Last week we started a brand new series here at MRC called Grow. It is a series that I have been very excited to bring to you guys for quit sometime. I love studying different books of the Bible, and I always look forward to bringing the Bible to you on Sundays here at MRC. So in this new series we are studying the book of James which is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is just loaded with truth and it goes right to the heart of things. I told you guys last week that James is a man of prayer. He had that funny nickname, “Old Camel Knees” because he had spent so much time on his knees in prayer that he developed big thick callouses on his knees. As gross as that is, it is also that important for us to see about who James is because he is a man who spent so much time in prayer that he just sees life better than you and I do. He has gained so much wisdom through his time with God and he tries to open us up to eternal things rather than the temporary things of today. That is a very challenging thing to do! I really wanted you to be able to take a step back and look at this amazing letter for what it is, because in it we can see a guide to spiritual growth. We spent a lot of time talking about how important that is. So as we walk through this guide towards spiritual maturity we can see some definite signs or markers in the book of James. These are things we can look for in our own lives to see if we are growing up as our Heavenly Father desires…or not. Last week we looked at the first sign, and let’s face it…it wasn’t an easy subject at all. The first sign that James brings up (in the second sentence of his letter) is how we handle ourselves in the tough times. Listen, I know that was a difficult subject to get into, but it is so important because this life we are living is hard…and you will walk through difficult times. So how we respond to those moments in life says a lot about who we are as people. I don’t think it’s ironic at all, that the very first thing James went after in his amazing book was trials in tribulations and what those tough times produce in our lives. He didn’t do it because it’s an easy subject, but because he loves us enough to address what needs to be addressed, and he tried to open us up to the eternal view of that difficult subject…which I thought was just awesome and it’s a huge part of us growing up. Remember God wants us to grow up. This is so clearly seen in scripture.
Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. (MSG)
So when we see ourselves responding differently in the challenging moments of our lives we are seeing real growth in our lives.
Well James doesn’t just quit with that one, he gives us a bunch more and today we are going to look at the second sign of spiritual growth, and it’s found in how we treat others. Where we are headed today is probably the most popular chunk of the book of James where he starts to really get into this idea of Faith and what that is versus Works and what they are and how the two really tie together. This is a huge topic and one that I would say causes Christians the most headaches as they try to make sense of this. Why the headaches? It’s because we want to do right by God. We are trying to be good Christians. But we also know that only God can do things for us…so when we start talking about things we can do, it seems to spin us in a circle of what do I do compared to what can’t I do to earn God’s love and salvation! You see as people we can often slide into extremes. I bring this up a lot because it’s easy to really slide out of relationship with God and into a religious system that kind of depersonalizes God and minimizes the cross and all Jesus did for you on it. And that isn’t good. So I would like to really jump into this today. Because if we get this, we will see that James not only clears this all up for us, but also calms down these extremes that we can so easily slide into, and on top of all of that, we also get to see another sign of spiritual growth. So I want to go right into this…again James doesn’t pull any punches and as we read through this, it really mirrors some of Jesus’ teaching to a “T” and we will jump into that as well…so check this out…
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. NIV
Do you see why this can confuse people? We know that we have been saved by grace right? We know that, and there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Paul makes this very clear…
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- NIV
We call it grace for a reason, it’s unmerited favor, unearned. You can’t do anything to gain this, it is a free gift from God but we also know that there are a lot of people out there that are completely exhausted. They are stuck in this trap of religion that says they have to do something to earn things from God…which won’t work because they are trying to earn something they have already been given. When I picture I see a person stuck in this spot where they are running on a treadmill and trying to get across the room, they are running, they will get in shape but they are never going to get there! Which would be frustrating and exhausting! It’s so interesting, there are people out there that think sweet! I have faith, and I don’t really need to do anything! This is true, you don’t have anything to earn but our scriptures are so clear, there is somethings that we do in this process too! I mean we all like to rattle off Ephesians 2:8 but Paul continues writing, and look what happens when we add vs 9 and 10…
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV
So we have been saved and we can’t earn that, it is God’s gift to us not done by works but we were created to do good works…which God prepares for us ahead of time…so we actually have something to do! If you think about it, some run to faith, some run to works…but you need both. Yes there is faith, and yes there is works and all of that comes together and creates us, living on mission motivated by the grace and love of our awesome God! So we do “works” based out of the transforming love of Jesus in our hearts. I can see why this is a challenging thing to wrap our heads around because we can grab onto parts of what the Bible tells us we should be doing, but when we read all of the Bible it is pretty clear. I think this is something that James does an amazing job of making clear to us. What I would like to do is go back to our text for today, and read it in the Message version because James really goes after this subject, and he really clears a lot up if you ask me.
