Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.
I became a Christian when I was 18 years old.
I had already decided at that time where I was going to college, and so 3 months later, I went off to St. John’s University.
St. John’s is a predominately Catholic school. 85% of its students are Catholic in fact.
I learned quickly that most of the students I met there were more concerned about Thirsty Thursday than Jesus, but as time went on I indeed met some Catholic students who were really passionate about Jesus and loved Jesus.
But as we began to talk further I noticed that a portion of them (certainly not all) seemed to believe that a Christian was saved not just by faith in Jesus…but by also doing enough good things (or works, as they’re often called).
In fact, I remember debating a guy about this when I was a freshmen.
At that point, my debating skills mostly just involved passion, trickery, insults, and like the 3 Bible verses I knew.
And this guy showed me James chapter 2.
And he read, “Faith without works…is dead”
And his conclusion was: Without adding works (good deeds), you can’t be saved.
And at 19, I remember thinking, “That can’t be right…but I have no idea why.”
So this morning, as we continue in our “More Than Words” series on James, we’re going to look at that exact difficult passage…a passage that has caused many to scratch their heads over the centuries.
And we’re going to study: what exactly is the interplay between faith and works?
Or between faith and action.
And we’re going to specifically look at this idea of: “When you and I say we believe in something…is it possible that we might not actually believe in it…even though we SAY we do?!”
JAMES & PAUL BELIEVE THE SAME THING
Let’s take a look at our passage:
Keep it in front of you today. You’re going to need to study this.
(James 2:14-26) – NIV
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their 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 my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do 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.
So James is writing to a Jewish group of Christians that apparently have some folks who are thinking, “All I need is to intellectually believe something…my life doesn’t actually have to change…I just need to pray a prayer or something…and I’ll be saved.”
And it’s to that idea…that he writes this provocative section of chapter 2.
Look at some of his statements:
In verse 24, he says, “A person is considered righteous by what they do…not faith alone” or in verse 26: “Faith without deeds is dead…”
At first glance, if you’re familiar with other parts of the New Testament, it can almost feel like James is contradicting Paul (who wrote most of the letters in the Bible).
(Ephesians 2:8-9) – NIV
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
(Romans 3:28) – NIV
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
And clearly, Paul’s teaching…that we are saved by our faith…not by what we do…is the teaching of the bible.
We see it over and over and over again.
Even the thief on the cross next to Jesus is “saved” because of his faith…he didn’t even have time to do anything.
And so what do we do with James?
We have to recognize that James is not contradicting Paul, he’s merely providing a different perspective because he’s addressing a different problem.
Paul’s dealing with Gentiles who are saying, “How do I get saved? What do I have to do?”
James is dealing with Jews who are saying, “Don’t worry about me, I’m already saved, I just BELIEVE the right things”
Paul & James are talking about the same thing, but highlight different sides of the same coin.
It’s like they’re both looking at the same object in a house, but looking in from a different window and describing different aspects of the same object.
Paul is saying, “I want to show you HOW to BE saved.”
James is saying, “I want to show you how you can KNOW you are saved”
Readers often set up James & Paul as opposing each other.
They don’t oppose each other.
These guys were even friends. You can read about it in Acts 15.
They even have a meeting where they AGREE on their teachings in that chapter.
If it’s still not quite making sense, let me give you one more way to look at it:
Paul is saying, “You are MADE righteous by your faith”
James is saying, “You are SEEN to be (or we KNOW you to be) righteous because we can SEE your deeds (which are the evidence of your faith)
And if we can’t see your deeds, then you must not really have faith.
Because true faith always results in action.
That’s what he says in v. 17: “Faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead…it’s not real”
It would be like if you are walking in the summer and see a dead tree with no leaves
You’re not going to say, “If that tree just had leaves, that would make it come alive.”
No. Leaves don’t make a tree come alive.
Leaves are the evidence that it IS alive.
And that’s what deeds, or works, are: Deeds are the EVIDENCE of your faith
And that’s what James is saying.
TRUE FAITH LEADS TO ACTION
He is so intent on us seeing, all throughout his letter, that true faith always leads to action.
That’s why he starts with that case study of: What would you do if one of the Christians in your church…in your house group…didn’t have enough food to eat anymore?
Would you say, “Go in peace. Good luck to you”
If so, there’s no way there’s living faith in you.
Your faith is dead. It’s not real.
