Wednesday, May 22, 2019

No Separating the Two

“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!”

(James 2:18-19 ESV)

The issue of faith and works, and their role in salvation, is one that’s troubled the church for centuries. The conflicts surrounding this issue have been numerous.  And it’s something with which believers continue to struggle today.

Some say that works alone are enough for salvation.  They say that by simply being a good person we are saved. Others say that faith and works together provide for us salvation. They insist that, along with faith, works play a role in our salvation. And still others say that it’s by faith alone we are saved.

According to Scripture, we’re saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone. Our salvation is not something of which we are deserving, nor is it something we can earn. It’s a free gift of God bestowed upon us as we trust in Jesus Christ.

This, however, does not mean that works are unnecessary. It doesn’t mean that, because we have faith, we’re able to live as we please. We find that a genuine faith cannot be separated from works.

In the previous passage, James told us that faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. In other words, works are a necessary result of our faith. They are necessarily produced by our faith. And if this product is not present, neither then is faith.

This is the point James makes above. One person cannot claim to have faith while another has works. Works apart from faith are meaningless. And so too is a professed faith without works.

“I will show you my faith by my works,” James says. His works provided evidence of his faith. And the same is true of us. They demonstrate the faith that resides within the heart.

Even the demons believe in God, he points out. Even they know that God exists. Even they believe that God is God. Yet, none of us believe they are saved. We do not believe they are saved because they do not receive him as their God. Even knowing his power, they actively oppose him.

The same principle applies to us. Many people profess faith in the Lord. They acknowledge that he is God. Yet, even though this is true, they continue to oppose him. They continue to live for sin. They continue to live in a state of rebellion against him.

If this is true of us, we are not saved. A true faith in Christ involves repentance. It involves a turning from our sin to the Lord. It brings forth the new life God has provided us.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Natural Result of Faith

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.”

(James 2:14-17 ESV)

Our beliefs govern our actions. Our actions are determined by our beliefs. This is something we all recognize to be true.

Because we believe in the law of gravity, we are careful as we approach a high cliff. Because we believe in gravity, we don’t jump out of airplanes without a parachute. If we didn’t believe in gravity, these precautions would seem completely unnecessary.

In the same way, because we believe that life is precious, we do what we can to protect and preserve it. We try to make healthy choices. We make use of the medical care that’s available to us. And we encourage others to do the same. If we didn’t believe that life is precious, if we believed that it was worthless, we’d behave in the opposite manner.

This is the argument that James is making in the above passage. If we claim to have faith, but we do not have works, our faith is not genuine and it’s not able to save. Our faith will naturally produce good works.

He uses the illustration of someone in need. If we wish them well, but do nothing about their need, is it genuine? Of course not. If we truly care about their well-being, we’ll do whatever we can to help them in their time of need.

Scripture clearly teaches that we’re saved not by what we do, but through faith in Jesus. Realizing this, some of us take this truth to an unhealthy extreme. We think that it doesn’t matter what we do, we feel that we’re free to live as we please, because God’s salvation is a free gift.

This mindset, however, is not fitting with a life of faith. If we truly believe in the Lord, if we truly believe that he’s saved us from sin and death, we cannot continue to pursue these things. Our faith will lead us to repentance. It will lead us to turn from our sin to Christ.

So, although our works play no role in our salvation, they are a necessary result of our faith. It’s impossible for us to possess faith without works. Our trust in the Lord will naturally lead us to produce the fruit of faith.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Faith & Mercy

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
(‭‭James‬ ‭2:12-13‬ ‭ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we have been justified by faith. In this way, we have received the righteousness of Christ, having been forgiven of all our sin. We are, therefore, saved from sin and its consequences.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re free to live as we please. It doesn’t mean that we can live in sin, trusting that we’re forgiven. Even as believers, we are answerable to God.

James reminds us of this truth in the above passage. He had been speaking about the sin of partiality, and reminded us that, even if this is our only sin, we are guilty before God. No matter how good of a life we live, a single sin alone makes us guilty in God’s sight.

For this reason, as people who have received the mercy of God, we must show mercy to others. We must bestow upon them the great blessing God has given us. If we will not show mercy to others, then we ourselves are unable to receive the mercy of God.

The sad reality is that, in our nation, the church is known for a lack of mercy. And this is especially true in conservative, Bible believing churches. We are known for a focus on truth at the expense of love for those in need.

According to James, this cannot be. Believing the Bible to be God’s Word, we must show mercy to those who are in need. Our faith requires this response.

A lack of mercy reveals a lack of faith in the Word of God. It reveals that we are hardened to the mercy God has shown us. We cannot separate the two because faith and mercy go hand in hand.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Judging Ourselves Rightly

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

(James 2:8-11 ESV)

We like to think of ourselves as good people. And, if questioned about it, we can offer up a pretty good defense of this position. We can point to areas of life where we have done quite well.

We might point out that we are good parents to our children. We may point out that we go to church most weeks. We may point out that we give to charities that benefit those in need.

However, in reality, we’re not the good people we believe ourselves to be. Even if there are areas of life where we feel we’re doing well, even if there are areas of life where we are doing well, this changes nothing. It changes nothing because there are also areas of life where we are not doing well.

Even if we are good parents to our children, we may demonstrate a lack of concern for other children in our sphere of influence. Even if we are going to church most weeks, we may be relying on our effort rather than the grace of God for salvation. Even if we are giving to charities that benefit those in need, we may be ignoring people in need in our own community.

The point James is making above is that we are all lawbreakers. We are all guilty. In fact, committing only one sin makes us a lawbreaker.

