Faith Is More than a Feeling

“Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 
(James 2:17, The Message)
 
 
 
I recently bought a shirt.  The first time I put it on, a button fell off.  You know, when I buy a shirt, I expect it to hold up under normal conditions of wear and tear.  But if I wear it once and it tears, or I wash it the first time and it falls apart in the washer, that shirt did not stand up to the test of being an active shirt.  We have reasonable expectations that things will hold up to real life conditions.  If I have a new car that breaks down after a few hundred miles, then I call that car a lemon because it did not stand up well to normal driving conditions.  In the case of a shirt or a car or any other product, if it does not accomplish its intended purpose, I get another one.
 
            When it comes to our “faith,” if it continually does not stand up to the normal rigors of living the Christian life, then I need a new life because my faith is not active.  A strong robust faith in Jesus Christ does not just come by looking good in the store or at the car lot; genuine faith is active and can stand the muster of adversity.
 
            Real faith is not just a matter of words and feelings; it is a matter of deeds and actions.  “What good is it if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?” the Apostle James asked the church.  This is meant to wake up his readers so that they will realize that true faith is always active.  “Can such faith save him?”  (James 2:14-17).  No, it cannot.  That is the point.  A faith that is not active is not really faith at all.  But, you might wonder, I thought works did not save us.  No, they do not.  The Apostle Paul typically talked about the relationship between faith and works before a person has a conversion to Christ, whereas James talks about the role of works to faith afterwe have professed faith in Christ.  Paul said that works cannot bring us to Christ; James said that once we come to Christ, works are a necessity.  In fact, Paul put it all together in Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
 
            James is not discussing how to become a believer in Jesus, but how a believer in Jesus ought to live.  And he does this by giving an illustration of the relationship between faith and works.  If someone is in need and expresses a sentimental feeling, even if that feeling is sincere, without backing it up with action – that expression is only that – it does not help.  I once came home after a long day at work on Valentine’s Day.  I 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 TV.  What was her response, you ask?  It was not very favorable toward me.  But I felt real feelings for her, and gave her some flowers, even though they were not very good looking ones.  What was the problem?  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 well with my actions. 
 
            If we want to be people of faith in Jesus, our actions will perfectly sync with our words.  For example, when we say “I will pray for you” it needs to be much more than an expression of concern – we need to actually spend the time and commitment it takes in praying for them.
 
            Faith is more than feelings.  Faith cannot exist or survive without deeds.  Works are not an added extra to faith any more than breathing is an added extra to the body.  We need them both in order to live the Christian life. 
 
–If we say worship of God is important, what will our actions be like? 
–If we say the Bible is important, what will our actions be like? 
–If we say that everyone needs the good news of Jesus Christ, what will our actions be like? 
–If we say that family is important, what will our actions be like? 
–If we say that our youth are a priority to the church, what will our actions look like?
 

 

            Christianity is much more than a sentimental religion.  Real faith in Jesus is always expressed through both loving words and loving actions.  What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?  Is there a potential action he wants you to do?  Will you do it?  How will you do it?  When will you do it?  Real faith stands up when it is tested.

Brother Jesus

 
 
James, the author of the epistle bearing his name, grew up in a devout Jewish home.  His family life centered round the daily rhythms of the family carpentry business, the weekly rhythms of the synagogue, and the seasonal rhythms of Jewish festivals which celebrated the ancient work of God toward his covenant people.  There was never a time that he did not know about Jesus.  In fact, Jesus was perhaps so familiar to him that he only saw him as that overachieving obnoxious big brother.  Yes, Jesus was his actual brother.  But James just did not “get it” when it came to Jesus.
 
            For James and the rest of the family, it was one thing for Jesus to step out of the family business so that he could get this obsession with talking about God’s kingdom out of his system – it was quite another thing to speak to the established religious authorities like this: 
 
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters….  Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?  For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:30-37).
 
            This is not the kind of thing that James had learned at home or at synagogue.  Big brother had crossed the line; he had gone too far, making himself out to be the authority and talking on about how our words are so important.  Crazy Jesus had to stop.  It was time for an intervention.  So, the text of Matthew 12 says this:  While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.  This was not a nice social call.  James and the rest of the brothers were there to set Jesus straight about how he was upsetting the family and going against the system.  Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”  Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).
 
            Something dramatic happened to James after his brother’s miraculous resurrection:  James moved from seeing Jesus as the familiar brother to the Savior who has taken care of the sin issue once for all, and the Lord of life who must be followed with unflagging devotion and obedience. 
 
            I can relate to James.  I grew up in the family farm business.  Jesus was a name familiar to me all my life.  My growing up years marked with the daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms not much different than James.  And like James, I did not really know Jesus.  The first seventeen years of my life Jesus was just a name in the background of my existence.  He did not really exert any significant impact on me.  But when I came to the point in my life where I saw Jesus for whom he really is and I gave my life to him, it changed everything for me.
 
            You see, I can no longer look at church as a building and a place to go on Sunday.  The church is now the people of God gathered and sent into the world with a mission to make the name of Jesus known as more than just another name.  I can no longer hear the words of Jesus and think he is off his rocker talking like he did.  I now take those words to heart and believe that I really ought to be making disciples and mentoring people into a faith that shapes everything I say and do.
 

 

            When Jesus is nothing more than a familiar name, we live our lives with only an acceptance of the religion we have always known.  But when Jesus moves to being the Savior and Lord of our lives, it changes everything.  Acceptable religion without Jesus is marked by some church attendance, not rocking the spiritual boat, and doing what our families have always done.  But James learned from his big brother and became the leader of the Jerusalem church.  He followed Jesus into martyrdom and left a legacy of faith, commitment, and wisdom for us.  Acceptable religion for James changed to becoming measured by how well we control our tongues, how we care for the needy, and how morally pure we can be within a corrupt world.  
 
What is acceptable religion to you?  
Does it measure up to James’ view?  
Where do you go from here?  
Is Jesus for you someone to be followed, or in need of an intervention?