Jesus himself goes as far as saying, if we don’t feed the hungry, show hospitality, or clothe the needy…then we must not know Him.
That’s Matthew 25.
The Bible is really serious about the idea of: if faith is real in you…it WILL produce fruit.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Now go do this!”
Some of you just thought, “I better start doing that! Do you think the homeless shelter takes volunteers on Sundays?”
That’s just legalism.
That’s, “I’ll earn my way to his approval.”
Jesus is saying, “If I’m in you, you’re going to want to do that”
James tries really hard to make sure that we understand that the evidence of our faith is ACTION…and that the evidence of your faith is NOT what sort of doctrine you believe.
Look at what he says in verse 19:
(James 2:19) – NIV
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
He says, “even the demons can agree with your doctrine”
The Bible tells us that all demons are fallen angels.
Angels that used to be in heaven but rebelled with Satan.
And so they know all about heaven, the throne, The Father God, Jesus, and good doctrine.
Way better than you.
But their faith is dead.
Because faith isn’t just about what you believe to be fact.
The belief of demons is not LIVING FAITH because they’re not following Jesus.
They’re aware of the facts, but it hasn’t moved them to action.
Let’s say you have a strong desire to be annoying, so you decide, you’ll go door-to-door to get results for a survey.
There’s a lot of people in America, who would identify as Christian if asked by you in a survey.
71% in fact…
Yet, about 16% of Americans are in church on a given Sunday.
So who are all these folks claiming to be Christians and WHY?
They’re answering that they’re Christian in surveys because, well, they’re not Muslim…or Jewish.
Christianity is their heritage…they maybe went to church when they were a little kid.
But do they have real, living faith in Jesus as their Lord and savior?
Many do not.
It’s interesting, they maybe even believe that Jesus came to earth and died on a cross at one point.
They could potentially even say, “Yeah, I suppose he died for me”
But if it’s not personal, if it in no way shows up in their life…and they even feel uncomfortable talking about Jesus…it’s not real.
James would say, “They don’t really believe it”
Look for the leaves on the tree. There are none.
The Bible says that when you truly believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes in you.
And listen, if the Holy Spirit (God) comes in you, He will NOT fail to produce fruit in you.
It’s impossible for Him not to.
James gives a great example by using Abraham in the Bible.
“Father Abraham….”…maybe you know that song if you grew up in church…
In verse 23, James writes a verse that Paul also quotes often from Genesis, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”
Abraham was saved (made right w/ God) because of his faith.
You can’t earn it.
And yet, how can we now (as observers who can’t see his heart) consider him righteous (v.21)?
Because God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son (sound familiar)…even though God had already told him that the whole world would be blessed through that only son (sound familiar?)
And Abraham is willing to go through with it…up until the last moment when God stops him.
That’s how we know Abraham has faith and is saved.
It’s not WHY he’s saved, but it’s how we know.
We have evidence!
Same with Rahab.
Actually there are no children’s songs about Rahab the prostitute J
In the book of Joshua, when God sent the spies into Jericho, and Rahab is willing to work with them and their God…that’s probably when she started believing…and thus, was saved.
But the “evidence of her faith” is when she risks her own life to hide the Israelite spies from her own people.
James’ brother, AKA Jesus, uses this same thinking a lot.
He says often, “By their fruit, you will recognize them”
Philosophers and Theologians for a long time now, often use chairs to explain this concept of faith.
This morning, when you sat in your chair, you had faith that it would hold you up.
And I KNOW that you had faith!
Because I can see the evidence of it right now.
You sat on it!
But what if I brought out an old, rickety, antique chair on stage…one that looked like it was going to fall apart at any second.
And I bring a person on stage and say, “Do you believe this chair will hold you?”
And that person says, “Yes, I do!”
Can we say that person has faith?
Maybe. We don’t really know.
But what if I say, “Okay, if you have faith, just sit down”
And they say, “Well, I certainly believe it will hold me, but I don’t want hurt my back…or damage the chair…it’s an antique after all…”
Do they have faith?
True faith always results in action.
True faith always sits down in the chair…much like you did this morning.
It’s been said by many, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith which remains alone”
If all you have is faith, but no deeds, it’s not real faith.
CHRISTIANS MUST BE HONEST ABOUT WHERE THEY DON’T BELIEVE
This is first and foremost a passage that is specifically targeted at the person who does not yet truly believe in Christ.
They don’t have real saving faith.
But there is also an extremely important principle for the person who is already following Christ.
