With Submission

I. Introduction

I’m going to share a something I’ve learned about my own spiritual growth. I have a lot of spiritual shortcomings, and I hope I’m growing in Christ a little more every year. But I’ve learned a little, only a little, about our wants and desires.

When I first became a Christian, I can’t describe the excitement I felt about belonging to Jesus for the first time. But while I may have been enthusiastic, I wasn’t very knowledgeable. If fact, one of the greatest impediments I had was just understanding how much I didn’t understand.

I had wants and desires, and I thought somehow that being a Christian, signing up for God’s team, meant God was on my side. Whatever my wants and desires were, He would fight for me. The bible told me I would be able to move mountains if I just had enough faith.

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It took me years to begin to understand that becoming a Christian didn’t turn me into some sort of religious superhero, able to leap tall buildings and move mountains with my new faith.

It is true that God will fight for me. But God really wants to fight through me to accomplish His will. When I get distracted by my own desires, God patiently waits for me to align with His desires. Not my own desires.

What are my desires? Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”

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What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

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Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

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Was it just last month they had that lotto drawing worth $1.6 billion? With $1.6 billion, you can sure buy a lot of lotto tickets. Did anybody here daydream about what they would do with $1.6 billion? I know I did. I even enjoyed daydreaming about what I’d do with the winnings, and I didn’t have to pay a dollar to do it. I daydreamed for free.

What we’re going to study today in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but by learning to trust God and leaning on Him and relying on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle through us.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? Our relationships with each other are how we demonstrate the love of Christ within us, and Christ values our relationships highly. In fact, Christ values our relationships far more than He values our tithes and offerings. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The first problem with hedonism and selfish desires among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ἡδονή (hēdonē), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain. We just want our own way.

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This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

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III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. He made this clear all the way back in Exodus 20:5 when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, one of the first words were,

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

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There are many ways to misunderstand God’s jealousy. Oprah famously rejected orthodox Christianity when she said that God was jealous of her. She said, well, let’s just hear it from her:

But God is not jealous of Oprah. That’s a complete misunderstanding of God’s desire for us. God is jealous *for* Oprah. God is pure and holy and wants the best for us, especially encouraging us to find our heart’s desire in Him, not someplace else. There is a place for sanctified jealousy and it revolves around broken holy covenants. A wife can be jealous if her husband’s affections are not for her. Likewise, if our affections are not for God, God is jealous. There is no other worthy object for our affection other than God; the jealousy of God wants us to desire what is best, which is Him.

The scripture here in James 4 implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers our love of worldly things to be spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. What did it say in Exodus 20:5?

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

God created us with the ability to love Him, and He also gives us the ability to choose whether to love Him. Our fights among ourselves and our sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God? That we covet the creation instead of the Creator?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have only a few close friends. To develop a friendship takes time and sacrifice for the one we wish to know better. How much time do we spend being friends with the world? Spending time on Facebook or Instagram or Spotify? And how much time do we spend being friends of God? Being a friend of God takes time, there are no shortcuts. And when we spend our precious time on worldly things, our love of selfish pleasures spurs our God to jealousy.

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several commands in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit to His authority. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Learn and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition. I have noticed that when I am tempted by sin, the best defense is a good offense. It is difficult to sin while praying. Pray. Pray without ceasing.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24:3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Is James telling us that perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable? Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we take pride in ourselves. On our own, though, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Tesla, a sister wearing new diamond earrings, my initial reaction might be hedonistic – I want one of those, too. Or my response may be the opposite; “well, I certainly wouldn’t spend my money on that. He shouldn’t either.” The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldly, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. Our job in the spiritual growth of others around us is to encourage them in truth and love, not to judge them and speak ill of them.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and then I attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions in and of themselves may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.”

