Faith and works, Part 2
8th December 2017
Last week, we began studying this passage from James.
In verses 14-18, James challenged our genuineness as Christian people. He told us that’s it’s no good claiming to be a Christian if we don’t act like a Christian. Now he challenges our reliance on theology. It's no good believing the right things, if that belief doesn't change our character, and so change our conduct.
The key phrase is "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead". James explains that faith - by which he means believing the truth about God - is not enough, in this rather powerful way:
Here's an important idea. When we say that we believe in God, or in anything, we’re being ambiguous. To believe in a person or a thing can mean either to believe that person or thing exists, or it can mean that we trust that person or thing. If you're sitting in a chair, then you believe in that chair in both senses. You believe it exists, and you trust it. We all believe Jeremy Corbyn exists. We don't all trust him. We all believe Teresa May exists. We don't all trust her. You can know there's a bridge over a river. What matters is, are you willing to cross it? Do you trust it?
You call yourself a Christian. You believe there is one God. You’re right. And in the Roman Empire in James’s time, that put you in a minority. Most people in the empire believed there were many gods. But so what? Demons believe that there is one God. Today, we could say you believe that Jesus is divine, but so do the demons. You believe that Jesus died to save humans from the sin. So do the demons. And so on.
The demons believe in God, in the sense that they accept that He exists, and that He has a certain character, and that He has done certain things. But they don’t trust Him.
It’s not what we believe to be true that matters; it’s what we trust in. Intellectual awareness isn’t enough. Good theology isn’t enough. Do we trust God? Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?
God says He loves you and has a perfect plan for your life. Do you trust Him enough to let Him bring it about? God has given us the Bible to teach us how to live. Do you trust God enough to obey the Bible? For example, Matthew 5:5 says, "Blessed are the meek". Do we believe it? Do we believe it enough to be meek?
The demons believe the Gospel is true, but they don’t trust it. They know it’s true intellectually, but they don’t respond in faith to it. On the contrary, they shudder because they know it’s true. They know the Bible is the word of God. They know they’re defeated. And they still don’t repent.
Abraham didn’t willingly offer up his son as a sacrifice to God just because he knew intellectually that God exists, or that God is good, or that God has the right to command whatever He pleases. Abraham offered up is son as a sacrifice to God because he trusted God.
Because Abraham trusted God – had faith in God – Abraham’s faith resulted in obedience. His faith was made complete – brought to maturity – by this supreme act of obedience. His faith was proved by his actions.
Real faith is proved by real obedience.