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Living by faith-Being a good hearer

If Faith come by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), then it follows that we want to give everyone a chance to hear the word of God so that faith has an opportunity to develop.

However, the Bible tells us that there are different types of hearers: those who are hard of hearing, dull of hearing, having itching ears, and those who hear with a good and honest heart.

Sunday’s sermon discusses these different types of hearers and offers some suggestions on how to be a better hearer/listener. You can listen to the sermon online by clicking this link.

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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.

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.

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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.

Be a doer too!

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas 1:23-25 ESV)

In the previous post we paid attention to the thoughts of looking at the natural face in the mirror in verses 23 and 24.  The expectation is, that if you look into a mirror, you will correct what needs to be corrected. Why look in a mirror otherwise?

Have you ever had your mother ask: Did you look in the mirror? She doesn’t mean: “Did you only look in the mirror?” Nope. She means, ‘If you had looked in the mirror, you would not have failed to correct what I can see needs to be corrected, so go back, look, and correct it!”  (Mothers have a way of putting a lot of meaning in one short question.) James’ point likewise is: Those that hear but don’t do are like those who see in a mirror but do not do (correct) what needs to be done (corrected).

In today’s post, with the word “but” in verse 25, James is going to change his subject. Instead of the person who hears and does not do, he is now going to talk about the person who hears and does. This person also examines himself and his mirror is the perfect law, the law of liberty.

Anytime you bring the word “law” into a conversation on spiritual things, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. It seems strange, at first, that James would suggest that one who perseveres in the law will be blessed, yet that is exactly what he says.  I will offer a brief note on this with the realization that, in one short post, it will not be possible to cover every angle of this topic.

It is my understanding though, that as James qualifies it, he calls it  the law of liberty. How does this law differ from other law, say the law of Moses? First, if we divide the Law of Moses into two broad categories, we have the ceremonial law and the moral law.  We understand that the ceremonies, most of which pointed to Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice, have gone away. However, I think we also understand that the moral laws regarding murder, lust, brotherly love, godliness have not gone away at all, nor could they.

The moral standards are still the aim of every Christian. Still, we have not kept, nor does it seem we are able to keep, a law where the standard is  “perfection or death”.  The Liberty comes in Christ, whose blood cleanses us from our sins. We are not condemned for imperfection in keeping the law; we are liberated from the consequence of imperfection.  So, since we don’t have to be perfect in it, can we then just not do the things we ought? Paul answers that in chapter 6 of Romans: God forbid!

So the persevering is something James wants these Christians to do. Paul’s illustration of a runner running for a prize shows perseverance and if you have ever done a 5k or marathon run, you know place that perseverance plays. James seems to link in this verse the idea of persevere with ‘hearing and doing’. As if to say, I am defining a perseverer in this way: One who hears and does.

Finally the reward: Those who persevere, that is, hear and do, will be blessed in what they do. Read Psalms 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psa 1:1-3 ESV)

David describes one whose delight and meditation (more than a casual consideration) are in the law of the Lord. He says this person will be prospered in what he does. Sounds a lot like what James is saying.  The message should be clear: Hear the word of the Lord, Do the word of the Lord and you will be blessed.

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