 

Slide27.JPGAnd then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

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We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. I can’t tell you how many advertisements I see on television that include the phrase, “go ahead, you deserve this.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to receive what I deserve. In Christ, I receive what I don’t deserve – His grace. God wants us to live for Him first. And James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

We assume too much about our own future, making our plans for tomorrow and the next. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptuous enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

Now, James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Poof. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Also, James isn’t telling us not to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how then shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

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Jeremiah 29:11-13,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle bumps God out of His rightful place in our lives. We make his creation #1, and put God #2. Or worse, even lower. Our God is jealous for us, He wants us to desire what is best. And yet, we are so easily satisfied by pretty trinkets. C.S. Lewis once said,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

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When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made, and give glory to the One who made it.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

Hedonism

I. Introduction

Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

What we’re going to study in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but learning to trust God and lean on Him and rely on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? To what source did James trace our tendency to fight with others?

How do our human desires affect our relationship with God?

The first problem with hedonism among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ????? (h?don?), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain.

This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. The scripture here implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing. Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and repenting, turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers this spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” God created us with the ability to love Him, and gives us the ability to choose to love Him. Our fights and sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Whether material things, our health or the health of family, aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have few close friends. What does it take to develop a friendship? (Time, sacrifice). How much time do we spend being friends with the world? How much time do we spend being friends of God? What does it take to become a closer friend?

How would obeying each of these commands lead to a stronger friendship with God?

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several command in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism. It’s like the Ten Commandments of James, although four of them are closely related.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Lean and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24-3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable. Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we attribute pride to ourselves because alone, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Corvette, a sister wearing a new pearl necklace, my initial reaction might be hodenistic – I want that. The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldy, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. If I can’t have something, you shouldn’t either.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.” And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. That’s not how God wants us to live. James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

First, we assume too much about the future. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptious enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Whoosh. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

James also isn’t telling us to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

Jeremiah 29:11-13, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle usurps the authority of God in our life. When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made.

Faith and Deeds

Charles Schultz often touched on religious themes in his cartoons. You might remember his Christmas special years ago, where Linus recited the meaning of Christmas from the book of Luke. Charles Schultz taught bible study into the 1980’s, and many of his cartoons were thought to illustrate bible scripture. His illustration for our study today, the second half of James 2, shows Snoopy shivering outside in the cold. Charlie Brown says to Linus, “He looks kind of cold, doesn’t he?” And Linus says, “Maybe we’d better go over and comfort him. So they walk over to Snoopy, wearing their warm coats and mittens and hats and Charlie Brown says, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy!” Linus also says, “Yes, be of good cheer.” And then they walk on by.

Today, we’re going to learn that Christian faith and Christian deeds are one and the same, and you can’t have one without the other.

I’m going to be honest about today’s lesson – it’s a difficult lesson to grasp. Not even all the commentary I found on the subject agrees. Last month I taught from the book of Galatians, and how it is grace that saves us through faith and not by our own works. Today, the book of James, at first glance, appears to contradict this, and says our salvation depends on our deeds. Do they contradict? Or is this a deeper walk with Christ with a lesson to teach us about what our faith is and what it does? We’re going to come back to this point because it’s an important step in understanding our salvation and sanctification.

First, let’s talk about things that always seem to go together.

i. Peanut butter and _______ (jelly)
ii. Salt and _______ (pepper)
iii. Hugs and _______ (kisses)
iv. Spaghetti and _______ (meatballs)
v. Socks and _______ (shoes)
vi. Thunder and _______ (lightning)
vii. Death and _______ (taxes)

Certain things go together, and you know one by the other. If you met somebody who claimed to be an auto mechanic, what outward, visible sign would you expect to see that proves they are what they say they are?

What if you met a doctor? A chef? What if you met somebody that said they are a Christian, what sort of evidence would you expect to see?

James 2:14-18, Rhetorical Questions
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

James begins with two rhetorical questions. First question, “What good is faith without deeds?” Answer: none. The needy brother or sister, without clothes or food, finds no good in a pious response of, “Go in peace, may you be warmed and filled.” It’s an expectation that God will step in and do what we will not.

Second question, “Can faith without deeds save? Answer: no. James isn’t asking if faith alone can save others; James is asking if our faith alone can save *us*.

James makes two combined points. First, faith without actions is useless, and second, faith by itself cannot save us. The combination of these two questions to state without a doubt that faith without deeds is completely useless to others, to ourselves, and to our salvation which is the primary point of having faith in the first place.

