Faith and Works James 2:14-26 Sermon Preached at LMPC 7-24-16
7/24/16 “Faith and Works” James 2:14-26
There was a huge study put on by Robert Putnam of Harvard to determine the greatest factor in being a good neighbor- giving to charity- both time and money both religious and secular good causes. Americans as a whole are generous in volunteering- more than most nations. The most conservative estimate is 1/4 of us give at least 2.5 hours a week freely for the good of others. The surveyors from Harvard thought that volunteering would be mutually exclusive- that is they thought religious people would volunteer for religious groups and secular people would do the volunteering for secular groups. But what they found is that 91% of the religious volunteers also volunteered for at least one secular group. Those who volunteer for churches and religious causes are two or three times as likely to volunteer for secular groups as well. In other words, faith affects good works. Faith affects the overall good of society. They also found that the more you go to church, the more likely you are to make a difference by volunteering in your area. In fact, Putnam of Harvard said the very best predictor of generosity of time and money is whether you bless your food or not. The people who tend to bless their food privately and publicly also were the most generous of their time and income. Of the most secular 20% in the study 1/3 gave nothing to any charity- whereas of the most religious only 6% gave nothing. This is astounding stuff.
The point of this whole passage in James is that faith and good works go together. He was saying cannot really say you have faith and not bear fruit with it. Jesus said a similar thing when he said a good IF tree doesn’t bear bad fruit- by their fruits you shall know them.
Now I want to give a huge disclaimer here. James was not saying we are saved by doing good. Many people contrast this passage to Paul’s words found in our call to worship. We are saved by grace, but when we are saved- in gratitude we should seek to do good. In many religions, salvation come by doing things- ten steps to enlightenment; five pillars of good; The cross is our symbol- it is a symbol of grace for us. Paul even says we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. It is not that we are saved so that is it. No, we are saved in order to make a difference here for Jesus Christ. We are His hands and feet. We are members of His body. Paul emphasizes we are not saved by our good. James emphasizes that once we are saved, we are supposed to do and be good out of gratitude to God. They are just two different emphases. But let me point out how James emphasizes that we should do good out of the faith that we have. Philip Melanchthon, the friend of Martin Luther, said that Paul says we are made righteous by faith; whereas James is saying we are known to have faith by what we do. James speaks of faith and saving faith; dead faith and live faith using 3 illustrations.
I. IF WE SEE A NEED- AND WE IGNORE IT- OUR FAITH IS DEAD.
It is easy to say things. It is too easy to make promises and have no intention to fulfill them. We have heard last week and will hear this week many political promises. It is very easy to make promises to get people to vote for you. But when you get elected you see that to fulfill this promise means you have to not fulfill this other promise. Words without action mean little.
James uses the illustration of a man who has no clothes or food. We say, we wish you well- that is easy- but to do something about it takes time, energy, it takes things of our own away from us. It may be that helping this person means not helping that other person.
John says it like this, how can we say we love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our brother or sister that we have seen?
Faith without a care for the poor is dead. James is saying there has to be some way your faith is sympathetic. The Stoics used to say the goal of life is not to care but to be at peace with yourself. But James is saying faith in God means your heart is touched by others. You aren’t condescending toward the poor- but you are willing to take a risk to give to others out of faith.
II. BELIEF ALONE- WITHOUT WORKS IS EVIL. Even the demons believe in a God. Jonathan Edwards says that demons have orthodox belief- they have been to the greatest seminary anywhere. But they shudder because they also know it is not enough to intellectually believe in God.
Anybody can say they are a Christian. About 80% of Americans say they are Christian today. But in any given Sunday less than 40% show up in church. What the 80% are saying is, “Oh yeah, there probably is a god up there somewhere- and Christianity makes the most sense of that.” But James is saying your faith is more than intellectual belief. If you say you believe but you never or rarely come to worship- what does that say about your faith? There are some who cannot come- in nursing homes; But there are many who will not come. See the church messes up. We don’t believe everything perfectly (as they do). We don’t do things perfectly. Someone may hurt your feelings. Whenever you have human beings together on this side of heaven, you will have mess ups. But come anyway. Come even if you don’t like the preacher or the choir- come because you like God. Don’t let someone else’s sin scare you away—they need to be here. Don’t let your own sin scare you away- this is the place to be if you’ve messed up- it is the place of forgiveness!
