Summary: What a Christian Does
Dean Michael seemed to be a precious, happy and healthy 18 month old. Yet when he tried to walk he seemed to experience a great deal of pain. He often limped and cried out when he tried to totter across the floor. Other times the pain upon his little face was overwhelming his parents would relent and carry him. A neighbor asked the parents why they didn’t take him to a doctor. They told their neighbor they didn’t believe in doctors and modern medicine. They had faith in God and they would just wait for God to cure little Dean. And so Dean’s parents did nothing and six months later little Dean Michael died from a curable childhood illness.
A two year old little girl choked a piece of banana and died an hour later while her parents frantically gathered church members around her in a circle to pray – relying on their faith in God to save her instead of calling 911 or trying to extract the banana themselves. Tragic tales of useless faith, faith that is without works. We cringe wondering how anyone of faith could do that? How could they sit idly by and do nothing? People of faith don’t do that? Yet, even more tragic than these stories are the countless other stories of individuals and churches who claim to have faith and then sit idly by doing nothing, churches who make no effort to reach out to the lost, who never help their neighbors, who refuse to get involved in their communities, who refuse to support program and ministries to their own congregation, who are more concerned about their building then about God’s people. Yes, physical death is tragic and painful; but, spiritual death because of useless dead faith is even more appalling, disturbing and disastrous.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is believing in the invisible Holy God. It is believing that he is Lord God Almighty without proof or tangible evidence, without being able to verify God’s existence by our own human facilities or senses. It is knowledge of God through faith that comes as a gift from God. In Ephesians 2:8,9, Paul says that a saving faith comes from accepting God’s grace, not by your works and yet, James 2:24 says, that a person is saved by works of faith.
James and Paul are not in disagreement. The Bible is not contradicting itself. Paul when he speaks of being saved by faith and not works, is speaking about the works of the law. Jewish law claimed salvation was the results of sacrifice and obedience to a strict set of man made guidelines. Paul is saying you can’t keep every little detail of the law and be saved because you did. He is saying works of the law cannot bring you faith. By your own efforts you can not possibly achieve salvation; but, that it is your belief in the invisible God that brings salvation as a gift of God. James on the other hand is speaking of works that follow after faith. He is speaking of a faith that is dynamically expressed in works, faith that is an active response to God’s love, faith more accurately described as a verb, an action, a distinct way of acting, rather than a state of mind.
Billy Graham says that there is not a conflict between faith and works. In the Christian life they go together like inhaling and exhaling. Faith is taking the Gospel in; works is taking the Gospel out. James is saying you can’t have faith without works, specifically without keeping the royal law and that law is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He equates your works, your faith, with how you treat other people.
It is fascinating to me that we have problems understand this since Jesus himself says this is one of the ways we will be judged on the Day of Judgment. Matt 25:31-40, at judgment they will stand before the Lord and he will say, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and in prison and you visited me. We will say, When Lord, when did we do that? When were you sick and we visited you? When were you in prison and when were you thirsty and we gave you drink? Jesus said “Inasmuch as you have done for the least of these you have done for me.
What a Christian does, how a Christian acts toward his or her neighbor matters and so, James offers us a warning in Chapter 2 to keep those actions pure, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” in your works. Favoritism is a kissin’ cousin to prejudice. It is reveals our self centered pride. God opposes the proud. 1 Peter 5:5 says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” When you think you are better than someone else, God opposes you. When you think you are more worthy and needy of people’s attention than someone else, God oppose you. When you think that what you say should carry more weight than what someone else says, God opposes you. When you think that you are better than others because you are intelligent, good looking or athletic, God opposes you. When you lack humility in faith, God opposes you. When you choose not to help someone because you don’t think they deserve it, God opposes you. When you refuse to give a dime to a begger because you think she is just going to go buy liquour with the money, God opposes you. (from sermon by Rodney Buchanan found on Sermon Central.)