October 7, 2012

TRUE FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN WORKS.

(James 2:10-17)


Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

Our text this morning is James 2:10-17, reading as follows:

Dear fellow redeemed sinners, emphasis on “redeemed”! We are redeemed by God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Some may ask: Is James here preaching another gospel? Is he requiring the addition of works for salvation? If we look more closely we discover that James is in full agreement with all the other New Testament writers. Salvation is the work of God alone by grace alone. In the previous chapter James writes: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, .… Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures (1:18f). This is God’s doing. He works a change of heart and thus a change in conduct. James is not here telling people how to get to heaven, but he is writing to those who already know the way to heaven, to Christians saved by God. Now his epistle urges them to show the fruits of that faith, sanctification or holy lives. We are “Saved to serve,” as someone summed it up. So Jesus Himself directs His disciples to demonstrate love for others many times in the Gospels (John 13:34f; 15:12, 17). John beseeches: Brethren, let us love one another (1 James 4:7a). Peter puts it: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called (1 Peter 3:8f). Paul exhorts: If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).Thus we have the united testimony that –
TRUE FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN WORKS.
I. Let us beware of the peril of the Law; and
II. Let us beware of “faith” without works.
I
Behold the peril of the Law. Oh, the law sounds so good to the natural man, but James warns: Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, “Do not commit adultery,” said also, “Do not kill.” Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. There is the theoretical keeping of the Law, and if someone were actually to keep it perfectly, that one would go to heaven, but no one other than Christ has ever done so. It is common to compare ourselves to others. We find gross sinners – and sadly they are all too readily available everywhere. Newspapers and TV daily report much crime all around us. Each seeks to feel superior to “those” people. Thus the adulterer claims mutual consent and decries the thief because you obviously did not willingly agree to give up your money. The robber condemns killing during the commission of a crime. In turn that person excuses it as an unintended accident, the result of resistance. He points to the “cold-blooded” assassin who is not killing in anger or from road rage, but some person he has never even met before simply for cash. “Surely that’s a wicked man. I’m not nearly that bad.” So it goes in an endless chain. Others exclaim, “Thank God that I are not like such,” as a certain Pharisee in a famous parable once boasted (Luke 18:11).
We must compare selves to God. God’s standards and demands are much higher. Thus Jesus judges: “I say unto you, that whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Again: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ and ‘whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:’ But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt. 5:21f). John repeats: Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15a). Christians are to serve not the letter, the least possible thing they can get away with, but in the spirit, the intent of the Law (2 Cor. 3:6). The humiliating fact is that we are guilty of all. We do not have to every possible type of crime to become criminals. God’s only categories are “perfect” or “imperfect.” While there are many degrees of “imperfect” yet all “guilty.” Therefore it is a very good thing that our salvation in heaven is not due to our own perfection but grace! Yes, that we are saved by God’s grace alone in Christ is a very good thing, indeed. Scripture declares: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But that same Scripture equally extols the Gospel. Because of Christ we can be sure of going to heaven!
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. Here is a caution to those who think themselves sufficient if not actually perfect. Hear James’ sarcasm in following chapter: If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body (3:2). The fact is that we cannot even control the tongue completely. Occasionally we do stop our outbursts, saying, “I bit my tongue,” but we also have the expression, “If looks could kill…” Hatred is present in the heart. It is the opposite of the second great commandment as Jesus notes in this morning’s Gospel lesson, namely, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” While the courts will not throw us in jail for such actions, God’s sees those failings. Such people shall “face judgment without mercy,” stand condemned and unable to receive heaven. Yes, therefore we all desperately need God’s mercy, which He also desires to bestow upon us. God’s mercy is the Christian’s only hope even as it is the only way for any other sinner. We, too, share a sinful nature and often sin, even if we did not mean to something. We must look to the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on behalf of all sinners. There alone we have payment for our sins and an entrance card to heaven. It is not our deeds but we trust our Lord to “remember us” like that repentant thief on the cross next to Christ (Luke 23:42). Thinking that we can keep the Law well enough even if not perfectly is a trap which the world falls into and into which we are ever tempted also.