Even if it were possible for us to keep all of God’s commands, save one, we’d be guilty. We’d be just as deserving of God’s judgment as everyone else. And we’d be just as in need of his salvation.

However, realistically speaking, that life is not possible for us. Our sin is much greater than that. Even in areas where we think we’re doing well, sin is present. We fall short of God’s standards in ways we don’t even perceive.

We, then, must judge ourselves realistically. We must recognize our sin, and confess it to the Lord. And we must look not to our goodness, but to the grace of God, for salvation.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Playing Favorites

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

 (James 2:1-7 ESV)

Our natural tendency, as sinners, is to show partiality. We naturally favor some over others. And that favoritism is typically based on our perception of who is the most useful.

A perfect example is the one that James cites above. We tend to favor those who are wealthy over those who are poor. And, why? Because they have the more to offer us.

We might think that this happens in our personal lives, and not so much in the church. But nothing is further from the truth. In reality, this happens as much in the church as it does everywhere else.

The poor are not able to contribute as much as the rich. Therefore, we value their opinions less. And, not only that, but we value their contributions less.

We value their contribution less even though, according to Jesus, the two small coins of the elderly widow were more significant than the donations of the rich (Mark 12:41-44). They were more valuable because, even if her gift was lesser from a monetary standpoint, it was more generous. It was a more sacrificial gift than those given by the wealthy.

Favoritism is even expected in the church by those who are wealthiest. It’s expected because, if the church won’t or can’t spend the money on a specific project, the rich will do it themselves. It’s assumed that the church will never turn away that significant of a donation. They will not turn it away at the risk of losing a member who contributes so much.

We do this despite the fact that God has chosen the poor in this world to be blessed. We do so despite the fact that it’s the rich who oppress us and drag us into court. They do so because they have the means to accomplish their goals.

Showing partiality, according to James, is sinful. In this way, we have made distinctions. In this way, we’ve become judges with evil thoughts.

We can show partiality for other reasons, of course. We can show it based upon a person’s educational level. We can show it based upon a person’s race. We can show it based upon a person’s background.

Whatever the case, when we show partiality, we are not looking at people as God looks at them. We are not valuing people as God values them. The worth of a man, in God’s eyes, is in no way dependent upon his means. His worth is found in the price paid for his redemption.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Our Easter Hope

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

(1Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)

I remember, a couple of years back, as my family and I were at the funeral home. It was just prior to the visitation for my mother. At one point, my dad approached the casket by himself, as he struggled with the loss of his wife. My son, who was five at the time, went and took him by the hand. He said: “Don’t worry, Grandpa. She’ll rise again when Jesus comes back.”

Out of the mouths of babes. In that moment, a young boy expressed a truth that escapes many who are more learned in the Christian faith. He comforted his grandpa with the great hope we have in Jesus.

Many of us believe that, at death, our spirit goes to be with the Lord and that’s the end of it. We imagine ourselves or our loved ones sitting on clouds and strumming harps. We imagine eternity as a purely spiritual existence.

Where we get this understanding, I don’t know. While it’s true that our spirit goes to be with Jesus at the time of our death, that’s hardly the end of it. The end of it comes when Jesus returns and, as we read above, the dead are raised imperishable.

Death, you see, is the punishment of our sin. And since Jesus has born the punishment of our sin, because that price has been paid, death must be no more. If we have been redeemed, then death has been rendered powerless.

If our bodies remained in the grave, it would demonstrate that the victory had not been won. It would reveal that Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough. It would reveal to us that we are still under the power of sin.

However, in the end, everything will be as it was in the beginning. Man will exist as both a physical and spiritual being in the new creation. He will live in the presence of God where sin and its consequences no longer wreak havoc on us.

This is our hope. This is the hope of Easter. Because Jesus rose, we know that we too will rise. As God raised Jesus from the dead, we know that he will raise us also.

Monday, April 08, 2019

A Religion or a Relationship?

“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, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

(James 1:26-27 ESV)

“Religion” has become a dirty word to many Christians today. It’s associated with a mere profession of faith and a hypocritical life. Christianity, they say, is not a religion, it’s a relationship.

It’s believed that this also sets Christianity apart from other world religions. Other belief systems are “religions,” we are told, while Christianity is something different. They are dependent upon a system of works, while we experience this “relationship” with the Lord.

There is certainly a relational aspect to Christianity that is not known by other faiths. Jesus tells us that those who believe in him are empowered to become children of God (John 1: 12). He tells us that we are not mere servants, but friends (John 15:13-15).

However, that being said, “religion” is not the dirty word we often make it out to be. Our faith can be properly described as a religion. A religion, after all, is defined as a conviction, a creed, a faith, or a belief.

James also ties our faith together with religion in the above passage. If our religion isn’t put into practice, he tells us, it’s worthless. If we fail to bridle our tongue, it’s worthless.

He goes on to describe what a pure and undefiled religion looks like. It’s to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. And it’s to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It seems that James’ definition of religion is synonymous with faith. Religion is not an empty profession of belief. It’s a belief that results in action. According to James, a religion that does not result in action is no religion at all.

This also ties together with his discussion of faith in chapter 2 of this book. Faith without works, he says, is dead. Faith is not a mere profession of belief. It’s a belief that both empowers and motivates action.

Just as a sincere faith will result in works, just as a sincere faith will be expressed in our works, so too will a sincere religion. If it is not being expressed, then our religion is not sincere. In that case, according to James, we are not truly religious.

So, is Christianity a religion? The answer to this question has to be “yes.” If we have faith in the Lord, it will lead us to serve both God and our neighbor.