The trouble with interpreting this passage is that so much scripture seems to say the opposite. We cannot work our way into heaven. There are not enough good deeds we can do to gain entrance to the heavenly throne room. Paul says specifically in Romans 3:28, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” He says again in Galatians 2:16 that I taught from last month, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law.” In Galatians 2:21, “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” The entire New Testament says we are saved by faith alone. “By grace, through faith, we are saved.”

So, do we need to do works or not? The key to understanding these passages is to understand that Paul and James are discussing to entirely different things. Paul was talking to the Jews. They believed they were God’s Chosen Ones, and as such, all they had to do was follow the bazillian laws perfectly and they win a prize. The Jews also believed that Gentiles who wanted to be Christians also had to follow these same bazillian rules. It’s a problem that still confronts us today, the problem of legalism. That if we’re Christian, we must have so much quiet time, we’re not allowed to go dancing, we must do this or that.

James is fighting the opposite problem; lackadaisical faith. Lax faith. Lazy faith. All you have to do is believe and you are saved. Where Paul was talking about laws and rules and regulations, James is talking about acts of love, sacrificial love, agape love. Paul talks about what happens to you on the inside, and how you are saved. James is talking about the outside; how to show you are saved.

One way to think of it is how we know certain invisible things exist. We cannot see the wind. How do we know it exists? We can see the wind blowing the branches of the trees, we can see the waves on a lake. We can harness the energy of the wind for power. We know wind exists because we see what it can do. How do we know oxygen exists? How do we know love exists? How do we know faith exists?

So James asks a question in verse 14, what good is faith without deeds? Then he answers it in verse 17, faith without deeds is dead. James is severe in his criticism. Faith alone is dead. James certainly understood the saving grace of faith; back in James 2:5, he notes that some people are rich in faith. And certainly James is not advocating deeds instead of faith. What James is telling us is that one cannot have authentic faith by itself, without any deeds to show for it. James says there is no separation of faith and deeds, they are one and the same. They are not equal, they are not contradictory, they are not alternatives. When James says in verse 18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith in what I do,” James declares that the only way to have genuine faith is to demonstrate it with deeds. Works aren’t added to faith; genuine faith includes works. Otherwise, the faith is useless and dead. To you, to others, to God.

Let’s turn to Luke chapter 5 and look at Jesus giving us a great example of this. Verse 17, Jesus, the Great Healer, is teaching:

Luke 5:17
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

That must have been some sight. Imagine being at some small group study, listening to a great teacher, and all of a sudden somebody pries off a skylight and lowers a sick and paralyzed man through the roof. And Jesus says, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

Is that it? A sick, paralyzed man, unable to walk, meets Jesus, and all Jesus says is “Your sins are forgiven?” Remember the story of Snoopy, and how Charlie Brown and Linus say, “Be of good cheer?” That comes from this very story; the King James Version in Matthew 9, Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Is Jesus guilty of giving the paralyzed man a sermon instead of a sandwich? A message instead of medicine? What did Jesus do? He followed up his good wishes with good deeds. Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

Let’s look at James 2:19-26 and see three examples –

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
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? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

a. Demons
James uses a horrible warning to people who claim to have faith and yet have no deeds. People who claim to believe in the one true almighty God, but do not demonstrate it with deeds, are indistinguishable from demons. Demons, too, believe in the same God.

That’s horrible. What could possibly be worse than to be compared to a demon? In Mark 5, there is a story of a man with an evil spirit inside him named Legion. When the man saw Jesus, he shouted at him, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” The demons know who Christ is, but do they have a saving faith? The demons recognize Christ and continue to do evil deeds, and rather than changing their behavior, they only shudder at the judgment to come. Their belief is correct, their behavior is not. Believing the truth without obeying the truth does not save us, anymore than it saves demons. Some commentaries say this comparison to demonic faith implies that belief without obedience is even worse than useless.

b. Abraham
Whew. I’m ready for a more positive example. James brings up Abraham as an example of righteousness. If you recall, Abraham waited years and years for an heir. And then Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar, but at the last moment, an angel stayed his hand and Isaac was spared. Abraham had faith. His faith prompted Abraham to obey. His obedience completed his faith. Abraham’s deeds give testimony to his faith. By Abraham’s obedience, Abraham’s faith was perfected. In other words, the more we trust God and go out on a limb to do His will, the more we find that God is trustworthy.

