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Will your Faith save you?

Over the last several weeks we have been studying the idea of “Living by Faith”!

We say this as if a person has a choice about “Living by faith”.  In reality, a person always lives by faith….the faith they have in what they believe.

Some people SAY they have faith in God or God’s word but they don’t believe that this “faith” requires any action. In other words they DO believe they DON’T have to do anything, therefore, their life shows no difference in their action.

A person’s actions will eventually align with their true belief. If you believe God is real and will judge us, then your life will reflect that.

There are two types of faith that James talks about. Faith with works and faith without works. Which one will save you? That is what we discussed in Sunday’s lesson.

You can hear it here.

 

 

 

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Testing faith

So you go to the bookstore and find three books that you wish to purchase. You hand the books to the cashier and walk out with the books in your bag, a receipt, and a vague feeling that the amount is not correct for your purchase. The vague feeling quickly becomes a confirmation in your car before you leave. You have been overcharged! Instead of three books, your receipt reflects four. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

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How many of you did not need 30 seconds? How many of you knew that you would immediately march back into the store, receipt in hand, and point out the error. Would you also discuss with yourself  “Self, what if they do not believe me?” The answer would be obvious, you would ask for a manager. It would be important to you to correct this error. The clerk made a mistake and should not have done so. It must be corrected, it will be corrected. You do not even leave the parking lot.

This is a reasonable conclusion. You may have concern about being believed but you wouldn’t let it stop you. You would be just and righteous if you were to return to correct the problem.

So let’s revisit this situation again, only this time, instead of being charged twice for one your books, you get to the car, check your receipt and that vague feeling is again confirmed. This time, you notice that he only charged you for two books, not three. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

I would hope that no one needed more time deciding what to do in this scenario than they did in the previous one. Unfortunately, we have grown up in a society where if the mistake benefits “me” then we will just keep our mouth shut. The justifications range from  “He should have noticed it—his loss”  or “They can afford the loss–it is after all a big company” to the outrageous ones “God has blessed me!”

Unless two parties are agreed that something took place, how can you call it an honest transaction?  Sure mistakes are made and sometimes correcting them takes a lot of time but at least, by calling it to the attention of the other party you allow the unintentionally self inflicted harm to be corrected.

Honesty is always right. Integrity cannot be shown only when things are in your favor.

As you leave the store, the second time you feel good because the total is right. Neither of you lost money, the transaction was as it should be. Price offered and willingly paid.

James says that when trials come that our faith is tested. (James 1:2) I think many consider this faith that James mentions to be a belief in God’s existence. I think that he means instead, that we will test what kind of faith (trust) in God that we have.  We will learn, after the test, if our life matches the life His Son led. WWJD?

Faith working in our lives

Well, the last few posts have been a lot of fun but as my wife said, “it isn’t a light topic.” So inspired by the last few posts and in particular yesterday’s I decided to preach on this topic today. If anyone listens to the sermons and wishes to comment, you are welcome to do so.

Today’s lessons started with last weeks sermon on the unrighteous servant who showed no mercy to the fellow servant who begged for more time to pay. This, after having been forgiven such a huge amount himself. Transitioning we moved to James 2:1-13 where the audience James is writing to were urged to not show partiality based on something so superficial as money.  Paying special attention to the admonition to be merciful if you want to receive mercy we moved into the last 1/2 of the chapter.

It is important I think to understand that the audience that James writes to have some serious issues. Issues that need to be corrected and I think that they were susceptible to the idea that believing that Jesus was the Christ was sufficient but that those other things like, doing the word (not just hearing), visiting widows and orphans, loving your brother, etc was too much and got in the way of  their ambitions.

With this in mind, James informs them in very certain terms that Faith without works is not going to work. (no pun intended)  Of course, we should be able to see that James is using the word faith in a way that is not a full faith but only a partial faith. One in which the fact is agreed to but there is not any response to that fact. Like a car that doesn’t have an engine, it is still a  car in one sense but of what value is it for getting you to work?

