faith

Faith & Works (James 2:18-26)

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Learning to drive a manual shift car one has to learn to coordinate the mind, the feet & the hands. Once you have been driving for a while, you don’t even think about these diverse tasks that need to happen in synchronicity. But during the learning phase, synchronisation is the goal but not always that easy to achieve. Sometimes the engine is getting all the petrol it needs to go forward from the foot, the correct gear has been selected by the hand and head but the clutch hasn’t been released by the other foot, and so much despite their being much in the way of noise and fumes there is no momentum.

Faith and works are a little like the accelerator and the clutch. Having faith without works is like pressing down the accelerator without releasing the clutch.

James uses two examples in our passage from biblical history to show how faith and works are so inextricably intertwined.

The first is the account of Abraham in Genesis 22 when God told him to take Isaac his beloved promised son, and to give him to God as an offering! Hebrews looking back on this moment says; “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham believed God’s goodness & trusted in God’s unseen plan, and so he put his faith into action by placing Isaac on the altar. We know the story, how God intervenes and how the angel of the Lord comes to Abraham to bless him for his act of obedience, his faith in action saying at one point you shall be blessed because; “you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18) Abraham didn’t just SAY he believed God, his faith; “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:22).

The second example is the account of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who also believed God and acted on that faith. Rahab turned from faith in the gods of her people, she believed that the God of Israel was the one true God and so acted on her faith and harboured the foreign spies making a deal to save her family.

Abraham the father of faith and Rahab a disreputable foreigner, both joined faith and action. In using these two people as examples, James has linked faith and action in such a way that the point he is making in this passage applies to us all without exception!

Our lives, our actions demonstrate that we truly have believed in God. We put no faith in our actions to save us, but having placed our faith in Jesus alone to save us, our actions that follow show that we genuinely have put our faith in Jesus. Our faith is ‘completed’ by our works in response to our faith (James 2:22).

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Fake Faith, Authentic Faith (James 2:14-17)

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Fact_Fake_NewsAuthenticity matters. Appearances are not convincing to the modern person, we know too much about marketing and fake news. The savvy person knows that carefully constructed facades sometimes hide not so impressive realities.

Authentic faith isn’t just words but faith in action. Fake faith, like fake news, is just hot air, empty words with no changed life undergirding those words.

James says in vs14-17 that authentic faith is not what you think or say but what you do because of what you believe. James must have had the words of Jesus ringing in his ears still when he penned these words as Jesus had said to James and the other disciples;

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:17,34-35)

Works/actions are not the basis of our faith, but they are to be the result of our faith. Faith unaccompanied by resultant actions of love and a changed life is useless faith, unauthentic faith.

So, seeing a brother or sister in need and merely saying nice things to them is useless, it belies authentic faith. Real faith in God, results in a person being overwhelmed by the gracious & generous love of God and being transformed by the love so that in turn they too love others with the very same love they have received.

Jesus loved us by inconveniencing Himself, leaving heaven, living a humble obedient life, suffering opposition and then ultimately by giving Himself for us on the cross.

Authentic faith replicates that love. Loving God back by laying down our whole life for His purposes (Romans 12:1-2) which will cause us to love other people with self-giving actions just as Jesus loved us.

Application:

– In what ways is your faith on display in actions that are rooted in you responding to God’s love for you?
– Is there someone God is calling you to love with actions today?

Expectations (James 1:2-4)

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James has been described by some as the book of Proverbs in the New Testament.  It is a book filled with wisdom.  Wisdom concerning how one is to think and act in this present age as a believer in Jesus.  An age in which the believer could be described as one being in ‘exile’ – scattered amongst a pagan people and in a world that is not their ultimate home (James 1:1).  This challenging context for faith in Jesus Christ is the context for everything in this letter and the context for every believer in Jesus.

Realistic expectations are wise.  Climbing into a steel cage with a cage fighter with no expectation of danger or the need to defend oneself – is unwise.  Going fishing on the beach and not expecting to smell like bait and fish – is unwise.  Being a new parent and expecting to have broken sleep for several years – is wise…

 So what is the wise expectation of a Christ Follower in this age?

James says; ‘expect to meet trials of every kind in this age’!  That’s a wise expectation.  To believe that life and the journey of faith in Jesus in this age will be easy – is unwise.  The New Testament is clear that in this age we have an enemy who is bent on undermining our faith, robbing from us & even devouring us.  We live in an age where temptations & struggles abound.  To have any other expectation leaves one unprepared and prone to wrong conclusions and even a crisis of faith.

So, James prepares us with a realistic expectation in these verses, but then goes beyond mere counseling the Christ Follower to have a reasonable expectation when he writes that we ought to ‘consider’ (NASB) it ‘all joy’ when we encounter such trials!  This is more than having a reasonable expectation, this is ‘embrace trials’.

How can this be?  Only because we know something. 

Knowing the endgame can fortify one to press through incredible hardship or pain.  They say it takes two months to climb Mt Everest, two months out of normal life, living in compromised accommodation and discomfort and at an average cost of R600k-R800k!  Why do people do it, endure it? Because they know they want the endgame of standing on the peak and being one of just a few who have done so.

James says; ‘you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness’ and he says that steadfastness produces something else in us; ‘that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (vs4).  