We are not called to be a fan of Christ, but a participant of Christ. We aren’t just called to be spectators in the stands- believing at a distance and armed length- or coming to worship a few times to pay our respects and saying we are on his side. We are called to live for Christ.
As someone said, we are not only to ask, “Who are you Lord?” but “What shall I do Lord?” The demons know who Jesus is- they believe in Him intellectually, but they do not trust or follow Him. The demons have a kind of faith in God- but not a saving faith.
When I was flying to Mexico, I ran into someone who was scared to fly. Oh they believed the plane could fly. The believed the plane would fly. They believed there was room on the plane for them, but they-for whatever reason- would not get on the plane- even to see their loved ones. It is one thing to believe in something- it is another to get on board. You can be a little nervous and still get on board. As one person said when they flew but they were scared of flying, “How did you do it?” He said, “Well I was nervous about flying, but I didn’t put my whole weight down on the plane.” I want to encourage you not just believe that Jesus is God- trust in Him. I even want to encourage you to put your whole weight down on Him.
III. FAITH AND ACTIONS ARE MEANT TO WORK TOGETHER- Abraham and Rahab are two examples given in this passage. They were admittedly not perfect people, but their faith showed in their taking risks and sacrificing. Abraham is called “God’s Friend” and “The father of our faith.” Yet Abraham’s faith was not in a vacuum. He showed his faith in many ways. In some ways- faith and sacrifice go together. When you give up something of your own for others- expecting no reward here- this is done by faith and not by sight.
Abraham the father of faith- left his home- his nice home with running water and secure walls to go out in faith. He was willing to give his all- even his only son to the Lord- trusting that somehow God would give him back- and God did. Later God would give His only Son out of love for us.
Faith and actions work together as parallel streams going in the same directions in our lives. They are meant to compliment each other. Faith goes with works like our hopes go with our actions.
We want healthy lungs- then we must care for them- and not smoke.
We want healthy bodies- then you have to quit that 8,000 calorie a day diet.
We want a stable marriage- then you have to quit flirting with that co-worker at the office.
Faith enables us to see a good moral result. But more than that, a live faith can give you the strength and energy to make the right decision.
No matter how much we want good consequences, we have to have the right actions to get there. Faith not only opens your eyes to what is good, it enables you to trust in God to make the right choices. Faith gives you ears to hear, but then it also helps you to see the strength to get there.
Robert Woodberry of the University of Texas Austin wanted to examine what affect Christianity had wherever it has spread. So he studied areas where missionaries did their work. Statistically he found universally the following: educational enrollment went up; literacy increased; Infant morality went down. Agriculture production was up. Economic development grew; Life expectancy increased. This is not saying that missionaries did not make mistakes or sometimes fail. But overall, statistically the faith of the missionaries expressed itself in their doing good to the societies they were in.
It should not be taken for granted that the defeat of cannibalism did not come at the hands of western governments, but the missionaries- even Darwin said this. Good- not perfection- has gone wherever the Gospel has spread.
I want to talk just a minute about two people that almost everyone in this church knows. If I did not mention them it would be a shame. They are not perfect people. While good accompanies faith- it is never perfect. There is a lot of good that has been done in this church. It is done by us imperfectly, and we are also imperfect. We do good by God’s grace and in gratitude to Him. I am thinking about Midge Burgess and Jan Overstreet both of whom are seriously if not critically ill. Jan is an elder, Midge is a deacon. Midge was going to be deacon of the week this past week. She has been in charge of our funeral program, and has done a great job at that- despite poor health. Jan has probably given bread to about a third of the members of this congregation through our visitation program. I have seen both of them grow tremendously over the last eleven years. Their good is not perfect- but soon it will be made perfect. I believe that we should be gracious to one another. No one here has perfect faith or perfect lives. But we seek to grow in our faith. But when we grow in our faith, the good we do also grows. It may only be by answered prayers. But it may also be by serving others- loving our neighbor. Faith is made known by the good we do. I invite you to grow in faith- but also grow in the good you do your neighbors. Amen.
John Wesley said. “Do all the good you can; in all the ways you can; to all the souls you can; in every place you can; at all the times you can; with all the zeal you can; as long you as possibly can.” Let you faith show itself in doing good.