Of course, does the principle of faith and works apply to the our initial salvation?  I think it must. So we take a look at it that question in the PM and try to show how faith, works, and salvation fit together.  The conclusion is that if a person preaches the Gospel that Jesus sent the disciples out to preach that the only response of the person with a saving faith will be to do the things that the preacher (who should only be preaching what Christ told HIM to) tells them to do.

Faith only can either be right or wrong depending on how you define faith. If you define it like James was, it will not work. If you define it the way the Hebrews writer was using it, it works fine.

The links are here for part 1 and here for part 2.

From this point forward, we will move on to Chapter 3 of James.

Faith only and salvation. It works.

Because of comments made by some readers who understandably thought of our initial salvation, I thought I would explain how I think James’ principle of  ‘faith must have works’ would fit. Remember though, James didn’t write this to speak of our initial salvation but I think we can make application.

After reading James 2:14-26, one is led to the conclusion that “faith only” does not save. In other words, “faith” by itself,  is as dead as a body without the spirit. The conclusion then would seem to be that works are necessary for our salvation. Yet a good study of Paul, in Romans, would reveal that works do not save either. (Though it might be better to say ‘works do not earn salvation.”)

So how can I stand up and say I believe in faith only? The key to this statement is in the definition of faith. This is the crux of the problem and causes many many problems in the mind of believers. If used the way those mentioned in Hebrews 11 used it, I don’t think I would have a problem saying I am saved by my faith alone.

However, if faith is used the way so many use it today, then I would line up with James and say ‘Faith only’ will not save. This is because many use it in just the way James says we should not use it.  This is not as surprising as it is distressing. Language changes and I think it is one of the reasons why God, in His wisdom, gave us the New Testament in a dead language.  

Most know that, while the Greek language is still alive today, the Greek of the New Testament hasn’t been spoken or used in 2000 years (give or take) so “faith”, as used then, should be the way we use faith today OR the concept should be found in a modern word.

“Quicken” is a word used in the Old King James Bible. Today, if someone talks about Quicken we think of Tax software but since English has changed, today,  “make alive” is a better translation than “quicken” would be.  Faith is like that.  However, when the word itself is still used and the meaning has changed, it creates problems, confusion and misunderstanding.

I remember the first time I was asked if I was “gay”. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself.) This was in the 70’s and I was in Jr. High. To me, at that time, ‘gay’ meant happy. (“Gay”wasn’t a word used a lot to begin with but I knew what it meant, just not how they were using it.) Teasing of Jr. High boys aside, the word was just beginning to change and no one uses the word to mean “happy” today.

James is the only writer that took time to pull “faith” apart into separate components and separate the belief in something from the actions that result from that belief.  While he condemns this thought process, this is exactly how it is used today.  This is why if I say that I believe in ‘faith only’ an impression is left that I don’t mean.

So in relation to Salvation, does faith only save?

If I were to suggest (and I do) that a person be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved, I will quickly be accused of believing in water salvation  or baptismal regeneration. Yet, If I suggest (and I do) that person needs to repent or confess Christ, people nod in agreement. What is the difference?

All three are actions. All three are works. And even more to the point, NONE of the three earn your salvation. They do, however, like Abraham, complete our faith. (2:22) Take any or all three of them and separate them from faith, will the actions save? No. Take Faith and separate them from the actions, will the faith save?  Only “yes” or “no” will answer the question. Which is it?

Because so many are against a works based salvation, anything that sounds like earning your salvation is considered anathema and I agree, earning your salvation cannot be done.  Even faith does not earn it but who would suggest that without faith you can be saved? (Heb 11:6 ‘without faith it is impossible to please Him…)  But is it works based salvation to preach what Jesus told the apostles to preach? Is it works based to say “repent” or “confess” or “be baptized”?

Teaching must be done on this subject. Let me speak to those who are teachers for a moment. Which may be appropriate since James is going to talk about teachers in chapter 3. If faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), what word of God are you teaching to those you preach to? If you tell a person about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, do you do it the way it is practiced today or the way the Apostles practiced it in Acts?  

