James 2:14-26 – Faith Works

What good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their 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 my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do 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. (NIV)

Genuine authentic faith is more than mere sentiment and head knowledge. Faith without works does not work. Strong robust faith is active and can withstand adversity.

The rhetorical questions the Apostle James asked were meant to awake his readers to the reality that true faith is always active. In other words, inactive faith is not really faith at all. In his letters to the churches, the Apostle Paul typically talked about the relationship between faith and works before a person converts to Christ, whereas the Apostle James emphasized the role of works after a profession of faith in Christ.

St. James was getting at the heart of how a believer in Jesus ought to live. And he did this by giving an illustration of the relationship between faith and works: If someone is in need and a person expresses a sentimental feeling, even if that feeling is sincere, without backing it up with action – the expression is merely an expression, nothing more. 

I once came home after a long day at work on a Valentine’s Day several years ago. I had picked up some flowers at a drive through flower shop. I walked into the door and handed my wife the flowers with an “I love you.”  Then, I sat down in a heap and turned on the television. My dear wife’s response was not so favorable to my sentimental overtures. I did not really put any thought or action behind Valentine’s Day, and she knew it. My words of “I love you” just did not sync with my actions. 

Just so you know, I redeemed myself the next year by winning a contest on a local radio station for a spouse’s best love note, and it got read on the air several times throughout the day for my lovely wife to hear. My commitment and actions were were nicely aligned so that when I said “I love you” at the end of that workday, there was no doubt about it.

Faith requires that actions sync with words. For example, when we say “I will pray for you” it needs to be more than an expression of concern – we need to spend the time and commitment it takes in praying for them.

Faith involves emotions yet ought not be limited by them. Faith can neither exist nor survive without deeds. Christian works are not an added extra to faith any more than breathing is an added extra to the body. Both faith and action is needed for the Christian life.

True faith is shown as the genuine article by how it acts in real life situations. Faith is more than a checklist of right beliefs to sign-off on, as if it were some fire insurance policy against hell. Frankly, as a Pastor, I have heard some pretty lame justifications over the decades for failing to help others, give to the poor, be involved in justice work, and just plain serve in the church, like, “I’m not wired that way,” “That’s not my gift,” “That’s what we pay you to do,” and the ever-prolific, “This church is not meeting my needs.”

Those in the habit of complaining without an intent to boots-on-the-ground helping do not yet have an active faith. Each person is to do their part in serving the common good of all. And we all suffer when that does not happen. Bifurcating faith and action leave us with a false faith. 

If faith without action is okay, then so is the entire demonic realm. The glimpses of Satan we get in the Bible leads me to think that the devil has the entire thing memorized and knows it well from Genesis to Revelation. Yet, knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Information by itself is useless unless it is accompanied by gracious and loving action. (1 Corinthians 8:1)

Salvation is a term Christians are familiar with. In the Christian tradition, it refers to being saved from sin, death, and hell. Sanctification is another term most Christians recognize. It means “to become holy,” or, “to be set apart” for God. Sanctification is not an event but a process. Whereas saving faith is a gift given without works, sanctifying faith requires a great deal of effort. A lot of energy is expended to live the Christian life. The late Dallas Willard used to often say, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.” 

The Apostle James dealt primarily with the sanctifying faith every Christian needs to exhibit. It is as if we have been graciously granted a full-ride scholarship to a university (salvation) but now the real work begins (sanctification) to learn, grow, and obtain the degree. And, just as a student will surely become discouraged at some point throughout their education and wonder if they ought to drop out, so the Christian will face tremendous adversity and challenge. Indeed, a lot of blood-sweat-and-tears goes into our spiritual studies so that our faith will be strengthened for a lifetime of active loving service.

For example, the Old Testament character Abraham was saved from an empty way of life in a pagan country and given a gift of grace to move to the country God would show him. Abraham did nothing to earn this favor.  God just chose him (Joshua 24:2-3). Abraham sojourned as a pilgrim throughout the land God gave him, which mirrored his spiritual sojourning and learning to be a follower of God. Abraham faced a monumental test of faith when asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).

Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did. Testing of faith is necessary so that we become mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:3-4). The way for authentic faith to develop and grow is in the fiery trial of adversity and hardship. Spiritual maturation, holiness, and a well-rounded faith come by means of difficult life circumstances.

