Now, Martin Luther, you may know, was a tremendous man of God and defended the doctrine of regeneration, rebirth by faith plus nothing.
A doctrine that had, perhaps we could say, had a doctrine that was lost for centuries. And yet, he was a man, in spite of all of his commitment to the Scripture, who had a real problem with this letter. In fact, he actually called it an epistle of straw, an epistle of straw, indicating his estimation of how much it was worth, because of the passage we are going to study this evening. In his commentary, Bishop Ellicott says that the passage we are going to be discussing this evening is probably, and I'm quoting, the most debatable part of this letter.
What's the problem? Why did Martin Luther have such a great problem with this part of this letter? Well, let's read it, if you'll follow along silently, beginning at chapter 2, verse 14, and we'll see why Martin Luther might have a problem with this.
Verse 14, and I'm reading from the New King James Bible. What does it profit my brethren if someone says he has faith but does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it?
If a brother or a sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone may say, you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe there's one God you do well.
The demons also believe and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not our father Abraham justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness and he was called a friend of God. So you see then that by works a man is justified and not by faith alone.
Likewise was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Now can you see why Martin Luther may have had a problem with this? Three different times we are told that people were justified by works and that's the whole system he was fighting.
A system that said that you get to heaven, you receive salvation and maintain salvation. You are declared just and righteous in God's sight by what you do. And he reads the great epistle of Galatians and he reads the great epistle of Romans where you're justified by faith plus nothing and then he reads this line, while buzzers go off, like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Because it looks like James is saying that you get justified by works, contra what Paul was saying. And it seems as though we have a real problem here. Now I don't believe we have a problem if we learn to recognize what James is really saying. What is he saying? Well I believe he's saying that the kind of faith that God grants salvation to or in response to will always produce a set of corresponding actions in our lives.
Or to put it another way, that if a person claims to be a Christian but does not obey God's word and does not have any desire to obey God's word, the chances are great that the faith he has is not the kind of faith that God grants salvation to. Now that's heavy. Let's see if it's right. We only have two points tonight. Aren't you glad to know that? I mean, have you ever heard a sermon with only two points? I know you can't believe it, but it's true. Two points.
What are they? Number one, that faith unaccompanied by acts of faith is just talk. There's no profit in it. And our second point is that true saving faith can only be confirmed and verified by actions that demonstrate it. True saving faith can only be confirmed and verified by actions that demonstrate it. That's our whole outline. Simple, huh? Oh, but if we could grab this.
Let's see if we can. Point one, that faith unaccompanied by acts of faith and by acts of faith, I mean by acts of obedience to this book. Faith unaccompanied by obedience to this book is just talk.
There's no profit in it. We see this in verses 14 through 17. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but doesn't have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? What James means is that kind of faith cannot save him. The kind of faith that produces no corresponding acts of obedience to God's Word is not the kind of faith God responds to and grants salvation to. That's what James is saying. It's no good. And he gives an example.
What good is faith without works that correspond? You see your brother and he's hungry and he's naked. He doesn't have anything to eat.
He's cold. You put your arm around him and you go, Oh, brother, it's good to see you. And you don't know how much I really am concerned for you and I love you so much. So let me shake your hand and tell you how good it is to see you. And I'm going to really pray that God give you a shirt and some food.
Then we walk off. James says, if you don't give him what he needs to put on his back, if you don't give him any food, what good was all that paraphernalia you dropped on him? What good was all the talk about how much you love him and how much you appreciate him? And oh, what good was it? Couldn't eat it. He couldn't wear it. What good was it? And in that same way, James says, thus also faith by itself, if it doesn't have works that obey the Scripture, is worthless.
It's worthless. There's an auto parts store over in suburban Maryland. I won't tell you which one it is. But they have these big signs on the back of their pickup trucks. They have four or five different pickup trucks that they drive around. Big sign covers the whole back of this pickup truck. And it says something like this. It says, we obey all traffic laws.
