Faith, Dead or Alive?
Good morning, I would like to thank you all for this opportunity. If you would have suggested I would be preaching a sermon ten years ago I would have probably told you that you are crazy. As I prepared to write this sermon, God made it quite clear the passage He wanted me to preach on. I even had a good idea of how I wanted to present the body of the sermon, but I was hung up for almost a week on how I would introduce it. One morning as I was driving to work and praying to God, I was asking Him how I should begin the sermon, what sort of illustration presents the idea well enough. He said that “I called you to minister to Soldiers, you have been a Soldier for over 12 years use what you know.” So though not all of you have an understanding of the military, many of you do. For those that do no I apologize for the references.
Soldiers when they are training, they do the things they do to build trust and confidence in themselves and their equipment. When we are talking of things of God, what correlates to trust and confidence? The term that comes to mind is faith. We have faith in God because we trust Him and have confidence that He is able to do the things He claims. So, Soldiers train to build their faith in their ability to accomplish tasks and build faith that their equipment does what it is supposed to. When Soldiers conduct CBRN or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear training part of that is going into a gas chamber to show that gas mask or protective mask will actually allow them to breath in a chemical environment. They are usual made to take off their mask, during this time they are made to do something to make them breath the air a little and realize it is uncomfortable, then put their mask back on and clear it and seal it to show that it can be put on in this environment and the chemicals are not trapped inside.
While breathing in CS gas inside the gas chamber is uncomfortable it is usually on of the most memorable experiences for many Soldiers at the end of basic training. Though the result is that they trust that their gas mask can function like it is supposed to. In order for their protective mask to work though it requires action by the Soldier. If a Soldier was in a chemical environment and kept his mask in the carrier on his/her hip, what would happen? What would happen if the Soldier thought to themselves, I have faith my mask will work, yet they just let it sit on their hip? Would their faith in their mask do any good? No in the end they would likely die or at least be severely hurt by whatever chemical was attacking their system. They had faith that their equipment would work, but it did them no good because their action failed to accompany their faith. Today our passage is James talks about this idea, that faith and action go hand and hand. Please turn to
Now there are many within the church that think this passage teaches salvation by works, and there are still others that use this passage to teach salvation by works. As Baptists one of our core beliefs is that salvation is by faith alone.
If salvation is by faith alone and James is not teaching that salvation is through works just what is this passage teaching? First let’s read the passage…
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[b] 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.
So, what is this passage teaching? It seems that James is trying to show his audience that faith and works are inseparable, let’s take a closer look…
James begins by asking a question, if someone has faith, but does not have works, can that faith save him? The key here is the context. James is not saying that salvation is by works. He is not saying that faith does not save. He is saying that someone with a true profession of faith will have their faith evidenced by works. The two go hand in hand. The person with the type of faith he is addressing has made a profession of faith without change. The very theme of the passage screams the type of faith that James is rejecting. That faith is dead faith, faith that fails to be reflected in the life of the person making the claim. James makes this very clear, in verse 17 faith without works is dead, verse 20 faith without deeds is useless, and again in verse 26 faith without deeds is dead. A dead faith is a profession without a change. The continue to live in the world. They made a profession, but they have no desire to read the word. They have no desire to worship God. They have no desire to share their faith. Their life is unchanged, there is no change in conduct, they continue to party, live in sin as if their profession means absolutely nothing. So, James question does faith that does not have works, can that faith save him? That faith is dead, that faith is not living faith it has not produced a change. Their life does not evidence that faith it is as dead as a door nail.
It seems that James had to address an issue in the early church that we still see today. Seeing James was likely one of the earliest letters written, possibly as early as 45AD that this believe sprung up quite early in the church, less than twenty years after the death of Christ and people already tried to claim they were Christians while their lives not reflecting their words. You can look around you every day all across this country. I have met many people that say they are Christians. They made a decision when they were eight, but they have not been to church in twenty years. They do not share their faith. There faith has zero impact on the way they live their lives. They live just like the word around them, partying living as if God does not tell us to look different from the world. Or they go to church on Sunday, but live Monday through Saturday like the rest of the world. Or even just got to church for Christmas and Easter, we cannot miss the big holidays. I am sure everyone has met someone like this, there may even be someone in this room that this fits, if so I pray that God works upon your heart right now. This is the type of faith that James is addressing in this passage, this is what he is talking about and trying to tell warn people about before it is to late.
When a person has a true saving faith in Jesus Christ there is a changed life that evidences this. This saving faith is inseparable from the change that takes place. The person is so changed that they cannot help, but to want to worship our Living God, the Creator of the Universe, their Lord and Savior. The change has given them such great joy, they cannot help but to tell the people around them. They have to tell those around them what Jesus did for them. The same love and grace that God showed them pours out of them. The change is evident. I had a friend not to long ago tell me how he had lived many year being a “Christian”, yet when he truly began cultivating that relationship the Jesus, people noticed. They said man there is something different about you. Saving faith pours out of us it is impossible for the world to not recognize it.
James continues by providing an example of this dead faith “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?.” If we are not providing for the needs of those around us is the love of God really in us? If a homeless man or woman walked through those doors right now and we looked at him in disgust and did not try to help them, can we really call ourselves Christians? If someone in our congregation can not afford clothes and they do not have proper clothes to keep them in their children warm and we do not help them out, how is our faith being displayed? The early Christians provide an example for us to follow. Turn with me to , And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Now I am not saying that we need to sell everything and live as a community. Our society is very different from first century Palestine, but if we have living faith unlike the faith described by James it should show through our actions. In the early church is was evident by they way they all provided for each other’s needs. If there is a need by one of our brothers or sisters we should seek to meet their needs in anyway we can. If we are ignoring the needs of those around us our faith is not being displayed and we might have to examine ourselves. Do we have dead faith or a living faith? With his point made about faith being displayed in our actions James now interjects an objection in verse 18.