Rahab and the Two Spies by Unknown artist

To press the significance of faith and works, the example of the Old Testament character Rahab is highlighted. Rahab was a prostitute who lived in the red-light district of Jericho. St. James was doing something profound and important – he took two extreme examples, one a giant of the faith, and the other an almost overlooked example of faith, to demonstrate we all are candidates for real faith.

Rahab’s faith and actions worked harmoniously. She genuinely believed the city of Jericho was going to be overcome by God’s judgment, and, so, she housed the visiting Israelite spies (Joshua 2:1-11). Methinks we must expand our understanding of faith to include persons others might exclude. Some may be quick to judge those with dubious lives and backgrounds, as well as the poor and needy. The bald fact of the matter is that we cannot sanitize Rahab as something other than what she was – and because of her faith she ended up being an ancestor of Jesus himself (Matthew 1:5).

From the standpoint of faith, Abraham and Rahab are on the same level. In Christ’s new egalitarian society, all are welcome, all are equal. Together, we work on our sanctifying faith by submitting to adversity as our teacher; finding solace in God’s Holy Word and Spirit; praying for and with others; worshiping God like there is no tomorrow; leaning into faithful relationships; keeping our eyes open to what God is doing; being patient with the process of sanctification; and embracing unwanted change as our friend.

Faith works, my young Padawan. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Energize it.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 – An Embodied Spirituality

divine dance

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.

Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit. (MSG) 

Consider for a moment some of the things you have done today… For me, I arose early, had a workout, ate breakfast, showered, went to work, etc. Yeah, typical stuff we are familiar with. These things I just mentioned all had to do with the body. What is more, all of them are good and holy. Sometimes we may get a misguided notion that purity and holiness only has to do with activities that take place in a church building; or special works like serving at a homeless shelter; or, that the meeting of physical needs is merely a means to reach the soul. Yet, in today’s verses from Thessalonians, as well as the whole of Scripture, there is neither a secular/sacred dichotomy nor a dualism of body and soul.

We in the western world have inherited a long tradition of Platonic thinking. It underlies a lot about how we think of the body. Plato (c.427-327 B.C.E.) embraced a dual nature of people – an existence of body and soul in which the spirit is trapped within physical flesh. Plato considered the soul to be the true nature of a person and tended to denigrate the body as an earthen vessel which will eventually be discarded. Our physical existence was nothing more than a necessary evil for Plato.

Greek Dualism

The problem with Plato’s anthropology is that it fails to discern the holistic nature of body and soul and the need for integrity with these human dimensions. Historically, Plato’s view has tended to come out sideways through lack of care for the body and seeing bodily actions as insignificant.

Thus, sexual immorality is common in dualism because our physical selves are less significant, temporary, and disposable. In all fairness to Plato, he did not encourage misuse of the body or sexual immorality, yet, his philosophy opened-up generations of people neglecting their own bodies and inflicting harm on other bodies. In many ways, Greek dualism is the shadow philosophy behind much sexual abuse today.

When we exalt the soul as supreme over the body, we are living out platonic thought, not biblical teaching. All of life is sacramental – the body is sacred, and, so, ought to be treated as holy – with great care and careful attention to breath, movement, exercise, eating, sleeping, playing, and, yes, even sex. The body is to be celebrated as our means of glorifying God on this earth. And, at the end of the age when Christ returns, we will be reunited with our bodies to live forever as embodied creatures. What we do with our bodies now matters to God.

Inattention and/or disregard for the body God has given us will inevitably lead to a lack of boundaries in which others are open to violate us and we are unaware of violating others. We end up running roughshod over each other, spiritually and physically. An embodied and grounded spirituality helps us clarify what holiness and sanctification looks like in relationships and everyday life.

boundaries

God has not called us to impurity but to holiness in all of life, in every physical activity we do. We have not been designed by our Creator to live in any old way we want; we have been set apart and called by God to walk along the road of purity and peace.  The way in which we use our minds, wills, emotions, and bodies – aligned and in agreement with the whole person – are of much interest and great concern to God Almighty.

God cares about food and whether I eat to his glory and give thanks; or, whether I have no interest in those that are hungry but just stuff as many groceries as I can in my distended stomach.  God cares about whether I take time for rest and Sabbath and whether I isolate myself in mindless TV watching for hours.  God cares about the content of my conversations with my family and friends – whether I am using my vocal cords for encouraging and building-up others, or whether they are forming slanderous, gossipy, and unhelpful words.

