Faith That Saves Is Faith That Works

Bible Book: James  2 : 14-26
Subject: Faith; Works; Christian Living
Series: James - Adams

I don’t know if you realize it or not but today is Reformation Sunday. It’s given that designation because it is the closest Sunday to Reformation Day-October 31-that day in 1517 when Martin Luther started the great reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg-criticizing, among other things, the extreme legalism of the Catholic church.Now, as good Protestants I’m sure you know the story behind this pivotal event in church history but let’s review it together briefly. Luther was an Augustinian friar who, through his own prayerful study had come to see that the Bible teaches that man is not saved by HIS actions but rather by faith in GOD’S action of sending His only Son to die for the sins of all mankind on Calvary’s cross. Luther’s study of God’s written Word helped him to see that we are not saved by faith in OUR works-as the church of his day taught-but rather by faith in GOD’S work of grace. And the place that Luther most clearly saw this truth was in the letters of Paul. For example he read in Ephesians 2:8 where Paul says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God-not by works so that no one can boast.”

Now-a study of Luther’s life will show that he disliked the writings of James almost as much as he cherished the writings of Paul. In fact, he referred to James’ little book as “a right strawy epistle” – which was his way of saying that in his opinion it was not worth the paper it was written on. Luther went so far as to call for it’s removal from the New Testament….and he did this because he thought James’ book contradicted Paul’s grace-filled teaching. The passage that led him to this conclusion is James 2:14-26-our text for this morning. Let’s read it together to see if we agree with Martin.

14 – What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 – 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. 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. 19 – You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. 20 – 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. 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? 26 – As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Well, what do you think? Was Luther right in saying that James contradicted what Paul said about the grace of God? Everyone shake your heads left to right. Good - you answered correctly because NO, James did not contradict Paul. I say this for a couple reasons.

(1) First of all, a careful reading of these two New Testament writers shows that Paul and James were talking about DIFFERENT THINGS.

Paul focused on the MEANS of our salvation-saying that we are saved BY God’s grace. But, in his little “strawy epistle” James wrote about the OUTCOME of salvation-the evidence that a person has actually experienced God’s grace. You could say Paul focused on the ROOT of our salvation and James focused on it’s FRUIT.

Now one reason people don’t see this difference in focus is because both James and Paul used the same Greek word “dikaioo” which we translate as “justified.” For example, in Romans 3:24 Paul said that we are, “…JUSTIFIED by faith apart from works of the law.” And then right here in verses 21 and 25 James asks, “Was not our ancestor Abraham JUSTIFIED-or made righteous-by what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute JUSTIFIED for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies? [Weren't these two famous people JUSTIFIED by their works?"]

Many people look at these two texts and say that Paul and James were teaching conflicting things-Paul was teaching we are JUSTIFIED by faith apart from works while James says that, like Abraham and Rahab, we are JUSTIFIED by what we DO. But actually there is no contradiction here because this Greek word for “justified” can be translated TWO WAYS.

It can mean both “acquittal” and “vindication.” Paul used it the first way-saying that by grace we are justified or ACQUITTED-declared righteous before God. But James used the SECOND meaning. He said that once we put our faith in Christ our faith-filled actions give VINDICATION or PROOF that we have experienced God’s grace-just as Abraham’s action in being willing to obey God and sacrifice his own son gave proof of his great faith and Rahab’s action in protecting the spies in Jericho SHOWED her faith in God.

(2.) Another thing. These two men were dealing with DIFFERENT PROBLEMS.

Paul was attacking self-righteous legalism, those who said they could earn their way to heaven which is something Martin Luther could identify with because the church in his day was in essence saying that an individual could buy his or her way into eternal bliss with God. Well James wasn’t dealing with legalism. He was attacking superficial faith-a faith that had no effect on the lifestyle of the person who claimed to believe. You see, there were people in his day who advocated something called “antinomianism” which said that a person could accept God’s gracious offer of salvation and then live any way they liked. James says that’s not true-because GENUINE FAITH produces GENUINE WORKS. Our experience of God’s grace DRIVES us-MOTIVATES us-to live Godly lives and if this doesn’t happen then the validity of a person’s faith becomes doubtful.