James 2:17 Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? 18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. 19 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? 20 Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? (MSG)
So there are some words and some thoughts that we can see from other places in scripture here that really matter. The term “works” is coming up a lot here. And how about that huge statement he makes in verse 19, that even the demons believe in God…I have heard that somewhere before too. Well we are going to get into that but before we do I want to share something with you.
I know most of you look at me and think Sam is an awesome person (LOL), he gets up on the stage with no fear, no insecurity at all, and well life is just easy for him. Well I’m flattered that you think that way, but today I want to share with you one of my biggest and deepest fears. I will tell you that this is an area of my life that I spend a ton of prayer in, and it’s an area where the enemy hits me the hardest at times, and I think it ties in very well to this talk today. Growing up I had things that I was afraid of I don’t know why but clowns really got to me. I don’t know if something bad happened when I was a child or what but I struggled with clowns. Now I’ve met a few really nice men who are clowns who live here in Dillsburg and that fear has kind of gone away. Another one is snakes…now I grew up in McAllisterville, Pa and saw a lot of snakes…we even had a big black snake that lived in our house so I’m not really sure where the fear came from. Now, if I see the snake and know it is there I’m ok, but if I don’t see the snake and all of a sudden boom there it is…well, let’s just say the noises that come out of me are beyond my control and with a much higher pitch than you would think I could hit! But there is one thing that I really worry about more than anything else. It can keep me up at night, it can really play on my insecurities when I screw up. This fear hits me way harder than anything else…that fear is that I won’t be the same guy that I preach and teach about in my everyday life. I do not want to teach one way and live another. I can’t tell you what a big deal this is to me. I don’t want my wife and my children to see a guy on the stage that lives one way but behind the scenes isn’t the same guy. It matters to me that I’m real, that I’m not some actor on a stage, but that my family can grow up and say, that Sam is the same man in every aspect of his life. I want my faith and my works to line up because I know that my actions will speak so much louder than my words to the people that know me the best. So it takes us back to something that James and Paul both talk about…faith is important, but so is “works.”
So let’s talk about this term “works” for a second because part of the reason that a lot of good Christians get confused in the whole faith vs works thing is because they confuse “works” for following the rules. This is so important the term “works” that we keep hearing about in scripture is not your ability to follow all of the rules and to jump through good religious hoops. Remember the rules aren’t there so that by following we are saved, but to make us aware that we sin and need a Savior!
Romans 3:20 For no one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it. NLT
James is saying “works” and what he is talking about is living a life where we love God and love others! So many Christians don’t see this. This is about following what Jesus would say is the most important commands of God’s law…do you know what that is?
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” MSG
This is what our faith is all about…if you are having a hard time with the complexities of religion, never lose sight of how Jesus simplified things for us by taking care of the salvation part for us, and also by saying this whole thing really boils down to loving God and loving others. I just love that! This is what James is talking about when he talks of “works.” It’s a life of loving God and loving others. James is saying faith (belief in God) without loving God and loving others is dead. It’s meaningless! The two go hand in hand…because in our relationship with God our hearts change and we begin to love in a different way!