So do you know what James assumes you do? 

Is your expectation of life as a Christ Follower a biblical one or unrealistic in some way?  And do you believe Scripture, which says that the road to the goal of a complete life that lacks nothing is through suffering and trials?

Trials test the genuineness of our faith.  Are you a ‘fair-weather’ believer who believes but only when life is rosy, and God seems to be blessing us and answering all our prayers?  Or are we robust believers whose faith under fire results in endurance/perseverance, consistency in our faith whether life is rosy or really hard?

In this present age as exiles, the road following Jesus can be hard and long.  The call on us is to remain steadfast when startling, unexpected trials come, and to endure through them and then to go on enduring.  We know the destination towards which we are headed, because James tells us – it is that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing in our life and faith.

So, wisdom is to arm yourself with a biblical expectation & to arm yourself by knowing that God wastes nothing and that any and every trial you will face has a God-ordained purpose.  So be strengthened & remain steadfast when you meet any and every type of trial.

We tend to reach for the eject button, tend to pray for God to remove us from trials.  Yet the prayers of Scripture inspire us to pray that we (or those we love)

  • might know God’s will in the midst of trials,
  • that we might walk in a manner worthy of God in the midst of these trials,
  • so that we might be fully pleasing to Him
  • and in order that we might bear much fruit
  • that we might be strengthened by God’s power in the midst of trials
  • so that we would remain steadfast (see the prayer in Colossians 1:9-14).

And when we do this, we become more like Jesus who did the same when he endured the cross scorning its shame because he knew what was the endgame (Hebrews 12:2) and so he was steadfast!  May I, may we be like Him.

Is seeing believing or believing seeing? (Luke 24:13-35)

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It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.

So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around.  Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.

The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus.  They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!

Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)

Believing leads to seeing.  Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…”  Note the order there.  Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.

How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.

These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified!  Some then saying He had risen again?

What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.

And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind.  He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!

May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.

May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!

Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)

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A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life.  He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it. 

So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16).  This young man is steeped in religion.  Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.

Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion.  The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him; 

“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man.  “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20).  ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man?  ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23). 

That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.

It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people.  Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person!  How so?

It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself!  In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.

Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first.  He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice.  He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…

Receive Jesus’ grace daily.  Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.

Believe Jesus, believe Scripture.  Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him.  Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it.  Not in this life and not in eternity either.

Courageous Faith (Mark 10:46-52)

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If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10.  As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).  

A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all.  This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’!  What’s the story behind that name?  Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’.  And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar!  He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others. 

How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity!  How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.

What’s your name?  Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?

Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day.  That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus.  He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  

We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus.  Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to.  There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees.  According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus.   But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention.  And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…

Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus.  When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced.  “What will other people say or think?”  or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.”  And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.

But not Bartimaeus!  Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)

Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him.  Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him. 

Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did.  And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.

Faith Rewarded Mark (5:21-43)

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Jesus loves faith!  He seems attracted to it, He delights in it and responds to it.  Faith is believing God when there isn’t anything to grasp onto, isn’t anything to see as yet.  Faith has a focus, an object and so you cannot have faith in nothing.  When it comes to God, the object, the focus of our faith is God Himself and His faithfulness, His ability to transform a situation, heal a person and faith that He wants to do so.  

In Mark 5:21-43 we meet an important Jewish man, named Jarius who had reached a point of faith in Jesus.  We don’t know what exactly his journey had been, we don’t know exactly what he had seen and heard of Jesus but he had seen or heard enough to believe that Jesus was both able and willing to respond to individual people’s requests.  And because of this faith, this synagogue ruler came to Jesus in front of a crowd of people and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, an action that showed his desperation, desire, humility and belief that Jesus could, even would heal his little daughter.

“Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” (vs23)

What a statement of faith!  Effectively this man was saying; ‘Jesus I know that if you lay your hands on my little girl she will be healed of this life threatening condition.’  His confident faith is the reason he is in the dust and dirt before a crowd at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus seemingly can’t resist such faith.  Mark simply records; “And He (Jesus) went with him” (vs24).  As they go to his daughter the crowds are pressing in around Jesus, they too have some measure of expectation now – ‘what will Jesus do, let’s go and see’…

In the midst of the throng is another person with faith pulsating inside her which is remarkable really.  Remarkable because she has been repeatedly hopeful then frustrated and disappointed for 12 years with countless physicians at great financial cost attempting to help her but to no avail.  Now she is left impoverished with a condition that had worsened rather than improved (vs26).

But she had faith in Jesus.  Because she ‘had heard the reports about Jesus’ (vs27) and so she pushed through the crowd and touched Jesus’ garment believing that if she could only touch His garments she would be healed (vs28).

And in an instant she was dramatically and instantly healed, she felt it happen to her, and so did Jesus in the midst of the commotion of the crowd pressing around Him.  He stops and wants to meet the person who touched Him with faith…  She comes forward and Jesus says to her; “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (vs34)  Jesus loves it when we trust Him, when we anchor our faith in Him, in His ability and in His willingness to transform our situations!

The passage concludes with Jesus going on to raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead as she passed away while He was enroute.  Jarius’ faith is rewarded, the woman’s faith is rewarded…

What do we learn from these encounters?  God loves faith!