Monday, June 13, 2016

What Faith do you have?

James 2:14-26
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.

The question of the relationship between faith and works is something that has been considered by the church for a long time. This was the spark of the 16th century reformation in Europe. It is the dividing line between the Roman Catholics & (true) Protestants. I qualify Protestants because so many have secretly abandoned this narrow way to the Celestial City. I pray that this sermon will redress the balance, sound the alarm and bring them back to this strait path.

Salvation by faith alone
The free grace of God, by which our salvation is anchored, is only obtained by faith alone apart from the works of the law. If you would bring nothing in your hand and cling to the cross of Christ; if you would come naked then you’re sure to be dressed by the righteousness of Christ; if you acknowledge how helpless you are, then the free grace of Christ of is up for grabs without money. Yes, drink from the fountain of grace, without money.

Paul so emphatically taught;
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:28)
…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)
The Reformers were so clear and zealous in defending the doctrine of salvation by faith alone apart from works. Our Protestant and Reformed position demands that we chant Sola Fide, that is, we depend on Faith Alone apart from the works for our salvation.
So what is James saying in this passage? Has Pastor James lost such a basic doctrine at this point? Is he teaching that salvation depends on faith plus works? Is James in conflict with the rest of the Scriptures? The answer is NO! James is teaching that our salvation comes by faith which is demonstrated by our works. He is not teaching how we become saved, rather, he is teaching how we are to live after salvation.
The point to be underlined here is that Paul and James are dealing with different people and different problems. Paul on the one hand was addressing legalistic unconverted Pharisees of his day while James on the other hand was addressing Christian brothers (v.14) who may have been tempted to antinomianism, and licentiousness.
James is interested in demonstrating a living, active, working, saving faith. He then asks us what happens in our lives and draws many examples to show what true, genuine faith is like? Or to bring it closer home, what faith have you, living or dead faith? He presents us with four illustrations from which he makes conclusion about at the end of each of the illustration:
1.      It is possible to have a spurious faith (vv. 14-16).
There is such a thing as a false claim of faith and so James tells us that it is possible for someone to say that he has faith but it is only a claim. A false profession, if you will. The Lord constantly exhorts us to believe in Christ and be saved.  But James pulls out two examples of showing spurious faith:
a)      Professor of faith
James illustrates with a hypothetical man who professes to be a Christian but has nothing to show for his faith, more than his words. He lives a life without caring to meet the needs of a Christian who is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food. He has no love for his neighbour as himself.
The illustration of verses 15-16 applies to the first question on verse 14, since the same question is repeated in verse 16, asking once again what good, or benefit is having a kind of faith that would see a naked brother and do nothing about it except pour out empty words? Even words that sound pious are not good enough. A situation of dire need has gone unprovided for, an opportunity to show Christian love has been wasted, and an occasion to demonstrate Christian faith has been forfeited.
In giving this example, James wants us to question whether profession of faith is a good enough evidence of saving faith. This question is important at a time like this when there is what we can call, easy believism, propagated by the so-called altar-call. All you need is to hear the gospel (and most often than not the gospel presented is not gospel at all), and then be asked if you want to be saved. If you do, you are requested to repeat the preacher’s prayer. As soon as you say amen, you are immediately pronounced a believer! If you confess with your mouth, without believing in your heart, and without living accordingly, you are not saved!
If this man goes on to live a wicked life, he is dubbed a carnal Christian and is required to have a second experience of salvation when he is supposed to be ‘spirit-filled’. The question is how can a man be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and still remain unchanged? How can one be raised from spiritual death and still continue stinking of sin and worldliness? How can a spiritually blind man have his eyes opened by Jesus Christ and still not see the glory of God in the face of His Son? How can a slave of sin be set free from its bondage, power and misery, but still remain enslaved by the same misery? When one gets saved, he becomes a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come.
