Today, we’re continuing in our message series Life Lessons. We’re going through the book of James and learning some very practical lessons for our lives today. Last Sunday our message was Dealing with Trials. If you missed it, all of our messages are online on our website at lifechurchstlouis.org
Today our message is entitled “Faith in Action.” Let’s start out by talking about what faith is. Faith is not simply believing in God.
James 2:19 (ESV) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Many people believe that God exists and that there is one true God. Do they have faith? Are they true believers? If that’s the extent of their faith, absolutely not. James in his direct language tells us that even the demons believe that God exists and that there is only one true God. Yet, those same demons are in direct rebellion and warfare against God and His church. So, as we go through James, what is the faith that he is talking about.
We talk about true faith at the end of every service. In a very simple format, I summarize the teaching of the whole Bible on how one becomes a true believer.
That’s how you become a believer. Each of these three steps is essential.
Unfortunately, many people today claim to be Christians or believers who are not. Some simply believe in God, which is not sufficient. Others have asked Jesus to forgive their sins so that they can go to heaven, but there has been no true repentance or commitment. Yet others, give the appearance of being believers but have evil motives. Jesus spoke of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. How can we distinguish a false prophet?
Matthew 7:16-17 (ESV) You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
A true believer will have correct beliefs, but even that is not enough. The fruit of their lives must be good fruit that honors God. What is the good fruit that is evidence of a true believer? Their actions and attitudes must be in keeping with the instructions of God’s Word. The fruit of a person’s life are a result of what’s in a person’s heart. Jesus put it this way in
John 14:15 (ESV) “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Those who love Jesus, who are true believers and have a relationship with Him, will obey Him. The obedience to Jesus is the good fruit of a person who believes in and loves Jesus. So, the faith in and love for Jesus demonstrates itself through outward action. On the other hand, the absence of good fruit or obedience to Jesus indicates that someone is not a true believer. With respect to the false prophets that Jesus was talking about.
Matthew 7:20 (ESV) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
You can discern true prophets from false prophets by their fruits and you can discern true believers from false believers in the same way. So, with that introduction, today we’re going to dive into James 2 to learn how to express our faith in actions toward others. Good fruit consists both of actions won’t don’t do, as well as actions we do perform.
James 2:1 (ESV) My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
The letter of James is addressed to believers, who are called brothers here and have faith in Jesus. The command here is to show no partiality. Partiality is an “unfair bias in favor of one person compared with another.” So, by showing partiality, favoring one person, you are also discriminating against another. James then gives us an example in …
James 2:2-4 (ESV) For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
The example that James gives has to do with how the believers would treat a rich man versus a poor man within their church. How would they know who was rich compared to who was poor? By their dress. In the days of James, the vast majority of people were very poor and made their own clothes. Only the rich could have their clothes sewn for them. So, it was very easy to tell the rich apart from the poor.
Why would people favor the rich within the church? Well, the evil thoughts that James is talking about could be the desire to get some of those riches either for oneself or for the church. The discrimination in view here would be based not on a person’s heart, but on outward characteristics, such as clothing and jewelry.
James 2:5 (ESV) Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
James goes on to remind the believers that those who are poor in this world, which would be most of the believers at that time, are spiritually rich. Now, James is not really addressing in this example, whether the rich or poor man are believers or not. For the sake of his illustration, it really does not matter. The point is that we should not show partiality based on outward appearance or status, but should treat everyone the same with the love of Jesus. Good fruit of a genuine faith avoids all kinds of discrimination.
In our world today, we see an enormous amount of discussion about a form of discrimination called racism. The dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group.” Generally speaking, you would identify a person as being part of a racial group by external characteristics, such as language, skin color, or other physical appearance features. The general principles in our passage today and throughout the Bible would absolutely condemn racism of any kind.
Discrimination is not always against a minority. In James’ day, the rich oppressed and discriminated against the poor, which James points out in some verses we haven’t read. Yet the rich were a very small minority, but held most of the power. In the same way today, racism can be held by any racial group against any other group. It is wrong whether from a majority to a minority or vice versa.
Discrimination and racism are bad fruit, which come from bad attitudes in our hearts, they are sin. James is writing to believers in his letter, to bring conviction to their sin of discrimination. God wants us today to look at our own hearts and make sure that we don’t show partiality based on outward appearances. God may also be calling on us to be like James and to point out the sin of discrimination in others so they can avoid partiality. It is also our duty as Christian citizens to do what we can to make sure that our laws and government do not discriminate in any direction, but treat people equally. Not only must we avoid discrimination, we must also learn to …
James 2:8 (ESV) If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
James boils down the biblical principle in a quote from Leviticus 19:18, which is quoted by Jesus. As we learn to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, there will be an end to discrimination. If our neighbor is different from us in some way and we love him as we love ourselves, there will be no partiality. We will treat everyone the same as Jesus would treat them.
