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Steps to Spiritual Fitness 2 “Just Do It”...

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Steps to Spiritual Fitness #2

“Just Do It”

James 2:14-26

I’d like to begin this message with a parable.

A certain man had an appointment to see his doctor. Unlike many who dread such meetings, this man couldn’t wait to see his physician. Dressed in a new exercise outfit with brand new sneakers, and with a file folder under his arm, he walked proudly into the office.

“Have you begun the exercise regimen I suggested?” the doctor asked.

“Have I ever, Doc,” the man said excitedly. “Wait ‘til you see this,” he went on as he unfolded the file. Inside were pamphlets and pictures of the latest exercise equipment he had purchased—a treadmill, a rowing machine, and a weight-lifting bench. He told the doctor about how often each were to be used and what muscle groups were targeted by various exercises.

“But—,” the doctor tried unsuccessfully to interject.

“There’s more,” the patient went on like a kid on Christmas morning, “I went to the bookstore and found all these books on exercising and weight lifting, and I bought subscriptions to three magazines.”

When the man paused to catch his breath, the doctor asked, “How often are you using them?”

The man stared back blankly. “Whaddya mean?” he asked.

“How much exercise are you doing with your equipment?” the doctor repeated.

“Uh, well, I guess I hadn’t gotten around to that yet,” the man meekly admitted.

Sound foolish? Sure it does!

Sound familiar? Maybe you have a treadmill that is used more to hang clothes on than for exercise. Maybe you bought that health club membership but never went back after the first few days or weeks.

If this doesn’t apply in the physical realm, perhaps we should consider it spiritually. Turn to James 1:22-25 where we read,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

In our study on steps to spiritual fitness, I would like to address the subject of exercising our faith. I think that if the apostle James were alive today, he would appreciate the motto of Nike: “Just do it.”

The Futility of a Passive Faith

With the above passage in mind, turn over to James chapter two, where he picks up this topic again. Let’s begin in verse 14:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? 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 what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder [James 2:14-19].

In both passages James identifies the futility of a passive faith. The first illustration he uses is comical: a man looks in a mirror—maybe his hair is tousled, maybe he needs a shave—but does nothing about it. What good was it to look in the mirror? James’ second illustration is not funny but tragic: a poor person without proper clothing and food comes to your door, and you wish them well but do nothing about their needs. What good are the words?

Warren Wiersbe writes,

It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and get God’s blessing. It is not the hearing but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.

I am reminded of my favorite song recorded by the late Rich Mullins that deals with this very text.

It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine—

faith without works, baby, it just ain’t happenin’

One is your left hand, one is your right

It’ll take two strong arms to hold on tight

Some folks cut off their nose just to spite their face

I think you need some works to show for your alleged faith

There’s a difference you know between having faith and playing make believe

One will make you grow the other one just make you sleep

Talk about it—but I really think you oughta

Take a leap off of the ship before you claim to walk on water

Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing

It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

Faith comes from God and every word that He breathes

He lets you take it to your heart so you can give it hands and feet

It’s gotta be active if it’s gonna be alive

You gotta put it into practice otherwise....

It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

Faith without works, baby, it just ain’t happenin’

One is your right hand, one is your left

It’s your light, your guide, your life, and your breath

Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing

It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

That song, like James’ first illustration, may make us smile, but this is a very serious matter. Consider the question raised in verse 14: “Can such faith save him?” The obvious answer is, “No!” Just as the man with all the unused exercise equipment will never get physically fit, the one with a library full of Bibles and books on Bible study who goes to church every Sunday but never allows the truth to change their life has no spiritual reality!

If that sounds too harsh, listen to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 7:21-23,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Who will enter the kingdom of heaven? “Only he who does the will of my Father.” It’s not what we know or what we think or what we say but what we do. This is underscored in the following words from Jesus in Matthew 7:24-27

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

The difference between the wise and foolish builders was not that one heard Jesus’ words and one didn’t; they both heard His words, but only the wise builder “put them into practice.” That was the difference between success and failure, between eternal life and eternal death. It really is that simple. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it. Jesus has spoken: his is the word, ours the obedience.” In other words, just do it.

The Fruitfulness of a Practical Faith

We are not left with the negative view of this issue, though. We read in James 2:20-26 of the fruitfulness of a practical faith:

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor 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 justified by what he does 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.

Can you imagine two more different characters from the Old Testament than Abraham and Rahab? Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, the epitome of faith, while Rahab was a Gentile woman—a prostitute, no less—and part of a condemned people. But what did they have in common? True faith, a faith that was evidenced by what they did.

This passage has caused confusion for some Christians, particularly in light of Paul’s words in 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.” Is this a contradiction? Not at all, as William Barclay points out,

It is not a case of either faith or works; it is necessarily a case of both faith and works. In many ways Christianity is falsely represented as an “either or” when it must properly be a “both and”.

We are saved by a faith that works. In fact, if we keep reading in Ephesians two, verse ten says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are not saved by works, but for works.

In addition to salvation, practical faith leads to other blessings in the Christian life. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of spiritual discernment: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Notice the words, “by constant use.” Those are active terms, not passive. Practical faith leads to spiritual maturity as we grow more like Christ.

Practical faith will also benefit others around us. James related how useless faith does nothing for the needy; John shows the flip side of this in 1 John 3:16-18,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

The illustration in James is to love “with words or tongue”; we are called to love “with actions and in truth.”

So how do we pull this off? How can we be sure we have practical, not passive, faith? It begins with a mindset. We must not be content with how much of God’s Word and God’s will we know; we must strive to put it into practice. Whenever we read the Scriptures or hear a sermon or are challenged spiritually, we need to ask ourselves, “What can I do with this information? How can this truth change the way I act?” It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering; often growth comes in small steps of obedience.

Don’t expect perfection right away. Just like with physical exercise, it may take days, weeks, months, or even years for some of the truths we learn to become a regular part of our lifestyle. No one who starts a running routine thinks they can run a 26-mile marathon the next week! That’s okay—God is more concerned about the direction in our lives than in our perfection. But we must take God’s Word and put it into practice.

Jesus promises in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” To put it in our own language, when you know what God wants you to do, just do it!

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