Big sign. We obey all traffic laws. I was putting down the road one day over in suburban Maryland. I got behind this guy, one of the guys driving one of these trucks, and I had to drive, I guess, three or four miles down just a suburban residential street behind this character. Now, he was speeding to start with. And then he comes up on this car who's going slow. So he screeches his brakes. And the poor guy in front thinks, here comes this guy crashing. And then he gets right up on the tailgate of this guy in front of him, right up on him.
And he's riding on him. You could see him. He'd hit the accelerator and speed up. Then he'd slow down. He'd speed up, slow down, right behind this guy. Because he couldn't pass. It was one of these curvy little roads.
But I mean, he was right on this guy. Finally, we get to a place where you can cut through a residential section and sort of, you know, come up in front of where we were going. And he gets there and he turns that thing and he blows down this residential section.
And a little bit up the road, we see him come blowing back out on the street in front of us and down the road. Well, I was really getting just a little bit put up with this guy, put out with this guy. Sorry.
So I don't normally do this. But when I got back to my office, I called this auto parts store. I mean, I just, I could, you know, and I said, I don't know what, who was driving this truck. I'll tell you what the license plate was.
I memorized it. I said, because I know I'm going to have to give it to him. I'll tell you what the license plate is. And let me tell you what he did. And I went through this whole description. And the guy in the office, in the office of this auto parts store said, you know, I really appreciate your calling me. He said, and I will get on this driver.
And I will make sure this doesn't happen again. Because as he said, this is the auto parts guy, he said to me, what good is it if we put billboards all over our trucks that we obey the law and then don't do it? What good's the billboard? In fact, it does more damage than if a guy had just been a breaker of the law with no billboard. I wouldn't have called if he'd have broken the law and tailgated and sped with no billboard.
But the billboard's what really got me hacked off at this guy. And you know what? There's a lot of us as Christians who are just like this. We've got our big billboards out. We are God's children. And then we spiritually tailgate and we spiritually speed and we spiritually break the law and we spiritually do everything to negate what the billboard says. So what good is it? What value is there in a billboard if you're not going to do what you claim you're going to do on the billboard? That's James' point. That the words without the action means nothing.
It's worthless. And then he goes on, and this is point two, to say that saving faith, true saving faith, the only way to confirm it, the only way to verify it, the only way to validate the fact that what this person says he has, he really has, is by actions that this person does that prove it. It's the only way to be sure. Look at what he says. He says, verse 18, someone will say, you have faith and I have works. Oh, I like James. He's so practical.
This is the kind of guy, if he was living today, I could really strike up a friendship with. He says, all right, you want to argue about this? Tell you what. You say you have faith. I say I have faith. You can't see my faith. I can't see yours. I can't see your heart. What does faith look like?
Is it square, round, or oblong? I don't know. How am I going to prove that you have this faith you say you have? James says I'll tell you how. He said, I'll show you my works, my faith by my works. That's how I'll demonstrate it. You try to show me your faith without works. Try to prove to me that you really have the faith you say you have without doing works of obedience to prove it. Figure out another way to demonstrate to me that you really know Jesus Christ. You see, there is no other way. The only way to show someone that you have trusted Jesus Christ is to let them see the results of that in the way you live.
It's the only way to prove it. And mental agreement with the fact that God exists, that kind of faith, oh, I know God exists. My whole life I've known God is there.
The man upstairs, someone is there. That kind of faith. Without works that accompany saving faith is not saving faith. Look what James says, verse 19. You believe there's one God?
You do well. The demons also believe and tremble. I love that verse. If you really grab what he's saying, it's a little sarcastic. He says, all right, we're going to talk about who believes in God. You're going to say, now look. The Bible says don't judge.
You know that. Jesus said, don't judge. Amazing how many people, it's the only verse of scripture they ever memorized. Did you ever notice that?
They memorized that one. Don't you judge. Jesus said, no, no, no, don't judge me. Don't you judge my works. I believe in God just like you do.
Who do you think you are to evaluate what I do? James says, well, I'll tell you something, friend. Saying you believe that God exists qualifies you to be a demon.
That's all. The demons believe. They know there's a God. When Jesus walked around on this earth, remember all the demons walked up and said, we know who you are. You're the Son of God.
We know that. So for a human being to say, oh, I know a God exists, that doesn't qualify for much because the demons know God exists, but they're not going to heaven. That's not the kind of faith God's looking for. Mental assent that God exists?
