Everyday Faith (James 2:14-26)

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Exhausted and feel empty. Basically sleepless. Easily distracted and unfocused. Irritable at almost anything. Quick fuse that is later deeply regretted. Frequently wondering how to create more hours in the day, while simultaneously hoping for each day to end as quickly as possible.

If these are your symptoms, you join majority of other working citizens feeling burdened and burnt out.[1] People have always been stressed out about the busyness of their jobs, but these days the stress has significantly multiplied with the boundaries of virtual school and remote work blurred and bleeding into family life.

Regardless of the circumstances, we have an insatiable focus on work. Our minds are constantly creating “to do” lists; even these words are causing you stress, and some are wondering how to prevent a panic attack!

Our view of work has been distorted from God’s original design. Today’s message will explore the importance of work, while also resting in the work that has already been accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. Specifically, we’ll identify 3 forms of faith, with 2 being counterfeit and 1 that is credible.     

EXAMINE                                   Can we see your faith?

James 2:14-26

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Dead faith affirms God but avoids the needs of people (James 2:14-18).

James writes to Christians, mostly Jewish believers dispersed across a large region. The Jews were trained to think they were innately God’s people by birth. But James, and Jesus, taught that salvation was not about being born in the right nation but having God’s truth born in our heart. Apart from God’s new birth we are dead in sin.

In our terms,

  • We might think church attendance saves us. If we go to church, then we have impressed God. While you can grow up in church, sit in worship services, get baptized in a church, get married or even have your funeral in a church with closed eyes but wake up in hell. Religion does not save us, only a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Or, we might think tradition saves us. If we have traditional values, then we must be a good person going to heaven. While it is important to live a moral compass, there will be kind and smiling people in hell. Jesus did not come to make us nice; He came to make us new; He came to make dead people alive. Traditional values or the Republican Platform (nor the Democrat) are not Scripture or means to our salvation; only Jesus is our King and Savior.  

Further, James illustrates dead faith with another case study. The previous case study was about prejudicial treatment to the rich in contrast to the poor. This case study refers to neglect or carelessness of the poor. Either way, the fact that James again chooses an example of mistreatment of the poor makes clear that the illustration represents a pattern of behavior that is all too typical for Christian communities.[2]

The illustration supposes a person who is insufficiently clothed or lacking in daily food – how should we respond? Should we merely wish them well and prayer? “Go in peace” is religious speak, while we might add, “Hope it works out”, or “I’ll pray for you” or another quote: “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” “Give it to God”… and multiple other messages. Sometimes we might even quote a Bible verse to someone’s needs. But do these ways actually help? Perhaps a small encouragement, but often when you are presented with someone in need, there are additional ways you can be helpful.

In an insightful book: When Helping Hurts,[3] there are categories of help we should consider:

  • Relief: urgent, temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering. Examples may include food, clothing, money, or other items.
  • Rehabilitation: begins once “bleeding stops”; seeks to restore people and communities to positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions. Examples may include employment, counseling, rebuilding, etc.
  • Development: process of ongoing change to bring individuals and communities in fulfillment of God-given purpose with God, self, others, and creation. Examples may include creation of business or industry training.
     
    *Most churches only think in terms of relief and seldom aid in rehabilitation or development. We must offer holistic help to care for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.


*Most of us see poverty as lack of food, money, medicine, or housing. The poor talk about poverty in terms of shame, inferiority, fear, isolation, voicelessness, hopelessness. We must see people the way Jesus did/does – not as projects to solve but priorities to serve.

*Avoid paternalism; do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.
   – Knowledge Paternalism: giving all the counsel and instruction without involving in decision-making
   – Labor Paternalism: performing all the work while locals only observe

   – Spiritual Paternalism: doing all the teaching, ministry, leading

  • See the image of God and Jesus in every person (Matthew 24:42-43).
  • Meet needs with prayer, trusting God to grant wisdom for helping without hurting.
  • Community prayerwalking – spbc experienced prior seasons of growth in this practice.

Demonic faith acknowledges God but rejects authority of Christ (James 2:19).

James elaborates further about faith not being solely mental assent but also life application. Dead faith is lip service without lifestyle. Likewise, demonic faith has information without transformation.

In the Bible, demons have superior theology than the disciples. Demons are aware Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 1:24; 5:7; Mt 8:29-30). And the devil’s manipulation of Judas (Jn 13:27) to crucify Jesus indicates his awareness and implications of the cross. James says the demons believe in one God and shudder (overcome with fear). So, while the devil and his demons are significantly aware of God’s person, power, and purpose, none of them bow their head or bend their knee to King Jesus. It shows that we can possess faith in God, but if faith in God does not possess us then it is dead and demonic.

Essentially, demonic faith views Jesus as supplemental not instrumental / useful and not beautiful. In churches where Jesus is merely useful then people worship with good music, people feel good by surrounding themselves with others who believe and talk like they do. The good news is twisted into good advice where God becomes a friend and counselor to help you be happy and get you out of trouble. Forgiveness is unnecessary because you’re not allowed to judge anyone, so there’s nothing too terribly wrong that can’t be overlooked by an all-loving God. Oh, there’s still commands to be positive and respectful, and to have Jesus as your Savior, but the actual concept from what you need saved is foreign. The lordship of Jesus Christ is aborted when you believe you can live however you want without any accountability. Faith without works is a Christless Christianity.

  • Do you have demonic faith?
  • Is your faith highly theological but not actual; theoretical but not tangible?
  • Do you claim to know Jesus and bristle when others question your behaviors?
  • Do you flaunt being a rebel more than you demonstrate areas of repentance?
    Discipleship with Jesus makes people radical not rebels. Disciples who view themselves as “rebels” need to be careful they are not deceived and actually having demonic faith.
  • Do you listen to Jesus but not truly love Him? When you think about Heaven, do personal comforts and aspired community come to mind more than seeing and spending time with Jesus?  