Somewhere, it has become popular to add the “sinner’s prayer”. When I read the original commission by Jesus to the disciples, I don’t see it. When I read the book of Acts and listen to the sermons of the Apostles, I don’t see it. When I read the epistles and see Paul talk about when your sins were forgiven, I don’t see it referenced.

Would someone who reads this blog, please point me to the sinner’s prayer in the Bible?

I would suggest that anyone who preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ will do it the way Peter did it. (cf Acts 2) Because that is what Jesus told them to do. In this way, those that respond in faith to the Gospel will respond the way people did in the book of Acts.  

If it is going to be salvation by faith, I would rather it be faith in the words of Christ, than faith in the modern practices of today.

Justified by works….well, not works only.

No Christian should say that “I am justified by works alone.”  This is well-known. What may not be as well-known is that neither should you say “I am justified by faith alone.”

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (Jas 2:20-26)

The discussion that James started in verse 14 continues with another question. As I understand the question, a person who believes that faith separated from works is just fine, is a foolish individual. It is a rhetorical question but James answers it anyway.

Anytime a person is going to be termed as a fool or foolish, we should sit up and take notice.  Jesus both cautioned in using the term (Mt 5:22 “Raca” in NKJV) and yet used it himself in appropriate ways (Mt 23:17).  A good working definition of a fool, is “one lacking sense” perhaps even wisdom.  So if I were one of these James is writing to who believed in faith only, I would certainly hope I would pay more attention. 

As noted before, the problem of this passage should be dealt with first as Christians. Then we can deal with it as it relates to our initial salvation since I do think that the principle applies there as well.

As Christians, is it logical to believe that faith apart from works is perfectly ok? Apparently not, and James is going to use Abraham and Rahab to prove his point.

Abraham, whose faith was counted at righteousness, shows us that faith needs to go together with works. What God said to Abraham in Gen 22 was “Now I know you fear God…” It was this event in Abraham’s life that James says fulfilled the event that happened in Gen 15. (Where Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness) The order is the same, Faith does proceed works. One could even point out that Abraham did not have perfect works since in between Gen 15 and Gen 22, Ishmael was born and Abraham lied for a 2nd time about his wife Sarah. Still, James affirms that this the event of Abraham (nearly) sacrificing his son shows how we know Abraham had faith.

Rahab also was ‘justified by works’ in her actions. If you read her story, you know that she has heard all about Israel and she believed. So did other people but she was willing to help, others just sought the spies to kill them.

One could turn the question around and ask: What if, in their belief, they had not acted? Would they mean that they didn’t believe? No, but it would mean that they were not  faithful, trusting, willing to obey, etc. The demons believe and shudder but that is all they do. We at least, in our faith, set out to obey.

James nowhere in this discussion says that a person does NOT have faith. He simply asks and answers the question about whether faith without action is sufficient to save. We should be able to see that James is using ‘faith’ in a way that is not used elsewhere. He is pulling it apart into separate components.

Look at all the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. “By faith” they did this or that.  There was a trust in God and His promise and it resulted in obedience to his will. Perfect obedience? No. Perfect trust? again, no. Yet there was both trust and obedience nonetheless in these men and women, not just belief or, as James says, ‘faith only’ (NKJV) or ‘Faith alone’ (ESV).  Such a faith is dead. As dead as a body without the spirit.

The problem I think is that in today’s century the word faith IS used so often in the way James is saying we shouldn’t use it.  It carries with it a mysterious surreal concept but the Bible teaches that it is an anchor of our salvation. For the Christian who believes (and has believed) the teaching of Christ, Hebrews 2:1 would seem to apply: Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

***

After writing this, I recalled James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  I have to ask if in that short verse, he has not summed up everything he said in Chapter 2:20-26

Faith without works. How sad.

Side note: As with all my posts, I present them in what I believe to be a contextually correct and Biblically sound manner. Some may disagree with me on this post. If it is a matter of semantics, please suggest a better way to say it. Do you have a better illustration? Offer it. My goal is to explain the Bible the way God would and to be an encouragement to all seeking to do God’s will.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (Jas 2:14)

Perhaps you have heard the old expression “Now you’ve stopped preaching and started meddling.”  One cannot study the book of James without giving serious thought to this next section. I know that it is difficult to work through (pardon the pun), but unless you wish to throw James out of the Bible, you are going to have to come to an understanding of both his question and his answer. Some will think I am meddling, others will agree with me. I am not dealing with simple verses here (e.g. Do not steal), even Martin Luther had problems with this book. You have to wrestle with it, ask questions in light of  other passages even, perhaps, in light of your own particular belief system.

