James 2:14-26 New International Version (NIV)
Faith and Deeds
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[a]?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,”[b] 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.
Today James gets into the real crux of the book, essentially he is posing whether you can be sure that you can be saved or not. The answer is yes look at your life. Now it is not that simple and we will get into what this all means.
Essentially today we will ask, can you be sure that you are saved, and the answer is yes look at how salvation has worked itself out in your life. Essentially as James puts it either you are alive or you are dead.
So do this this we will take from James’ writing signs that you are not alive, that your faith is dead and then we will look at signs that you are alive! That your faith is living.
So, let’s dive in and see how James describes;
1. The signs of a dead heart
There is a terrible warning this morning, you can be sitting here, knowing everything you need to know, but a million miles away from God. The nature of the gospel, the nature of salvation is that it is something that you cannot inherit, you cannot get it by proximity; you can’t simply attain it; it is something that has to come into you, something that has to grip you in the very heart of hearts, it needs to hit you in the core of your being or it simply is nothing to you.
So, there might be people sitting in this church who, although, claiming to know God, and doing all sorts of religious activities know nothing of God, do not want to know the real God of scripture and are essentially dead, heading to hell.
So how do I know if I am truly alive or I am dead? How do I know if I am saved or I am going to hell? Well James gives us two signs of a dead heart of a dead faith; a faith that does nothing, and two signs of a living faith. to start off let’s look at two sings of a dead faith.
a. You know but only shudder (vs19)
James makes an incredible statement in verse 19;
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
In other words, you can have all the right doctrines, and know all the right answers but you are devil. Jonathan Edwards in his sermon on this passage says that the demons of hell went to the best divinity school in the universe; the dwelt in the very glory of God, they basked in his unhidden power; they knew him. But they only shudder at him.
This is the reality of those who only know God, they simply shudder. In other words, everything they do is to avoid punishment, to avoid God’s wrath.
Now, knowing God and being wary of his power is a good thing, but it alone will not save you! Knowing God although good, is not enough.
The demons know God and shudder, so you can even know God is great and you can shudder at that, and although those are good things it is not a sign that you are saved, in fact if all you have in knowledge of God and shuddering your faith is dead.
You see the problem with simple knowledge of God and simple fear is that faith has not pierced your problem; you are still the core of your world, you are still in control. You don’t seek God for his sake; you seek him because you want to avoid his wrath; God is not the end; he is a means for you to avoid punishment.
And unfortunately this never goes deeper than surface level changes. Most of us who struggle with this have this idea that when we sin we have broken the rules, unlike those who are truly saved who say when they sin; I have broken God’s heart!
Faith that knows and only shudders is a faith that has not animated the soul, it is dead, and is like taking a painkillers when you have a broken limb; yes it numbs the pain, and yes it helps you get by, but the core problem has never being dealt with.
The next way that James identifies that your faith is dead is;
b. You act but only to prove yourself (vs18)
In verse 18 we see James call out people with dead faith saying that the very notion of their salvation is their deeds. They have not come to the realisation that if you know Christ, if you have faith deeds and faiths are the same thing.
James is making an argument on the case of the people that he is writing to, and his argument is that they say of course I am a Christian have you seen my good works. Have you seen all that I am involved in. “I have deeds” these are the security of my salvation.
The problem with all this is that it simply has no heart! And effectively is demonic and dead. If your works are simply a way to prove that you are a Christian you are not a Christian! You’ll get this when I explain the signs of a truly changed heart!
Works for works sake, doing good deeds as a sign of your salvation is duty, and the problem with this is that it is all about you! Look at how faithful I am, look at all the good works I am doing, look at what a good person I am!
This shows that you have no concept of Grace, and no real knowledge of Jesus Christ!
Now at this stage; we must move to then how do I know I am saved? How can I be comfortable in my salvation; well James gives us
2. The signs of a changed heart - it is alive
The metaphor that James uses is brilliant; he contrasts living and dead faith, what can dead things do? Nothing! They rot and are dead! They cannot do anything; but something that is alive grows, it develops it bares fruit! It is alive!
And James gives us two signs that the gospel has brought us from death to life:
a) You are alive to others (vs14-17)
In verse 15 James says;
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.
The reality is that alive faith enables you to see the other, and organically respond to them. Many people concern themselves with the helplessness of others without actually dealing with others.
In George Orwell’s (of 1984 fame) book the road to Wickham Pier he defines the main problem with socialism in the UK (during His life time) is that people say that they have a heart for the poor, but all they want to be is the poor’s saviour, they want to eradicate them they don’t want to actually engage with them. They are disgusted by everything that defines itself with working class life.
Church many people want to be humanitarians, they want to help the people, but never actually see those people as human being, and people made in the beautiful image of God. You know what, I don’t blame them.
Their hearts are not in a place to identify anything in them that is redeemable, you see, when you make money, when you achieve any level of success you are suckered into thinking that you earned it; now this has a truth in it, nothing comes without effort in this life, but you forget the myriad of circumstances that were completely out of your control to contribute to you being the right person with the right set of skills at the right moment to capitalise on that opportunity. Because of that self-assurance, that self-made-ness you simply cannot identify with those who have nothing.
But an alive faith, a faith centred and focused on the gospel shows you as pitiful and lost, as without hope, and when that hits your soul, when that gets you in the gut of your being, suddenly the down and out, the marginalised, those without are you. Your heart goes out to them, because Jesus’ love went out to you, the lost, the hopeless, the worthless and the pitiful.
Alive faith organically motivates us to greater and greater, and costlier and costlier acts of love!
So, you know your faith is alive, that you are saved and that your faith is not dead, because your genuine concern for others is growing, because you see those without and you see yourself!
b) You are alive to God (vs20-23) you are a friend of God
in verse 21-23 James makes the argument form the life of Abraham of living and real faith and he makes a peculiar statement in the text; that Abraham was a friend of God.
This is the unique reality that Christianity emphasises more than any other religion; Christianity argues that God wants to love you and for you to really love Him! Knowledge of God is not enough, understanding about God (although good) is not enough, trying to obey him so that He is on your side is not enough! You have to love Him, with all your heart your soul and your mind!
He must be your everything! Many people come to church because their life is starting to fall apart and so as a last desperate attempt to hem their lives together reach out to God. Now, that is not a bad thing in itself. What is bad is we get stuck with having God as a means to our end.
We want God in our lives, because we want a good life, or we want to avoid punishment, or we want happiness or significance etc. We want thing from God. God is an efficient means to our life’s goals, our personal happiness, our security etc.
The problem is that God never can be and never will be a means to the ends of man. He is the end, he is the goal, the reason, the point and unless we come to him for his sake we miss him.
Let’s just think of it is practical terms, who here loves a friend that only calls you when they need something? So then why do we think God will tolerate us treating Him the same.
The sign of alive faith church is that God is your end, He is the joy of your life, the beauty of your life, He and He alone is what gives your life meaning and significance, and joy!
So, church, how do you come to God, do you know a lot about him and shudder? Or do you run to him as your everything? When we discover the joy of the gospel; that in Christ we are God’s delight, not by our righteousness but because of His, we will respond to the world and the needs of the world with organic and powerful love!
Seek Him, find him! He is the deep longing of your soul! Come to the cross of grace, to the forgiveness of your God and find satisfaction for all your hungers!