James 2:9 (ESV) But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
So, discrimination or partiality is a sin that must be repented of and corrected. James makes it clear that we are not to think of discrimination as a minor sin that doesn’t matter. When we are convicted of it, we need to repent and seek God’s help. It’s a sin because we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Jesus taught us that our neighbor is anyone that we are in contact with and need to show love to. James concludes this section of chapter 2 in …
James 2:12-13 (ESV) So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
As believers, God has shown us mercy in forgiving our sins. He has set us free from sin and judgement for those sins. As God has shown us mercy, so we are to show mercy to those around us. Showing mercy and love, even to those who have not treated us properly. Discrimination is in a sense judging another person unfairly. Rather we are to show them mercy. We need God’s help to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Let’s think for a minute about the love that we are to show our neighbors. The Greek word for love in the instruction to love our neighbor is agape. Agape love is God’s unconditional love for us and is the kind of love we are to love others with. Our tendency without God’s help is to show conditional love to others. If they treat us nicely and kindly, then we will show them love. If they treat us badly, then we tend not to show them love. Conditional love is not what God is calling is to exercise. God loved us unconditionally, while we were yet sinners.
In the same way, we are to show God’s love to everyone, even those who are different from us or even don’t treat us with love. Unconditional agape love is the most powerful love that exists. We cannot create it on our own, we must rely on God to pour out His love into our hearts so we can spread it to others. There are elements of every culture and group that are wrong and sinful. Some cultures are more sinful then others. Yet God loves each and every person, no matter what culture or group that they are part of. And He commands us to love them with that same love. As we do, we become part of the solution to the divisions in our nation, rather than part of the problem. As we show God’s love, that love can draw people to Himself so that they can experience and spread God’s love as well. Finally …
James 2:14 (ESV) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
In this last section of chapter two, we are going to look at how faith should be expressed in our lives. You’ll remember from our introduction that faith expressed is the fruit of our lives. James begins by talking about a person who says they have faith, that they are a genuine believer. Yet, they do not have works. The works that James is talking about here are basically the expression of loving our neighbors as ourselves. He asks if it is possible to have genuine faith without the evidence of works or fruit. Then he goes on to give an example.
James 2:15-16 (ESV) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
You’ll notice that in this example, James describes a poor person who is poorly clothed and lacks the necessities of life. This is exactly the kind of person that James warned us against discriminating toward in the beginning of the chapter. If we say to this poor person some nice words, but do nothing that will help them with their need of clothes and food, there is a problem. James says that isn’t any good. What is the problem? Well, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we were poorly clothed and lacked food, what would we do? We would try to get better clothes and get some food. So, that is how we should show love to our neighbor.
James 2:17 (ESV) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James conclusion is that faith without works is dead. In other words, although the person claimed to have faith, as that faith was not expressed in works, it was not genuine. All genuine faith will express itself in works of love to others. James goes on to give us an example from the Old Testament.
James 2:21-22 (ESV) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
James refers back to the amazing story of Abraham in Genesis 22. In the story, God directed Abraham to offer up his only son, Isaac, the son of promise, as a sacrifice to God. This is undoubtedly the greatest test that God ever gave to a human other than Jesus going to the cross. Yet, Abraham knew that he had heard from God and believed that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead. As Abraham prepared to slay his son, an angel from heaven stopped him and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in obedience to God’s instruction, that is how his faith was completed by his works.
James goes on to tell the story of Rahab, who turned from a life of sin to being part of the people of God. She risked her life to save the Israelite spies and so showed her faith by her works. As you read and study James 2 this week, you can read about her as well. James concludes the chapter in …
James 2:26 (ESV) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
A person dies when their spirit leaves them, so you can’t have an alive person without a spirit. In the same way, you can only have a living faith if it is expressed in works of love and obedience. Works are the fruit of a living faith. God calls us to work out our faith.
Now, we need to be careful in this discussion of faith and works. Most people in America believe that they are a Christian because they are a good person. What they mean is that they do good things in their lives. They therefore believe that they are saved and will go to heaven because of the good things or good works that they do.
Paul, in his letters in the New Testament goes to great lengths to show that a person is not saved by the good works that they do. The reason is that everyone has sinned and no amount of good works can ever atone for those sins. So, the only solution to our sins is to put our faith in Jesus to forgive our sin.
What James is teaching us today does not contradict Paul and the rest of the New Testament, but builds upon that teaching. James agrees with Paul, faith in Christ must come first. Then we see the evidence of that faith in the good works of love and obedience that the believer does. The teaching of Paul warns against the notion that being a good person can save you. The teaching of James warns against the notion that you can be a believer, but not show the fruit of obedience in your life.
The good works or fruit of a true believer’s life have great value. They show God’s love both within and outside of the church. They enhance our witness and help build the church. We must work out our faith.
Today, we’ve looked at how to put our faith into action. We must avoid discrimination, partiality or racism of all kinds. God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, we must treat everyone equally, as we’d choose to treat ourselves. We are to ask God to help us love others with His unconditional agape love.
Finally, true faith always expresses itself in works. These works consist of obedience to God and showing love to others. These works are the result of a living faith and not the origin of it. The works that God calls us to are the fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ. As we put our faith into action, God will help us change our world for Him.