You could say that James is teaching that if there is no FRUIT, then we should question the health of the ROOT because genuine faith WORKS…WORKS authenticate faith. In the same way that the pulse thumping on our wrist proves we are alive and kicking physically-Godly works give proof that we are alive and kicking spiritually-that we have met and are walking in close fellowship with our loving Heavenly Father.

So the truth is that James BUILDS on the teachings of Paul. These two don’t CONTRADICT one another-they COMPLEMENT one another which makes sense because their writings were inspired by the same Holy Spirit of God. In his commentary on Romans, W. H. Griffith Thomas puts it this way,

“James and Paul are not soldiers of different armies fighting against each other, but soldiers of the same army fighting back to back against enemies coming from opposite directions.”

Well, all this goes to show that authentic Christian discipleship it is not a matter of faith OR works but rather one of faith AND works because when it comes to a Christian faith that is genuine and mature, faith and works go hand in hand. As James says in verse 22, “faith and actions work together…actions make faith complete.” John Calvin once put it this way, “Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.”

And James isn’t the only Biblical writer who says this. In fact, this characteristic of genuine faith is taught throughout the New Testament. In Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist preached and admonished his hearers to, "...produce FRUIT in keeping with [their] repentance." In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that people will SEE OUR FAITH by our fruit-our actions. Do you remember His words? He commanded us to live in such a way that men will, “…see our GOOD WORKS and glorify our Father in Heaven.”

And even Paul taught this. In Romans 2:6 he said, “God will give to each person according to what he has DONE.” And in Ephesians 2:10 immediately after Paul talks about our being saved by grace he goes on to say that we are, “…created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS…which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I think Paul would tell us that we are not saved BY our good words but FOR them-that, just as James says, faith and works are inseparable.

Well, Martin Luther must have eventually understood this principle of faith because in the preface to his commentary on Romans, he says that it is, “…impossible to separate works from faith - yea, just as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.” Luther also said, “…faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing that which is good. It does not even ask whether good works should be done; but before the question can be asked it has done them. And is constantly engaged in doing them. He who does not do such works, is a man without faith.”

I for one believe Luther eventually came to realize that God has used James to help us have a very clear, mature description of genuine faith. In fact I read somewhere this week that as he grew spiritually Luther changed his mind about kicking James out of the New Testament. And I’m glad he did because without James’ epistle there’s a good chance our understanding of how faith works would be incomplete.

Now, I want us to look closely at these verses this morning-because James does an excellent job in helping us to understand every aspect of this important faith principle. And we who make up REDLAND BAPTIST CHURCH must understand what James says here if we are to be all God has called us to be. I say this because James tells us in this text exactly what a faith that is truly driven by God’s grace will look like.

I. First of all he says that grace-driven faith will not be indifferent but INVOLVED.

As James puts it in verses 15-17: “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.”

In other words, James says that if we encounter people in need and all we do is pay them lip-service-if we don’t DO SOMETHING TO HELP THEM-we are giving evidence that ours is a faith that is empty and powerless. In fact James goes so far as to suggest that seeing someone in need and doing nothing to help them just might indicate that we have never truly experienced the love of God. As 1 John 3:17 says, “Whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

This week I came across the following prose. It’s a sort of paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 27, when He talked about the final judgment-a time when He would bar from heaven, those people who had refused to get involved with helping people in physical need. See if you don’t hear Jesus’ words in this.

“I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned and you said you would pray for my release but you never visited me. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual nature of the shelter of God’s love. I was lonely and you left me alone while you went off to attend some church meeting. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry, lonely, and cold.”

Friends, the truth is, if we are close to God-if we are in a growing faith relationship with Him-if we have experienced His gracious love, then we will do all we can to help others. As I said, in my last message, as we grow in our faith we will begin to think like God-so much so that when we see others who are hurting or lonely our hearts will break and we’ll be moved to act. Genuine FAITH-FILLED Christians will be known for the way they roll up their sleeves and GET INVOLVED in meeting physical need.

