August 21, 2011

Faith That Works - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 2:14–20


Faith That Works-Part One

James 2:14-20
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

Please take out the sermon outline insert that is included in your bulletin. On the very top of the page I have listed four equations. Without conjuring up painful memories of high school algebra, circle the one that best represents the biblical message of salvation.

A. Works = Salvation

B. Works + Faith = Salvation

C. Faith = Salvation - Works

D. Faith = Salvation + Works

I can't stress how important it is that we get the biblical message of salvation accurate. Heaven and hell hang in the balance. God will permit no deviation. It is mentioned with the strictest of warnings. Galatians 1:8, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!"

The first equation (letter A) is inaccurate. This is the common belief of the world religious systems. God is pictured as an angry deity who has written people off, but can possibly be appeased by sacrificial actions on our part - a journey to Mecca, serving in the community, lighting several candles, keeping the Ten Commandments, abstaining from food, absence of cussing, going to church, etc. It is a scale system. If the good works outweigh the bad, we can have hope that He will receive us. Completely unbiblical.

The second equation (letter B) is also inaccurate. Letter B would rightly admit that there is a separation between God and humanity. Letter B would also rightly admit that it is necessary to have faith in Jesus Christ. However, letter B insists that works must be added to our faith to receive that salvation. The classic example here is the Catholic Church. The work of Jesus Christ is not enough. If you wish to be saved you must perform certain actions in addition to your faith. Completely unbiblical.

Letter C is an overreaction in response to letter B. Since we are saved entirely by the work of Jesus Christ, it is assumed that our works are of little importance. We can pray a prayer or raise a hand to receive Jesus and then act as if He has no influence on our lives. Completely unbiblical.

Letter D is the correct answer. This is the message we see in the Bible. Scripture teaches that we are sinners and that Jesus Christ went to the cross to take sin upon Himself. He received God's punishment in the sinner's place. He made salvation available by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone. Works contribute nothing to the free gift of salvation for all who believe. We contribute nothing to our salvation, but if we are truly saved, good works from a transformed life will always follow.

Here are some famous theologians who can state it better than me: Martin Luther, "We are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds; but when we have been made righteous we do righteous deeds." J.I. Packer, "The truth is that, though we were justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies is never alone." C.H. Spurgeon, "Faith shows itself by good works." Elisha Coles, the Puritan, "Faith justifies the person, and works justify his faith."

Better yet, let's see what the Scriptures have to say about this matter. We find ourselves in the middle of James chapter 2. The author has been setting the stage for this lengthy discourse in verses 14-26 stating the connection between faith and works.

We already learned in chapter 1 that true faith is measured by our ability to persevere under the weight of trials (Jas. 1:2-4, 12). The author also stated that if we have true faith, it will show itself in our desire to "receive the Word" (Jas. 1:21) and in our ability to "do the Word" (Jas. 1:22). At the end of this section James mentioned that there will even be a time of judgment (2:12) for believers based upon their obedience to Scripture ("the law of liberty"). So by now we have to come to the conclusion that how we live our lives as believers is significant in the eyes of God. We know our good works contribute nothing to salvation, but does that mean they are not important? What role do good works play in regard to our salvation? James will explain that for us now in this watershed passage on the issue.

James starts off in verse 14 by asking two rhetorical questions. Question 1, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?" Implied answer, "No use." Question 2, "Can that faith save him?" Implied answer, "No."

Salvation is total transformation. It is receiving a new Father and a new home and a new mind and a new purpose. It is removing a heart of stone and getting a brand new heart of flesh. It is the living God taking up residence in a person's life. I cannot imagine all of this happening and a person still acting no different than he or she did in the past. When God regenerates a life, there will be evidence. Or as the biblical writers put it, we will bear spiritual fruit. Fruit is the product of a tree. Likewise our good works are not the cause of our salvation, but the fruit or result of it. Let me be clear, neither I nor James is saying we must do good works to be saved. What we are saying is that true salvation will always show itself in good works.

