Summary: To acknowledge that we believe that Jesus is the Christ and our Lord and Savior is more than just a decision made above the neck; it’s a decision that comes from the heart. And if it comes from the heart, we are no longer the same person. We have been cha
When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area right after high school, I worked afternoons at a doctor’s office in Springfield, Va. This was the height of my pre-Christian days, so I didn’t have much use in my life for religion. But there wase a group of nurses who worked there that I really liked. I called them “The God Squad” because they were all so religious and not afraid to tell you so. There was Burma and Regina, but Janice, she was the ringleader; she would really get them going.
I’d say, “Janice, the coffee’s ready.”
“Praise the Lord, the coffee’s ready!”
“OK, you get the decaf today.”
If our network went down, they’d have a laying on of hands on my computer.
I had a lot of fun teasing them about their faith, but there was an unspoken part of me that admired them, because they were able to believe in something I couldn’t. They had something, this faith, that seemed wonderful, and I secretly longed for the same thing. I often thought about asking Janice more seriously about her faith.
Until one day on the drive home from work. In the D.C. area, because of the high volume of traffic, they have special lanes called High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes, or HOV lanes. They were like express lanes, but they were right next to the regular lanes without any barrier separating them. You had to have at least three people in your car to use the HOV lanes. This was supposed to promote carpooling, but all it did was make it very tempting for people to sneak into the HOV lanes. These lanes were so coveted that people would put blow-up dolls in their car to make it look like they had three people in there. The fines for illegally using the HOV lanes were steep; I couldn’t believe I had to pay $75! The policeman who pulled me over asked me why there weren’t three people in my car, and I told him my blow-up dolls had sprung a leak. I guess he didn’t find that too funny.
Anyway, I was on the way home one night - in the regular lanes - when I saw a car with one person in it come flying up the HOV lane. And I thought to myself, “Who would have the nerve to use the HOV lane illegally?” This was after my ticket, by the way. And I couldn’t believe it when I saw the driver of the car was Janice! She zoomed by me, smiling, probably singing along to some Bill Gaither song. And as she passed me and I caught a glimpse of her “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker, I was infuriated! Here’s a lady who claimed to be a Christian, who used God’s name in sentences more than surfers use “dude,” and she was blatantly breaking the law! Christians weren’t supposed to break the law. They were supposed to use the regular lanes and always say “thank you” and return the $20 bill that fell out of your pocket. After that I had no desire to talk to Janice about God.
You know, that’s the number one complaint I hear about Christians. We’re hypocrites. I had someone once tell me, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That’s what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” That’s what I found unbelievable about Janice’s actions. Now, granted, in hindsight I was probably too judgmental of Janice. We all make mistakes, don’t we? And forgiveness is a crucial part of our belief. But Janice made me wonder, “Aren’t Christians called to a higher standard? Does our belief have any consequences for our actions?” That’s what James is helping us explore this morning.
You know, we’re lucky to even have these words from James. If it were up to Martin Luther, James would have been cut out of the Bible. Luther’s complaint was that James contradicted Paul’s teachings. You see, Paul taught that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. That is a gift God has given to us. There’s no quota to reach of helping old ladies across the street, because there’s nothing we can do to get us on God’s good side. Through Christ, we’re already there. As Paul says in Romans, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Luther said that the letter of James was “full of straw” because James is saying that faith without works is a dead faith. Luther charged that James drives us back to the law, that we have perform certain actions in order to be reckoned as righteous by God. And that teaching directly contradicts Paul’s idea that the righteous will live by their faith in God, and not their works.