This hypothetical person that James presents has no kindness. He does not care for the needy among brethren. He has no love – so his ‘faith’ does not work in love. The Bible is so clear that Christians have a special responsibility to their fellow believers (Gal. 6:10). The needy Christian has real basic needs – clothing and food, it can’t get more basic, can it? Instead of seeking to meet this need, he wishes them well, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” Thomas Manton succinctly puts it like this, “The poor will not thank you for your good wishes, neither will God for saying your faith!”
True faith shows itself in the love for the neighbour, and especially those of the household of faith. Therefore, Apostle John underscores it this way: If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1Jn 4:20-21)
b)      The Demons
James then on the second place tells us of demons in order to expose by illustrating this fake and spurious faith. There are no atheists in the demon world. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! The demons believe in Deuteronomy 6:4. They are so orthodox in their belief, for they believe that there is one God – demons are monotheistic! Are they not the ones who identified Jesus first, as the Son of God? See, Mark 1:24 and Matthew 8:29. The devil knows a good amount of the Bible, to be able to twist its truth to his own damnation. This is what he did in the Garden of Eden. The demons believe in the eternal existence and power of God.
But they believe and shudder. That is the thought of God brings terror, fear and misery on the demons. For they have no hope of fellowship with God ever. Their faith is not a faith that brings them peace with God. Rather it is a faith of terror that is fully persuaded of the eternal condemnation that await them. They well know their destiny is far from the presence of God, being at enmity with God now.
What faith do the demons have? They have the faith of knowledge. Faith comes by knowledge (by hearing the Word of God) and so in so far as their body of faith is concerned, they have an orthodox understanding of the truths of the Bible. They have intellectual faith, and would tick the truths of the Bible about God. Yet, this is not the saving faith, for it does not trust in Christ for salvation.
Faith in Christ does not lead to fear, for truth faith casts away fear. In fact, true faith leads to peace with God, so that communion and fellowship with God is automatic for one who has been reconciled with God by His Son’s blood. In speaking about this., once again Apostle John nails it when he says,
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1Jn 4:15-18)
Undoubtedly, there is a kind of faith that is not the saving faith. It may look genuine, but it is a spurious faith and will not bring anyone to the Celestial city. Therefore, here is a call to evaluate and reevaluate your faith to make sure that it is a true, saving faith.  Examine and re-examine your faith. Would you evaluate your faith now? Examine to see if your faith is spurious or genuine, if it is living or dead, if it is active or useless.  
Don’t be content with a faith that will not put a piece of bread to a starving sister. Don’t put any value on faith that will not cover a naked brother. You’ll show me your faith, not by profession only, but by good works. This is the response he gave to the objector of verse 18, who says, “You have faith and I have works.” The point is James is not really contrasting faith and works, as if these were two alternative options in one’s approach to God. He is, rather, contrasting a faith that, because it is inherently defective, produces no works and a faith that, because it is genuine, does result in action.[1]
So James ends these two examples with very sharp conclusions:
·         So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (v.17).
·         Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (v.20)
This can be shown to be the case with what the Lord taught in Matt. 25:41-46:
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
2.      Would you not have true faith?
Pastor James, carried along by the Holy Spirit in holy inspiration, moves on to demonstrate the foolishness of thinking that words constitute faith. Do you want to be shown you foolish person that faith apart from works is useless? (v.20) He moves on to show this proposition by providing two OT believers, patriarch Abraham and prostitute Rahab. One a Jew and another a Canaanite. One a man and the other a woman. A hero of faith and ‘minnow’ of faith as it outwardly looks. In doing this James silences anyone who might dismiss Abraham as special. But both are actually in the hall of faith in Heb 11.
a)      Patriarch Abraham
 The illustration of Abraham is masterful because he is the father of faith and Jews and Gentiles can identify with him. Paul uses him to show that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law in both Romans 4 and Galatians 3. In fact Paul says that those of faith are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). There were many incidences in his life that can demonstrate his faith, from when he was called from Ur of the Chaldeans. But James goes all the way to Genesis 22 when he obeyed God’s instruction to offer his son of the promise Isaac and in so doing, he demonstrated his unqualified faith in God.
