Summary: James says that faith will evidence itself in real works if it is a living faith
Faith and Works
7/25/05 am, SBC Philippi,
Rev. Jeff Simms
Faith and Works
Primary Purpose: To discuss what a real and living faith looks like
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve suffered a terrible loss of home, clothing and food in a terrible disaster. All you have is what you have on your back. In desperation, you reach out to the church for help. All your friends and even people you don’t know rush to hear what’s wrong. After hearing about your problem they say to you, “Okay, we see your really in a difficult spot. Hope things get better for you and you get some good food and shelter soon. Bye!” They wish you well, but don’t help you at all. I wonder what you would think of that kind of help? That’s not really help is it. If they really cared about you you would think that someone would perhaps offer a place to stay or invite you over to dinner or something. In other words, you would expect a response because of their relationship to you. You would expect for that love that you have as friends and brothers and sisters in Christ to result in some action wouldn’t you? That is in a sense what James is talking about here. He’s talking about the relationship between faith and works. (Read James 2:14-26)
The Reformed Martin Luther who lived in the 15th century didn’t like the book of James calling it the “straw epistle”. He thought that it indicated that a person is not justified by faith in Christ alone and added works as a condition for salvation. But, that is not actually what James is saying here. Paul is talking about what is required in Romans for a person to be saved. James is describing what a true faith looks like. First, he gives two examples of a dead faith and then he gives two examples of a living faith. The bottom line of it is is that true faith will demonstrate itself in good works.
James begins as I did with a story about someone who is without clothes or daily food and is ignored. He says to be ignored in a situation like that would demonstrate that that persons faith is worthless. It is all about the relationship between faith and works. Let me give you an example. When I was in seminary, I bought a small pine tree for my apartment in seminary. I bought a live little tree and put it in the front room. I don’t really know what I was thinking I would do with it after Christmas. After a couple of hours I started sneezing and realized I couldn’t keep the tree. So, I put it in the shed that we had behind the apartments intending to take it to a field somewhere and plant it as soon as possible. But, I completely forgot about it till spring!! When I saw it next April it was as dry and a bone and brown. It was completely dead. A result of my lack of care, no sunshine and no water had killed it pretty quickly. One thing resulted from the other. Likewise, James is saying that if you really have a true faith then you will see it demonstrate itself or show itself in these ways. It’s impossible just to say you have faith and not to see evidence of it.
Then as evidence of something else that has a dead faith he asks them “Do you believe”? Then, he says, “Good, so do the demons.” It is an indisputable fact that when Jesus showed himself on his earthly ministry that the demons recognized Jesus even when people didn’t. In Luke 8:28-31 we see some demons that were in a possessed man named Legion. When they saw Jesus it says they begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss. They acknowledged that he had the right to torture them and they cried out, “Jesus Son of the Most High God.” They believed in God, but they didn’t have faith or put their faith in God. They had a mental assent that Jesus was Son’s God, but had no desire to follow Him. Some that call themselves believers today don’t even believe as strongly as the demons do. It says in the NIV that the demons “shudder” when they believe. The word shudder is Phrisso (fris’-so) it means to bristle, to be struck with extreme fear, to be horrified. To think about Jesus caused them to be terrified because they understood his power. The demons had a good theology, but it didn’t change their actions.
Having talked a little about what a dead faith looks like James then turns to a living faith. He turns first to Abraham. He mentions that event in Abraham’s life when he was tested by being asked to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. James wants to point out he says in verse 22 that his faith and works are working together. They are in harmony together. Abraham didn’t hesitate to offer up Isaac though he loved him. He got up early the next morning and started heading toward to mountain. This is the son he waited for 90 to have and God wants him back. Abraham had such an experience with God that he was changed forever. Herbert Stevenson said about this in his book “James Speaks For Today” that “No man can, by general busyness or specific good deed, no matter how noble, merit salvation. Activity is never a rival to faith. We cannot gain God’s commendation by presenting to Him- as Cain desired- the works of our hands.” But, Stevenson went on to say that we can’t remain unchanged either. That salvation results in a new creation as 2 Corinthians 5:17 and that new creation has a new and different nature which must show itself just as different animals show different characteristics.