Now that doesn’t mean that you are going to be perfect at this! This is where I can get myself into trouble…when I come up here and preach on loving others it never fails, I blow up on someone within the next 48 hours and feel like a failure and a hypocrite. Remember my fear I told you about…I desperately want to be the man I preach about, but I will NEVER BE PERFECT! I’m a person and let’s face it whether you have Pastor in front of your name or not, you are still a person…and not everyone you run across is easy to love all the time are they?! So there is a big difference between messing up and not having this love in our hearts and it’s something we must remember. Belief in God without love in our hearts for God and others is a really empty and meaningless thing. Let’s look at vs 15 for a moment…
James 2:14 Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? 15 For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved 16 and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup — where does that get you? 17 Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? MSG
Isn’t that awesome? James is like, if I’m not being clear enough let me give you an example of what this whole love God love others things can look like practically in your life! When you see someone who needs food and needs clothes, you don’t just say be clothed because Jesus loves you…you clothe them, and you feed them! You see the need around you, and you have the love in your heart do something about it! This really mirrors what Jesus teaches in Matthew 25, when he is talking about the sheep and the goats?
Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” NIV
This is a difficult teaching…but I want you to see this, the goats were probably good people too. They could have believed in God too, just like the sheep. But they had no “works” to go with their faith which makes their faith meaningless because let’s face it anyone can believe…it’s the life change that makes it real! Remember me telling you a few weeks ago that life change reveals God to us, because it’s unexplainable any other way? Well when we begin to see the need all around us, and have the love in our hearts to do something about us it means that we are growing in our faith! Its life change! This is the second big sign in our lives on whether or not we are growing up in our Faith…are their works that go with it or not! Do we love God and love others to a level that changes the way we see, and the way we live?
Look this is the point. As we experience grace, as we walk and rest in a deep and personal relationship with God our hearts transform and change so that our love for God starts to translate into our actions and into our love for other people! It’s our love of Christ that leads to heart change…that takes our selfish and self-centered thinking away and leads us to life change through loving God and loving others even the people that aren’t that easy to love…and let’s face it, we all have them in our lives too!
James is saying here that believing is great…but even the demons do that!
“Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them?” James
He is saying works (a life of loving God and loving others) is so important…that statement from James reminds me so much of something Jesus says in Matthew 5…
Matthew 5:46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG
So there it is…AGAIN…we are to grow up, but how? By LIVING OUT our God-created identity…by loving others the way God loves us! Even the people that make loving them a little more difficult than you would like!
Do you see it? We are in a study on the book of James where we are able to kind of follow this amazing manual for Spiritual growth. There are signs that we can look at in our lives…and when we see them in our lives we know we are growing in our faith! The first sign we looked at was how we respond to adversity. Today we looked at the second sign, which is how we treat others. Do we see the need around us or not. There are so many good Christians out there that have the faith thing down pat, but they don’t have the works to go with it. Unfortunately for a lot of these good Christians they think that James is telling them to try to be perfect and live out a list of rules…which leads to devastating results in our lives. It leads to us wild extremes and conclusions in our lives. First, if we actually have a good day following the rules we feel like we are better than everyone else and if we screw up one of those rules then we feel devastated and like a sinning wretch, swinging wildly from one extreme to the other based off of how that day went. We also become great pretenders, trying to hide all our screw ups and sins because we think we are supposed to be perfect in some weird way…well, good luck with that one! None of this leads us to Spiritual Health…in fact it leads to spiritual death. The most tragic thing with the person who is living that way is they are so preoccupied with the rules and regulations and upholding them, that they can’t see the needs of others all around them and to be really frank here today…they gut people in the process. They judge others. They make others feel like less…and they have no connection to the needs and the human hearts all around them…which we learned today leads to death.
True heart change comes from not just believing in God but walking in a redemptive and personal relationship with Him which leads to love of Him, which leads towards love of others. Do you want to know if you are growing up spiritually or not? Look at how you see and treat others all around you. When you see the need of others and are spurred towards serving their needs…well it shows that you have both faith and works. It shows that you are growing up in your faith, because there is action that match your words.
Do you see why serving and loving is such a big deal? Believing in God without living out a life of loving God and loving others is a very empty thing. We call that religion and it’s a trap that many fall into, but in the end we want to grow. One of the easiest ways to see if we are growing or not is by how we treat others, can we see the need around us…or not?