“FAITH THAT WORKS”
(A Series on the Book of James)
Westgate Chapel 03/20/05 James 2:14-26
Proposition: The only faith that works to save is the faith that also works.
- FOR the first three hundred years of the Christian faith, followers of Christ had little alternative but to stay close to Jesus, live in a vital love relationship with Him, and cling to each other for mutual encouragement and support.
- THEY were persecuted by local and national governments and fearful every day for their lives.
- CHURCH leaders from that period, like Tertullian of Carthage (around 160 AD), are an example of the emphasis on true discipleship. He constantly wrote to the churches of his day calling for Christians to live holy lives, separating themselves from the practices and values of their pagan culture.
- IGNATIUS of Antioch (117 AD) wrote,
“I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground up by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ…then shall I be a true disciple of Christ.”
- THEN, around 322 AD, the worst thing that could happen, happened to the Church of Jesus Christ.
- CHRISTIANITY became a popular movement in the Roman Empire.
- CONSTANTINE the Great, the emperor, officially recognized Christianity as the state-sponsored religion of the empire.
- AND when once Christianity became part of main-stream culture….it had to do everything in its power to maintain that place of popularity, even if it meant compromising the truth of the Gospel.
- RODNEY Clapp in his book, A Peculiar People, writes of this period of history that,
“the ethical requirements of the Church were adapted to the level of what might be called ‘respectable unbelief.’”
- PLEASE listen carefully! This author captures an accurate assessment of the condition of most of the churches in America today in this quote from his book,
“The question was no longer ‘How can we survive and remain faithful Christians under Caesar?’, but now becomes, ‘How can we adjust the church’s expectations so that Caesar can consider himself a faithful Christian?’”
- THAT is exactly what is happening in the Church today. Expectations are being lowered every day, and that by pastors, so that just about anybody in our society can consider themselves faithful Christians.
- THE word “faith,” as in Christian faith, has been diluted and re-defined to mean a “belief system” that is held intellectually but need not translate into any difference in lifestyle from those outside the faith.
- WE have adjusted the expectations of the Christian faith so that it is politically correct to call anyone a Christian regardless of how they are living their lives.
- DALLAS Willard, in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, calls this “barcode Christianity.”
- JAMES saw the tell tale signs of this in the early church, and wrote 13 verses of James 2, as a mirror of what it means to be in the Christian faith.
- JAMES gives us a definition of the Christian faith we have to re-visit in our lives today.
- TURN with me please to James 2:14-26 (page 1197).
- THIS is a very controversial section of James.
- MARTIN Luther wished the book had not been included in the canon of Scripture because of these 13 verses.
- LET me show you why he felt that way.
- LOOK at verse 21 with me,
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?”
- NOW, look at the first half of verse 24,
“You see that a man is justified by works...”
- ON the surface it looks like a direct contradiction to Paul’s teaching on faith.
- TURN with me to Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
- DO you see the apparent contradiction between Paul and James on the subject of works?
- JAMES says we are justified (saved) by works.
- PAUL says that we are justified (saved) by faith (Romans 3:28).
- IN reality there is no contradiction between Paul and James.
- THE problem is that in common Christian usage the word faith has come to mean…
“…an intellectual assent to a set of doctrinal propositions about Jesus, the cross, and salvation….period.”
- NO expectations of a transformed life.
- NO expectations that sinful behaviors will be crucified and fall away.
- NO expectations of holy attitudes, holy character or holy conduct.
- JUST faith….and poof, your sins are forgiven, you are going to go to heaven, and nothing can alter your eternal destiny.
- IN reality, no such faith existed in Paul’s theology and James certainly leaves no room for this kind of faith in the verses we are going to examine today.
- WHEN Paul says faith, he fully intends that it is a faith that has immediate and life-long ramifications concerning the Christian living a life of practical holiness.
- WHEN James says works, he fully intends that it is a works that is birthed in and inseparable from the faith that saves.
- WE have made the distinction between faith and works to our own peril and the peril of the Gospel in our day.
- JAMES and PAUL did not!
- AND in the verses we will be studying in James today, James holds up the mirror of God’s Word to show you and me a faith that works!
- THESE verses don’t need a lot of elaboration, so I am going to read them in three sections…and then I will give you the theme I find in each section
ii. this kind of faith is useful for works
- FIRST of all, James writes in 2:14-17,
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (verse 14)
- OF what use is faith that doesn’t change how you live? The obvious answer is…none.
- IN fact, James is so bold as to ask if that kind of faith is saving faith.
- CAN what kind of faith save you? The kind of faith that doesn’t change how you live.
- AND the clearly inferred answer is…no, that kind of faith doesn’t save you.
- THIS is what John Wesley called “convincing grace”….people who believe they are Christians because they are convinced there is a God, convinced that Jesus is His Son, and convinced that the cross saves.
- BUT they think that is all it takes to be saved….being convinced by the grace of God.
- THE problem, says Wesley, is that without regenerating grace, your life will not be changed.
- AND if your life exhibits no change, you may have convincing grace, but you have not been regenerated. You are not saved.
