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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 90: Real Faith

James 2:14-26

September 30, 2012


SCRIPTURE READING: James 2:14-19 (Eddie?)


JAMES is very DIFFERENT from the rest of the Epistles, and rereading it I realized I’d forgotten just how RICH it is.

* I am thinking of doing my NEXT SERIES on it.

Contrast that to MARTIN LUTHER, the key figure of the Reformation, he hated it, wished he could take it out of the Bible. He called it “an epistle of straw.”

It seemed to CONTRADICT the Gospel of grace so dear to him:

ESV James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

ESV Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

These two verses side by side have been a constant source of FRUSTRATION and CONFUSION to Christians and have been used as an example of CONTRADICTIONS in the Bible.

* In reality, it is an example failing to READ CAREFULLY. In English and Greek, the difference is CLEAR, if not SUBTLE.


It is my hope that my church be BETTER at READING the BIBLE than the average Christian, that as I teach you, you get better at carefully reading the Bible.

Many times, all that we need is there, we just need to read MORE CAREFULLY. Here is a great example:

Luke 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

This is a FAMILIAR IMAGE, Jesus in the garden, sweating blood. We’ve heard all about the medical explanation, etc.

Q But is that what it says?

“became like,” “as,” it is describing the SIZE of the drops. Most Christians misunderstand this passage just because they don’t read CAREFULLY ENOUGH.


Q With that in mind, what is the DIFFERENCE between:

ESV James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

ESV Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

“justified by works”

“justified...apart from works of the law”

They are NOT talking about the SAME thing: Paul is talking about “works of the law,” which means all of the RULES Jews had to follow to stay part of God’s nation: Circumcision, eating kosher, etc.


So what is James talking about? Something entirely different. He is clarifying something one whole STEP EARLIER in what Paul is talking about. Paul and James agree – we are justified by faith.

* But, James asks, WHAT is FAITH? That is the question James is answering.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

The key word here is “SUCH,” “that kind of faith.” James believes that we are saved by faith. But WHAT exactly is faith? Is it SIMPLY BELIEVING something, simply saying something?

Q Is faith WITHOUT DEEDS (“works”) indeed FAITH?

He is actually asking a RHETORICAL QUESTION; the Greek implies a “no” answer.


James then proceeds to show, from MULTIPLE ANGLES just how useless deedless faith is:

James 2:15-17 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

This is a great ILLUSTRATION because it does DOUBLE DUTY:

* On one hand, deedless faith is an oxymoron, like foodless food.

On the other hand, this is a POIGNANT EXAMPLE of the sort of DEEDLESS faith James’ audience was guilty of. The beginning of chapter 2 is addressing favoritism of the rich.


Q I can’t answer every situation, but what are you doing with the situations in FRONT of YOU?

I don’t mean when a panhandler asks you for money, but when a REAL SITUATION presents itself, particularly WITHIN our BODY.


Next James confronts another misconception/excuse: That sort of stuff is SOMEONE ELSE’S JOB.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

* This is a Greek writing device called DIATRIBE: An imaginary speaker making a wrong statement and then being corrected.

This “guy” is basically saying we all have DIFFERENT JOBS, so it’s okay some FAIL in WORKS. Wrong, James says, this is one we all have to have. Why? Because faith without deeds isn’t faith.

Q Have you ever heard the expression, “If you have to TELL ME you are a CHRISTIAN, maybe you are not”?

That’s the idea here. If your faith ISN’T DEMONSTRATED, maybe it isn’t real.


James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

This is James at his most SARCASTIC, and I love it, even if I am pricked.

James isn’t simply talking about monotheism. This phrase is packed with meaning for the Jews, which is James’ audience. It is the final line of “The GREAT SHEMA,” the core statement of Jewish faith which the Orthodox still recite twice a day:

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai E?ad –

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

In other words, he is referring their CREEDAL CODE, the summary of their belief. To put it in terms we’d get:

So you believe the BIBLE is the Word of God? How nice for you!

You believe you are SAVED by GRACE not work? Well, aren’t you special!

Yeah, the DEMONS believe all that too. But believing it doesn’t help them at all.


James is NOT SAYING, “Doctrine doesn’t matter, you can believe in one God or many.” Faith requires a worthy target, not just “believe.” Your faith has to be in a TRUSTWORTHY SOURCE.

* But that is only step one; DOCTRINE alone isn’t even remotely ENOUGH.


James then looks at ABRAHAM as a great example of faith demonstrated by actions:

James 2:20-24 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 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.

As I have been saying, James is defining faith. Faith isn’t really faith until you ACT on it. Until then it is THEORY.

* Jay TenBrink – “Believe I will throw this rock at you?”

