Let’s start a little differently today. I have two phrases in mind, phrases I believe are common, but I’m not entirely sure. So, I will start the phrase and if you know it, then say the words out loud. Okay? Alright, here they are:
We could also add another phrase to our list: Faith without Works is Dead. Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. Because Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Let’s make sure we understand that point. Verse 17 does say: [F]aith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. At first, it sounds as though God gives you faith, but faith is not enough to save you; you must do your part, you must do something. You must live as a Christian in order to prove that you truly are a Christian. You must pray. You must go to church. You must be patient, be kind, be forgiving, be generous. If you do these things, then God will finish saving you. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches, nor does our reading teach that.
The Bible clearly teaches that God saves you by grace. ‘Grace’ means ‘undeserved love.’ Or, we could put it this way: God does not treat you (and me) as we deserve (Psalm 103:10). God commands: Love me! Love each other! Do this always and you will enter heaven (Luke 10:27-28). Yet, being bored in worship is not showing love for God. Self-righteously pointing out faults does not demonstrate love for your friends. Breaking God’s commands makes us lawbreakers, people who fall under judgment. We deserve hell. Instead, God forgives us, removing our death-sentence.
That forgiveness is a gift, a free present. You did not earn it. You did not choose to receive this gift (1 Corinthians 12:3). God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ for sin— without any conditions attached (Romans 3:24). That verdict— that ‘not-guilty’-sentence— is your possession through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith says, “Jesus has forgiven me.”
So, when James says: Faith without Works is Dead, he does not say that you must earn faith. Rather, his point is this: Those loved by Jesus love Jesus and love his Word. Your Faith naturally produces God-pleasing living.
That’s what makes this situation in a Christian synagogue alarming. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes… This man rolls his metallic blue BMW into the church parking lot. The driver side door opens and out steps a man wearing a double-breasted suit, perfectly tailored to his body. Brilliant white dress shirt, crisp pocket square, slicked-back hair. A Rolex glistens on his wrist; golden rings sparkle on his fingers. This man just shines. And the Christians in this synagogue show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you… Sit in the front, right on the end! Then you can see and hear with ease, you can leave first; people can see how wealthy and powerful you are! Anyone in need can ask you for help; you provide something for us.”
Then, [A] poor man in shabby clothes also comes in… His rusty car is caked in mud. The driver side door creaks open and out steps a man with shaggy hair. His khakis are wrinkled; there’s a faded mustard stain on his untucked polo. No one notices him walking into the synagogue. When looking for a seat, someone say[s] to the poor man, “You stand there… against the wall, you can stand for an hour.” Or, “Sit on the floor by my feet… in the dust and rocks; I’ll try not to kick you.”
These two reactions contradict Christian living! God commands: Love your neighbor as yourself. By giving special treatment to a rich Christian, the church neglects the physical needs of their poor friend. Even worse, they care little about the spiritual health of rich and poor. They act as though the rich man carries God’s favor because of his wealth. They act as the poor man, who has nothing to offer society, has little to receive from God. These Christians have just judged that God’s love is reserved for some people and not for all!
That is not faith. Faith believes Jesus is Savior—and not just for some, but for the world (John 1:29, 3:16). Their favoritism-works reveal that their faith is sick. If God-pleasing living does not flow out of them, then James worries their faith could die! Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Those words serve as a wake-up call. First, pay attention to the audience. James speaks to Christians. In verse 1 he does not say, “Dear nonbelieving heathens…” Rather, he says, “My dear brothers… who share one common faith, one God, one eternal hope.” Then, he urges you (and me) to continue evaluating our actions and see if they line up with God’s commands.
As members of a congregation favoritism can creep into your heart (and mine). You may eagerly greet visitors who look, smell, and act like you. Yet, when a rough-looking stranger sits beside you, you may try to avoid him and let him fumble through service alone. Or, you may be more prone to help the stable family unit instead of lending patience to a family struggling to control their children. Or, you may suppress the desire to invite a friend to worship because “he’s just not the Jesus-type” or you do not speak about Christmas and Easter services to the stranger because tattoos cover his arms. Favoritism overlooks those in need because you have judged that person is not worthy of your attention. More than that, that this person is not worthy of receiving God’s love.
Favoritism deals with people differently than the way God dealt with us. If you say that God forgave you and you did not deserve it, then how can you say to someone else: ‘They don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s a contradiction! God could say the very same thing to you or me: “You don’t deserve to be here either.”
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? God chose you (and me), people who were spiritually poor. The moment you were conceived, no faith was in your heart. It was as though your heart was an empty bank vault; you had nothing to offer God. You entered this world not wearing clean clothes; rather, filthy garments covered you head-to-toe. God would have every right to look past you (and me). Instead, he sent Jesus for you (and me).
Jesus took off the soiled garments of sin, removed them, gone forever. He fits you in a pressed white suit, fitted to you—free of fault. He dresses you in a fitted, clean white dress. He places a ring on your finger, a ring that marks you as an heir of heaven. Now, you are spiritually rich! You own the priceless riches of perfect health, perfect happiness, perfect, unending life in heaven!
When you (and I) soil our garments with favoritism, God cleanses us again and again. Your faith remains; it never went away. God still says, “You are still mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God’s love, his mercy produces God-pleasing works. You want to love others because God so richly, so daily loves you! Your Faith is not Dead. It is living! And God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Remember: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck. So, if you see a small creature with feathers, waddling around, quacking, then those actions demonstrate that creature must be a duck. That duck does not wake up and say, “Well, I have to remember to quack, otherwise people will think I’m a dog… I have to push out feathers and waddle or else I will be confused with a rock.” No! A duck does not consciously act like a duck in order to prove it is a duck. A duck does not consciously look like a duck to remain a duck. Rather, since the duck is already a duck, he will automatically act as a duck.
You already are a Christian and will naturally live a God-pleasing life— and you already do. God’s love for you transforms verse 8 from a “must” to a “want.” If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
So, suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. What do you do? Well, as a congregation, you have turned an eye towards those in need. You have identified individuals in the area who are in need of food. So, you hold food drives. As individuals, you may give extra clothing away to someone with a new baby or donate clothes to GoodWill. Notice, you do not intentionally wake up and consider the ways to prove you are a Christian. Rather, you already are a Christian. With eyes of faith, you look at the many ways God has blessed you— extra money, extra clothes, extra food— and you give a designated amount to benefit others.
Or, we could bring this closer to home. When your sister loses her spouse, how do you act? You write cards. You call. You wrap your arms around her. Why? To prove that you are worthy of heaven? No! Because you are sharing the comfort with which God has comforted you! When your friend returns home after surgery and is slow to move, how do you respond? You bring dinner. You help with chores. You drive him around. Why? So that God will save you? No! He already has! Your heart, satisfied by God’s mercy, seeks to satisfy others. The reason you give is more than just the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing something nice. You give because you consider how much God has given you.
Your faith reveals itself through actions. God’s love for you flows through you. That which is inside of your heart bursts out automatically. As you remember how graciously God deals with you, you cannot help but to give evidence of your faith.
Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. It sounds daunting, as though you must do something to earn heaven. Relax. God has already made you heirs of the kingdom. He has made a heart without faith into a heart of faith. Now, that Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.