J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 2:17-19

Big Idea:  Jesus wants more for you than you can imagine.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

·    James describes a conversation between two people about the nature of their relationship with Jesus.  How does each describe their relationship?
·    Verse 17 says that “Faith without Works is Dead,” which side do you think James is on?

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

·    How does James says we should demonstrate our faith?
·    What is the difference between demonstrating your faith and speaking about your faith?
·    What then is the place of talking about your faith?

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

·    How do demons believe the same thing that a Christian does?
·    Why doesn’t their belief save?
·    How then does your belief save?

How in the world does the world know you have faith in Jesus Christ?  With Biblical commands like “Go into the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28), “Let your light so shine” (Matthew 5), and You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5), you and I, and anyone else who claims faith in Jesus Christ, are not given the option of having a private faith.  Faith in Jesus is an outward demonstration and active proclamation of faith before the world with the intention of bringing attention to and glory to Jesus.

So how then does the world know that you have faith in Jesus?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus by all the things you don’t do anymore?  Don’t drink; don’t smoke; what do you do?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you are an expert at pre-suppositional apologetics or you that you memorized the book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”?  You can argue with the best of them.  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you go to work everyday, work hard, live a quiet life, and you hope that your “witness” will be enough to make people wonder?  Or do you just not give it a second’s thought.  Maybe you just want to be forgiven and you desperately hope no one ever asks you about Jesus.

I think in my life I have swung from pretty much all points on the pendulum.  When I was 16, I lost pretty much every friend I ever had because I was so confrontational about Jesus.  I wanted everyone to know what I believed, and I wanted everyone to know what I thought was sin and what I thought was wrong.  That didn’t work out too well for me.

At one point, I swung all the way to other side of the pendulum.  When Amy and I were married, somewhere along our second year of marriage, we just took a year off.  We went to church sporadically.  We didn’t really study our Bible, didn’t really pray.  I was much more concerned with making money than I was about making disciples or telling people about Jesus.

When I went to seminary, I’m afraid I fell into the academic trap.  If you didn’t have an intellectual, theological response to my questions, I would belittle you.  Even if you did have an intellectual, theological, response to my questions, I would still belittle you if you didn’t agree with my view point.  I still have regrets about the damage some relationships took during that time.

Where am I now?   Whew.  I still have theological discussions, but they aren’t my first line defense any more.  There are times when I’m silent about Christ and times when I’m vocal.  I’m much more concerned with establishing a relationship with a person long before I begin preaching to them.  Is this the best way to go about sharing the Gospel?  I don’t know.  We’ll figure it out.  I just don’t want to belittle or demean anyone anymore.

And Jesus doesn’t give me the option of being silent about my faith either.  Fortunately, James this week is going to speak about what it should look like for us to share and demonstrate to the world that we know Jesus Christ.  It is one of those passages of scripture where both extroverts and introverts will think James is stating their case.  Extroverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus,” and introverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus.”

No matter where you fall personality wise, James wants us to know this:  This whole sharing of Jesus is not easy.  It is not just trying to convince someone to think differently or believe differently.   Reducing faith in Jesus to mere belief is fallacy, it is error.  And sharing Jesus is a heck of a lot more than just trying to get someone to walk an aisle and make a decision for Christ.  God can use those things, but faith in Jesus is much more than that.  So with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea this week:  Big Idea:  Mere belief in Jesus is not enough to save.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Let’s set all of this into context.  Over the last few weeks, you can summarize James’ argument this way.  James says that the worship that God accepts is for us to reflect the mercy we know by showing mercy to others and doing it in a way that you don’t comprise Biblical convictions.  How do we do that?  James says, “Simple.  Love others as much as you love yourself.  That’s how God did it.  He gave you Jesus, so you go give yourself to others.”  And last week, James went so far as to say if you aren’t doing that, your faith won’t save you.  Faith without the evidence of obedience and works is a dead faith that won’t save.

That’s how powerful faith in Jesus is.  Once you completely cast your life onto Him, He promises to change you.  You have no other choice.   Look for real Gospel change and find real faith.   Look for real faith and find real Gospel change.

So this week, James continues with the theme of what the transformed life in Jesus is supposed to look like.  In verse 18 he says, James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

What we find here is James imagining a conversation between two people who claim to be Christians.  He wants to set the context of his point and he does it by creating a hypothetical argument between two people who say they have faith in Jesus.  One person is saying that they merely have faith in Jesus, and another is saying, “Well, I have works because of Jesus.”

