Since tomorrow is Wednesday, I am getting ready to teach my staff on the book of James. This lesson is the 6th lesson of 16. We still have a long ways to go and for that, I am very excited. We have already learned so much, yet God has so much more to teach us. Here is a review of the previous lessons:
- Living faith vs. Dead faith
- Living faith vs. Dead faith part II
- Trials and Temptations; what’s the difference?
- Genuine faith in action
- Two spiritual births; death and life
This lesson is powerful because of what it teaches us about living faith. We are turning the corner from chapter 1 to chapter 2. Take a moment to read over James 2 and then we will see what we can discover about living faith.
I. Living faith does not show partiality
Showing personal favoritism to certain people over others is part of our sin nature, or human nature. It is inborn. We do not have to be taught to do this. Instead, we have to be taught not to do this. A sure sign of dead faith is showing partiality, or as verse 1 reads, personal favoritism. James uses an example to prove his point. He uses an example of a poor man and a rich man. If you see the rich man and give him special attention because of his appearance, and then see a poor man, and degrade him because of his appearance, then you have shown personal favoritism. James writes that this is making distinctions among people, not based on character, but simply on outward appearance. He calls this having evil motives. To further illustrate his point, James points out that God has chosen the poor to become rich in faith. We are all poor beggars before the Lord yet He does not look at our state, He looks at our hearts. In the church to which James writes, those same rich people are actually oppressing others and do not deserve the special attention. They are also blaspheming the name of God. The church should be confronting them and their sin instead of showing personal favoritism to them. To finish off this section, James further illustrates his point by writing that agape love and partiality are exclusive. In other words, you cannot live by both. You can only live by one or the other. Partiality is sin before God and God equates it with adultery and murder. Instead of showing partiality, show mercy instead because this is what living faith does. Mercy means not giving people what they actually deserve. People deserve us to show partiality and be judgmental towards them because they do the same to others. If we show mercy, we do not judge them, like they deserve, instead, we choose to love them because we are prompted to do so by our living faith.
II. Living faith is seen through works
When we talk about faith, our modern understanding of it takes two extremes. One extreme is this idea of blindly accepting something as being true even if reality proves otherwise. In other words, something is true because you want it to be true. The other extreme is this idea that faith is something very vague, something in your heart, and therefore, there is no tangible characteristics of faith. It is impossible to measure a person’s faith to determine if it is genuine or not. Both of these are not Biblical faith. Biblical faith is very tangible. Biblical faith is not blind. It is actually based on evidence. In chapter 1 of James, we saw that trials reveal the type of faith that a person has, if it is living or dead. Trials actually end up strengthening living faith. Living faith is useful because it helps a person overcome temptation. Living faith comes as a result of being born again. Living faith helps a person apply the Word of God. Living faith helps a person listen more, speak less, and be slow to anger. Living faith helps a person be able to bridle his tongue. Living faith causes a person to stop being selfish and become selfless, serving those who can give nothing in return. In chapter 2, James continues this idea of the usefulness of living faith, showing the tangibility of a person’s faith. Living faith is accompanied by works. Notice that works do not produce living faith. This is where the religions of the world get the cart before the horse. We cannot work our way to God. We cannot work our way to living faith. Living faith has to be given to us by God. Living faith produces the works. We cannot call faith living if it does not produce works. James gives an example from everyday life. As believers, we claim to care about others, especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord. The way that we show that we care is by meeting the needs of those whom we claim to love. If you see a brother in need of clothing and do nothing to meet that need, can you say that you really love and care about that person? The same with a person who is hungry and in need of food. If you see the need and are able to meet it, yet, you don’t do it, do you really love and care about that person? The same is true about faith. If that faith is not joined with works, if that faith does not produce works, it is dead faith. James poses another interesting thought about faith that does not produce works. He claims that demons also have faith. They understand the nature of God and believe that His nature is correct. This information causes them to shudder. Their faith is not living though, because they do not obey. Their faith does not produce the works of obedience to God. If your faith is not producing the works of obedience, what makes your faith different from the faith of the demons? James writes this so that we will take a long look at the faith we claim to have and recognize what we see. This should stimulate us to action. If we discover that our faith is dead, this should cause us to run to God and ask for living faith. God will give it to us. Let’s not deceive ourselves with what we see.
III. Abraham and Rahab; examples of living faith
Abraham is known as the father of our faith. He was a man of faith. His faith did not stand alone. His faith produced works. His living faith produced obedience to God. Abraham proved that he believed the promises of God by acting upon those promises. There is a clear order that we see in the life of Abraham. He heard the promises of God. He believed those promises. God made Abraham righteous and as result, the works of obedience followed. We could say it this way, genuine justification based on faith, produces works. Is your faith more like Abraham’s faith or more like the demon’s faith? Our second example given here is the harlot Rahab. She was far from the presence of God, living as a pagan, indulging in the lusts of her flesh. God sent His messengers to her and they shared the Word of God with her. She chose to believe the promises of God. When she believed, she was justified by God and that produced the works of obedience. Her living faith produced the works of obedience. Once again to illustrate his point, James gives one more example from life. He mentions a body without the spirit is useless. It cannot do anything but decay. It cannot produce works. The same is true about dead faith. It cannot produce the works of obedience to God. If your faith does not produce the works of obedience, it is also dead, like the body without a spirit. My dear friend, have you examined what your “faith” is producing? Is your faith like Abraham’s and Rahab’s faith, or, is it like the demons’ faith? Is your faith useful to you or useless? How is your faith useful to you? Do you show partiality to others or do you show mercy instead? May the Lord help us all examine our lives and our faith to see if it is living or dead. It is obvious to all, if we reflect on what God teaches, if our faith is living or dead.