Faith In Process
Lord, Prepare our hearts now to hear from your Word with understanding. Let us hear from your Word and not merely be hearers of the Word, but doers as well. We gather Lord to hear once again your Word that inspires and breathes life again into our souls. Speak Lord, your servants are listening. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Our word this week comes to us from James 2:14-26, let us listen to God’s Holy Word:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
A reading from God’s Holy Word - Thanks be to God.
Last week we read the first part of this chapter in the Book of James. We recognized how James is giving us a presentation of the Gospel in his letter to the church. And I pointed you to one particular verse as I was speaking about the Gospel, vs. 10 of this chapter.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
I reminded you that you can do all kinds of good things, feed the poor, tend to the sick, you can tithe, go to church every Sunday (when there’s not a pandemic), study your Bible daily, and still if you lie one time, you’re guilty of the entire law.
If it seems unreasonable, it is, at least in human terms. But, our God is Holy and has commanded us to be holy as he is holy. See Leviticus 19:2, 20:7, 20:26; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Ephesians 1:4
Perhaps this week that has stuck in your mind. How can anyone be holy? We can’t by our own power.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
And Paul saw it too
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
The great lie that too many in the church believe is that if I’m good enough God will accept me and I can go to heaven.
If I can just not cuss, if I can just not gossip, if I can just tithe enough, if I can just tell the truth most of the time, if I can just serve enough, if I can just keep my mind pure enough, if I can just… If I can...
If I… If I… If I...
Then God, then God, then God.
Is that the Gospel? If I - by my power do good, Then God will...
Are God’s actions dependent upon you? Is your salvation through some cosmic transaction?
If I first… Then God second… puts God, not in the driver’s seat, God’s not even in the car unless you choose to pick him up. If you’re living your faith as if it depends upon you, you do not understand the Christian Gospel.
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Church, this is so important for us to understand, because too many in the church have fallen for a cosmic Santa Claus version of the Gospel. Be good and God will … get you, do for you, provide... what you want.
If I first…then God will… makes God your servant. Does that sound right to you? Does that sound like the Creator God who spoke the universe into existence?
It’s not about you, it never was, and it never will be.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For by grace…you may have heard the acrostic for GRACE, G-R-A-C-E:
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense - there’s nothing about your work in that statement. You are saved by the grace of God through faith. Some will say, “See I need to have enough faith”, but no, keep reading:
“This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Even our own faith is a gift from God. God has gifted us with faith. Do you see that?
And then we get to what some call the conflict between Paul & James. Paul writes:
“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In other words, it is by your faith alone that you are saved. This is true! This is one of the 5 Sola or 5 Alone statements of the reformation:
By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
It is true that it is by faith alone that you are saved, a faith given to you by the grace of God. You didn’t earn it, you couldn’t earn it. God is holy and if you’ve violated even the smallest letter of the law you are guilty of all of it. The truth is left on our own, we are stuck.
How then can anyone be saved? Great question.
Some might respond, but “I’ve been working all this time so God will ...” Unfortunately, God doesn’t need you.
So how is it that any of us can believe we will see the Kingdom of God?
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
And as is probably familiar to you, this leads to the statement of Jesus,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Do you see what is happening there? For God - it all begins with God. So loved the world, that he gave his only Son.
The world hadn’t done anything, you and I hadn’t done anything. We can’t do anything to earn God’s love.
“…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
They’re born again, made into a new person!
Paul puts it this way:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
In Christ you are made into a new creation - and this is an ongoing process. The OLD self is gone, the new has come. And this new person can do new things through Christ in them.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If we are living in Christ and Christ is in us we will bear much fruit.
Faith without works is dead!
Faith without works is dead!
Paul did not deny this fact that James pronounces so firmly in verse 17:
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Most of us, as followers of Christ seek to honor God by the things we do. That’s evidence of our faith. These are the works that James is speaking of. It is not work to earn our salvation, but it is the work we do because of our faith that is evidence of our faith.
It is one thing to say, “I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus.” As James says, “Even the demons believe, and shudder!” (v. 19).
In the English it would seem that believe and faith are two different words, but in the Greek there is only forms of one word is used pisteuo. So how would one differentiate between the belief that the demons have and the faith that we are called to have?
To believe is to accept - the demons accept that there is a God and Jesus is His son, but what they lack and what the follower of Jesus must have is a TRUST IN Him. It’s one thing to accept that someone exists and entirely different thing to trust them.
It is said that Charles Blondin was one of the greatest tight rope walkers of all time. In the summer of 1859 he strung a tightrope over Niagara Falls and walked several times between Canada and the United States to the delight of huge crowds on both sides. Each time he made the trip he added something to it. He made the journey in a sack, somersaulting, on stilts, and even pushed a wheelbarrow across. According to reports he even once cooked breakfast midway across and ate it. After one of his trips he asked the crowds how confident they were in his next trick, that he could carry someone across in the wheelbarrow. Oh, they were so confident! Of course, he could do anything on that tightrope! They cheered wildly. And then he asked for a volunteer to get in the wheelbarrow. As you can imagine their enthusiastic trust of his abilities were great while they were standing safely on one side of the falls or the other, but to be asked to put their trust in him and take the journey with him was an entirely different thing.
It is because of our faith and trust in our Lord Jesus for our salvation that we are free from trying to earn God’s love - which is focusing on ourselves, to loving our God and those around us. It is because we put our trust in Jesus AND take our journey with Him that produces faith.
There is a great freedom there. I shared with you last week of Hudson Taylor writing to his children, “ I used to try to keep my own heart right, but it would always be going wrong. so at last I had to give up trying myself, and to accept the Lord’s offer to keep it for me.”
Matthew wrote in his Gospel,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
To take Jesus yoke is to go with Him. Where Jesus leads, we go, when Jesus stops, we stop. No longer do we worry about what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, what to do - Jesus knows our every need.
Our works are simply living out what God is doing in us, and that is the working out of our faith.
Paul wrote to the Galatians
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
So much truth.
The truth of the Gospel has never been about you. It has never been “If I…then God”, it has always had its beginning and end in Jesus. Remember Jesus says, I am the alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
It’s not about you. What you wouldn’t, God would. What you couldn’t; God could. What you didn’t; God did.
God did it all in Jesus.
Jesus is all.
JESUS IS ALL!
JESUS IS ALL!
The Word of our Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Lord, you are all. You are my everything. I cannot go anywhere you are not. Forgive us Lord for all the times we try and earn or make our salvation true. Forgive us for ever thinking that any of our salvation is dependent upon us. Thank you, for your gift in lavishing your grace upon us to give us faith that we might follow us. Thank you for recreating each of us as new Creations in you. That old person is gone, the new has come and we are freed to do the things you call us to. And we see them happening in our lives and we can give you the praise knowing that it is not by our strength that they are done, but by you alone. We give you the glory Lord. All of it.
In Jesus’ Name we pray. AMEN.