And that is this: If we truly believe something about WHO God is or HOW he acts towards us, there will be fruit in our lives…action.
If there is no action, we must honestly and ruthlessly question the validity of our belief about that aspect of God’s character.
The great American theologian of the 1700’s, Jonathan Edwards, often emphasized that belief isn’t isolated to just your mind.
True belief is a combination of your heart & mind.
And so if you say, “I know God cares for me, but I’m still always paralyzed by fear.”
What are you saying?
“You’re saying, I intellectually believe that God cares for human beings”
But, if you’re still paralyzed by fear, your heart obviously doesn’t believe that God can take care of you.
So Edwards would say, “You don’t really believe that He cares for you”
I think many American Christians don’t have a great grasp on this.
There is a great difference, when it comes to belief between what we “think we believe” and what we actually believe.
Part of the problem here is the English language & semantics.
We use the same word “believe” for what we believe in our heads, heart, and both combined.
It would be better if we had different words for all 3.
So let me give you an example:
I can say, “I believe that it would be better for me (I’d be better off/happier in the long run) if I ate a balanced and nutritional diet full of fruits and vegetables”
But I don’t really believe that.
I think I do…because in the English language, I suppose I intellectually BELIEVE that eating food from trees instead of from sugar factories would probably be better for me.
But true belief (we might even call it “faith”) is a combination of your head & your heart…your thoughts & your emotions.
And in my emotional state, I BELIEVE that I would be happier if I didn’t have spinach in my diet.
You ever been to a wedding…and they bring out the salad, and you’re thinking, “Excuse me sir, I know you just took these leaves off of the tre outside”
See, I BELIEVE I’d be happier (and thus it would be better for me) if I kept drinking pop instead of starting to drink water w/ my meals.
Belief is more than what you write on paper or think in your mind.
And this is precisely why your ACTIONS are really the best reflection of your true beliefs…not your statements.
You can say, “I believe that coming to church (to worship, to hear the Word) is really, really important”
But if you’re here 2 out of 4 weeks, you don’t really believe that.
You might have some intellectual pieces floating around in your mind that tell you that if you hear the Word preached more…you would grow…but you haven’t integrated your mind & heart
Your heart isn’t moving towards it
The heart wants what the heart wants...and for a lot of people…that’s not to be in church on a particular Sunday…it’s to sleep in, be at the lake, do yard work, or be on the street playing “Pokemon Go”
Your mind may think it’s true, but your heart doesn’t follow…and so for you, that day, you don’t really believe that…and your actions are the evidence for what you truly believe about what’s best.
No matter what we say, “We’re going to DO…what we want to do.”
And so for the Christian, when you see this sort of disconnect in your life…
You say, “I believe it’s right to care for the poor…and yet you do nothing”
You say, “I believe it’s right to share my faith with those who don’t know Him…and yet you do nothing”
Those have to be spots where red flags come up for you: “WARNING! WARNING! You don’t really believe that!
True faith results in action.
But we have this disturbing ability to live with delusion.
Delusion of the idea that we believe something that we really don’t.
And so you have to go looking for these gaps.
You have to ask yourself this week…even right now… “Where do I say I believe these things, but there aren’t any deeds to back it up?”
There is no evidence of my belief…no fruit…I just have a recipe with no cake?
I’ve got a chair…that I say is strong…but I won’t sit in it.
And when you identify those things in your life (and there are A LOT of them in our lives…pray about the gaps this week), start asking questions:
“Lord, what’s happening here? Why don’t I truly believe this?
“Lord, reveal yourself to me…. Show me how great you truly are.
“Show me how YOU look at people.
“Lord, I believe (or I want to…), help me with my unbelief!!”
But you can’t do that until you get real, get honest, and say, “Maybe I don’t really fully believe some of these things that I say that I do”
And as a Christian, you’re going to see gaps between your “stated belief” and “actions” all over the place.
Don’t beat yourself up over it.
We’re finite. We’re sinful by our nature.
But allow this to be an opportunity
An opportunity for you to acknowledge the truth.
For many of you, this is an incredible opportunity for God to finally start growing some amazing fruit in your life!
Because you can be honest with him about where you really need Him…about where you need to grow.
And that’s awesome!
And know that just because you have one area in your life that doesn’t have a whole lot of fruit, that doesn’t mean you’re not a believer in Christ.
That means you’re human…and you need to let Jesus into that area.
