord by asking Him to reveal what we need to understand in James, we will get it.
As I have stated each time: James is a power packed book on how to “live and do the Christian faith.” Yeah, I said that James is not only relevant to his day, but also today, and the future of all mankind. It is rock solid, period!
There are specific things we check for to tell if we are alive medically. In the spiritual life James says it’s not enough to know or even have faith… Authentic faith that is alive and well must eventually translate into some kind of behavior. That is the authentic proof of a new life within us.
Our scripture today is James 2: 14 – 26:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; well that’s good. But, even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear.
20 But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart works is dead.
Now that certainly seems to absolutely fly in the face of the Apostle Paul’s writings of scripture and even more contradictorily today as we understand faith versus working to be saved, …which most cults slandering the true Gospel require works above faith. But hang in there a few minutes and we will come back to that.
A Christian church community is known by the way that they live out their tenants of faith. Nations, states, cities, and local communities are known by how they live out what they believe. Therefore, that means that we here as this very unique K&N church setting actually deal in many ways the same way. I say this because we each desire to behave in racing at each event honestly, with integrity, and respect for one another. Sure, in the heat of competition, or interpretation of the rules sometimes lose our head and do things we should not do …just like the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:15 “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise, especially when other people do it that way.”
So, just like any church or community, like it or not we will be known by how we behave.
James is going to talk about three kinds of faith here. The first is “Saving Faith:”
Here, James describes a faith that saves us. This is the most contradictory part. That’s because Paul says in Galatians 2: 16: “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified (or saved) by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (saved)”
That sounds like both Paul and James are saying opposite things. One says only faith in Jesus Christ saves you and the other says only works or actions saves you. The simple way of looking at this is that they are in harmony but coming at this in two different angles. Hey, the four Gospels do the exact same thing because each one comes at it from their own personality, gifting, and experience they lived through but end up totally in harmony with God.
So how do we harmonize both these accounts then? The key is that both use the same word: “Justify.”
Paul is speaking to both Jews who are big on keeping the law to justify (save) them; but also Gentiles who because of Christ Jesus sacrifice stand on faith to justify (save) them. To the Jews he points out it is impossible to keep all their laws and if you break one then you already broke them all so it is impossible to be justified by works or actions.
We can define justify by saying “to make right; no outstanding debts; it has been paid for you; your portion has been covered.” That’s simply what Jesus did for us at the cross …pay our debts for each sin.
But there is another definition of justify and it means: “to provide evidence of your status; to demonstrate you are paid for; to authenticate.” That is exactly the power of the Cross only. Its grace; we have nothing to do with it; It is totally outside ourself. We are authenticated by Christ’s work at the Cross and nothing else. That’s it; we are a citizen of God’s Kingdom! There is nothing left to do.
With that said, let me mention a link between a receipt and a passport at this point. If we buy something and go back the store asks for a receipt, right? Or, when you go into another nation or return home to the USA the authorities as for your US Passport. That verifies that you are a citizen in good standing. That passport document is not available to criminals or aliens. Believe me when I say you don’t get past that passport inspector! Kathy and I have plenty of experience in both other countries and returning home after missionary travel. In other words in both cases, whether a receipt or passport; you are able to show something of proof in both examples here. This is exactly what James is talking about. We are able to show something by the way we live and act which is proof of our citizenship and faith in Jesus Christ that God requires for citizenship of His Kingdom.
Another example from Paul comes in the negative side when he says in Philippians 3:17-20: “17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven.”
Now go back and read James 2:15-17 again. James says if you have faith, but do not put it to work in your everyday life and the opportunities that arise daily then that faith you have is dead. It isn’t producing anything so it doesn’t prove itself alive and active in your lifestyle. It’s like saying I’m a race driver but have never got in a car and raced.
Out of this comes the second kind of faith: “Living Faith.”
Once again jump back up to James 2:18 above. Isn’t it interesting that the demons believe? Yeah, they got faith then! But their actions on it fail completely. So where is their proof of life? That’s what James is saying to us here. We must live it out by our minute by minute actions. James is warning these Jewish believers that he is writing to that they,…and us today also, …must produce actions that exemplifies life. Let me say here that James is also saying that doctrinal correctness is not enough. One can say the right things and line it up with scripture to prove it, but unless we live it out by our actions our faith is dead. Question: have you ever been around somebody that has the right doctrine and right scripture, but you can’t live with them? I sure have and they drive me crazy! You can’t talk or reason with them; can you. There is an excellent example of obnoxiously dead faith. There is no transformation to be seen is there! Elections today seem to bring out the candidates who love to court the Christian voters by picking specific scriptures and quote them. Ugh! Enough said here. Let’s move on.
