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?

True Religion (James 1:19-27)

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love-god-love-peopleWhat does true religion look like? We live in an age in South Africa where there are sadly repeated news stories of people claiming to be ‘Christian leaders’ doing horrific things.

Many people on a survey form would indicate their religion as ‘Christian’, but their lives belie such characterisation. James says that there is such a thing as ‘worthless religion’ (James 1:26). So, what does true religion look like? What should the life of a Christ Follower be like?

James 1:19-27 offers a few answers to these questions. These 6-things should characterise the believer in Jesus:

1. Restraint, doing more listening than speaking (vs19)
2. Self-control, being slow to anger for anger is not godly (vs19-20)
3. Transformed lives (vs21)
4. Obeying God’s word, acting on it rather than merely listening to it or studying it (vs22-25)
5. Caring for the disadvantaged like orphans and widows (vs26)
6. Keeping one’s life unstained from the sin of the world, being Holy (vs27)

James and Jesus’ thoughts concur we are to be those who bear fruit in keeping with our repentance (Matthew 3:8). Those who have truly believed in Jesus can be seen by the fruit of their lives (Matthew 7:30). We don’t earn our way into God’s heart through good works or a transformed life, we come by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

However, having come to faith, that faith and the love and power of God at work in us produces change from the inside out – that’s true religion. A changed life from a melted heart leading to a faith that’s real and observable both by ourselves and others.

Lord, fill me, fill us again. Make me, make us more and more like You. May, my life, may our lives reflect these transformations and may others be touched by your love in us because we have been touched and transformed by your love for us. Amen.

Temptation (James 1:12-15)

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In James 1, trials of any and every kind have been in view. One specific type of trial is the trial that comes through the temptation to sin.

We are prone to blaming others when we face difficulty, Eve did it, Adam did it – James urges us not to blame God when we feel tempted (vs13) but to realise that the temptation we are feeling comes from within us.

Temptation comes from our enemy (Luke 4:2&13), but his temptation is targeted at a pre-existing desire within us. We know this to be true from personal experience. What is tempting to one person is not tempting at all to another.

Take, for example, delicious roast beef that has just been removed from the oven, with the crusty bit just shouting out to be sampled before dinner. For some, this would be an irresistible temptation, but for the vegetarian, it isn’t tempting at all but that freshly chopped carrot drizzled in cream cheese dressing is!

This is what James is getting at in James 1:14-15. We are tempted when the devil matches some promise of fulfilment with a pre-existing desire within us. We are enticed, lured into the trap of that temptation by the desire within us that the temptation promises to fulfil or satisfy.

In that sense, the temptation is not from outside of us, but from within us. Ever since Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation in the garden, we have been born with misplaced desires, or with desires that are meant to be satisfied in God alone but that short-circuit and get us into all sorts of pain and trouble when we seek to satisfy them with created things.

The word picture James utilises is that of birth. A misplaced desire looking to be satisfied in anything but God alone gives birth to sinful actions, but when that sin grows up fully, it results not in fulfilment but in death of some sort.

We need to pray not just that we would be able to say “NO” to temptation but rather that our desires would change.

One of the keys to defeating the power of temptation in your life and in mine is to ask God to replace our old desires with new Godly ones. Ask God to redeem our misplaced desires, seeking to be satisfied in God, not other things.

One of the ways we cooperate in this process of transformation is by renewing our minds through a devotion to Scripture which in turn helps us to know what God’s will for our lives is, and knowing what is good and acceptable for us as Christ Followers (Romans 12:2).

Application

  • What are your strongest desires (List your top 3)?
  • How might the devil tempt you, matching something appealing or promising satisfaction for that desire?
  • In what way is GOD the only real person who can satisfy that desire?
  • Pray & repent and or ask God to help you seek to be satisfied in Him alone

Humili​ty & Confidence (James 1:5-8)

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I love the sense of realism in James. In vs2-4 James challenged and urged us to consider trials “all joy” because we know that the testing of our faith would produce good things in us like steadfastness and growth in godliness.

