Hello, friends! Welcome to Christ the King Sunday, a day which reminds us that in the coming Advent season, we look for both a baby and a king. Click the video below and let us acknowledge and worship King Jesus…
There is perhaps no better hymn for this day than Crown Him with Many Crowns:
For a contemporary song, it is appropriate today and every day to Sing to the King:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.
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.
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.
O God, do not be silent!
Do not be deaf.
Do not be quiet, O God.
Don’t you hear the uproar of your enemies?
Don’t you see that your arrogant enemies are rising up?
They devise crafty schemes against your people;
they conspire against your precious ones.
“Come,” they say, “let us wipe out Israel as a nation.
We will destroy the very memory of its existence….”
O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed,
like chaff before the wind!
As a fire burns a forest
and as a flame sets mountains ablaze,
chase them with your fierce storm;
terrify them with your tempest.
Utterly disgrace them
until they submit to your name, O Lord.
Let them be ashamed and terrified forever.
Let them die in disgrace.
Then they will learn that you alone are called the Lord,
that you alone are the Most High,
supreme over all the earth. (NLT)
The psalms are the church’s prayer book. Many of the psalms are laments and many of them are worshipful songs of praise. Then there are the “imprecatory” (pronounced im-PRECK-a-tory) psalms. To “imprecate” means to invoke evil upon someone; it is to pronounce a curse. The reason for the imprecatory psalm is that it is not any person’s place to engage in revenge or retaliation. Instead, for people who are genuinely caught in the cross-hairs of evil and have sinful persons dogging them, prayer is their most effective recourse.
Sometimes you must tell it like it is. There is a time to do your best in putting up a good face and dealing with people who do not ever stop gossiping, slandering, and trying to get their way.
There is also a time to call such behavior “evil” and cry out to God for help.
There are many folks who consider imprecatory psalms a problem because of their detailed expressions of imprecation. Yet, such psalms refuse to put a positive spin on malevolent motives, wicked words, and destructive actions. Desperate people utter desperate prayers. Their unflinching sense of injustice will not allow them to sugarcoat the villainous plans of corrupt people. Evil is never toppled with tepid prayers from wimpy worshipers. Rather, nefarious agendas are thwarted in the teeth of specific, focused, and intense prayers directed with spiritual precision to the very core of diabolical forces.
We need not be shy about being real with God, even with praying imprecatory prayers. There really are people in this world, maybe even in your own life, that have malicious intent against you or others. Our job is not personal revenge, but to entrust ourselves to the God who fights for the poor, the oppressed, and the needy against the arrogant and the powerful.
Let your prayers reflect your life.
Along with psalms of praise lifted during times of celebration, so imprecatory psalms are not to be ignored but need to be uttered equally loud as prayers to almighty God in seasons of desperate evil. If you have a gut feeling deep down that wicked people are running amok, then use this psalm as a prayer against the darkness which seeks to envelop the earth.
Jesus Christ will build his church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). The picture Jesus portrayed is one of faithful believers equipped with righteousness and justice storming the gates of hell, not shying away from it. Baked within the Lord’s words were the promise that evil atrocities will not have the day – that God’s people will not be destroyed or overwhelmed because of demonic and satanic power.
There is a time to flee and then there is a time to engage. I am suggesting that the chief way of mitigating evil is to punch it in the mouth with imprecatory psalms prayed with righteous flavor and focused directly against the powers of this present darkness. Why prayer of all things in dealing with evil?…
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV)
Spiritual problems require spiritual implements to solve. And the tool of imprecatory psalms is a major way of not only pushing back the dark forces of this world but is the means of spiritual assertiveness against all forms of heinous acts and acerbic words from depraved people and evil systems.
God’s wrath is an expression of God’s love.
God is not okay with evil taking root in the lives and institutions of humanity. Prayer is our privilege of coming to the God who upholds justice and righteousness. For if God is for us, who can be against us?
God Almighty, may you hear me in the day of my trouble and send help from your holy sanctuary and strengthen my faith. Breathe your Holy Spirit into me and inspire me with a passion for goodness and truth, justice, and righteousness. Lord Jesus be present with me in your risen power and protect me from harm and from all that would hinder your healing presence in this world. You overcame the forces of Satan, redeemed the world, then ascended to the Father. May you be with me and within me; before me and behind me; on my right and on my left; above me and beneath me; and around me always. Amen.