Summary: To be vital and biblical, faith must work. Faith without works is dead. Faith lived in loving generosity of spirit toward others is what God wants from His people
Sermon for CATM - “Vital Faith”
Recently my father had a medical procedure to correct a problem that he had with his heart. It was called an angioplasty.
The flow of blood to his heart was 80% restricted and a heart attack was just waiting to happen. So the doctor inserted a catheter that transported a small balloon to the area that was restricted.
A tiny amount of air was inserted into the balloon causing the plaque to spread out and unclogging the artery. Then a shunt was inserted to hold open the vein and prevent further clogging.
Without this procedure, my father would have died due to lack of oxygen getting to his heart. With it, my dad has been given a fresh chance at life. The vein that was 80% clogged is now 0% clogged.
And during the procedure, which carried with it a small chance of failure and immediate death, the doctors and nurses were busy monitoring my father’s vital signs. They wanted to make sure that his pulse and his blood pressure remained at a healthy level.
Good vital signs point to life. Bad vital signs point to danger or death. That’s how it is in any situation when you don’t know the well-being of someone. That’s how you check to see if someone is alive. You check for vital signs.
You check their pulse. You find out if the person is breathing. You may check for blood pressure. You might ask if the person can move their fingers or toes. You may even holler out the person’s name.
Now, the Bible often calls us to examine our faith, to see if it is healthy or if it needs some intervention. There’s a danger in taking anything for granted, let alone our relationship with God. James gives us a real gift in this passage. He challenges us to live an authentic faith, a connected faith.
James was the half-brother of Jesus. Traditionally regarded as an “unusually good man”, he was given the nickname “James the Just” by the church. James was said to have had calluses on his knees from spending so much time in prayer.
The book of James is a pastoral letter concerning the attitudes and actions affecting the spiritual
life of the church.
James’ book has been controversial in the church. I don’t want to go too far in this direction, but I want to highlight that James and the Apostle Paul sometimes seem to be at odds. Paul wrote in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Paul says that a person is made right with God (just as if I’d never sinned), by faith. It is a cornerstone of Christianity that if we are to have a relationship with God, it must be based on faith or trust in Him.
And yet James says this:
Jas 2:21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was
made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
They may seem to be at odds, but in reality both James and Paul are looking at the same thing from two different sides of the coin. Paul is saying “You can’t work your way to heaven, it takes faith to please God.” James is saying, “You have to have faith to please God, but the only faith that is pleasing to God is faith that does something.”
Let’s spend a little bit of time digging into what James has to say. The passage breaks down like this:
- vv. 14-19 James describes Dead Faith
- vv. 20-26 James points to Dynamic Faith
1. Dead Faith
Dead faith is the kind that is nothing more than words on your lips. It is a statement of faith
without a lifestyle of faith. Sometimes it’s called cheap grace. Sometimes its referred to as a kind
Basically it faith without teeth. It’s saying I agree to something, I believe something is true, and because of this, I’m alright thank you very much. God requires nothing more, so the myth goes, than nodding my head at a certain way of believing.
What James is warning us about here is that that kind of faith is no faith at all because it fails to
transform. Faith that sits around watching the world go by without ever engaging it. You’ve heard of couch potatoes. James is talking about ‘faith’ potatoes.