Most of us would grasp the rhetorical nature of the question. The answers James is looking for are “No good” and “No, of course not!” What?! What about “free gift” and “can’t earn your salvation” and all of that?  These ideas come from Romans and it is no wonder that Martin Luther did not think very highly of James which seems to stand, not just in contrast to the message of Romans, but in contradiction to Romans.

Of course, James has already introduced the seeds of works along with faith from the very beginning of the book. Enduring trials, putting away filthiness, being a doer (and not just a hearer), visiting the orphans and widow, treating your poor brother with respect are all works that go along with the Christian faith.

I feel like Jesus when answering the question “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?”  He understood the problems with answering “yes” or “no”. Fortunately, James is the one asking and answering the question. Unfortunately, many of us do not understand his answer. Let’s agree that James is being rhetorical and the answer really is “no, that kind of  faith cannot save.” If you disagree that this is what James is saying, show me why; I would like to know.

Next let’s agree with what most good Bible students will agree: “We cannot earn our salvation.” Let me say it again, “Nothing we do will earn us a place in Heaven.” Unlike with my jobs, I cannot go to God and say “I did this and that so you owe me.”  When Paul wrote in Romans  “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” (Rom 4:4), he was talking about a works based system.  So if James is now going to propose that we earn our Salvation, then truly he and Paul are at odds. I don’t think that is the case.

I think it might help to realize that our salvation is a salvation by redemption. When we sinned, we transgressed the law of God. It didn’t matter which law either, God’s laws are based on Love, God is Love and His character always acts out of Love.

Had we lived a life of perfection and not transgressed the law of God, we would not need to be redeemed. Our place in Heaven would be ours by right. However, our sin required a death and, unless we wanted to pay for it ourselves (eternal death), we needed a Savior. Jesus paid the price. However, not just the price to cleanse us once and then, let us try all over again to be perfect, but rather pay the price for all future sins and assure us that sin would no longer keep us out of Heaven. Christ’s blood was able to cover that. Wow!

So now we are saved. We can go to Heaven. Yay us! But hold on. We no longer belong to ourselves. We are the object redeemed, our souls belong to another. (Fortunately to Christ and not to Sin) We can take hold of Heaven but not by our own merit and nothing that we do will ever allow us, by our own merit, to do so.

However, since we are now servants, redeemed by the blood of Christ, there is a certain way that we are to live. The book of Hosea shares a story of redemption and expectations of the redeemed. James also shares expectations of his audience: we now “speak and act as those who will be judged by a law of liberty”  (2:12), we look into the will of God and become “doers not forgetful hearers” (1:22) and we practice a ‘pure religion in the sight of God (by) visiting the orphans and widows” and remaining unspotted by the world. (1:26-27)

All of this is because we have faith in the message of the Gospel. Faith that saves, of course, cannot only be simply an acknowledgement that something is true. I have faith that George Washington was the first President but that faith does little to affect my life. I have Faith that Jesus died, was buried and raised again on the third day according the Scriptures and THAT has a major impact on my life. That impact will be seen in my works.

I now work for God. I do what James said I should do because of my faith. Faith that has works can save me. Notice!!! Faith can save me. What kind of Faith? Faith that has works. Do the works save me? No. Are they perfect sinless works? I wish!  But Faith that has works can save.

What about Faith that does not have works? Remember when I said “if you don’t agree that James is being rhetorical, to say something”? This is why! The only answer that James is looking for is ” No”.  If faith without works will not save, then the only conclusion is that faith with works will. If there is another answer to James’ question, let me know.

But if you have Faith in God and Christ who died to redeem you and you choose to sit there and do nothing ….Well, James is going to explain that further in the  next several verses.

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