Uh-uh. That isn't what gets people to heaven. That's what a lot of people think gets people to heaven.
But demons have that, and they're not going there. But do you know, oh foolish man, verse 20, that faith without works is dead faith? That's dead faith. Faith that says God exists with no corresponding works, no reflection of a real commitment to Jesus Christ, of a real regeneration experience.
That kind of faith, James says, is dead, worthless, and God won't honor it. The faith that God honors is the kind of faith that produces acts of obedience to God's Word. Then he gives two examples.
Let's look at them. He says Abraham proved that the faith he had was genuine by his works. Now with our friend Abraham, you could pick any number of examples. I mean Abraham, every time he turned around, is demonstrating that he knows our Lord. He demonstrates it for chapter after chapter in the book of Genesis.
I love the one that James picked. I'd say, well Abraham left his land when God called him. Didn't know where he was going. Was he demonstrating by that act of obedience that he had true faith? Yes. But lots of people could leave their land.
I mean, okay, you know, people move all the time. What about when Abraham split from Lot? What about when Abraham took troops out to rescue Lot? What about when Abraham believed God's promise that he would have a son? Weren't all those acts that confirmed that he truly believed God? What about when he cast Ishmael out in obedience to what God told him, to God's promise? Oh, there were so many he could have used. But I love the one he used, the supreme opportunity to demonstrate who was first in Abraham's life.
You know the story. It's in Genesis 22. God says to Abraham, I want you to take your son, your unique son, you don't have another one like this Abraham, the one I gave you.
When you were 100 years old, the one you waited 25 years for after I promised you to it. I want you to take him and I want you to kill him. Remember the story? Abraham marched up that mountain with the wood and the fire and the knife and the rope and his son. Oh, Isaac was a pretty sharp little character because halfway up the mountain he says, hey dad, wait a minute, look, I'm beginning to sort of integrate all this here into a system. I see the wood and I see the fire and I see the knife, but I don't see what we're gonna kill.
What did you have in mind to kill, dad? And Abraham said, God will provide a lamb. And I believe with all my heart at that point Abraham was planning to kill his son. He got up there and he wound that rope around and tied him up. You think he was playing games?
No, he was serious. He tied him up to make sure no getting away. And he put him on the altar, built this altar and put him on there and the scripture says he took the knife in his hand and started to move with it before the angel said to him, Abraham, don't do it. Now the angel said, representing God, now I know that truly you love me above all else. Remember that story?
Not just a story, that really happened. And as I've said to you before, I don't know what I would do if God told me to take my son and kill him. And as pious as you may think you are, I'll bet you you don't know either what you'd do. I know what I'd like to think I'd do, but that'd be tough, wouldn't it?
That's as tough as they come. That's why James picked this one. So here's Abraham, willing to offer Isaac, verse 21, wasn't Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Don't you see that the faith was working with the works and that God was using the works to mature the faith? And the scripture was fulfilled that said Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness and he was the friend of God. How did Abraham demonstrate to the world that he really did believe God, that he really was the friend of God, that he really had been imputed righteousness, that God really had changed his heart by his actions?
By picking up that knife and getting ready to kill that son. That's how he demonstrated it. Was he saved by the works? No, that's not what James is saying. James is saying that the only way he can demonstrate to people that he was saved was by the works. They proved that he really knew Christ because true saving faith is visible only to God. He's the only one who can see it. I can't. You can't even see it in yourself.
But by works of obedience to God, we can demonstrate to others and ourselves that it's genuine. And then he goes on to talk about Rahab. The spies come to visit Rahab. They show up at her door. She takes them in.
She hides them. She lies for them. But she said to them, I know that your God is giving you this land and I know that your God is the true God. Anybody can say that. If you were going to tear my city down and kill everybody in it, I'll bet you if they had given other people the opportunity, there would have been a few other people willing to say that too, to preserve their lives.
Anybody can say that. But how did Rahab prove that it was genuine, that she really did believe, that God really had done something in her heart? She proved it by hiding them and protecting them and helping them get away and giving them the inside information that they needed. That's how they knew when they promised that woman that we'll preserve you. That's how they knew that they were promising something to a woman who really did know Christ.
