Sunday, June 15, 2008

Faith Works

It was another sunny Sunday morning. For our Introit today, Darlene played Great Is Thy Faithfulness to usher us into the service followed by a cute puppet skit about Father’s Day for the children’s challenge by Darlene and Ruth Ann.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Gen. 18:1-15
Romans 5:1-8

Faith Works
Pastor Shannon began his sermon by explaining the well known saying, “Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Essentially, it is shortsighted to focus on deck chairs when there’s an iceberg ahead.

In life, we also have an iceberg ahead. It is called death, and with it comes judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) We will give an account for our lives and it’s a big deal.

“Now wait a second, Brad,” you might say. “I’ve got it covered.” And then you might go ahead and quote John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:8-9. But today’s passage from the second chapter of James adds a little turbulence to this self-satisfaction.

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If 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? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

It would appear, in light of the many passages pertaining to salvation by faith alone, that these words are out of line. There are four options, however, when we read these words.

1) It’s a contradiction that proves the Bible is not true and unreliable.

2) If this is the truth, then we’d better get to work on doing good deeds. We have a lot of catch up to do.

3) Hope that James is wrong.

4) Dig deeper and try to understand these things with more clarity.

If you analyze this passage a bit more thoroughly, there are some interesting insights one can obtain. In verse 14 notice the word “claims”… The word implies that there is a distinction between genuine and bogus faith. Brad compared intellectual belief with correct answers. This kind of faith, involving only mental assent, is actually a “dead faith” according to one commentator.

Jesus Himself said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21) Just saying you believe doesn’t mean anything. As James affirms in verse 19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

In other words, demons have an emotional response to the truth in addition to an intellectual one, yet this does not make them righteous or change their hearts.

To bring a deeper understanding of the truth, James references the life of Abraham.

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

What is interesting is that a superficial reading of the passage implies that Abraham was saved by his works. This story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son is from Genesis 22. Isaac was the promised heir, yet God asked Abraham to put him on the altar. It took a remarkable obedience on Abraham’s part to follow through on what he was asked. James appears to state that Abraham was righteous for what he did.

But the Old Testament verse regarding Abraham being credited as righteous, cited by James in verse 23, preceded the act that certified Abraham’s faith by more than two decades. Verse 23 is from the passage in Genesis 15:1-6 where indeed Abraham is credited as righteous “by faith alone.”

It is clear from what James explains here that faith and works go hand in hand. Our deeds are an outward act of obedience that authenticates the faith in our hearts. This outward authentication certifies that what happened in our hearts is real.

We get right with God by grace through faith. And our actions certify that this inward faith is alive, not dead.

In short, our mind, emotions and will are involved in true faith. We surrender our will to God’s will, and affirm that God needs to do for me what I cannot do myself.

It’s an internal reality that will manifest itself outwardly, will pour itself out and demonstrate to others that this faith is real.

James 2:26 sums up: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Pastor Brad used the metaphor of a high performance car to illustrate what our lives are supposed to be. We are designed for high performance, and to be anything less is to miss what we were made for.

In summing up, the pastor reinforced the importance of a total involvement of our mind, emotion and volition in the living out of our faith.

1. We need to test our faith. Is it merely intellectual assent or something more?

2. Celebrate! We need to celebrate God’s work in our lives.

3. Authenticate… the work of God in us. Genuine faith involves the will and an outpouring of good works.

To God be the glory.

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