Abraham had faith, and that FAITH was PROVED by his actions: When God said, “SACRIFICE ISAAC,” he believed God would raise him from the dead.

When God said, “COME to THIS LAND and I will make you into a great people,” Abraham started PACKING.

* James’ point is that if Abraham would have said, “I believe you,” but DID NOTHING, it would mean he didn’t have faith.

If Abraham didn’t begin to SACRIFICE ISAAC, if he stayed back in UR, it would mean he didn’t really have faith.

* And when he had ISHMAEL, it was a FAILURE of FAITH resulting in FAILED ACTION.


Then James adds a very interesting example:

James 2:25 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?

Abraham and Rahab are two opposites:

He’s a MAN, she’s a WOMAN.

He’s JEWISH, she’s a GENTILE.


He’s a big SOMEBODY, she’s a NOBODY.

But they both BELIEVED God and ACTED on that faith. And they were rewarded for their faith. Rahab tells us that faith is for EVERYONE.


James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

This is where James sums up everything he has said. One translation (THE MESSAGE) says it well, “Separate faith and works and you get a corpse.”

We have a saying, TALK IS_____.” If faith is ONLY WORDS said or EMOTIONS FELT, it is not FAITH.

* It is “WORDS, words, words, words.”

For faith to truly be faith it must move from your HEAD (where you know), to YOUR heart (where you feel and accept), to your HANDS (where you do). That is faith.


Said another way, a “STATEMENT of FAITH” is great, but it is useless unless it is also an “AGENDA for ACTION.”

1. Do you believe God exists? As it says:

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Q Great. Now, HOW are you SEEKING him?

If you don’t PRAY, spend TIME with him, talk to him in the PASSING MOMENTS, you might as well believe he doesn’t “reward those who EARNESTLY SEEK him.”

2. Do you believe “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”?

How nice. Now do you TRUST him for your PROVISION or do you “LIVE like the PAGANS” in CONSTANT FEAR that there won’t be enough (Matt 6:31-32)?

Q Do you demonstrate your trust by TITHING or GIVING SACRIFICIALLY back to him?

3. Do you believe the Jesus Lord? Fully God and fully man?

Fine, but is he YOUR LORD? Is your life lived under HIS RULE? Or do you just do the things you ALREADY WANTED to?

* “If he isn’t LORD OF ALL, he isn’t Lord at all.”

BTW: That is why Paul says, “ one can say, ‘JESUS is LORD,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Saying Jesus is Lord means Jesus is your Lord, and you can’t do that without the Spirit.

4. Do you believe Jesus is savior? That we are saved by his grace, not by doing being good enough?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

Good for you. But when you FAIL, is your first response to PULL AWAY from God in SHAME or APPROACH his throne of grace with BOLDNESS knowing that it was NEVER because of YOU?

5. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity?

How nice. But are you “CONTINUALLY being FILLED with the Spirit?” (Eph. 5:18) Are you relying on him for POWER, GUIDANCE, and ASSURANCE?

Q Do you approach each CHALLENGE with “Holy Spirit help me!”?

6. Do you believe Jesus is “the only way to the Father”? That he is the only one who has the “very words of life”?

I am glad you are so ORTHODOX. But are you sharing those words of life with your FRIENDS, FAMILY, CO-WORKERS, and NEIGHBORS?

* I am not talking about BEING OBNOXIOUS, but looking for OPPORTUNITIES.

* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over


To sum it up, what makes James so CHALLENGING is NOT that he seems to CONTRADICT Paul, but that he calls us to go BEYOND BELIEVING to DOING.

* If you don’t do, you don’t really believe.

You may know that when we have a GUEST PREACHER, I take that week to plan the next month’s sermons. What you may not know is that once I have done that, I send it to the leadership team to go their feedback.

Here is what NATE BAKER wrote to me about today’s sermon:

I am happy to see you touching on acts/good deeds/works.  I feel it is very important for people to literally walk out their faith.  Words don't mean a whole lot unless they are backed up by some quantitative action.  

I know that some feel that the inward man should be the focus, and rightly so as that drives the external.  However, until that change sticks, I think that it can work the other way around where the inward man is changed as a result of consistent external action.  Have you ever heard the saying, "Do what's right, because it's right, until it feels right."?

BTW: That is a GREAT POINT. It has to be WORKED BOTH ways, can’t wait until you are sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

I'm sure it's obvious that this probably comes from the "thinking" part of my personality, but there are also a lot of specifics on appropriate behavior, toward God and toward others, in scripture, and, quite simply, I'm a fan of obedience.  

Yes, Nate, and so is GOD! The point of this sermon is to encourage to LIVE OUT your FAITH in every area, not just the specific ways I have talked about.

* Ask the HOLY SPIRIT to show you where you need to act out your faith DURING WORSHIP.

Q & A


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