The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Faith, Lists, and Works ~ James 2

a863e94cb599221a9adad7d2ac087581On Sunday we opened up probably the most famous verse of James in James 2 where he says, “Faith without works is dead”. This is a verse that is deservedly famous, but also does bring up a tension. Because this verse looks almost directly contradictory to some of the teaching of Paul. For example Paul says this:

Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works”

Romans 3:27, “Can we boast then that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”

Galatians 2:16, “And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ…for no one will ever be saved by obeying the law”.

This tension though is more in perspective than in reality. James is writing to people who are using their faith as an excuse to not do works. Paul is writing to people who are seeking to use their works as reason to be accepted. And the different contexts make all the difference.

James is not arguing that works  must be added to faith, but that genuine faith includes works.

Douglas Moo puts it this way,

The difference between the [teachings of James and Paul] is the context in which these works are done. Paul denies that works can have any value in brining us into a relationship with God; James is insisting that, once that relationships is established, works are essential”.

So works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.  

Or as Calvin puts it, “Paul contends that we are justified apart from the help of works, so James does not allow those who lack good works to be reckoned righteous”.

So we ended with James’ main point: Faith without works is dead. And we challenge people to actually put James’ point into practice.

At the beginning of the service we had everyone write down five needs they see around them. Which is a great practice, and one you should do right now actually.

But at the end of the sermon I called people to look at their lists, and remember faith without works is dead. And that they each had a list of needs they could meet. So I challenged them to meet some needs. Because if faith is about works, it’s time to get to work.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Faith without works is dead.

Teaching Points:

  • Faith leads to change.
  • James is arguing that genuine faith includes works.
  • Works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What were some of the needs on your list? Which ones are hardest to meet? Are there people who can help you meet them? Why do you think faith needs works? What happens when faith doesn’t include works?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about how when we follow Jesus we need to actually “do things”. Ask them the things that Jesus did, and then ask them which things they could do. Take time to do it then together.

Challenge for the Week: Put faith into action and meet a need.

Hot or Cold? – Letter to Laodicea

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On Sunday we explored the letter to Laodicea in Revelation. The letter begins by Jesus saying, “I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”

His point here isn’t connected with passion or enthusiasm (as is often thought in our “feeling” orientated culture) but with usefulness. The two major towns nearby Laodicea were each known for their unique water properties. One town had naturally occurring hot springs that was thought to be a source of healing. The other town had natural cold springs from the mountains, which is incredibly useful in the hot middle east. And what would happen is the water that would travel to Laodicea would become lukewarm by the time it got there, and because it picked up many of the minerals along the way in the aqueducts it would become undrinkable. You’d have to spit out the lukewarm water.

So what is Jesus’ point? It’s simple, he would rather the church be useful like hot water, or useful like coldwater, but right now they are like the water in Laodicea lukewarm and useless. Jesus continues that because of their wealth, their style, and their dreams of grandeur they have become indifferent towards him. And Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock” asking to be invited in. Their indifference and lack of action has actually expelled Jesus from the church. He stands at the door, on the outside, asking to be let in. So he says repent, start following me and not wealth, start focusing on my kingdom and not your standing, stop focusing on your style and focus on being faithful. This is the message of the letter to Laodicea. It’s not about passion for Jesus per say, it’s really about being useful for Christ. This is a letter that encourages action. Jesus encourages us to buy gold from him, to buy ointment, and to buy white cloths. These are all things connected to action.

So on Sunday we landed on the main idea of what is Jesus asking us to do? How can we be active in spreading his grace and revealing his Kingdom? How can we be either hot water or cold water actively demonstrating his gospel rather than being listless and lazy lukewarm water?

And I think these are questions worth asking during Lent because they reveal a remarkabel truth. God wants to use you to spread his grace. God wants to partner with you in his Kingdom. God wants to reveal himself through you. That is an amazing calling. So this week focus on revealing God in all things, focus on being hot or cold, focus on actively following and watch what God might do in and through you.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Be useful for Jesus

Take Aways…

  • The Jesus Test: if a passage doesn’t look, sound, or love like Jesus…dig deeper
  • Jesus is always more concerned with action than passion
  • Jesus is saying…be useful
  • Jesus isn’t judging their enthusiasm but their usefulness
  • They have focused on what they have, rather than what they are called to do
  • Long-term indifference can push Jesus aside and out of the church
  • Jesus wants to partner and use you
  • You might not be called to change the world for everyone, but you are called to change the world of someone around you

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What made you laugh? What did you take away? What would Jesus see if he examined your actions? How are you being useful for God’s kingdom? What gifts has he given you? What abilities? What talents? How does it feel to have Jesus actually want to partner and use you in his Kingdom?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk with your kids about how not only does Jesus love us, but he wants to use us to make the world a better place. Ask them if they have any ideas how to make the world a better place…and no matter how out there or amazing, act on their ideas and try them out!

Challenge for this Week

Let Jesus use you to grow his Kingdom

Goodbye “Leap of Faith”…Hello “Leap of Action”

We often think of accepting Jesus as a “leap of faith”. That you can learn all you can about him, but eventually you have to decide if he is true. You have to decide if Jesus is worth trusting, following, and believing in. We often call this in Christian circles a “leap of faith”. And I agree in all of that.

The thing I don’t agree with is the term “leap of faith”. It’s not that it’s wrong, or that we don’t need to do it. It’s that – that term or phrase is so misunderstood that it leads us down the wrong path. It actually can stop discipleship and confuse the whole process. So I’d like to replace that phrase with a new one. To no longer think of following Jesus as a “leap of faith” but instead as a “leap of action” because that is what true trust requires.

Following Jesus isn’t about becoming so mentally certain in Jesus’ salvation, divinity, or truth that we don’t have any disbelief. It isn’t about having a rational and intellectual leap of faith where we overcome all doubt and believe all the right doctrine about Jesus. Faith, in the biblical sense, is about so much more than that. To have faith in someone is to trust and follow them. It’s not about becoming intellectually certain of key convictions (though that is important). Faith is about becoming certain enough to follow, trust, and obey. And through trusting, following, and obeying Jesus, we become more certain as we experience faith in action and Jesus’ transformation.

Faith is much more about a “leap of action” than just a “leap of thought, belief, or faith”. Because as we know true faith and trust results in change in our lives. The point isn’t just to change what we know; it’s to have a deep change in who we are because of Jesus Christ.

So my point is simple. Following Jesus does require a leap of faith, but this leap of faith needs to lead to a leap of action. The point of faith isn’t to become convinced about Jesus, it’s about becoming changed by Jesus. So from now on I doubt I’ll use the phrase “leap of faith” but I might be using the phrase “leap of action”. Because what I’ve discovered over my years is that as I practice trusting in Jesus practically…my convictions on who Jesus is deepen dramatically…

Prayer to Be Jesus’ Hands and Feet

This is one of my favorite quotes that I read in my morning prayer book a few days ago. It’s from Teresa of Avila and helps me to put things into perspective:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which God is to bless people now”

Powerful isn’t it. Reflect on it a moment. Would people say your eyes have the compassion of Christ? Would people say your actions are the loving actions of our Lord? Would people say your hands are the hands that they receive the blessing of God from?

I know I rarely live up to that standard. So my prayer today, and maybe yours can be as well, is this. “God may I be your hands and feet today. May you take these hands and use them to bless. May you take these feet and help me to do your good today. And most of all may you change how I see the world and the people you love with only the compassion and grace you see them with. Amen”