The strapline for today’s sermon is Your faith: genuine or dead? Or put another way, do you walk the talk of your faith?
Please turn to our reading from James, ch 2, starting at v 14.
To me, this seems the central passage in this letter by James. Throughout this little book, there are lots of practical suggestions and challenges. But this part to me is about the control central for all the actions, faith: faith in the love and salvation God has for us through Jesus. But this faith, if truly meant and lived doesn’t stop there, but shows itself in the actions, or deeds, that follow.
In the opening verse, James tackles the issue head-on:
“What good is it, my brothers (and sisters), if a man (or woman) claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?”
He goes on to cite an example of a person meeting someone without clothes or food, and gives him good wishes but does nothing more practical to address the person’s physical needs. James tells us this demonstrates a dead faith. Nothing of this faith can be seen. It is thought by some that James is addressing a particular problem in the fellowship he is writing to. He was reminding them to care for each other in the fellowship, not just make vague promises, or simply say what should be done, rather than sorting out the need in front of them.
Now, to me, this raises all kinds of questions for me on how we are to respond to the many, indeed overwhelming!, well-deserving demands on our hard earned cash. I’m happy to chat about this, give me a call during the week, or chat after the service next week.
So going on in our reading we read in verse 18:
“But someone will say, “You have faith, I have deeds.” .. as if say, it’s okay as long as we have one or the other.
But James goes on to say:
“Show me your faith without deeds,
and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
James is simply saying the other person’s faith has no deeds, but his does. Go back to the man without clothes or food. We may have sympathy for him, and our faith may whisper in our ear, “You should do something to help that man”. But faith is more than the voice of conscience, it’s a power that is meant to prompt action. And the action is the deed which demonstrates faith.
And furthermore in v. 19 :
“You believe that there is one God.
Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
What? Is this James saying that the demons believe in God, and shudder? Why would they do that? Because they came from God, they know how God works, they know the extent of his power.
And that power, of which they are afraid, is, for us Christians, the power that inspires us, shows us what to do, and gives us the energy to get on and do it. It is the power of faith.
The central message of this reading is faith shown by deeds. We’ve had lots of pictures of horses and carts. I like to think that the strength of the horse represents the energy of faith. The cart represents the deeds. The cart can’t go anywhere unless it’s pulled by the horse (or of course it’s left foolishly at the top of a hill with the brake off!!). For me, that’s why the horse goes before the cart. The horse has the strength to pull the cart in a particular direction.
But in our pictures of carts and horses, there’s something missing. Any ideas? There’s never been a driver present!! For me, the driver is us, and we are the ones given, by faith, the inspiration to do something. Then we can harness the energy of faith present in the horse and get him to pull the cart to the place where there’s work to be done. That’s the way of faith and deeds. It’s only when the task, the deed, is done with the driver, horse and cart all present, that anyone can tell there was the inspiration of faith to go and help in a situation where a hand was needed. If the driver simply sat and didn’t move the horse and the cart, there would be no deed to show that he had a good intention, even if it were the best intention in the world.
As we move on to the rest of the reading the word “righteousness” crops up. A definition of “righteousness” is a right relationship with God. Now we all know that our right relationship with God, because we are all human, can sometimes vary in strength or clarity because of challenges we face and where we are in our walk.
James gives us two examples of people who had faith in God, and it led to an even better relationship with God than they’d had before.
First he quotes Abraham, in what seems to many of us to be a truly awful story – that is, a story which fills us with awe, because here we have Abraham being told to sacrifice, by death, his own long awaited son Isaac. To us, that seems little short of a barbaric act. But I think that Abraham’s faith had been enormously strengthened by God’s answer to his prayer for a child. After all, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when they were both old. He didn’t understand how that could be, nor could he understand this latest word from God about sacrifice, but God had been amazing in the birth of Isaac, so maybe he was going to miraculously stop the sacrifice. Which God, so very thankfully, did. But not before Abraham proved that his obedience to God extended to sacrificing his son. James reminds us that because Abraham was obedient in this, there was a deed to prove his faith in God, it was credited to Abraham as righteousness – it drew Abraham closer to God. It was Abraham’s actions, his deeds, spurred on by faith in God, that drew Abraham closer to God.
The second example is Rahab the prostitute. She hid God’s spies, and sent their persecutors off in another direction. The fact that Rahab is called a prostitute quite probably makes us judge her – something we’ve already been warned against by James earlier! Bur Rehab, prostitute or no, has heard of the God of the Israelites, and is in awe of him, because of stories of his strength. So she already has faith in him, and in response to her faith, she protects the spies. This is the deed, the outworking of her faith, which is counted as righteousness, that is, brings her closer to God.
So what is all this to do with 21st century life in Amington? Well, remember the strapline for today: “Your faith: genuine or dead?”. Or the other option: Do you walk the talk of your faith? And it is quite challenging, provoking even.
Let’s start with something quite simple. You and a friend are talking at Church about an interest your friend has just taken up. You know you have just the book on your shelf at home to help him. So in a burst of enthusiasm and generosity, you tell your friend you’ll look it out and bring it along next week. Now this can go two ways.
One way is that you go home, remember your conversation, look out the book and bring it in the next week. Your friend is really chuffed that you’ve remembered it, and he’s really pleased, because otherwise he was going to go out and buy the book, so you’ve saved him some money.
The other way is that you walk out the door, and leave your promise in Church. It goes clean out of your head, there’s a lot on and your head can only manage to carry so many bits of information before you need to write things down. So you forget all about the book until you get to Church the following Sunday and see your friend. And lots of negatives float around. You are frustrated with yourself that you couldn’t even remember one book it wasn’t much to ask. And you’re embarrassed by it, so you feel a bit akward talking to your friend. He, in turn, feels let down because you’ve forgotten the book, and really , he feels like maybe you don’t think much of him, even though you’d seemed all enthusiastic the week before. He’d not wanted to bother you during the week to remind you because he didn’t want to bother you. And all in all, the episode leaves a faintly bad taste for both parties. Now this is maybe a ridiculously small example, but it’s all about walking the talk, it’s about our word being our bond, it’s about seeing faith your friend had in you in action. Because without that action, he’s just not so sure of how real or strong your relationship is.
If you think of a bigger more complicated example, it just ramps up the difficulties that arise from not doing the deed inspired and given energy by faith. And the faith looks dead.
Is that the kind of faith we want? I don’t think so. So this week, demonstrate your faith by what you do, walk the talk. And it will draw you into a closer relationship with God, for it is him from whom all good things come, and that’s what he wants for all of us.
But James warns us, quite starkly, in the last verse of this passage, “Faith without deeds is dead.”