There was once a college student who was having a hard time understanding all the injustice in the world. He spent a great deal of his time feeling angry and frustrated. When he could stand it no longer, he went to the dim and seldom-used chapel on campus. He paced up and down the aisles, slapping the back of the empty pews. He yelled, he cried, and he raged at God saying,

“God You created the world. What could You possibly have been thinking? Look at the problems people face. Look at the pain, suffering, and hunger. Look at the neglect, the waste, the abuse. Everywhere I look, I see messed-up people, hurting people, lonely people!”

The young man ranted and raved like this on and on. Finally, exhausted, he sat in the front pew an looked hopelessly at the cross and said, “It’s all such a mess! This world You created is nothing but a terrible mess! Why even I could make a world better than this one!”

At that moment the young man heard the voice of God reply, “That is exactly what I want you to do.”

Well, that’s what He wants us to do as well - make this world a better place by getting involved in meeting the needs we see around us. And if we truly experience His grace - we’ll want to do this. If we don’t allow our faith in God’s grace to drive us to help others, James says our faith profits no one-it is a useless faith.

What about you? Have you allowed God’s grace to make your heart melt when you see people in need-or has the world around you hardened your heart to the point that all you think about is your own comfort? Even worse-are you like the religious people in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in that you use religious activity as an excuse to avoid helping others?

The second thing James says about genuine grace-driven faith is that…

2. …it is not invisible but is on DISPLAY.

Look at verse 18. “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.”

Now, the Greek word for “show” here means to “bring to light, to display, to exhibit.” In other words, James is saying that real faith cannot be hidden. It will show up-in essence what we DO will reveal WHOSE we are. This is because the genuineness of a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is evidenced more by what a person DOES than by what he CLAIMS.

Several years ago I was asked to teach a seminar at an associational youth retreat entitled, “Standing Up for Your Faith Without Standing Out.” I told the people who asked me that this study would be an impossible one to teach because you can’t live the Christian life and not stand out. We live in a fallen world so living Godly lives will be abnormal-it will be counter-cultural.

As Paul says in Philippians 2, if we live pure and blameless lives we will, “…stand out like stars in the dark universe.”

This week I saw a TV news report on the world famous NBA pro, A. C. Green. This time he was in the media spotlight - not because of his awesome basketball skills-but because he did something most of his peers didn’t do. He obeyed God and remained sexually pure until he got married recently at the age of 38. Charlie Gibson interviewed him on Good Morning America and talked as if this was an odd thing for A. C. Green to do and it was the NORM for celebrities is to sleep around. Well, this commitment caused A. C. Green’s faith to show - because the truth is even though faith cannot be seen-its RESULTS can. Just as visible pounds and inches come as a result of consuming invisible calories, noticeable Godly works come as a result of our faith.

Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for Christ. You receive the life and then reveal the life.” The sad truth is that many Christians don’t REVEAL the life Jesus has given them. They hide their light under a bushel and conform themselves to the fallen world around them. Tony Campolo was once robbed on the streets of Philadelphia. As part of his conversation with the criminal he said, “Look, I’m a Baptist minister.” The robber replied in all sincerity, “Really? I’m a Baptist too!” And then he took his wallet and ran. I tend to doubt that man had a genuine faith in God. His life certainly didn’t reveal it. He reminds me of the people God is talking about in Isaiah 29:13 when He says, “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isaiah 29:13) James teaches that GENUINE grace-driven faith leads to visible Godly actions.

A drunk named Joe was once miraculously converted at a Bowery mission. Prior to his conversion, Joe had gained the reputation of being a dirty wino for whom there was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life with God, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission doing whatever needed to be done. There was never any task that was too lowly for Joe to take on. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick alcoholic or scrubbing the toilets after careless men left the bathroom filthy Joe did what was asked with a soft smile on his face and with gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered into the mission off the street, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves. One evening, when the director of the mission was delivering his regular evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads there was one man who looked up, came down the aisle to the altar and knelt to pray, crying out for God to help him to change. This repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh God, make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!” The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, ‘Make me like Jesus!” The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, “Is HE like Joe?” Well like Joe - if we walk in close fellowship with Jesus Christ - it will show. People will see Jesus living in and through us-His grace will be reflected in our actions.

