- Developing Christian Confidence
- James 2:14-26
- Lyndol Loyd January 27, 2019
James 1:22 – “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”
If you have ever had an opportunity to fly, you have probably noticed the two distinct categories of people at check-in time around the gate areas at airports. First, there are the people who have already checked in. They have their boarding pass with their seat assignment and are sitting somewhere quietly sleeping, reading or watching airport TV monitors. They are all set to go. They don’t have a worry in the world.
The second group of people are quite conspicuous – the standby passengers. They are not reading quietly and are certainly not taking a nap, but rather, they are pacing nervously back and forth in front of the counter. Soon on a first-name basis with the ticket agent, they try to forge a friendship and find a way onto the flight.
They are anxious, nervous, and often irritable – until their last name is called. Once they are assigned a seat and receive a boarding pass, their whole demeanor changes. They relax, stop pacing, and even begin to smile. Finally, they are free to find a chair, slump over, and sleep until it is time to board the plane.
What happened to bring such peace to this formerly anxious person? This visible change comes when they are certain they will not be left at the gate. They are no longer just hoping, now they have a seat on the flight.
In the same way, when we sit in a surgical waiting room while a family member or friend is going through surgery, we have a certain level of fear. I’ll never forget what it was like as a parent when Abigail had her tonsils out. She was only in the first grade, and although it is a fairly routine surgery, I still felt anxious as we waited. The moment the surgeon came out and gave us the thumbs up, I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Maybe you’ve had your own anxious moments in life in which you’ve finally received the good news you were waiting for, and it brought you peace.
As we continue on in our series of messages based on the New Testament book of James, this morning we find that James addresses an issue of uncertainty that many people struggle with in life. Let’s take a look at James 2:14-17.
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
The uncertainty about getting onto a flight can bring anxiety. Sitting in a hospital waiting room can cause your stomach to be tied up in knots. But there should be one question at the top of our priority list when it comes to certainty. The question is this: “Where will I spend eternity?” We need to be sure we have absolute confidence about the answer to this question.
It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day responsibilities of life. When this happens, eternal questions can come pretty low on the totem pole of our priority list. Yet there are moments in life that cause us to slow down and ask the big, eternal questions.
- When we go to the doctor and hear the word cancer, we get a big wake up call.
- When we stand at the open casket of a loved one, we are confronted with eternal questions.
- When we have a close call on the road and realize that a fraction of an inch or a second could have cost us our life, questions of eternal destiny have a way of flooding our minds.
In moments like these, we are confronted with the stark reality that we will die someday and that we will spend far more time in the afterlife than we spend in this life.
This means that issues of eternity are of paramount importance. We had better be sure we know where we are going to spend forever. The big question is, “Can we be certain of our eternal destiny?”
In 1 John 5:11-13 we read, “11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. 13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.”
Far too many people live with genuine self-deception. They have some religious works, but no faith. Or, they have faith in a set of doctrines and beliefs, but they don’t have a transformed life. There is no fruit, no works that bear out the truth of their faith.
The Bible is clear that people can be self-deceived about their eternal condition. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
Some people have a false sense of security. They think that because they were baptized, or confirmed, or married in the church, or attend church, they are going to heaven. They believe they hold a genuine boarding pass, but it is bogus.
James is seeking to clear up this issue about “Who is in the family of God?” Who is going to heaven and who is not? Who has a boarding pass that is genuine and who has one that is bogus? James is saying that this is too important a topic to wait until it’s too late. He wants us to deal with it now.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
Think back to the airport for a moment. Imagine standing at the gate of an airport waiting to get on the plane. You have purchased your ticket well in advance. You have it in your hand and are just waiting for the flight attendant to open the door so you can walk onto the airplane.
The plane lands, everyone gets off, they refuel, do all the necessary checks, and it is time to board. Each person in front of you steps up to the gate, hands over their ticket, and proceeds. As you step up to the flight attendant and hand her your ticket, she asks you to wait.
You are puzzled, but stay right where you are. She makes a quick call, and you wait as others continue to hand her their boarding passes and step toward the plane.
Finally, a security officer approaches the flight attendant, talks quietly with her, and comes toward you. “I’m sorry, your ticket is counterfeit. You can’t board the plane,” he says. All this time you thought you had the real thing, but you had a false sense of security. Your ticket was bogus.