We notice that Abraham’s faith, having been given in Genesis 15, was accompanied with the actions of faith, shown by his unswerving obedience to God. The two must not be separated, as the root and shoot. Faith is the root of obedience and true obedience can only come from the root of faith. The two are not mutually exclusive – in fact they complement each other. It was his unswerving faith that made Abraham trust the promises of God, even believing that God was able to raise him up and so fulfill his promises of blessing him through Isaac (see. Heb.11:19). Abraham’s faith produced obedience so whoever is a child of Abraham, has true faith and true faith obeys (John 8:39).
Faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works. The point being made here is not that Abraham’s faith was deficient until he obeyed God, but that his obedience in Moriah demonstrated what metal his faith was made of! His faith was not made on his presumption – it was made of the promise that, when he believed in the promises of God, God credited into his account righteousness of God. His justification was a gracious act of God, but his obedience was a proof of the presence of God’s grace in his life. If he had acted in disobedience continuing to claim God’s grace, then this would have been a spurious faith.
Since Abraham’s faith proved to be a genuine faith by his obedience, then the Bible records the wonderful blessing that came with this. He was so privileged as to be called a friend of God! It cannot get better than that. He was reconciled with God, he had peace with God that he was regarded to be a friend of God. It is interesting to see the contrast the demons who are terrified, with Abraham who was at perfect peace God as to become God’s friend (see, Isa. 41:8; 2 Chron. 20:7)
b)      Prostitute Rahab
The Bible is clear that by two or more witnesses shall truth be established. So James calls out the second witness to the dock. But the question might linger why he would pull out a seemingly weak witness as Rahab – I mean she was a woman, and a prostitute for that matter. Her witness would be rejected by the Jews of the twelve tribes in the dispersion, since a testimony of a woman was not regarded at all. Why did James bring Rahab of all the people, having been a Canaanite?
Remember that people are constantly raising all sorts of objections against the truths of the gospel. So I can envisage someone objecting to James – “…thank  you very much for bringing Abraham. But James, you very well know that Abraham was special – just look at the privileges he had with God… I am only an ordinary Christian.” But James responded to the objector who wanted to be classified as ‘an ordinary Christian’ to observe the example of Rahab. She was a prostitute. And this should tell us that no one is outside the realm of God’s rich grace. The grace of God can make the foulest clean. A prostitute like Rahab was transformed by the grace of God and immediately made a trophy of God’s saving grace.
There are people who can say that, “Well, salvation is only for the Jews. I have no hope of salvation being a gentile.” But James once again points to his evidence of the extent of the riches of the grace of God in Rahab, who was a Caananite. It does not matter whether one is a Jew or gentile. A man or a woman. As soon as she was saved, she made the most remarkable confession to the spies. See Joshua 2:9-10 and went on to hide them. She was saved by her faith and she demonstrated her saving faith immediately by he hospitality to the strangers. She protected them to her own detriment.
When you consider that Rahab demonstrated her faith by putting her own life at risk in order to care for the spies, who while in Jericho were aliens, then you would see the work of God’s saving grace. God’s law called for his people to look after the orphans, the widows, and the aliens. Rahab’s faith was a genuine faith as to obey the law of God even though she was ignorant of it!
Do you have it? You say that you are a believer, you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder. You will show your faith to be genuine by your priorities. Some of you are irregular in church attendance, rarely pray, rarely give to the ministry of the church, you do not take up any responsibilities or show any interest in washing the feet of the saints and yet you think that you are Christians.
Christians love God and they enjoy a close communion with Him. They have the peace of God. They love His people as well. If you live as the world does without any practical care for God’s people, dragging the name of Christ along, then you deceive yourself. If you say that your religion is Christianity, and yet disobey the law of God, then His love is not perfected in you.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1Jn 3:16-24)

[1] Moo, D, (2000), The Letter of James (p.126),Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdermans Publishing Co.