October 11, 2015
Sermon – A Faith that Works
James 2:14-26 ~ October 11, 2015. The audio file is incomplete. Missing parts below.
Turn to James 2 with me. We’ll start in v. 14. (ESV)
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 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.
Let’s pray: Father, we desire to be people who put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, people who receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save our souls. Give us humility and insight into ourselves as we examine this passage. We pray that not only would we examine it, but that it would examine us and help us to see ourselves accurately and clearly. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
James Concerned About our Walk
If I were to summarize James’ letter into one idea, it would be this: James passionately wants to see the church live out their Christian faith in every area of their lives. He wants to see people who are consistenly Christian when they are at church, when they are at work, when they are at school, and when they are with their families. He wants true religion.
In verse 26 of chapter one, James says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
James says, there are people who think they know the gospel, who think they are religious, but don’t actually have true religion.
Chapter 2: Faith and Works
That brings us to chapter 2:14, read it again with me, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
Apparently, there was someone teaching that you could have faith but not works—meaning, you believe the Christian message, but it doesn’t actually work out into the way you live your life. It’s intellectual assent with no practical implications.
This Week: Works
How James responds to this teaching is such an important passage in his letter, we are breaking it into three weeks. Last week, we looked at what James meant by faith. We talked about the nature of false faith and the nature of true faith. This week we are going to talk about what James means by works. And, Lord willing, next week we’ll talk about what James means by justification by works.
But for today, I have three questions to move us through this passage:
- Who has works?
- What does James mean by “works”?
- How do works complete faith?
- Who Has Works?
So first, who has works?
Someone in the early church was answering that question by saying some Christians had works and some didn’t. Some people believed in God and it impacted the way they lived. Other people believed in God and for whatever reason, it had no impact on their lives.
Now when I say it that way, it does not sound convincing. But I imagine if someone were teaching this, they would sound much more persuasive. They might say something like:
“Everybody has their own spiritual gifts. One gift isn’t better than the other, they are just different. God gives some people the ability to be really fruitful for the kingdom, they make impact on other people’s lives. Other people just aren’t given this gift. They don’t have works, but they have faith. We shouldn’t judge them or look down on them, just realize they have a different role to play. But they are still believers.”
That might sound more persuasive
But the problem is you can’t divide up the Christian life that way. Saying you have faith without works is NOT like saying, “Some people can lead Bible studies, others can’t.” Rather, it is like saying, “Some people have a heart and lungs, I just have lungs.” What you are at that point is dead. That doesn’t work, you need both. A Christian must have both faith and works to be truly alive.
We have a form of this teaching that is prevalent especially in American Christianity, which I’m going to call “pray the prayer.” I’m going to explain what I mean by that, see if you can see the similarities to what James is writing against:
Some preachers put a high value on getting people to pray the sinners’ prayer. They say that Jesus will save you, all you have to do is ask him into your heart. He’ll say a prayer and you say it after him, or you’ll get a card with a sample prayer. After you’ve completed the prayer, he beams at you, saying, “You are now a Christian.”
As time goes on, some of the people who said this salvation prayer stop being active in their faith, maybe they go to church, maybe they don’t anymore. But it is apparent that something is wrong. The question that is often asked is, “Did they pray the prayer?” Because if they did, then we assume they are a Christian, but they just aren’t showing it right now. They are a backslider or a carnal Christian.
And many parents when they look at their own kids and they don’t see any evidence of gospel fruit, they remind themselves that Johnny prayed the prayer. He’s a Christian, even though he’s not acting like one right now. We want to believe that our kids really have faith, it’s just dormant faith right now. We want to believe that any day something will happen and they’ll wake up and come alive again.