Faith Is A Verb
Two weeks ago Trafton and I were in Tuscaloosa and while walking through a store I noticed an advertisement for the perfect gift for your favorite Valentine. It was a beautiful pair of genuine faux pearl earrings for only $29.99. Well I stopped, because being able to get a beautiful pair of pearl earrings for such a low price, I figured there had to be a catch. And there was, it was not the word genuine or the word pearl, it was that little word faux, spelled f-a-u-x. Faux is a 25 cent word for fake or artificial. So for $29.99 you can buy real fake pearl earrings. Needless to say, I left them in the store.
Have you noticed how many different products that advertisers want to tell us that they are genuine? It’s like they believe if we see the word genuine that we will just buy it. And unfortunately sometimes they are right. We are in the middle of a study of the book of James, and James also uses the word genuine, but he’s not talking about jewelry, or chocolate; he’s addressing genuine Christianity.
This morning in our text we are going to notice what James has to say about battling faux Christianity. James leaves the discussion of how we treat other people and takes on the argument of genuine faith. It seems that the early church struggled with counterfeit religious people, who thought they were genuine Christians, but the truth is that they were simply faux Christians. So James is going to discuss the difference between genuine and faux, real and fake. Let’s read the text together this morning.
Perry Noble often says Found People Find People! Saved People Serve People! Growing People Change! He gets that idea from James, specifically from this text. Faith is an action word, your faith is the reason behind everything you do. In our text this morning James is saying that our faith goes deeper than what we say about ourselves, our faith is seen in how we have changed to be more like Christ. We show our faith when we drive down the road, when we are shopping at the grocery story, surfing the internet, or interacting with one another.
In verse 19 James goes back to one of the most basic points of Judaism when he writes: You believe that God is one; you do well. Every day the Jews would recite the Shema, and James has already addressed the part he calls the Royal Law, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. But now he goes back to the beginning of the Shema: Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. James is setting the table with this idea, it’s great that you claim that God is one but what difference does it make in your life?
You can claim to believe anything you want, but if that belief doesn’t make an impact on the way you live, the way you treat other people, the way you love others, then can you really say that you believe it? After all The demons also believe, but it doesn't do them any good, it just scares them out of their wits. James is dealing with genuine faith looks like on a daily basis.
First he says Real faith is more than words.
Verse 14 "What good is it my brother if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such `faith' save him?" I want you to notice that James doesn't say someone actually has faith, but that they just claim to have it. They talk about it. This is the person who knows all the right phrases.
There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians, but James says what you claim and what you are can be two very different things. Real faith is more than just talk. Real faith is not just something you say, it’s how your beliefs are seen in how you live.
People with dead faith have learned how to substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary, they might speak the language, they can use words like propitiation in a sentence, they might even be able to quote a couple verses from the Bible. But their life does not show an active faith. They think that their words are as good as works, and they are wrong.
So, James gives us a simple illustration. A Christian comes across a poor believer, and it is evident that they need something to eat and some warm clothes. The person with a word only faith understands that there is a need, and does ………. nothing. I mean sure, they offer a few pious words, Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal! But what good have they done? Their brother is still just as hungry and naked as he was before!
Food and clothing are basic needs of every human being, it’s not a matter of taking care of someone who is saved or unsaved. Everyone who claims to have faith, also has an obligation to help meet the needs of people, no matter who they may be. That’s the whole point Paul is making in Galatians 6:10: Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. Paul doesn’t say only to those who are in the family of faith, but especially to the ones who will gather at the throne of God with you for all eternity.
When we help a person in need, we are exposing our faith, and sharing our love. I would translate James’ question in verse 14: Can a faith that has never been put into practice actually save someone? The answer is no! Any declaration of faith that does not show itself in a changed life and a action, is basically a lie. James says it’s dead faith, If you are no different from the people in your community or culture then you have a dead faith. If you have not shared the love of God with someone by sharing your time, talent, or treasure, you have a dead faith. If you are know because you get angry and blow your top, gossip about someone, lie to protect yourself then your faith is dead.
I love the quote from John Calvin when he was discussing this text. He wrote, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” True faith can never be by itself: it always brings life, and life produces good works.
The person with dead faith has only had an intellectual experience. They might know the doctrine of salvation, but can you truly say that they have allowed that doctrine to change them to become more like Christ? James is warning us to be careful about a mere intellectual faith. We need to love God with all of our minds, but we have to love Him with all of our souls and hearts as well.
Real faith causes action. It causes you to get involved with people. When you become a part of God's family you have some family responsibilities. And real faith is generous. It wants to give.
I am the first to admit that there are times when I am a lot better at verbalizing my faith than practicing it. I can't meet everybody's needs, but I can meet somebody's. James is saying if I don't help others, then I don't have a sick faith, I have a dead faith.
James says that Faith is visible
There are too many people who approach God as some kind of intellectual endeavor, something to be studied, debated, talked over and discussed. That’s why James imagines this conversation: “You have faith and I have action.” Sounds great. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department. You know different strokes for different folks. You've got your thing, I've got mine. Stimulate me mentally but don't ask me to make any commitment."
