Summary: Living faith is revealed in the decisions we make – not in the words we say.
OPEN: How many people here would say that you enjoy taking tests? If you go back to your good 'ole school days -- how many people actually looked forward to the day when the test was taking place? OK, let's see a raise of hands of people who would say you are way on the other side of the spectrum -- you not only dreaded taking tests but you actually got physically sick thinking about taking a test or exam? I found out this week there is actually a word that describes those of you who respond to tests that way, you have a sickness called testophobia. The symptoms can include an inability to concentrate, feeling dizzy, vomiting, panic attacks, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heart beat, sweating, nausea, an overwhelming feeling of dread, depression, and anxiety. Anybody ever feel that way before taking a test?
I imagine all of us have experienced a mild form of testophobia some time during their life, particularly if you weren't adequately prepared for it. Feeling a little stress before a test is probably a fairly normal thing. But we all realize that you can't really get through life without facing examinations from time to time, right? --I can think of few careers in which competency isn't tested -- and in most it is tested over and over again. So most of us learn to cope with the fear of being examined. If you hang around an academic environment long enough you will occasionally hear someone questioning the need for students to be tested -- normally the argument against comes from the students themselves. (go figure) Their rationale goes something like this: Why do we need to be examined? We've received the information, been assigned homework, prepared lab experiments, written essays, given oral presentations, memorized data, talked about it class - studied everyday - so why is it even necessary to have a test? How would you respond to that kind of a discussion? Every teacher knows that you can do all of those academic activities but still not really learn what is being taught. Everyone knows there is often a big difference between studying and actually learning. The problem we all face is that because we've done a few of those things or some combination of them, we delude ourselves into thinking that we've mastered or learned the topic. Going through the motions of reading a high school chemistry book, doesn't mean you're competent enough to be a chemist. Reading a book doesn't guarantee you've actually learned anything. Testing is necessary. A test provides a setting where a student can be evaluated according to objective performance standards rather than assessing themselves from an personal point of view. Exams give evidence of whether or not the topic was learned.
The entire book of James is a window through which we see a pastor evaluating his little group of students. He's giving them insight on how well or how poorly they are doing with the several different kinds of tests which God has been taking them through. In Chapter one we were told there are two kinds of tests -- one is called a trial -- which comes from God -- the purpose of this test is to cause to grow in our dependence and trust of our Heavenly Father. Then we learned about temptations -- they come from our own evil desires and lead us away from God -- when we get a failing grade in the area of temptation it reveals that we haven't really learned how to practice our faith and live victoriously as God desires. We've been told if we want to get a passing grade on the test -- we've got to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. We've been told a passing grade is also exemplified by intentional compassionate involvement with people in distress. (widows and orphans) In chapter two, James told his little group of students (also called disciples) there was a test on which they scored miserably. (the story of the gold-fingered man and the poor man) Last week he told his class what they had to do in order to get a passing grade. Real faith is more than meaningless expressions. Real Faith is more than counterfeit kindness. Real faith is more than superficial beliefs. Now what I want us to catch in these three things is that the foundation of these three concepts is a proper response to others, right? Real faith is more that just words. You can say all the right words but still not have a right faith.
Words serve me -- Actions serve others.
Jesus is teaching his class that a faith that is not expressed through a compassionate involvement with others is a dead faith -- not a living faith. He mentions it in verse 17, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." He mentions it again in verse 20, "Faith without deeds is useless." And he mentions it a third time in verse 26, "Faith without deeds is dead." And in verse 26 he identifies it like it were a corpse without life, a corpse lying in a casket all dressed up, all made up, looking very life like but with no internal life principle, no breath, no movement, nothing but a mannequin with a painted smile. Now let me take it a step further. Faith is invisible. You can tell me you have faith but I can't see that faith unless you show me that faith. And you can't show me that faith unless you show it to me in a transformed life. Faith can only be revealed in a transformed life.