- THAT is exactly what James is saying in verse 14. Then he goes on in verses 15 and 16 to give just one example of a faith that can’t save because it hasn’t changed you.
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”
- THE answer to James’ question of what use that kind of faith is….is implied. It is of no use!
- IT is of no use to save you, and it is of no use in the work of the kingdom of God.
- AND then, James gives the knock out punch in verse 17,
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
- FAITH is not faith when it is “by itself.”
- IN verse 14 and verse 16, James uses the phrase, “What use is that?”….concerning faith without the works of a transformed life.
- SO, the theme I get from verses 14-17, stated in the positive is….this kind of faith is useful.
- FAITH that includes works of righteousness is useful for salvation and the kingdom of God.
- THIS kind of faith does the work of the kingdom!
III. this kind of faith is perfected by works
- THE second point James makes about this kind of faith is found in verses 18 to 23, and this time James uses the example of Abraham…something his Jewish readers would immediately identify with.
- VERSE 18a,
“But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works…”
- AS if it is possible to have one without the other…which is exactly how the Christian Church is living today.
- JAMES answers these kinds of people with an argument,
“…show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”
- THEN, in verses 21-23, James uses Abraham as an example,
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (verse 21)
- ANOTHER apparent contradiction with the apostle Paul in Romans 4:9,
“For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’”
- WELL, was it faith or was it taking his son to Mnt Moriah to sacrifice him in obedience to the Lord that was credited to Abraham as righteousness?
- AND the answer is….yes! James 2:21 next to Romans 4:9 clearly teaches that faith and obedience are one and the same.
- THEY have been separated for centuries by theologians arguing over Calvanism or Armenianism…..and the argument itself has deceived the Church.
- IT has deceived us because it has pitted faith against works….and James teaches us here that they can’t be separated.
- IF you have faith that produces works, you are saved.
- IF you have works that are evidence of your faith, you are saved.
- IF you don’t have both….you are not saved, no matter how long you have been in church, sung the hymns, raised your hands or paid your tithes.
- LOOK at verses 22-23, concerning Abraham,
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.”
- SO, in verses 14-17, faith with works is useful for the kingdom of God.
- IN verses 18-23, faith with works, is the kind of faith that is being perfected. (verse 22)
- HOW many have found in your life that steps of obedience immediately are challenged by the enemy, who you have to withstand by faith….and your faith gets stretched and you are ready for the next step of obedience.
- AS a result of works, your faith is perfected.
- PASTOR, that sounds like legalism.
- NO, legalism is when you trust your works to save you….without faith.
iv. this kind of faith is alive with works
- HERE is the last lesson about this kind of faith that works.
- IT is in verses 24-25,
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”
- IN this story from Joshua 2, a prostitute named Rahab hears about the God of Israel and all that He has done for them.
- SHE is a prostitute in the city of Jericho, and she runs into some spies from Israel, sent to check out the strengths and weaknesses of the city before it is attacked by Joshua.
- AND without even being told that there is faith in this prostitute, she takes what her fellow citizens would have called “the enemy” into her house….and helps them escape with a promise that when the city falls Joshua will be kind to her and her family.
- JAMES uses Rahab as an example of someone whose works justified them…and there is not even a mention of Rahab coming to faith in these verses.
- DID she have faith?
- HEBREWS 11:31 says about her,
“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”
- RAHAB is listed among the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11.
- SO, was it faith or works that saved her?
- CAN you see how stupid it has been of us to argue faith versus works?
- IT has been deception by misdirection.
- AND once again, James sets the nail with verse 26,
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
- WHAT is the theme of these verses?
- IN verses 14-17, it is the kind of faith that is useful in the kingdom because it works.
- IN verses 18-23, it is the kind of faith that is being perfected by works.
- IN these last few verses, 24-26, it is the kind of faith that is alive.
- IT is on the move. It is in action. Its focus is God and its goal is obedience.
- FAITH without works is going to be the demise of Christianity in our generation unless we have a spiritual awakening.
* We have people who say they have saving faith…but are being unfaithful to their marriage vows without much conviction or concern.
* We have people who say they are born again in America and 92% are not even tithing a minimum 10% of their incomes.
* We have churches full of people who think the Ten Commandments are more like ten guidelines.
* We have churches in America that have no concern at all about those who are without Christ…and are so afraid of offending that they have hidden the true demands of the Gospel.
- EDDIE GIBBS, author of a book entitled, In Name Only, says that the Christian Church today is “full of people who want to be known as Christians, but who no longer accept the basic beliefs of Christianity, are living lifestyles incompatible with the values of the kingdom, and are not maintaining an ongoing relationship with the Lord.”
- IF you believe that you are in the faith today, but your values and priorities and lifestyle are no different than the world….maybe you are not in the faith at all (says James).
- LOOK in the mirror of God’s Word and see if you look like the Christian James identifies?
- PAUL says that we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
- HOW many of you want to live the faith that works?
- HOW many of you are not sure that is the kind of faith you are in and want in?