Again let me ask-what about you? Do the results of your faith SHOW? Or do you hide your faith like those people mentioned in Titus 1:16 where it says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him.”

So, in these verses James says the faith of a truly GRACE-DRIVEN Christian will lead him or her to be INVOLVED in meeting human need and it will be DISPLAYED in the way they live. And then the last thing James says about genuine grace-driven faith is that…

3. …it is not merely intellectual, but is from the HEART.

In other words faith is not just something you know UP HERE-it’s something you BELIEVE right here. It’s not just knowledge-it’s action. In verse 19 he says KNOWLEDGE of God’s existence is not enough-for even the demons have knowledge. Now, the word for “demon” comes from the same Greek word from which we get the word, “intelligence.” And demons are very intelligent. In fact their knowledge of CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY is impeccable. First of all, they are not atheists or agnostics but believe that God exists. They also believe in the deity of Christ-whenever they met our Lord during His earthly ministry they bore witness to His Sonship. We know that demons believe in the existence of a place of punishment because in Luke 8:31 they begged Jesus not to send them there. They also doubtless have a clearer knowledge of the millennium and its related truths than does even the most devoted Bible scholar. But all of that orthodox knowledge-divinely and eternally significant as it is-cannot save them. Nor could it save us because KNOWLEDGE is not enough-KNOWLEDGE is not the same thing as faith. Faith is acting on our knowledge. It’s acting on what we believe about God. It’s inviting Jesus into our hearts and lives. The sad truth is there are a lot of Bible-toting, Bible-believing folks who will go to hell because they have never ACTED on their belief. Jesus referred to these people in Matthew 7 when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father Who is in Heaven.”

You may have heard the true story of the famous high-wire performer BLONDIN. Back in 1860 he strung a cable across Niagra falls. The cable was 1000 feet long, and 160 feet above the raging waters. As more and more people and media converged, Blondin did more and more death-defying feats on his cable. He walked to the middle and did a backward somersault. Then he took a chair to the middle and sat on it, balancing on the back of two legs. Later he went across on stilts. For his greatest stunt, he asked the crowd if they thought he could take a man across on his back. They all cheered and shouted that they knew he could do it. “WE BELIEVE!” they all chanted over and over again. So Blondin went into the crowd, picked out one man who had been particularly vocal and said, “Get on my back.” They guy’s face turned gray and he said, “No way!” He believed Blondin….but not enough to act on his belief. Blondin never did take a person across on his back. Instead he pushed a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded. And even then he couldn’t find a MAN brave enough to do get in. So he took a WOMAN. James says that belief about Jesus is not enough. We must take it a second step and ACT on our belief by committing our lives to Him. When we do that He gives us a faith that works.

Let me ask you one more question, have you ever ACTED on your belief? You may have attended Church or Sunday School and heard all about the AMAZING THINGS Jesus has done - infinitely more amazing than Blondin’s feats on that high wire. Well, have you ever taken that all important step of faith and gone beyond knowledge and belief to put your life in Jesus’ all-capable hands-saying in essence, “I not only believe Jesus can change a life - I’m willing to let Him change mine!” “I not only believe Jesus can forgive sin-I’m asking Him to forgive mine!” If this describes you, then I urge you to take that step. Put your hand in Jesus’ hand and let Him come into your heart and life as Savior and Lord. In a moment when we stand and sing, walk the aisle and share your decision with me.And then, if you are a Christian-but you haven’t been letting God’s grace drive you if you feel that James has been describing your faith-a faith that has been useless, more dead than alive-then this could be YOUR reformation Sunday if you decide today to recommit your life to Jesus and ask Him to empower you to be the disciple He wants you to be.

We sing to give you an opportunity to respond publically-to profess your faith in Christ-to recommit your life to Him-or to join our church family. Won’t you come now as God leads?