God was surely satisfied with Abraham long before because of Abraham’s faith that God would give Abraham a son. What God really wanted was for Abraham to be an example of genuine faith to others.

c. Rahab
Abraham and Rahab, by human standards, couldn’t have been further apart. Abraham, a major, revered patriarch, father of the faithful. Rahab, a foreigner, disreputable, a minor character in the bible. If you recall, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua, in preparation for battle, sent two spies to investigate. When soldiers came looking for the spies, Rahab hid them. Rahab tells the spies that she has faith in the same Lord they do. What if Rahab had simply said, “Be Safe! Hope you don’t get caught!” No, she risked herself and was obedient to God.

The reason James uses both Abraham and Rahab is to make a point about our station in life. It doesn’t matter who we are – from Abraham to Rahab, from respected patriarch to redeemed prostitute, our faith is perfected by our deeds. James says both Abraham and Rahab are declared righteous because of their actions.

James’ conclusion in verse 26 repeats what he said in verse 17. Faith without action is dead. It’s not a genuine, saving faith, but a useless imposter. A genuine faith is a saving faith.

I think James is trying to clarify exactly what faith is. When you dissect this chapter, James is saying that faith is not something you say, or think, or feel, or believe. And it’s not even a question of faith versus deeds. Real faith is something you do. Saying you trust God, and actually trusting God are two separate things. Saying you have faith, and actually having faith means you do what God tells you to do, stop making excuses about why you can’t help or serve, and actually getting up to help and serve. God wants us to demonstrate our faith because demonstration means we have to trust God for who he says he is. And when we trust God, he strengthens our faith so we can do even more.

I read a story about faith verses words and belief. George Blondin was a famous tightrope walker in the 1860’s. For a publicity stunt, he decided to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He started slowly, walked step-by-step, very carefully, inch by inch… when he got to the middle, everybody knew one little step would plunge him down the falls to certain death. And when he finally reached the other side, the crowd went wild. And George Blondin said, “I’m going to do it again.” And he did. And when he got to the other side, he said, “I’m going to do it again, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt.” And he did. And a second time, and a third time. And a fourth time. And then at the one trip across, one of spectators says to him, “Wow. That’s incredible. I believe you could do that all day.” And George Blondin dumps the dirt out of the wheelbarrow and says, “Get in.”

An empty faith is no faith at all. And empty faith is a working faith. We can make one of two major mistakes when dealing with faith and deeds. Either is a hindrance to understanding the true gospel, the good news of Christ.

  • Salvation comes by faith plus works. Paul dealt with this subject frequently. We often hear it referred to as “Jesus Plus”. In order to gain salvation, you need Jesus Plus something. This leads to legalism, a focus on the deeds themselves. We cannot work our way into heaven, we cannot earn our salvation. We become like the Pharisees that Jesus had no use for.
  • Salvation comes by intellectual faith alone. Our study today deals with the opposite view that deeds aren’t necessary; it is faith alone that saves. James explains that this, too, is incorrect. Faith alone is worthless, it’s dead, and he even compares it to demonic faith.

    What does the life of a person look like when they hold to one of these false views of salvation? (People focused on deeds are burdened with an expectation to do more, and fail to realize God’s grace. People focused on faith without deeds are pious, holy, useless, and obedience no longer produces sanctification.)

The correct view of salvation which James explains in our text is: Salvation comes by genuine faith that is evidenced by works. Faith and works are not separate, but intertwined as one thing. Jesus Christ is both our savior and our lord. He is not two separate people. Faith alone professes Christ as Savior, and that sort of faith is worthless. True saving faith recognizes Christ both as Savior and as Lord. As He is Lord, we are called to obey, and it is this obedience to Him that demonstrates a saving faith. Jimmy Carter once said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Jesus himself admonishes us to be obedient and express our faith with our deeds. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” And in Matthew 7:21, “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.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 sums it up: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, for a life of good works that God has already prepared for us to do.” That’s what God wants from us. That’s genuine faith.

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