************ Sermon on James 2:26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 12, 2006
A missionary returning home after many years of service was asked, "Tell me what you found when you arrived in New Guinea."
"Found? I found something that looked more hopeless than if I had been sent into a jungle of tigers."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, the people seemed utterly devoid of moral sense. If a mother was carrying her little baby and the baby began to cry, she would throw it into the ditch and let it die. If a man saw his father break his leg, he would leave him by the roadside to suffer by himself. They had no compassion whatever. They didn't even know what the word meant."
"Well, what did you do for them?"
"I thought it best to show them my faith by my works! When I saw a baby crying, I picked it up and consoled it. When I saw a man with a broken leg, I sought to mend it. When I found people distressed and hungry, I took them in, comforted them, and fed them. Finally they inquired, 'What does this mean? Why are you doing this for us?' Then I had my chance, and I preached the gospel!"
"Did you succeed?"
"My friend," said the missionary, "when I returned home on furlough, I left a church!"
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we are reminded by James that though we are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves us is never alone. As the missionary demonstrated, faith always includes works – works of love, works of obedience, works that build up the church and add to the kingdom.
A Throughout the ages people have said that what James writes is the opposite of what Paul writes, that they contradict each other. James seems to say that our right standing with God is based upon both faith and works.
(James 2:17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.Paul, on the other hand, makes clear that works do not save us at all:
(James 2:20) You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ?
(James 2:26) As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
(James 2:24) You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
(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-- (9) not by works, so that no one can boast. (10) For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It is very important that we properly understand James here. James is in no way saying that our good works earn salvation for us. James is not claiming that our right standing with God is based upon both faith and works. The Roman Catholic Church, which bases much of her doctrine of salvation on a misreading of James 2, teaches this.
B When people compare James to Paul they don't realize they are comparing apples to oranges. I say that because though James and Paul both use the words "faith" and "justify" they give these words entirely different meanings. So, we need to start off with some basic definitions.
James defines "faith" primarily as knowledge – intellectual knowledge of biblical teachings. As James puts it, even demons have this kind of faith (2:10). They may not like the teaching that there is one God – indeed, it makes them shudder – but at least they accept it as true. In our passage, then, James makes the point that faith that is mere belief or head knowledge does not save. A person has to show by his or her life that faith makes a difference.
Paul, on the other hand, defines "faith" as heart knowledge or life knowledge (Rom 10:9-10). For Paul, faith means commitment. For Paul, faith makes a difference in the way a person lives (Eph 2:4-9) – because the person who has faith finds it impossible to live in the old way of life; instead, he lives to God (Rom 6:10-11).
Notice that though James and Paul both have their own definition of faith, they end up in the same place. For both, faith has to make a difference in the way you live and talk and think.
Topic: WorksThree out of four, we can say, believe but their belief makes no difference in what they do. What a shame! How foolish! Are we as Christians like that?
Title: Faith and Insurance
Allstate Insurance Company recently surveyed Californians in earthquake-prone regions. Sixty-four percent of respondents believe a massive earthquake will hit in three to five years; but only one in four has earthquake insurance.
We find the same kind of difference between James and Paul with the word "justify." For Paul, "justify" means a legal declaration of righteousness on the basis of the work of Christ (Rom 3:23). For James, "justify" means to demonstrate or show or prove (James 2:24). So Abraham justified himself – he showed the reality of his faith by what he did.
II Two Kinds of Faith?
A Let's make sure we also understand exactly what James is talking about. James is not making a contrast between "faith" and "works" as being two totally separate things. As I already indicated, true faith needs to make a difference. True faith makes a difference in what we think, say, and do.
James is not making a contrast between "faith" and "works." Instead, he is making a contrast between two different types of faith. One kind of faith claims to exist without good works, without the discipline of producing right actions and right behavior. The other kind of faith cannot help but produce good works; by its very nature it produces right behavior and right talk and right thoughts.
Which kind of faith pleases God? Which kind of faith does God look for? Which kind of faith is real? Which kind of faith is part of pure and faultless and acceptable religion? Is God happy with faith that is not lived out in all of our life? Is He so overjoyed you believe that He doesn't care if the rubber never or rarely hits the road?
I think you all know the answer to this. But in case you don't, let me say what James says: faith without deeds is useless (James 2:20); faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). You may believe in God, you may even believe in Jesus, but if you don't live out this belief it is dead and useless. You may believe in God, you may even believe in Jesus, but if you don't live out this belief you are no better off than the devil and his demons (James 2:19). You may believe in God, you may even believe in Jesus, but if you don't live out this belief then you don't have saving faith. That's what James is saying. Because saving faith always – always – makes a difference in what you think, say, and do.
"Faith" and "works" go together like peanut butter and jam, like kleenex and tissue, like husband and wife. In the Christian life they go together like inhaling and exhaling. Faith is taking the Gospel in; works is taking the Gospel out. Actually, what James is saying is: you can't have one without the other. The Christian must have both. True, we are not saved by works, but James reminds us also that we are not saved if good works do not follow. As with Abraham, works complete our faith.
