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James, Part III

From the Epistle of James

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.   Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 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. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-26, NIV)

There are Christians that emphasize that going to heaven is all God’s work. But how, then,  do you square that kind of thinking with passages like this, or when you read the parables and other things that Jesus said about the essential matter of doing acts of righteousness.  Jesus clearly taught that if you did not “do” certain things you were not going to heaven. So which is it?   If you read the Bible, cover to cover,  you’ll see that is not written like a owner’s manual on how to put together something you get in a box from Amazon.  There’s nothing in the gospels or epistles about “step one, step two, step three”…. and so forth.  You get the idea that it’s more than merely a formula or a list of what must be done, in order, if you want to got to heaven.  It’s something else than just bowing and praying to Mecca, or being careful to tithe every dime you make.

So let me start by saying that I have read the Bible from cover to cover— over 75 times—-and what is crystal clear is that faith in Christ is the only thing that can save you from hell.  Trying to obey the law and doing good works will not purchase your entrance into paradise. But what we very often leave out of our discussion of faith is that good actions must inevitably and consequentially follow if we have placed our faith in Him.  If it does not, the Bible seems to make clear that we are not saved, but frauds.

Paul put it this way:  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”.  But that makes it sound like we have to do some “work”, that is, we are expected to “do” something, and the “working out”, I would argue,  would be choosing piety and good works.  But then Paul continues the same paragraph to say this”  “For it is God who works in you”.  And this makes it sound like it’s God that is causing us to do good works.  It might sound confusing, but again, the pieces fall into place if you’ve read the Bible—-this is consistent with all that He has said and all that the Holy Spirit inspired men to write down.

The truth is that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours. We think in terms of building blocks, or iron-clad little safes, when it comes to matters like this.  And God’s ways are divine—and not at all like yours and mine.   We try to figure out what God is supposed to do and what we  are supposed to do, in this arrangement of salvation.  But that’s not how it works, and again, if you read the scripture you’ll see that it’s not this neat little 50/50  contract. God works inside you as well as outside.  And even if we could understand who was responsible for  what, I do not think any theologian could ever properly express all that God does in the mind and soul of those that love Him. But in an attempt to express it, different men and women of God, and some very bright Bible scholars,  say different things in trying to explain this. But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions, will admit that you must also have Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you that you must do good works.  That’s James point: A Christian embraces and possesses both.

Paul says clearly that we are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet he goes on to say that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). For Paul, works follow faith as day follows night, and the source of good works is the indwelling Holy Spirit,  working in the depths of our hearts. Good works are the inevitable fruit and visible evidence of a living faith in Jesus Christ and are the hallmark of all true believers.

Again, listen to what Paul said:  “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”PHILIPPIANS 2:12-13 (ESV)

And in Galatians he said: “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:15-20, NIV).

So there is no question about it—Faith is essential for our salvation!  Do you have faith in Jesus Christ, and does that faith cause you to know that He, and only He, you to be born again into a true son or daughter of God Almighty?  Are you exercising that faith by putting aside anxiety and worry about tomorrow? Do you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that when your eyes close for the last time in an ambulance, or an emergency room or in your own bed, that your eyes will instantly open to all that He has prepared for you and all those that love Him?  Are you convinced that Jesus paid for your sins—and all humanity’s—on that cross, 2000 years ago, and that only because of Him you have been made acceptable to God? That’s faith!

But, this faith, this re-born experience changes your life and outlook—it must!  Look closely at how James challenges the believer: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”  Let me offer this interpretation:  If  you see others in need and have it in your power to do something…. if people are without proper clothing or hungry because they cannot get food….if your heart is not stirred and your hands are not motivated to help, then you are what Paul called a “false believer”, (Galations chapter 2). You are the same one Christ spoke about in Matthew 7:23 when he told people plainly who thought they were going to heaven, “….depart, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

If you claim to believe, but good works, a charitable and kind heart, and sincere compassion for others, does not begin to naturally take hold of your life, you’re faith is insufficient!  You will be surprised in heaven. Good works don’t save you—but they are the evidence and proof of your faith and salvation.

James reminds those of us who call ourselves Christians that being a follower of Christ is not just believing “truth” about God.   He boldly warns  us: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  Christian faith cannot be diluted to a simple formula, such as, “we are certain that God exists, positive that Christ died for our sins and convinced He was resurrected from the dead.”  Satan and all the demons of hell know all about this—and they’re still condemned to hell!  No, our faith must go beyond just a pronouncement of the facts about the faith.  Faith that brings about our salvation also necessarily  requires that , “we must be born again”….and enter into a new and  intimate relationship with God.

And that rebirth experience is not about admitting the obvious about God, His Son or the resurrection, but also the preparation to call Him Lord and  be reborn with new eyes, ears and hearts that are like Jesus’.  Because of Jesus,  not only are able to have communion with Him, because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we begin to act like Jesus.

That’s what James is talking about here. You see, there were frauds within the early church. But how could you tell the real believers from the fake ones?   By the fruit they bore.  James was succinct in this matter: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  You’re a charlatan if you talk about having Jesus in your heart but hate other people.  The proof that you are not a part of the vine, is that you don’t make fruit—you produce something counterfeit that might look like fruit, but it stinks—-and it’s obvious to clear to everyone except, perhaps, you.

James gives the example of Abraham—-one who claimed to believe, and then proved it when he humbled himself and trusted and obeyed God time and time again—even to the point of preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.  Abraham’s faith found natural expression in his obedience to God!  Does your faith do the same?

I am not here to condemn anyone and I must examine my own life first, to see just how fragrant and appealing the fruit I am bearing is!   But if you are His, and Christ reigns in your heart, you have:

  • compassion

  • -forgiveness

  • kindness to those that aren’t kind to you

  • generosity to those in need

  • broken hearted to the failures———— is common and constant  in your life;

If you truly re-born, other will:

  • question why you are always helping others but not considering your own needs first

  • Wonder why you never defend yourself…. but are ever defending people that the common man would never defend.

If you are truly His you’re acting like Jesus and you’re producing fruit that is consistent with one that has been grafted onto the vine of Jesus Christ.  James said, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  Are you dead or alive?

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