Then, that is the “Authentic Faith” we are talking about today.
James puts this all together in the scripture we are working with today, doesn’t he? One thing we must note however is that God always brings up our dealings with the poor, the fatherless, the widows, the orphans, the homeless, and downtrodden of our society around us as well as the world. He always points out that we must have a care and heart of love for the disadvantaged among us. A reason for this is that God knows that when humans realize that there is nothing they can do to change their position in life like these example then it is only grace that can overcome and change something in their life. That grace is the Gospel. So James along with every other writer speaks this way and uses the hopeless examples in our world to help us remember that without Jesus, the Cross, and His grace for us, we are hopelessly lost. Humans always tend to think that when they earn something that they are on their way upward again and can do it themselves and need nothing.
Authentic faith is a friendship with God. Jesus said in John 15:15 “I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends.” In John 13: 34-35 Jesus says “34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” When we see God and Jesus as a friend, then like any friend we easily enjoy being with them, learn from them, like them.
Look at this quote from Tony Reinke concerning the book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist (2016) by Larry Alex Taunton: “The true power of Christian apologetics is not so much on display on the debate stage, the true power of our faith is found in the consistency of our daily lives before the watching eyes of doubters all around us, who keep asking themselves: …“is Christianity a myth, a public ruse, or does it have the legit life of God breathing in it?” The right kind of atheist is asking this question all the time and watching us to find out.”
If you have traveled overseas like Kathy and me you easily find out that through history and defiantly the last hundreds of years that it has been the church of Jesus Christ that has been the cutting edge of helping the sick and destitute by building hospitals, teaching health, literacy, and all kinds of ways to change societies. You don’t find big hospitals, clean water programs or any other kind of aid by the Muslim, Hindu, or any other cults; you only find them by the Christian church alone. That is authentic faith and authentic Christianity that James is speaking to us about here.
Lastly, there is “Holy Faith.” To that simply consider the last verses of today’s scripture, James 2, verses 20 through 26. You read the story of the first example James brings up about Abraham from Genesis 22 and you easily see why people question God’s character. What? …sacrifice your only son? Can you imagine Abraham’s emotional turmoil at the moment he walked this all out and then the moment as his hand with knife was raised above Isaac? Today, we know the outcome, but at Abraham’s moment? All Abraham knows is God’s character from his past, but still in progress and wandering in no man’s land for years now. Then add the words Abraham had from God that through him the whole world will be blessed and many people beyond count will come hundreds of years later as Jesus went up that same mountain and in His case did get sacrificed, but was resurrected and fulfilled God’s plan for us. Abraham didn’t know all this then like we do today so think of all that going around in his head! And don’t forget at that point Abraham and God were tight friends, …but God still tested him in that way. The outcome of testing like this is authentic and holy faith including “the fear of the Lord” and by that I mean an overcoming awe, and deep respect for God, His character, and love for you coming all together.
Have you ever had something so important and dreams so big and prepared to walk in when God all of a sudden asks you to “lay them down for Me?” Yeah, I sure have twice now and it’s hard beyond compare! But in my case both times years down the road God shows up with His slant on those plans and dreams I had and here I am today …living a dream here with you today only in a ministry setting and far more fulfilling.
I have been closing with the following throughout this study in James and today it fits deeply when you consider all this especially the Holy Faith part:
God speaks His Word through His servant, or Prophet as He did through Isaiah 55:11:
“My Word always accomplishes what I desire, and they’ll complete the assignment I gave them. My Word will never return to Me unfinished.”
I sincerely hope that studying this today you have gained a knowledge of understanding that there really is no conflict in these scriptures, but also it has brought you into a deeper friendship and authentic faith.
The concept, many words & explanations are from:
Bruce Stefanik and Jason Treadwell,
Church On The Hill, Salem, Oregon
Bible Scriptures are from
New International Version (NIV)
New Living Translation (NLT)
Gospel by Bob (GBB)