Then James says Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. And he drops the mike. Authentic faith is visible. You can see it. It's apparent. If you are a Christian, and you have real faith, you don’t have to tell anyone, they can see it in you.
There is this idea that since faith is odorless, weightless, and invisible anybody can claim to have it. I mean how can you tell the level of faith in someone else? James says if you claim to be a Christian then it better be seen in your life. You know faith may be invisible or it may be like calories. You can't see them but you can sure see the results.
You say you're a Christian? Prove it. Let me see your actions back up your words. If I say, I believe my health is very important. Personal health is a high priority in my life. I believe that health is one of the most important things we have. Then you have the right to ask me if I eat right, if I exercise, if I get the proper amount if rest. What I say doesn’t matter as much as what I do.
James is telling us that you can not claim that the Creator of the entire universe has entered your life if there is not be a noticeable change. Just because you grew up going to church three times a week, doesn’t mean that you are exempt from showing a change in your life. Real faith is something you can point to and see it in someones lives. James is saying, show me. You claim to have real faith, prove it.
There are a lot of people who have strong beliefs in God, the Bible, about Christ who are going to miss heaven by 18 inches. They've got it in their head but not their heart. They say "I believe in God." James says, "Big deal. Everybody believes in God. How do you have a creation without a Creator? But believing is not enough.”
Real faith is not just saying I believe. There is so much easy believism in our culture. Many people claim to have a belief, but how many have allowed their belief to change their lives? Don’t be lulled into having a phony belief. You're just conning yourself. A lot of people are doing that. It's not just something you say or think or feel or believe.
James needs you to understand Real faith is a verb.
One of the gifts the Millennial generation is giving the church, is their ability to point us back to what really matters. I was reading a blog this week from a Millennial that was was talking about how heart broken they were with their local congregation. They sat down and added up the amount of hours that their church family spent doing what they called “church-type” activities. Bible studies, worship services, small groups, social functions, prayer groups, and meetings about how they could reach their community. Then they added up how many hours they actually spent serving the least of these. It was frustrating for them.
Our Millennials have heard us tell them, to go out and make their faith a verb. They have heard the sermons from Matthew 25 where Jesus says whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for me. And they want desperately to go and live out their faith. That’s the heart of what James is saying here. There is a time to talk, and plan but there is also a time to go. I am so thankful for this generation that is coming up, and their desire to take God seriously and develop a living and active faith. It encourages me to make sure I go and live out my faith in a community that desperately need to hear some good news.
In his book Radical, David Platt writes “If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” Or we could just go back to what Perry Noble said, Found People Find People! Saved People Serve People! Growing People Change!
James ends our section of the letter this morning with two illustrations that show real faith is something you do. Faith is active. It's not passive. It's a commitment. To drive that point home he uses two very different people, Abraham and Rahab.
Abraham is a man. Rahab is a woman. Abraham is Jewish. Rahab is a Gentile. Abraham is a patriarch. Rahab is a pagan. Abraham is a somebody. Rahab is a nobody. Abraham is a major character in the Bible. Rahab is a minor character. And both of them are celebrated because their faith caused them to move.
Abraham was promised by God that he would be the father of a nation. The first problem was that Abraham and Sarah were old and childless. Then God solved that problem by giving them Isaac. But that presented another problem, God told Abraham to go and offer that son of the promise as a sacrifice. This is not just a test, this is a faith crisis. It must have been one of the darkest moments in Abraham’s life, to think that he was being asked to go a sacrifice his only child. But Abraham shows us that faith is not just what we talk about, faith causes us to move. The Genesis text tells us that Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took Isaac and two servants with him. After he cut the wood for the sacrifice, they went to the place God had told them to go. (22:3)
Abraham’s faith caused him to believe that God would fulfill His promise, even if the path didn’t make sense in Abraham’s mind. Abraham’s faith demonstrates that you don’t have to understand God, you don’t have to try to figure Him out, real faith get’s up early in the morning and heads out, trusting that God is who He says He is, and that He can accomplish what He claims to be able to do. Abraham is faithful, not because he was perfect, but because his faith was a verb, and that’s what counted. It was a living faith that was considered righteousness.
James also mentions Rahab, who appears initially, to be an unlikely example of faith, since she was a pagan. She lived in the city of Jericho when the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River and take the Promised Land. Her city Jericho, was their first target. You might remember from account in Joshua, that two men were sent to spy out the city, and they spent the night at Rahab’s house. When the king of Jericho heard about the spies, he sent troops to Rahab’s house to get them. But Rahab lied, and said that the spies weren’t there. She had hid them on the roof and covered them with stalks of flax.
Why is a lying, pagan woman an example of faith? Because of what she tells the spies as she is hiding them on her roof. She told them she knew that the Lord was God of the heavens above and God of the earth below. Her new found faith caused her to to move, even if her actions caused her to risk her own life. In return, God spared her life, she married an Israelite, and remarkably finds herself as the great-great-grandmother of King David.
Transitioning faith into action, even when it seems impossible or dangerous, is the faith that matters, and as James says that’s the faith that saves and justifies. Our faith is not determined by what we do, it is confirmed by what we do. Faith that is not a verb is not faith. So as we close this morning let me ask you a very pointed question. If you believe in Christ, how does that show itself in your life?