What’s going on here?   Well James is trying to place two choices in front us.  Essentially, James is describing what different people think salvation looks like.  So we definitely need to make sure we understand the distinction that James is making.  First of all, James is not saying that the two options are salvation by faith alone verses salvation by works or earning your way before God.  We know that because the passage we looked at last week was talking about a faith that must evidence itself in a changed life.  James has made it clear:  Faith alone in Jesus saves, but if you have faith in Jesus, you will be changed.

So the two people in this rhetorical conversation are arguing this way.  One of them says that they have faith in Jesus but that faith is not really showing any evidence of a changed life.  Basically, they believe in Jesus but that belief has not grown in obeying Jesus.  And they are okay with this.  This is the “Yeah, I became a Christian when I was a little kid.  I walked the aisle, confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.  I got baptized the next Sunday.” Person.  But, there is no real evidence or any real significant change where this person is actively trying to obey, actively trying to worship, and actively trying to grow in Godliness.  The second person has faith in Jesus as well.  However, the difference between this guy and the other is that their belief in Jesus has changed them and is changing them.  They now obey, do good works and good deeds.  They actively seek to know Christ in a deeper way and they actively seek to have that knowledge change them in obedience.

James wants us to wrestle with these two perspectives on knowing Jesus.  Why?  Because this is a real issue.  It was real issue in James’ day & it is in our day as well.  And eternity hangs in the balance.  You see, a lot people will say, “Well I believe in Jesus.  I walked the aisle when I was a kid or I asked Jesus into my heart,” or they will have some experience that they are counting on to count as security for their relationship with Jesus.  And many of those very same folks will not evidence a transformed heart or a transformed life.

What’s going to happen to them?  Are they resting on a real, sure foundation of faith or have they been duped?  James does not want anyone to be duped or anyone to trust something that is unsure.  Salvation and forgiveness do come by faith alone, but as James has said, that faith, if it is a genuine faith, never remains alone.  Faith in Jesus must and will and is guaranteed to change you.  You must be different than you were before knowing Jesus and you must be different from people who do not know Jesus.  Not because you are incredible and powerful but because Jesus is.  It is not a matter of self-righteous or of saying, “I’m better than you.”

Faith in Jesus just changes you.  There is not choice in the matter.  The transformation in scriptures is described in this way.

·    Romans 6 – You were buried in death before you had faith.  You are raise to life after you have faith in Jesus.
·    Romans 6 – You were a slave to sin before you had faith.  You are a slave to righteousness after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 5 – After you have faith in Jesus the old passes away and you become a new creation
·    2 Corinthians 5 – You were outside and away from God before you had faith.  You are in Christ after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 3 God’s glory was veiled to you before you had faith.  God’s glory has been revealed to you after  you have faith in Jesus.
·    Galatians 2:  You lived for yourself before you had faith.  You live for Christ after you have faith in Jesus.

And Biblically we could go on and on with the difference that having faith in Jesus makes.  James’ point is that you cannot say, “I have faith in Jesus but no works.”  That isn’t faith because faith in Jesus must results in works.  He makes that abundantly clear in the second half of verse 18.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

One way or the other, real genuine faith in Jesus is going to be made clear and evidence itself in some way.  And if someone is saying they have faith in Jesus without growing in obedience, James puts them to the test.  He is saying, “Well, if you want to tell me you have faith in Jesus, great, but what I’m counting on is that I can demonstrate my faith, and I’ll count on that.”

Now, how is this not the most arrogant conversation ever presented in scripture?  Well, remember James is making a rhetorical argument.  He is not suggesting any of us go around have debates like this.  He is however recommending to us that we examine our own hearts in light of this hypothetical discussion.  James is asking you and me this question.  If the world were to look at you, would they know that you are a believer in Jesus Christ?  By what would they make their judgment?

Well, I would offer there are a couple of very practical reasons why James is offering this line of thinking.  First, he intends for Christians to be absolutely assured of their salvation.  He doesn’t want anyone to be deceived into thinking they have genuine faith and found out that they don’t when it is too late.  And secondly, he intends for the world that does not know Jesus to have a clear picture of who Jesus is and he wants to that to happen through the changed lives of Christians.  Let me walk you through each one of those purposes.

Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25, one that came up for us just a few weeks ago, but it bears on this portion of James as well.  In that story, Jesus is describing His return and how all the world will eventually be sifted before Him.  He says that He will return in glory which means that Jesus will return as the exalted Savior   And this is what Jesus says He is going to do.  He is going to take all of humanity, every human being in the existence of the world, and divide them on his left and on his right.  He will look at those on His right and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

They of course will ask, “When did we do all of these things for you?”  And Jesus will say, “Any time that you have cared for someone, you have by default cared for me.  Then Jesus will look at everyone on His left, and He will say, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

And they of course will say, “When did we see you in need and pass you over?”  And Jesus will say, “Whenever you didn’t care for people in need, you didn’t care for me.”  Now how in the world can Jesus demand such things of His servants?  So you know how many needy people there are in this world?  If I spent that much time taking care of people, I wouldn’t have any time for…I don’t know, I wouldn’t have time to worry about my own problems.  Hmm.  Maybe you are on to something.

You know I had a conversation the other day, and this time it was with someone at SK.  He and I were doing a couple of projects together and pondering just what it takes to see the Gospel of Jesus grow.  These were his thoughts.  He wondered, “Maybe we have backwards.  Maybe we spend so much time running back and forth our kids, taking them to dance and sports and everything else, that we really miss out on serving folks and telling them about Jesus.  He admitted that there is absolutely nothing wrong with kid extracurricular activities, but then in one of those absolutely revolutionary moments he thought, “What if we tried to help our kids grow and mature by serving others instead of signing up for every single thing in the world?”

Its daunting isn’t it?  You hear that, and I bet there is more than one of you who goes, “Huh, maybe that would be better than running mom’s bus service for multiple kids doing multiple sports, dance, drama, whatever.”  But then American guilt kicks in and you think, “Well, we’ll make time for that but I want my kid to get into a good school…”  And the idea of serving others trails off just like that sentence.  Gang, there is nothing wrong with extra-curricular activities (please hear me on that), and hear me, “There is nothing wrong with hobbies and interests.”  But Jesus in Matthew 25 and James in this week’s passage says this:  You should know you have faith and the world should know you have faith in Jesus by the fact that the mercy you know is evidence in the mercy you show.  That is THE most important thing.   THE most important thing.

James is saying, “You will know if you are saved, and other people will have a sense that you are saved by the fact that you evidence a transformed life.”  You will evidence a transformed conscience.  You will show a desire to know Jesus more intimately.  Studying the Bible and praying will become part of your life.

Those things will be part of your new life, but those things aren’t the examples that Jesus gives and those are the examples that James has been giving either.  No, they emphasize showing mercy as evidence of a transformed life.  Feeding the hungry.  Visiting the lonely.  Clothing the naked.  And lots of other faith stretching activities.

Now at this point, we might all be squirming a bit.  Like I said last week, I’m not trying to make anyone doubt their salvation.  I want people to look at their heart and look at their faith, and ask, “Is God changing me?”  Don’t ask, “Am I perfect,” or “Am I more Godly than the person beside me?”   Ask, “Is God slowly but surely changing me to be like Jesus?

But even then, the heart struggles a bit.  You say wait a minute.  I know I’m growing because look all the theology I know or I can quote lots of old dead guys or the Westminster Confession of Faith (which a work of theology not a dog show btw).  And let me say this carefully and try not to be a hypocrite.  You see our denomination rightly values theological depth.  You can’t be a pastor in the denom without a Master’s Degree and you have to have studied Greek and Hebrew.  You can’t be an elder or a deacon without passing theological exams.  We value getting it right.

But we can have the most orthodox doctrine in the world and completely miss out on Jesus if we are not careful.  James tells us that exact thing.   Listen to verse 19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James says, “Oh you believe in God and that He is one?  Great.  Demons believe that too and they shudder because they know that they will ultimately and one day suffer punishment in hell.  Now, this is odd.  Why does James pick this particular statement of belief?

Well, this quote about God being one?  It’s taken directly from Deuteronomy 6 where God announces Himself to the people of God surrounding the presentation of the 10 Commandments.  God said this:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

The Israelites called this announcement of God, “the Shema”.  They would pray “The Lord our God the Lord is one,” at least twice a day.  And the truly devoted would make it the first and last words that their children would hear in a day.  It was the height of religious expression and the height or orthodoxy.  The really devout and religious Israelites of the day would use the Shema, the pronouncement that “God is one” as the theological standard of Godliness.  This is like the banner of saying, “I’m a 5 point Calvinist” or “I’m Reformed” or “I’m confessional” or whatever other theologically precise category that folks like to claim.