James knows that the sound advice he has just given is challenging and so in vs5 he encourages the reader to pray to God for wisdom. Such a prayer is humility on display and humility is a vital attitude to hold on to for the Christ Follower.

I like to begin prayer with the simple acknowledgement that my very act of praying is declaring something both to myself and to God – that I need God. After all, if I did not need God, if I had it all covered myself, then I would not be praying. Prayer and humility go hand in hand, and God is drawn to humility (James 4:6) while prayerlessness, on the other hand, is a warning sign of residual pride.

The humble praying person ought to simultaneously have a robust confidence James declares because God is the giving God. God’s nature is to give, and so James states with certainty that God will respond gleefully to any request by you or me for wisdom.

God won’t scold us for hassling Him by asking, God won’t begrudgingly give us as little as possible of the wisdom we need. No, we can pray with confidence because we know that God is the generous giving God and we as His children can, therefore, ask for wisdom in any and every situation with confidence knowing God will provide us with what we need.

Similarly, Jesus promised He would give His disciples the very words and wisdom at the moment we need them (Luke 21:12-15). You and I can have confidence knowing that when we cry out in prayer, God is ever present and eager to answer our humble prayer.

So pray, because you’re realistic about your limitations. Pray because you’re humble, but pray with confidence knowing whom you’re praying to!

Don’t pray hoping God will answer, but pray because you know whom you’re praying to. Your Father who is in heaven, the One who loves you with an everlasting incredible love (1 John 3:1).

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.

Who are you? (James 1:1)

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Who-are-you“Who are you?” I met a church planter in Calgary last year who was planting a church into an area in the city, and his practice was to go to a particular local Starbucks Coffee every day and work there striking up conversations with anyone who frequented the same Starbucks.

His favourite question as he engaged people was to ask them; “So, who are you?” He told me how most people would begin to answer by saying what they did for a living.

But he would cut them short saying; “I didn’t ask you what you DO, I asked you WHO YOU ARE?” At which point many would look quizzically and reply; “Hmmm I’m not sure how to answer that question.” He would then proceed to ask them if they wanted to explore that together with him.

So, WHO ARE YOU? What’s your primary identity?
Our world is filled with people trying to answer that question with all sorts of things ranging from culture, language, family, achievements, careers…

James, the writer of this little book we are reading and meditating on for the next month, answered that question in the following way in James 1:1;

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings.” – James 1:1 (ESV)

What a way to introduce oneself! A servant or a slave of Jesus, as some translations say, this was James’ primary identity. Is this how you think of yourself? Is this what defines you more than any other thing?

Paul like James uses this phrase “slave of Jesus” to introduce himself to the Roman believers (Romans 1:1). And in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 we read of the reason in the heart of Paul as to why he, like James identifies himself in this way;

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

The Christ Follower is one for whom Jesus died, SO THAT they would ‘no longer live for themselves but for Him’ who died for them. When we believe in Jesus, we don’t add Jesus to the mix of all we do. No, when we put our faith in Jesus, He revolutionises our whole lives and transforms our identity!

When we put our faith in Jesus, we get a new identity; we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:16) whose purpose is now totally orientated around serving God, pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9). We are those who have been re-defined by our faith in Jesus; He is our new master, our Lord. We exist to serve His purposes on the planet with our one precious life He has given to us.

Spend a moment thinking about the question; “Who are you?” If you are a Christ Follower, I urge you to ask Jesus to help you see that being a “servant of Jesus” is your identity just like James and Paul and millions of others. And as that truth about your identity becomes clear it will lead you to another question which we can ask every day; “Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do for You today?”

As Jesus speaks to you, obey Him and watch as Jesus leads you into serving Him and others in remarkable ways, knowing that He is faithful and that He will reward those who live their lives in this way.