In verses 15 and 16 James gives an example of what he is talking about. "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?"

Let me ask you Christian, "Why did God save you?" Was it just to get you to heaven and then permit you to do whatever you want in the meantime? Would He have given His Son and spilled His precious blood for a purpose like that? Would that even be in your best interest?

1 Peter 2:9 states we were redeemed to be "a people for God's own possession, so that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light." God saved us to make us a people for Himself. Through the power of the Holy Spirit He is progressively making us more like Jesus Christ and is using us to represent Him in a dark and fallen world. We are to be salt and light. We are to be vessels available for His use that God uses to show Himself to the world. We are His servants. We are His ambassadors. When people see us, God's goal is that they see Him.

Therefore as the example in verses 15 and 16 states, what use is it that we call ourselves a Christian, but care not if a fellow Christian is without the basic necessities of life? If we are God's agents, how can we fail to be compassionate? How can we give lip service and then make no efforts to tangibly assist a fellow believer in need? As James said in verse 16, "What use is that [faith]?"

The example is given of a believer with material needs. What use is our faith if we care not for his condition? That is one example. Hundreds more can be provided. What use is our faith if we ignore the command to share the Gospel with unbelievers? What use is our faith if we take from the church and never use our gifts to build up the body? What use is our faith if our marriages mirror the world more than they do the union between Jesus Christ and His church? What use is our faith if we make no efforts to repent from known sin? What use is our faith if we spend our money with little or no thought of God's kingdom? What use is our faith if our attitudes toward dress and entertainment never transform? What use is our faith if our priorities are no different than before we were saved?

Make no mistake about it! God is looking for a faith that works! Can He make it any clearer in His Word? Verse 17, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." The absence of outward action reveals the absence of internal belief. Again, let me be clear. My goal is not to get everybody just cranking out good deeds from a motivational speech. Good deeds that flow from a worthless faith are meaningless in God's sight. My goal is to encourage all of you who hear my voice to be saved - to trust in the complete and sufficient work of Jesus Christ in removing your sins and providing forgiveness and then allowing the Holy Spirit to produce these works through you. If you are saved there will be fruit. If there is not fruit you need to examine if you are really saved. These are not my words; they are the words of Scripture. Verse 17 again, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." Or as the NIV puts it, "Faith by itself, if is not accompanied by actions, is dead."

Verse 18, "But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works;' [I believe the quotation marks end here - no quotation marks in the original Greek] [now James speaking] show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." This is a difficult verse to interpret. The imaginary objector tried as many do today to separate faith and works. James insists they must be put together and understood in their proper context. James insists that he has faith, but he also states that he will prove his faith by his works and not just by his lip service. In other words, based upon the way I live my life, I by the grace of God will show the world I am a believer.

You know why? Because talk is cheap! A person can debate with the best of them good theology and that doesn't mean salvation. A person can even say he or she believes in Jesus Christ and that doesn't necessarily guarantee salvation either. You know why? Because the demons do both of these and there isn't a single demon on the pathway to heaven! A great example of this is provided in verse 19. "You believe that God is one [there's the good theology]. You do well; the demons also believe [there's the belief], and shudder." So you can articulate some theology. You do well! So you say you believe that Jesus Christ exists. You do well again! But what makes you any different than a demon that does both of these probably better than any of us in this sanctuary? James even ends verse 19 with some sarcasm to his readers. Obviously he believed some in the church had spurious faith that resembled the demons, but there was one distinction that separated these false believers from the demons. At least the demons "shudder" ["tremble" - KJV] in the presence of God. At least they fear God. The false believers were living as if God didn't even exist!