NON-BELIEVERS MUST BE HONEST ABOUT NOT BELIEVING
But what if you’re looking at your life…and you feel like you don’t have genuine evidence that God is in your life…really anywhere?
When people look at the leaves on the tree of your life, they don’t see a reflection of Jesus in the leaves.
It’s possible, that you may have intellectually believed he exists, but you don’t have a relationship with Him…even if you’ve been hanging around church for quite some time.
You may have some intellectual pieces floating around in your mind where you would agree with the facts
“Yeah, sure God exists…Jesus came” …but it doesn’t go much further than that…it doesn’t intersect with your life anywhere.
And most importantly, as you look and assess your own life, you don’t see any evidence that would demonstrate “leaves on the tree” growing from the root of faith.
Like, you couldn’t say that you:
“Feel God’s presence in your heart” or “that you can sense Him talking with you” or “can feel his love” or can see “the evidence of change” in your life.
All of those things are the “evidence of faith”
It’s possible that you haven’t actually believed in faith yet that Jesus died for you.
You haven’t merged your head & your heart
And you can see that because if you had, you would be following Him, and there’s no evidence in your life that you are.
As we read today, we see that we can’t be saved (be forgiven of our sins…go to heaven) on our own…by anything we do.
It’s only by believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us.
That he died…as a substitute…in our place…
taking the punishment for what we deserved.
And the Bible says if you believe in that…you truly believe in that…you will be saved.
(Romans 10:9) – NIV - LEAVE UP FOR 30 seconds
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
By the way, do you see the “merger of belief” here?
Confess with your mouth (you make an intellectual statement…and you believe in your heart.
When you do both of those things, you have real belief…and the leaves of faith, the evidence of faith will be present.
And with this, you faith doesn’t have to be perfect…it’s not how much faith you have that saves you, but the object of your faith that saves you.
Jesus will save you if you truly believe.
If you truly believe that you have NO hope on your own…no chance of salvation…that Jesus is the only thing saving you from hell (the punishment we deserve)…
And that out of love…he gave his life…in exchange for yours…
If you truly believe that God is that big…that loving…guess what…that’ll change your life.
And so I just wonder…is there anyone here today…that needs to declare their faith in Jesus for the first time?
To be saved…to become a Christian…a follower of Christ.
Is there anyone who wants to…for the first time…tell God that you don’t just intellectually believe it as a fact…but you BELIEVE with your mind & your heart…and you surrender your life to Him?
I don’t want to leave this passage today about “genuine, real faith” without giving you an opportunity to be saved.
Of course, only time will reveal the true condition of our heart…but for all of us…it still starts…it always starts with faith.
And so today, I want to give some of you an opportunity to tell Him you believe for the first time.
In fact, let’s just have everyone bow their heads and close their eyes as I want this to be a special moment between you and God.
If you want to do this …in just a moment, if you’re ready to believe in Jesus Christ…to give your life to him for the first time…I’m actually going to ask you to respond by quietly standing up right where you are.
It’s a symbolic way to say to God, “Here I am. I want to follow
NO ONE will be looking at you…no one (don’t even think about that!). This is about you and God.
I just want to give you an opportunity to draw the line in the sand.
So wherever you are, if I’m talking to you.. and you’d like to become a follower of Jesus Christ, to enter into a relationship with Him, and accept his gift of forgiveness, I want you to stand up wherever you are.
If God is nudging your heart in this…that means He’s real. That means…it’s TIME. If you feel it in your pulse…in your heart…that’s God. Accept His forgiveness. Start a new life with Him. It’s amazing!
If you’re standing up, would you pray this prayer with me?
It’s not a magic prayer…but just a prayer to tell God where you’re at… the Bible says, we 1) believe in our hearts and 2) confess with our mouths.
So I want you to say it out loud with me. Repeat after me
IN fact, there are a lot of other believers already in the room, and this is what we believe.
So, let’s all say it together with these new believers.
Repeat after me
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.
But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
(you can keep your eyes closed)
If you are standing, I need you to do one more thing for me.
It will only take 2 minutes, but it’s 2 of the most important minutes of your life.
In just a second, I’m going to pray, and right as I begin praying, I need you quietly sneak out of your row, and go to the back of the room
Our follow-up team is back there by the blue rectangle to give you some extremely important resources to get started on the most important journey in your life.
So head back there…it’ll only take 2 minutes…and you’ll be able to sneak back to your seat.
Let me pray (You can go back)
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.