Summary: The difference between a superficial believeism and a transforming faith in Jesus Christ is examined.
Is Your Faith For Real?
Text: James 2:14-26
James opens this discussion with two rhetorical questions in verse 14,
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” or more accurately the NIV asks, “Can SUCH faith save him?” In the Greek there is an article before faith. James is confronting a kind of faith that does not end in salvation. On the surface it may look like James is comparing faith and works. But in reality he is contrasting superficial faith that is not the real deal verse saving faith, biblical faith. Is my faith the kind of faith that pleases God and ultimately saves my soul? Or is it a faith that looks similar to real faith on the surface, but in the final analysis is inadequate and ineffectual?
James has already introduced the alarming possibility of a person in the congregation thinking he or she is a Christian on the way to heaven, when in reality there has never been a conversion—the person has never really committed his or her life to Christ. In Chapter 1: 22 James addresses the very real danger of self-deception. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Deceiving yourselves—how does that happen? It happens when at a superficial level truth is assented to; but somehow that truth never changes the basic direction of the person’s life.
The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, tells the story of a make-believe country in which only ducks live. "One Sunday morning all the ducks came into the church, waddled down the aisle and into their pews, and squatted. Then the duck minister took his place behind the pulpit, opened the duck Bible and read, ’Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!’ All the ducks yelled ’Amen!’ and they all waddled home." That’s the kind of hearing that goes on every Sunday morning in multitudes of congregation across America. The self-deception crosses denominational lines. It happens to young people and it happens to old people. People encountering truth but responding to it in a way that never changes them--James asks, “Can such faith save him?”
Look with me at James’ description of this anemic, ineffectual faith that offers false hope and ultimately damns the soul.
It claims to be a disciple of Christ (it makes a profession of faith) but the person’s lifestyle is not consistent with the profession.
In John 15:14 Jesus said to his followers, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” He asked the question in Luke 6:46 "But why do you call Me ’Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” There is a kind of faith that says all the right things, calls Jesus Lord, goes to church, runs with the right crowd but when it comes right down to doing the will of God it just doesn’t happen. There are people in churches everywhere who live openly in immorality and think it doesn’t matter. There are church people who gather on Sunday mornings and say a lot of amens—like the ducks in Kierdegaard’s story, they agree with the Scripture and the preaching. Then they waddle out of the church just like they waddled in. “Pure and undefiled religion...,” says James “is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The lifestyle reflects the reality of the faith.
In verse 15 & 16 of our text James illustrates his point.
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” So you’re aware that a brother or sister is in serious need. At one level you care. Isn’t it a shame the hard time brother so and so is going through, I hate to see that happening. It all sounds pretty nice; but in reality you have done nothing to help that person. It’s all talk and no walk. The conversation ends with nice platitudes and pretty words, “Well I hope things get better for you. See you later.” The expression, “go in peace” is a Jewish expression for good-by which wishes the person well. The expression be warmed is either in the middle or passive tense. So it either means warm yourself or hopefully someone will warm you.
There is a profound fundamental difference between the carnal, unregenerated person and a new creature in Christ. What is that fundamental difference? Is it church membership? No. Is it orthodox doctrine? No. Is it saying all the flowery, churchy things? No. The fundamental issue is love verses selfishness. Love responds with compassion from the heart and does something practical to help the other person. It’s not just a sentimental feeling. It’s faith in action. Selfishness sacrifices nothing for the other person. It doesn’t mind saying nice things. That may even make the selfish person feel a little better. But it’s all part of the self-deception. If I say nice things then I’ve done my duty. Not according to James and not according to the Apostle John. 1 John 3:16-18 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”