James is clear that there are many people who think they have a ticket to heaven, but they may be holding a bogus boarding pass. He is calling us to be absolutely sure that we have a genuine, saving faith in Jesus Christ.
James is saying that just claiming to be a Christian does not make you one. In verse 14 James is clear that we can claim one thing, but have lives that don’t bear out what we say.
If this is the case, James says that we don’t really believe what we are saying. Simply attesting to a list of religious beliefs is not enough. This might give people a sense of security, but in reality, they are holding a bogus ticket.
Simple mental ascent to a list of beliefs is not the kind of faith that ought to give anyone a feeling of certainty that they are heaven bound. There must be more. We need to support what we believe with corroborating data.
It is critical that we emphasize that salvation never comes by our works, but only by God’s grace. When we are truly saved, works will flow naturally out of our faith. Faith and deeds are inseparable.
James is saying that when you are truly a Christian, when you have become Christ’s follower, evidence of that relationship will be all over the place. The acid test of the genuineness of our faith will be evidenced by a changed life. The demons have belief, but not true faith because their actions are in opposition to the will of God.
With great clarity, James believes that those who are true followers of Jesus Christ will experience transformation. This will be an inner change, but there will also be an outer change. People will see actions that reflect the heart of Christ.
I know this to be true from my own experiences. Recently I had to deal with a matter that would have had me completely stressed out and anxious if it had happened to me a few years ago. Most likely I would have been wringing my hands and experiencing sleepless nights. This wasn’t the case. In the midst of a great challenge, I found that God gave me complete peace about the situation.
From an outside perspective, it wouldn’t have made any sense at all for me to have peace that everything was going to turn out all right. I can tell you with all honesty and sincerity that I believe God transformed me in this regard.
My faith in Christ acted to mature me in trusting God with the big picture in ways that might not have been able to do in the past.
How about you? What is one area where you have seen God changing and transforming your life over the past few months? If you have a genuine, authentic faith, transformation is something that you should be able to identify in the context of your daily living.
20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
James makes a powerful connection in the final verse of this passage. Most of us have walked into a funeral home, stood beside a casket and looked at the body of a loved one. Many thoughts race through our minds.
But one thing is certain, the spirit of the loved one is gone. What we are looking at is only a shell, a corpse. There is no color, motion, breath, pulse or warmth. This is only a body; the person is gone. If there was still life, there would be movement, breath, and warmth.
James then tells us that this is how it is with the Christian life. If someone claims to be a Christian and they exhibit signs of life, their claim is probably genuine.
However, if they claim to be a follower of Christ and they exhibit no signs of life, that’s trouble. This person might very well be living with a false sense of assurance.
Our faith is not determined by what we do; it is demonstrated by what we do. To help us understand this truth I want to tell you the story of Blondin.
Jean-Francois Gravelet, better known as “Blondin,” was a famous tightrope walker and acrobat. He’s perhaps best known for his many crossings on the tightrope, 1100 ft in length, suspended 160 ft above Niagra Falls. His act will be watched by large crowds and begin with a relatively simple crossing using a balancing pole, and then he would throw away the pole and amaze the onlookers. On one occasion he crossed the tight rope on stilts. On another occasion blindfolded. Another time he stopped halfway to cook and eat an omelet. In 1860, a royal party from England came to watch Blondin perform. After his normal spectacular crossings, he then wheeled a wheelbarrow from one side to the other as the crowd cheered. Next, he put a sack of potatoes into the wheelbarrow and wheeled that across. The crowd cheered louder. Then he approached the royal party and asked the Duke of Newcastle, “Do you believe that I could take a man across the tightrope in this wheelbarrow?” “Yes, I do,” said the Duke. “Ah, hop in!” replied Blondin. The crowd fell silent. But the Duke of Newcastle would not accept Blondin’s challenge. “Is there anyone else here who believes I could do it?” asked Blondin. No one was willing to volunteer. Eventually, an old woman stepped out of the crowd and climbed into the wheelbarrow. Blondin wheeled her all the way across and all the way back. The old woman was Blondin’s mother, the only person willing to put her life in his hands.
In a very real sense this is the message that James is conveying to us:
- It isn’t just enough to observe from the sidelines.
- It isn’t enough to make mental ascent.
- Real faith means that we are willing to get into the game.
- We are living in such incredible relationship with Jesus Christ that it transforms our living.