Her actions proved it. And so the conclusion of the matter before us this evening is this, that faith that doesn't result in acts of obedience to God is worthless in God's sight. Or to put it another way, the kind of faith that Paul talks about will always produce the kind of works that James talks about. And the kind of faith that produces works that James is talking about is the kind of faith Paul says is what God grants salvation in response to. They're interconnected. James emphasizes the confirmation through works. Paul emphasizes the essential character of the faith. But they're not contra each other.
They synthesize quite well when you understand what's being said. And I may point out, not only is dead faith worthless to God, but it can do a lot of damage. I was just talking today to a young girl that, she came here this morning to visit and has been having some problems. And her boyfriend is not a believer.
She is. But he won't come to church, any church, especially a Baptist church. Now, we're not a Baptist church, but he definitely won't go to one of them. And I asked her, I thought that was curious the way she specified him. He won't come to any church, but he definitely won't come to a Baptist church. So I asked her, why is it, why the Baptist church?
I mean, why this sudden, this vehemence about that? She said, very simple. She said, his parents abandoned him when he was young, and his grandparents raised him. And they were Baptists. But they beat him. They abused him. He'll never set foot again in a Baptist church.
He really won't set foot again in any church. Because here were these good Baptists, every Sunday in church, every Sunday singing the praises of God, every Sunday shaking hands and going, praise the Lord, brother, who abused him, their grandson. And you know, as I share the Gospel with people, I suppose the most common objection, if I had to give it a percentage rating, I'd say I hear this 75% of the time when people are objecting to receiving Christ.
It goes something like this. You know it. I knew a Christian one time, a guy who claimed to be a Christian, and do you know what he, and he did this, and he did that, and do you know what he did? And if that's what it's all about, I don't want to hear it.
You ever heard that one? Or if you've shared the Gospel with more than four or five people in your life, you've heard that one. And so not only is this kind of faith a dead faith, oh, it's a destructive faith.
Because here are people with the billboard, but no actions. Now let's conclude by saying this. That God isn't impressed by head knowledge, no matter how great it is. Psalm 14 says, the fool has said in his heart, there's no God. What do you qualify as by admitting there's a God? The only thing you qualify as is not being a fool.
That's it. Anybody in his right mind, God says, should admit there's a God. But that's not the kind of faith God's looking for. God wants that personal trust, that active reliance on him and on the work of Jesus Christ in his behalf, that God can come into a life in response to that and change a life and let the Spirit of God take up residence in a life and through that person begin changing the very actions and attitudes of that man or woman. That's what God's looking for. And that kind of faith, that kind of reliance, produces a change in action that speaks and demonstrates that that faith is real. And if you don't have those actions, or at least a desire for those actions, then something is wrong with your faith.
Something is desperately wrong. Many of you know my dad, just before he died, received Jesus Christ as his Savior. I had the tremendous privilege of leading him to Christ in the hospital. Now I've been sharing the gospel with this man for years, ever since I was a Christian. In fact, when I first became a Christian in my naivete, I decided I would hitchhike to Atlanta, which is where they lived. And I was just going to waltz right on in, you know, just waltz on in and share the gospel and lead my parents to Christ. We'd all go to church together.
Wouldn't this be nice? Ah, boy, did I have a surprise coming. See, I didn't know any better. I hadn't been saved but a matter of weeks. And it was so clear to me, so crystal clear, that I was sure once I explained it correctly, they'd have to accept it. That never occurred to me. God took 20 years to convince me, but that's okay. It just never occurred to me. So I waltzed on in and naively presented it and got ready to lead in the prayer of commitment.
But the only problem was they didn't want to pray the prayer of commitment. I couldn't believe it. So I said to them, look, maybe I just didn't explain this right. Let me try again.
So I went back to it and I thought, now I've really done it well. Now what do you think? Nope. So I said, wait a minute, you don't understand. Let me try one more time. I did it again.
Nope. I couldn't understand this. So every time after that, I'd see my parents. It was pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, boy, you got to be saved.