Everything in all creation belongs to God – including me, you, and everything we do.  God cares about all of life’s activities and leisure time.  Whether tying our shoes or teaching a Sunday School class, it is all to be done with a sense of holiness and connection to the God that makes it all possible. Christian spirituality is embodied spirituality. So, let us engage in all kinds of good works for the benefit of the body, whether little or large, with the time and talents God has graciously given us.

Lord God, I belong to you – set apart and sanctified so that I may always walk in holiness and please you in everything I do.  Help my life today to reflect the purity you have given me through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May he be glorified through me now and always.  Amen.

Romans 7:1-6 – Becoming Holy

AgnusDay new creation

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (NIV)

Romans chapters 6-8 are the Apostle Paul’s pointed discussion of how we become holy in a real and practical way. The theological word we typically use for this is “sanctification,” which means “to become holy,” and “set apart” for God. To be delivered from sin, death, and hell through the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning of becoming a new creation.

Becoming holy and righteous in our everyday lives boils down to this: identity and belonging. One of the healthiest ways of looking at the entirety of the Bible’s message is that we belong to God. Our identities are thoroughly wrapped around Jesus. The process of realizing this and coming to grips with it is how we grow as people in holiness and righteousness.

Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have been delivered from the realm of sin. Our change in status from condemned to accepted provides us the awareness to make daily affirmations of faith and live a new life. However, the sinful nature (flesh) or the old person is still there. Although it is now toothless, our past can and often does exert a powerful influence on us. Even though there is a medium-rare T-bone steak on the table for us to enjoy, there are times we go back to the old bologna sandwich with stale white bread.

Yet, we need no longer live falling short of our true humanity because we belong to God. We are adopted into God’s family, having been orphaned by sin’s cruel influence. Yet, just because we have been saved from the power of sin, sin itself has not become extinct. We still must deal with it. We are alive to God and need to take up this great spiritual reality and live into it, for the force of sin still exists in the world.

We deal with sin’s continued presence (the world, the flesh, and the devil) through embracing God’s grace versus trying to overcome it with the law. Paul used an illustration from marriage to expand our understanding of grafting grace into our daily lives. By law, a married woman is bound to her husband (keeping in mind this sense of belonging was the predominant view of marriage in Paul’s day). Yet, if the husband dies, the wife is released from the legal marriage. If she were to give herself to another man while her husband is still alive and they are married, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if she is a widow, then marries again, she is not an adulteress.

Paul applies this understanding to our relationship with the law. Death has separated us from the law. We died with Christ. Therefore, we have been set free from the law and have become alive to grace. As believers in Jesus, we “belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). “When Christ’s body hung upon the cross, when God spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); “when Christ took on himself for us all the curse of the law which inflicted all of us (Galatians 3:13); then, we died to the law. God’s grace has made the death of Jesus the death of all from the realm of sin (2 Corinthians 5:14).

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As a married man, let me use Paul’s illustration to get down to the gist of his teaching. Yes, I am legally married and belong to my wife. I made vows to my wife on our wedding day which bind me legally to do what I said I would do. Yet, if I fulfill those vows in a strictly legalistic manner, I can vouch for my wife that this would qualify as an acceptable situation for her. You see, my wife (and, me, too!) are freely bound to one another in love and grace. I care for my wife because I love her deeply, and not because it is my legal duty to do so.

The Christian life was neither designed nor meant to serve as a bare legal contract or covenant between us and God. God forbid such a thought! Jesus died to clear us from all the legality stuff so that we could freely love and serve God with joyful abundance and gratitude. You see, I am follower of Jesus because I love him deeply. What impels and motivates me is God’s grace. The law is there and has its place. However, it is not the law that causes me to be a Christian; it is the love of Christ which saved me from myself and compels me to live like Jesus.

We pray that God himself, the God of peace, will make you pure—belonging only to him. We pray that your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—will be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. The one who chose you will do that for you. You can trust him. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ERV)

Romans 6:12-23 – Who Is Your Master?

Welcome, friends. Simply click the video below and let us enjoy a time together around the Word of God.

You may also view this video at TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin as we celebrate the wonderful reality that Christ has set us free from the realm of sin, death, and hell.

May you take up the easy yoke of Jesus and find rest for you souls. Amen.