Well James says, “Don’t pat yourself on the back because you are theologically sound.”   Demons have correct theological thoughts.   The most evil spawn of Satan, the most evil demon you can imagine in all of existence, doesn’t have a theology or a belief problem.    As some of have said, “The Devil thinks more right thoughts about God in a day than you will in your entire life.  They know who God is.  They believe who He is.  Their problem, Satan’s or any demons, the problem is not their theology.  It is not their orthodoxy.  It is their orthopraxy.  It demonstrates that they do not have a saving faith but a belief that leads them into greater sin.

James is essentially asking you, “Who cares how incredible your theology is if it doesn’t result in a transformed life?”  And James specifically wants you to know that your faith must evidence itself in a transformed life beyond yourself.  He has spent all of chapter 2 so far telling us that the expression of your faith must result in showing mercy to others.

Listen, I love theology.  I have given years of my life to the study of theology and reading guys whose names can barely be pronounced.  But none of that matters if I don’t grow in loving the Lord with all my heart soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  Forgive the running analogy, but theology is like water.  You have got to have water to survive.  Some studies say that the overwhelming majority of people today walk around dehydrated because of the amount of caffeine we all drink.  But you can drink all the water in the world and that does not mean you can run a marathon. Oh if you run a marathon, you better drink water, and lots of it.  You have to water.  But water itself is not going to cause you to run 26.2 miles.

Theology is water.  Theology is about belief, and you have to have correct faith and belief in God – all eternity rests on it.  If your faith is in someone or something other than how God has presented Himself in the scriptures, then you are trusting someone or something other than God.   But know this:  it is possible to have a correct belief in who God is and not have salvation.  James says a saving faith in Jesus will result in obedience, works, and acts of mercy.  James say, “Take that water, train, and run a marathon.”  Test and see if your faith is real by putting into action.

Now this is typically the point in the sermon when I try to get you guys to focus in specifically on a direct application of the sermon.  I like direct application.  I think they lead to direct results…but not always.  Sometimes, pastorally, I think either I’m not clear or you guys don’t believe what I’m saying or maybe God is preventing us from going forward.   And other times, I just don’t know.  In discussing this, the lovely talented Amy gave me an article to read on just that topic.  It was so clear that I have just copied a part of it and am going to use it as our conclusion.  Pull up a seat and listen in on this article from Trevin Wax.

A pastor recently asked this question: “We’ve got people getting together who study the Scriptures but aren’t involved in reaching out to their community with the gospel.  “How can I get them motivated?”  In response, I mentioned how our natural tendency as church leaders is to reinforce the commands related to our mission, to tell people again and again what they should be doing. We think, “If they aren’t reaching out to represent and proclaim Christ, they must not know what to do” But is this really the case? In my experience, the problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten our responsibility to love our neighbor and share the gospel.  The problem is that even when we know what our duty is, we still don’t do it.  That’s why I’m convinced that focusing most of your teaching on our missional duty isn’t the best way to motivate people to serve Christ long-term.  It may result in some initial fruit, but it doesn’t affect the heart-change necessary for long-lasting obedience.

So what to do?  Exalt God. Magnify His holiness. Praise His greatness. Exult in His grace.  Set the magnificent, majestic God of the Bible before your people week after week, and pray that they will encounter Him for who He is. Why? Because it’s an encounter with an awesome God that motivates us to mission.

Case in point: our biblical heroes. As you read through the Bible, you’ll notice that whenever people come face to face with God’s greatness, the next scene often shows them on mission.  Moses trembles before God in the burning bush. Next he is standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!”  The majesty of God displayed before Moses’ eyes on a faraway hillside is the same majesty God displays before the greatest empire of the day.  Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord in His temple that was so staggering that he fell on his face like a dead man.  Notice God didn’t even have to tell him what to do.   God simply asks, “Who shall go?” and the awestruck Isaiah volunteers: “Here am I. Send me!”  The Samaritan woman at the well was amazed at the supernatural knowledge of Jesus.  Next we see her running into town telling her friends and family about His greatness.  The women at the tomb are the first to witness the resurrection power of God.  Next we see them telling everyone, “We have seen the Lord!”  Peter denies Christ and hides., but then he encounters the greatness of King Jesus.  Afterwards he proclaims Christ as Messiah and Lord before thousands of people.  Saul is a murder but then he encounters with the risen Jesus.  Afterwards, he spends the rest of his life seeking to help the Gentiles see the very One who initially blinded him.  Why should it be any different with us?

Missional fruitfulness comes from a heart gripped by God’s greatness and enthralled with His grace.  May we be so mesmerized by the glory of Jesus Christ that we count it as nothing to lose our lives for the spread of His fame!  Let’s get on our faces before God and then get on our feet for His mission.


March 18, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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