You're headed for hell. Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow. Finally, they actually began to get gun shy. I mean, they would see me coming and you could just kind of see them just kind of drifting off, turning on the TV, putting on the headphones and the stereo, anything rather than have to talk to him again because we know what we're going to hear.
Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow. Finally, an older Christian friend of mine got me a side one time. He said, hey, Lon, I got a little piece of advice for you. He said, you know something?
I kind of sense, since your dad locks himself in the room when you go home, that maybe you're coming on just a little too strong. He was a Christian. He said, why don't you back off a little bit with the words and just give God time to work? I said, oh, I never thought of that.
It's true. I just never occurred to me. So I took the advice to heart. Now, it doesn't mean I would stop talking about the Lord when it was appropriate, but it was always in the context of what God was doing for me, not what God had to do for them. And that went on for a year and two years and three years and four years, about five years that went on. And then when I was called down to the hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, where my dad was with hepatitis, which at that time, he wasn't that seriously ill, but I went down to see him. I walked into the room and I'd been praying on the way down, Lord, you know, this would be a good opportunity.
You know, maybe you'll open it up, but you never have before. This man just never wanted to hear anything, totally disinterested. And I walked in and we kicked it around. We talked about the weather. How's the weather doing fine? How's Brenda fine? How's it fine? How's the car running fine?
You know, the standard things. We did that for about 30 seconds. And then I stood there for a minute and I could tell something was on his mind.
I could just tell it. Finally, he looked at me and he said, you know something, I've really been doing a lot of thinking lately. He said, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if what you've been telling me about Jesus Christ all these years might not possibly be right.
I felt like asking his roommate if he could find another bed so I could have that one because I felt like, Lord, I'm going to faint. I don't believe this. I mean, right out of the blue.
I didn't say, here he comes. So I was a little flabbergasted. I couldn't believe I was hearing it. And the next day I had the tremendous privilege of leading my dad to Christ. And after I had, I thought I got to ask him this because I'm tying the no. So I said, Dad, you've got to tell me what was it that changed your mind?
I mean, you know, you were you didn't ever want to hear a word about this. What was it that even made you start thinking that what I was saying was right? He said, Well, I'll tell you what it was. He said, when you finally stopped badgering me and just started living what you said you had. And I began to see that what you had was really doing something in your life. And there were changes taking place that I couldn't explain. I knew they weren't you.
Because I know you and I know you don't do things like that. And he's right. He said, I began to realize I had to find another explanation. But I wouldn't admit that it was what you said it was until I went back to synagogue and tried to find it in Judaism. And I couldn't. And finally, finally, I had to admit that the kind of transformation that was taking place in your life was so unusual, and so unprecedented, that what you had been telling me had to be right. Had to be. Now it took him five years.
But it worked. And you see, that's exactly what James is saying. That I could give that man word after word after word and just all talk. Don't forget, there's people on TV and on the radio and in the newspaper and in the office giving him talk, talk, talk all week long. Our talk's no different. It's just religious talk. And people can argue with talk. But it's very, very difficult to argue with a transformed life.
Very difficult. And I maintain that the truly born again person will want to obey God. And will begin obeying God.
Because that's the way God knows He can really demonstrate this person has had something special happen in his life. So I think a question we need to ask ourselves is this. How's your faith? Is it dead? Or is it alive? It's dead. If your faith is not resulting in works of obedience to God's Word and a desire to obey God, if that doesn't drive you day in and day out, there is something desperately wrong with your faith.
And you'd better check it out. The epistle of straw? No. No, not an epistle of straw. Just an epistle that really puts a lot of emphasis on obeying God. Let's have prayer together. Heavenly Father, we rightly talk about the faith that you want us to have. And we should. Father, we stand and would die for the concept that salvation is by faith plus nothing.
And it is. But dear God, help us not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Help us dear Lord to remember that we are your workmanship in Jesus Christ created unto good works which you have foreordained that we should walk in them. And Lord, give us the kind of faith and energize our faith to produce the kind of works that this world can simply not argue with.
And we ask it, Lord, so that people would see in our lives you and your power. In Jesus' name, amen. Amen. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 08:31:31 / 2022-12-06 08:44:03 / 13