With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.

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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