II
The second part of our text deals with the position of “faith” without works. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? The punctuation at the time of King James is quite a bit different than in our day. For example, there are no quotation marks. Nowadays we would put “faith” in quotation marks, meaning “this so-called faith” which people claim to have. There is no change in the conduct of some professed converts. They continue to live in open sin of all sorts. We can observe some of them, but, note well, God can and does also see secret sins. A few schemers hear of God’s mercy and cling to what is termed “cheap grace.” Just look sad and say, “I’m so sorry,” and God will gullibly welcome you. Some smugly say: God is love; He loves me, so I can do as I well please. They think that they can use God, play Him for sucker even as they abuse people. He may have far more patience with us than people, but it finally comes to an end. Yes, as James just noted: He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy. If we timidly admonish them for something, they caustically retort, “Judge not!”
Many may boast of an alleged “faith.” Thus James continues in verse nineteen after our official text: “Thou believest that there is one God”? and responds: The devils also believe – and tremble (v. 19b). They not only believe a god exists but know perfectly well who that one God is, but are still lost. Similarly some say: “I can read Bible at home, I can worship God while fishing, golfing,” etc. And of course we should read our Bibles at home. We are not limited to only enjoying it on Sunday. But the question for such is, “But do you?” The saying is, “Talk is cheap.” James challenges: Shew me thy [supposed] “faith” without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works (v. 18). He will put up his evidence. Consider: We have DVD’s, but many still go to the “big screen” at the theater. There is something much more impressive about that giant screen than even a TV screen, let alone a little laptop. There are splendid sound systems for sale, yet millions still attend the concert hall for superior sound and the overall entertainment experience. The environment adds to the elegance and impressiveness of the event. Likewise, there is just something about joint worship with fellow believers and knowing that Jesus is in the midst (Matt 18:20), unmatched by reading a devotion alone or watching a service on TV. If one has true faith, then a change in conduct is needed. A popular question sometime back was: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? James says essentially, Put up or shut up!
James directly speaks of the absence of mercy: If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;” notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? In this case the person is aware of genuine need, not an imagined “I really must have the latest version of the iPod” need. They are starving or freezing or in other such serious straits. Judas once complained that a woman wasted perfume on Jesus; and suggested that it should have been sold and the proceeds used to help the poor. Jesus’ response was: “Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good” (Mark 14:7). As always, Jesus was right. Yes, despite many well-meant programs, there are poor everywhere, and we have all too abundant opportunities around us to help truly needy people. We wish there were very few poor left. Here the viewer is able to help. One cannot give what one does not have. John asks: Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17) John concurs with James: My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). James asks: What good is it to exclaim, “Depart in peace. Have a good day. I hope someone else helps you,” and do not do anything which you well can do? Recall Jesus’ words at the Judgment: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Then shall He answer them, saying, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matt. 25:42f, 45b).. We have James’ conclusion, inspired by the Holy Spirit in verse seventeen: Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. It is not true faith but an imaginary faith, a dead faith, a worthless faith for that person and for those around him. It is clearly revealed to be no faith at all. This is such an important point that James repeats in verse twenty: Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Yes, the fact is that we are saved exclusively by grace and gain entrance into because God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, has made good for our debts and paid our entrance ticket. We are so thankful that we have this “second chance.” Faith apprehends that grace of God. Then that faith in time produces fruits of faith, good works. “Sanctification” follows after we are saved; it does not cause God to accept us. Now, we many not always witness those good responses which people perform, but God always sees them. These works reflect God’s great love for us. Surely they have some small influence on those people who benefit from them. So St. Paul encourages: As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). As Jesus willingly gave everything for us, so that we may be pardoned and live together with Him in paradise, will we not give just a little to others? By the help of God the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, may our lives bring forth many fruits to the glory of God. Amen.
HYMNS: 20, 405, 403, 307*, 404
Gloria Dei – Hood River, OR
October 7, 2012