Title: Inseparable Twins
A Christian man worked each day transporting tourists across a lake. On occasion he would present the Gospel and its implications for life in a most unusual way. He had painted the word "Faith" on one of the oars of his rowboat and "Works" on the other. When they got quite far from shore, he would stop, then, beginning to row with only the one oar marked "faith," he would cause the boat to go in circles to the left. Reversing the process, he would pull on the other oar marked "works," and they would circle in the opposite direction. By this time the bewildered passengers were waiting for an explanation. This afforded him a wonderful opportunity to give them the truth concerning discipleship and the Christian life. He always concluded by saying, "You see, neither faith nor works can stand alone. They are twins that cannot be separated!" (James 2:20)
B James offers us three examples of faith that is lived out. First, a negative example of what true faith does not look like.
(James 2:15-16) 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?The answer is obvious, isn't it? Faith that is not lived is no good. You cannot believe in Jesus – His birth as the Son of God, His suffering and death, His rising from the dead, His ascension into heaven – and not do things for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. You can't take the Lord's Supper without living the Christian life. True faith in Jesus always produces good works in our lives.
Second, James points us to Abraham. Abraham is not only the father of all believers but also the father of the Jewish nation. Don't forget, James is writing mostly to Jewish converts to the Christian faith. James knows that his audience will consider carefully what he says because he uses Abraham as an example.
(James 2:21-23) 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.This story shows us that Abraham's faith was not merely lip service to God; it was sincere devotion to do whatever God told him to do – even though God told him to sacrifice the child of the promise. James' point is clear: if Abraham was willing to do anything God commanded as an expression of his faith, so also should James' readers and so also should we.
Third, James points us to Rahab. Here we have a woman rather than a man and a Gentile rather than a Jew. She believed in Israel's God (see Josh 2:11) and took the necessary steps to show her belief. She risked her life by hiding the spies and sending them back safely to their people. James writes,
(James 2:25) In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?No one can question the sincerity of Rahab's faith. Her faith, quite literally, was saving faith. That's the kind of faith you and I are called to have on this Lord's Supper Sunday.
Would Abraham be an example of living faith if he took his son Isaac and hid him from the Lord? Would Rahab be an example of living faith if she closed her doors to the spies and let them be captured by Jericho's soldiers? No matter what Abraham or Rahab would say, such faith is dead and useless.
Remember, James is writing to Christians who are undergoing trials; he is writing to Christians who are scattered among the nations because of persecution (James 1:1). The easiest thing to do in that context is to withdraw into yourself, to go into some kind of "protect" mode where you are not heard and not seen. "No," says James, "I want you out in the world living out your faith." Like Abraham. Like Rahab.
C Is it possible there are two kinds of faith – one with works and one without works? Is it true that some people can believe in God and are unable to be loving, kind, patient, and good? Is it possible to be an unpleasant person and also have Christian faith?
No, says James. Faith that cannot be shown is no faith at all just as love that does not show loving actions is no love at all. Saving faith comes in only one form – faith that makes a difference in what we think, say, and do.
A What are the works that James wants us to have if our faith is real and true and sincere?
It certainly includes looking after the poor and hungry (James 2:16), the orphan and the widow (James 1:27). We have been doing that with the Peter Fish and our observance of World Hunger. In our bulletin there is a note about providing meals on Thanksgiving Day. Tonight we are hearing about Bethany and the adoption of babies from overseas. All of this stuff, and more, is part of living out our faith.
B We do James a big disservice if we limit "works" to good deeds. James has much more in mind if our faith is real. Those who live out their faith treat all people the same; they don't show favoritism to one group of people or another; they treat rich and poor alike (James 2:1-4). Those who live out their faith keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (James 2:8). Those who live out their faith show mercy to one another; they don't hold grudges, they don't nurse anger, they forgive (James 2:13). Those who live out their faith keep their tongues under control – they are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
C There is more in mind too. Those who live out their faith are like Abraham and Rahab. They practice obedience above anything and everything else. They practice obedience even if it means death or the threat of death. They are willing to put their lives on the line.
D Good works also includes works that build up the church and add to the kingdom. I am talking about things like teaching, leading, singing, praying, visiting, outreach, using your spiritual gifts to build up the other members. You know, I am sure, that some people are content to sit back and criticize the church constantly. In one of the churches I served there was a whole pew of people like that and they made life miserable for the pastors before me. None of these people ever attended Bible Study. None of them ever spoke a word of praise. All of them were quick to complain about the organists and pianists and special music. None of them ever heard a new idea they liked. They were opposed to any and every change. The other church members called them the "stone bench." Neither James nor God have any use for this kind of faith.
Saving faith, faith that can take the Lord's Supper, is faith with works. Saving faith, faith that can take the Lord's Supper, always includes works – works of love, works of obedience, works that build up the church and add to the kingdom. Any other kind of faith is dead faith, useless faith.
Let me end by asking, is yours a true and living faith?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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