18 “But some will say, “you have faith and I have works.” James here is addressing an imaginary objector, likely someone he actually had a similar discussion with at some point. Where it says “you” this would be the objector, he has a faith with out works and James is the “I”. So if I was the objector it would be “so what I have faith and you have works”. James addresses it his response. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James is basically saying look it is impossible for you to even show me that you have faith because there is no outward evidence. You can sit there and scream you believe in God all day long, but if there is no outward display it means absolutely nothing. See he goes on to say, 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?”
The objector is a man that makes a profession and has no changed life, no evidence of real faith. He says he believes in God, but James points out that even the demons believe this. Heck the demons know this better than any of us and they know what is ultimately coming in the end. They can know that does not mean that have saving faith. We can make empty professions with our mouth all the time. Just knowing of God does no good, we have to put our absolute faith and trust in Him. By doing this we are taking our protective mask out and putting it on allowing Him to walk with us in our struggles and continue to fight.
Even Jesus expresses in His teaching that our faith will have an outward reflection. Turn with me to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Jesus is teaching that a person’s outward actions are a reflection of their beliefs of who they really are. If we are Christians our actions are going to be reflective of this. If we are Christians Christs love and grace should flow out of us. If we are living a healthy Christian walk we will bear good fruit. It will grow out of us. It will be evident in our actions and our speech. If our faith is a living faith it will be evident in the way we live. In Jesus has a similar teaching that also has the same message. He is the vine and we are the branches and that we bear his fruit because we abide in Him. James is not just making this up He is expounding on the teachings of Jesus. If someone is a follower of Christ their live will be changed. They will want to come to church and worship God, they will want to fellowship with other believers, they will want to read the Bible and pray. They will want to serve others and love others, and tell others about Jesus. To prove his point that faith and action go together James provides 2 examples to close his argument.
“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.
It is not works for salvation it is works because of Salvation. A living faith produces a change. There is evidences of that faith. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. He was saved by his faith, but that faith was justified by his works. He was saved before he brought Isaac up on the mountain to offer him on the altar. This act was a testing of his faith. If you look at it says, 11 “But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Don’t not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld you son, your only son, from me.”
It was way back in that it said “and he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” But it is in that his faith is displayed and justified. Abrahams words were proven to not be empty dead faith. While his faith saved him, his works demonstrated his faith.
It is the same for James’ second example in that of Rahab. Rahab too was justified by her actions. She confessed he belief in but it is her actions that demonstrate her faith in the God of Israel. James uses these examples to show that it is through our actions that our faith is made known.
Why is this important why does it matter? I will give you two reasons it is important. First in says to 10 “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” We are to be sure that we are saved, that our faith is living saving faith. That our faith is not the faith described in James chapter 2. That our faith is not dead. We want to be sure that we are not the ones that Jesus is speaking of in . We do not want to be the ones that said Lord did we not prophesy in your name, to hear Him say depart from me I never knew you.
I think our actions displaying our faith is important though when we go out into the world. The reason being, what happens when you go to work? You let people know you’re a Christian, you don’t want them to cuss around maybe they will be a little more respectful, right? You have said you are a believer, but then you get involved in the course joking, or the gossiping. Immediately they are thinking in their heads, “this is what a Christian looks like? Why would I want to be a Christian they are no better than the rest of us. Look at him over there just talking bad about the manager with thought they were supposed to love everyone. Or man he bragging about drinking and partying on Saturday night then going to church on Sunday where is the change how is he any different?” When people hear us claim we are Christians they watch us waiting for us to slip up, so they can justify they way they live. So that they can justify how they do not need God because we are no different than them. It is not we are saved by our works, but the world knows us by our works. It can leave a bad taste in the mouths of those around us if we do not display the love of Christ. While God can see our hearts, we cannot see the hearts of others. Seeing we cannot see the hearts of others we have to rely on their outward actions we have to see their faith in action. This whole idea makes me think of a quote by Brennan Manning that says “the greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.” The way people around us understand Christianity is our outward actions. We have to look different. We are called to look different.
Works do not in anyway save us, but works go hand in hand with faith. Some might say but doesn’t James contradict Paul in 8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, 9 not a result of works so that no man can boast.” What they forget is to continue reading, says 10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand that we should walk in them.” Did you catch that God created us for good works? Both Paul and James agree we are saved by faith, but are meant for good works. When we come to Christ we are free to rest in his finished work, allowing us to be free to do good work according to his will. Our faith in Christ cannot be separated from our fruit. James makes this clear with his final sentence. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Just as we are dead if our spirit is separated from our bodies, so our faith is dead when separated from works. If we are tied into the vine that is Jesus we will produce the fruit of Jesus. If it is our faith is dead it does not produce fruit and is good for nothing. Instead we want our faith to be alive, and vibrant and full of live. We want our fruit to display the love of Jesus. Jesus’ love was so that He took on flesh and became man, to suffer on the cross for our sins, so that we can spend eternity with God. If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and repent of our sins we can experience of the grace of the Almighty God. If there is anyone that does not know Jesus we invite you to come to know Him today. If you have being living with a dead faith for years it is not to late, we invite you to make the decision today to follow Jesus and bear the fruit that is the love and grace of Jesus. Lets pray.