Acts 16:30, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Response, Acts 16:31, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." It can't get any clearer. We are saved by faith, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do the demons believe? Absolutely and they tremble at even the name of Jesus. So what makes their faith invalid and our faith valid? The word "believe" ("pisteuo") in the original Greek means to "rely upon," "cling to." It is the difference between believing a plane can fly and being willing to ride in that plane yourself. The demons have no interest in holiness. They care not for the betterment of the church. They desire not God's will. There is no interest on their part to submit to Him as Lord. We should be just the opposite. We believe that God is altogether lovely and mighty to save; therefore we cast ourselves into His arms and receive the free gift of grace that He has promised to those who love Him. That is true biblical belief. That is saving faith.

And validation that this transaction has taken place (and this is the main point of the sermon) will be evidenced in a transformed life accompanied by new desires and new actions. True biblical faith saves. And true biblical faith will produce good works. That is why James says in verse 20, "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" In the original it is a play on words. Faith that does not ("ergon") "work," ("arga") "does not work." It is "dead," verses 17 and 26. It is "useless," verse 20.

Two common questions regarding this passage and we will conclude.

Question number one: why are good works, living in a godly way important? Answer: when good works flow out of you, it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is transforming you. Good works show a love for Jesus. How can we find pleasure in the things that nailed Him to the cross? Good works avoid the consequences of sin and bring blessings for obedience in our personal lives and homes and churches. Good works avoid the loving discipline of God. Good works provide assurance that you are saved. And good works enable us to be an example of Jesus Christ to others.

Parents are you through your good works living as an example to your children? Along those lines I came across a great article this week. It is entitled: "Five Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church" by Thomas Weaver.

  1. Make sure your faith is only something you live out in public Go to church... at least most of the time. Make sure you agree with what you hear the preacher say, and affirm on the way home what was said especially when it has to do with your kids obeying, but let it stop there. Don't read your Bible at home. The pastor will say everything you need to hear on Sundays. Don't engage your children in questions they have concerning Jesus and God. Live like you want to live during the week so that your kids can see that duplicity is ok.
  2. Pray only in front of people. The only times you need to pray are when your family is over, holiday meals, when someone is sick, and when you want something. Besides that, don't bother. Your kids will see you pray when other people are watching, no need to do it with them in private.
  3. Focus on your morals. Make sure you insist your kids be honest with you. Let them know it is the right thing for them to do, but then feel free to lie in your own life and disregard the need to tell them and others the truth. Get very angry with your children when they say words that are "naughty" and "bad," but post, read, watch, and say whatever you want on TV, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you focus on being a good person. Be ambiguous about what this means.
  4. Give financially as long as it doesn't impede your needs. Make a big deal out of giving at church. Stress to your children the value of tithing, while not giving sacrificially yourself. Allow them to see you spend a ton of money on what you want, while negating your command from Scripture to give sacrificially.
  5. Make church community a priority... as long as there is nothing else you want to do. Hey, you are a church-going family, right? I mean, that's what you tell your friends and family anyways. Make sure you attend on Sundays. As long as you didn't stay up too late Saturday night. Or your family isn't having a big barbeque. Or the big game isn't on. Or this week you just don't feel like it. Or... I mean, you're a church-going family, so what's the big deal?

Question number two: how do we reconcile both Paul and James in the Bible? This has puzzled Bible students over the centuries. Even Martin Luther struggled with this one. What is the relationship between faith and works? There seems to be a contradiction. On the one hand James says (a verse we'll get to next week, Lord willing) in 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." And then we read Paul say in Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" or Galatians 2:16, "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus." Do they contradict each other?

We must remember that both of these men were fighting different battles. As it was explained to me in the past I believe the best way to clarify this in our minds is not to imagine Paul and James with swords face-to-face dueling each other, but rather to imagine Paul and James with swords standing back-to-back working together in defense of biblical doctrine. Paul's fight was against those who thought works needed to be added to their faith to achieve salvation. James' fight was against those who thought works played no part once a person was already saved.

Both Paul and James would agree we are saved by grace alone, but the grace that saves is never alone. Or we are saved solely by the work of Jesus Christ, but evidence we have really received that salvation will be God producing good works in us.

In Paul's own words from Ephesians 2: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James