Faith expressed in action: report on Phil’s sermon this morning on James 2:14-26

Faith and works

This morning, Phil was preaching on James 2:14-26:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Trusting the tight-rope walker

Phil began by telling the famous story of the tight-rope walker Blondin who amazed audiences by walking across the enormous Niagra Falls on a tightrope, and subsequently retracing his steps across the tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow along the narrow rope.

‘Now ,’ Blondin announced to the great crowd. ‘Do you believe that I could push someone safely across the Falls on the tightrope?’

‘Yes, yes,’ shouted the crowd, waving their hands in the air to signal their complete agreement.

‘Well,’ Blondin continued. ‘Would someone like to come forward and volunteer to be the first?’

Silence. Hands went back to people’s sides, rapidly.

No-one came forward.

Actions show the genuineness of our beliefs

Phil’s point was that it was one thing to say ‘Yes, I believe Blondin could do this!’  But what was that statement of belief worth if people were not prepared to act on it, to entrust themselves to the great man.

‘Faith,’ Phil told us, is not just an intellectual exercise. It involves total commitment.’  He was talking, of course, about our faith in Jesus.  What’s a statement of belief in Jesus worth if it doesn’t show in the actions we take?

Is James saying faith’s not important

James  isn’t saying that faith is not important. No doubt he agreed with the Apostle Paul who wrote ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no-one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Sometimes you hear people talking about reaching heaven, and saying things like ‘I will be ok, I’m good enough’ or ‘I might not be perfect, but look at all the good I’ve done.’

But that’s missing the point. We are saved not on account of our actions, but through entrusting ourselves to Jesus, and receiving salvation as a wonderful free gift of God. Said Phil ‘We receive salvation as a gift from God. God gets the credit and we receive the gift of eternal life in Christ.’

So why does James write

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

20 ……faith without deeds is useless…

26 faith without deeds is dead.

A warning against counterfeit faith

James’ point is this, Phil explained.  ‘What we say is not always a true and accurate reflection of what we really think and believe – but our actions are.’  If our lives are not marked by loving, compassionate, Jesus-prompted actions then we should question the genuineness of our claims to have faith. If we are true believers in Jesus, it will show in our words, actions, our whole approach to living.

This was James’ point in reminding his readers of the stories of Abraham (James 2: 21-24) and Rahab (James 2:25-26) from what we call the Old Testament.  Phil explained the significance of their actions. They were people of faith. ‘Abraham realised that the only response to the saving grace offered by God was loving obedience.’ ‘Rahab recognised in God something she saw no-where else. An unconditional love that was seeking a relationship with all who would respond.’  Both acted in the light of this faith. It was real to them, it influenced their lives.

James isn’t challenging the idea that salvation comes through grace alone. ‘He is challenging those whose faith is counterfeit,’ said Phil.

Writes James (James 2:15-17)  ‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’

Our words are empty unless they are matched by appropriate actions

A challenge for each of us

‘Faith and works need to be united,’ Phil urged us.  The only appropriate response to salvation through grace is loving obedience, a loving response to the God who loves us so much, and calls us to love God as the Shema puts it ‘with all our heart, mind, soul and strength’ – in other words, with every fibre of our being.

And so Phil challenged us to look out for opportunities to express our faith in loving actions: he mentioned folk in various kinds of need in the Hilton Church family that we could look out for; he mentioned Christians around the world who are suffering and persecuted; he mentioned ‘countless millions who don’t know Christ.’

And he concluded ‘Let us all take time to evaluate our lives and ensure our faith is not merely sentimental but is real and active and impacting the lives of others for good.’

 

 

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