Developing faith integrates words and works for a dynamic witness (James 2:20-26).

How many of us consider us smart?/fool? See, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and blinders from leaning toward an isolated approach – either faith or either works, but not integrating faith and works. “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?… Faith was active along with works and faith was completed with works”

James is challenging people who are familiar with faith but may actually be fooled. He recalls two very well known examples of faith: Abraham and Rahab.

Abraham is from the first and foundational book of the Bible: Genesis. He is Israel’s forefather of faith and towering figure in Scripture; “descendants of Abraham” became a standard way to designate the people of God (Ps. 105:6; Jer. 33:26; Gal. 3:16; Heb. 2:16).

Abraham is known as a friend of God because of their empathetic bond to offer their only son as a significant sacrifice. James says, “Abraham was justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar… his faith was active along with his works and faith was completed by his works.”

Yet, before Abraham’s offer to sacrifice of Isaac, he believed God’s promise to bless him and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-9; Gal 3:6). And this is why the book of James is claimed to be at odds with Paul, saying we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28). So, who is right?

Illus:

Imagine a doctor tells one patient “You need to be more active. I want you to get in at least 10K steps. Skip the elevator and take the stairs as much as you can. Consider running about 5 miles a week.” And 5 minutes later the same doctor tells another patient, “You need to relax. I do not want you to put any weight on your legs. Have your family/friends drive you, and I recommend you get a wheelchair to stay off your feet.” Would you say – CONTRADICTION?!? Or would we recognize they are speaking to different patients with unique circumstances?

Paul and James are not in contrast but complementary of each other. James wrote to Jews who were overly familiar with religion and lethargic with action. In contrast, Paul often wrote to lost Gentiles who needed a clear understanding of the gospel. Paul’s later letters established doctrinal foundations and implications for believers. Overall, Paul emphasized the beginning of faith (justification) with works that compete for having faith and James emphasized the end goal of faith (sanctification) with works that complete (τελειόω) faith.

Ultimately, Jesus came to do the work of God (Jn 6:38; 17:4). He lived a sinless life. He taught truth (Jn 18:37). He preached good news of God’s kingdom (Lk 4:43). He helped the hurting, healed the sick, gave sight to blind, rebuked demons, raised the dead (Lk 4:16); and Jesus defeated the devil through the cross and resurrection (1Jn 3:8). When Jesus completed his life works on the cross, he cried out, “It is finished.” The full and final work of salvation is finished in Jesus Christ. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. We cannot add to the gospel but simply receive forgiveness of sin and freedom for a new hope as a gift from God. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). But, let us not forget “we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

Another illustration James uses is Rahab. If you have not identified with anything I’ve said because it’s way too much Christian terminology and spiritually over your head at the moment, then listen to this. Rahab was a prostitute; a woman who sold her body for the enjoyment of men. The Bible always shows how sexual sin has increased consequences in someone’s life. Yet, at some point in this immoral woman’s life she came to the realization that her way was empty and God’s way was satisfying. She understood the devil promises to please but fails to fulfill. So, she began faith in God and immediately her life started changing. Rahab protected God’s people rather than persecute them. We know Rahab wasn’t perfect (she told a lie) but she was becoming different and developing in her faith. That’s Christianity – not perfect but different and developing.

  • The best way to have developing faith is to go deeper in church membership.
    • Are you a church member? Church membership starts you on the path toward spiritual maturity. It shows humility, saying, “I cannot do spiritual life alone and need others.” I’ve seen too many lone ranger Christians and their maturity is weak and opportunities for growth are wasted. Don’t be that person.
    • Are you an active church member? Active means you have moved from the spectator to at least a bench role, if not a player in the game. You are learning a role to serve or are involved with serving. Another step is becoming a team captain and champion to help others become active.
  • Realize, one of the main functions of the gathered members is to confront cultural Christianity and contrast it with convictional Christianity.
    • Do everything with zeal and for the glory of God (cf. Rom 12:11; 1Cor 10:31; Col 3:17; 1Pet 4:10-11).
    • “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:21-25)

APPLY/THINK

Ultimately, we can approach Christianity as two different jobs.

  1. An interior designer. Interior designers are constantly evaluating rooms to move furniture around, hang up art, changing lighting, and maybe even remodeling entire rooms and structures.
  2. A photographer. Photographers are taking hundreds of pictures of the same thing at dozens of angles. They realize the attraction and value of what is before them, and they never want the essence to leave their presence. In fact, they look for other items and persons to join in, realizing the subject enhances and adds value to whatever it is joined.

When we approach Christianity we come to a throne.

Jesus on the throne
(Big Picture Story Bible illustration by Gail Schoonmaker)

  • If we try to rearrange the throne from being center stage, or even attempting to remove the One sitting on the throne so that we can sit, then we become interior designers attempting to judge and dictate to God what goes where.
  • Instead, we are to approach Christ as a photographer captivated by His beauty, believing all is set exactly as it should with Christ on the throne and all centered around Him. Further, we should work with all our power and resources while we have time to bring others into the photograph… For there will come a moment in time when Christ will stand up from His throne and all the picture taking will cease. Photograph books will come out for those who have been present with Jesus on the throne of their life, but all those who missed their picture taken because they were rearranging furniture, it will be too late.   

[1] https://www.cityam.com/workplace-stress-reaches-record-height-during-pandemic/ and https://www.eaglehillconsulting.com/about-us/news/announcements/employee-burnout-from-covid-19-on-the-rise-with-58-of-u-s-workers-reporting-burnout/

[2] Moo, D. J. (2000). The letter of James (p. 124). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[3] When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.

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