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Faith simply isn't enough
Scripture: James 2:14-27
Track 4 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 30 minutes, 01 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, January 23, 2005
4th sermon in an 11 part series
"Faith simply isn't enough"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 2:14-26)
Copyrightt 2005 G. Charles Sackett

"But it was only driven on Sundays." And to church no less. Don't you wish that you got what you thought you were supposed to get when you got there? Such a shame when things don't turn out the way that they're supposed to or at least the way you expect them to. Ah, there's just something about having those things turned on you that is troubling. That even happens sometimes, by the way, in places like this.

Some of you may have heard of Tony Campolo. Campolo is a sociologist who happens to be a Christian out on the East Coast. He's famous for rather strong sermons, shall we say. He showed up on the World Day of Prayer in order to preach to a group of ladies, maybe a thousand or so ladies at a church. When just before he was to get up and speak the hostess read a letter from a missionary that needed $5,000.00 to buy some medical equipment in order to carry out this mission and she turned to Campolo and said, "Would you pray that God provides what this lady needs?" And he said, "No, I won't, but I'll tell you what I will do." He took all the money out of his pocket. He said, "I'll give all the money I have with me today. I'll put it right up here. I'm going to ask you to do the same." He had $2.25 by the way. Pretty safe thing to do. And he turned to the hostess and he said, "Okay, put all your cash up here." And she did. And then he turned and said, "Now ladies, that's what we're going to do. We're just going to give all the money we have here and if there isn't enough then we'll ask God to write out a check for the rest." Nobody moved. So he looked down at one lady and he said, "I'm serious, bring your offering up here." And so, reluctantly they moved through a whole crowd of a thousand people who started bringing money up to the stage. When they got all done they counted it. They had $7,000.00 laying there on the stage and he said, "Why in the world would you ask God to do something when he's already given to you the means to get it done."

That's a bit of a strange twist on what would happen on Sunday morning, I suppose, in church, but maybe not an all bad thing. Let me roll that story over on to the other side.

Joseph Stowell is the President of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Moody is right downtown and so he will often walk right past a Starbuck's coffee shop, get coffee and walk on down to Moody Bible Institute. On this particular cold, winter morning, he's walking by and there's a homeless lady out there selling newspapers. Maybe you've seen them. The newspaper is called Streetwise. They sell them in every major city in the United States. They charge a $1 for them. He reaches in and gets a $1. Hands it to the lady and she says, "Do you really want the paper or can I keep it and sell it to somebody else?" He decides for at least a moment, he'll engage her in a conversation. He says, "No, you can keep the paper." And he says, "Well, how are you anyway?" And she said, "Well, to be honest with you, I'm really cold and I wish it weren't so nasty out here today." He turned around and said to her, "Well, I hope the weather gets better and it gets easier for you." And he said, "I walked off down the street holding my hot cup of coffee warming my hands." He said, "I got about a block and a half away when it dawned on me what I had just done." He said, "I probably should have turned around and taken the coffee back to her but I didn't. I walked on to work and it has haunted me ever since."

There's something about this thing we call faith that brings with it a certain set of expectations. James would say it this way in James 2:1, My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,(and I'll paraphrase) do something about it. If you believe in the glorious Lord Jesus let that show in your life. Make your life consistent with what you say you really do believe. It's the idea of having integrity, of being genuine. Being real. Of being what you say you are.

When my son-in-law and daughter bought a house over in Lincoln, when he came to school, one of the reasons we like this particular place because there was a great big tree right out in the front yard and we just happen to love trees and thought it would be great for shade and all that kind of stuff. Although, here, probably six or eight months ago I was over there one day. We noticed that it had a big crack in it and we were a little concerned about it but being the kind of nosey person that I am, I'm kind of messing with the crack to see just how bad it is in the next thing I know, I picked up a piece of the tree about six feet high and two feet wide. Lifted it right out of the side of the tree. The whole thing is hollow. Well, was. It's now gone because we had to take it down. It lacked integrity. It lacked genuineness. It looked like a pretty good tree but inside it wasn't what it was supposed to be. It wasn't what it claimed to be.

James is asking us to wrestle with what it means to have faith that is genuinely consistent, that is real, that is genuine. That is thorough faith all the way through.

We pick up the chapter in James 2:14. He says this. By the way, you'll notice that he starts again with the word brothers. He uses the word brothers in the book of James repeatedly as a way of marking off - okay we're about to move to another section - and this is also important. This is a new idea. He says, my dear brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, what good is it? Can such faith save him? I find myself stopping right there. I know the question of the hour is, what gives faith integrity? But sometimes I wonder if James didn't somehow get a little misguided here at the beginning. I mean, he's asking this question, can faith save you? Can faith with works save you? I find myself wrestling with that very question because faith doesn't save you at all.

Ephesians 2:8 is very clear. We are saved by grace through faith. Faith is something you do. It's a response you make to something that God has already done. Faith is an activity that's our responsibility. He says, that's not what saves us. Paul says in Ephesians 2 we're saved by God's absolute grace. It's a gift to you this thing called salvation. Jesus does it for you. You can't do it for yourself no matter what you do. You're saved by grace but that grace is through faith. We receive this gift of grace when we believe in Jesus, when we respond to him. And that's James question. What kind of faith is real faith? Genuine faith? Is it merely mental assent? I acknowledge, yes, I believe in Jesus or yes, I believe in God or is there something much larger than that? His question is this, if a man has faith but has no deeds, if there's no evidence of the faith, is it real faith?

Well, let me get back to that question. He says this in James 2:14ff What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose (here's this hypothetical situation) a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.

James statement is, faith that has no deeds is useless. It's worthless, valueless. In fact, it's a bankers kind of term. It's like taking your money. Putting it in a sock and sticking it under your mattress where it does you no good. It earns you nothing. It has no value to you. He says faith that doesn't produce itself in works is like money earning no interest. It's useless. It's valueless.

There's a church in northern Illinois, Naperville, actually, a suburb of Chicago. It started about 25 years ago and they really wanted to put bells in their church but they couldn't afford it. So they thought as a cost saving measure, they would build the belfry but they wouldn't put any bells in it until they could finally get around to it. Well, for their 25th anniversary they finally decided it was time to put bells in the belfry. So if you went to the church in Naperville that has bells in its belfry, you could look up there and there they are. Bells, not bats in the belfry. But they don't ring because they're not real. They didn't have enough money to buy real bells so they put up fake bells. They don't have any clappers. You feel cheated don't ya? I mean, if you're gonna have bells, you ought to have bells, not things that look like bells but bells.

And James says faith without works is like bells without clappers. They're useless. It has absolutely no value to you. People who are in need, need. They don't need your platitudes. They need, well, it might be like Joseph Stowell rewriting this text. Can you imagine Joseph Stowell writing James 2?

Suppose your sister has a need of a hot cup of coffee and you say to her, "I hope the weather changes and it gets better" and you walk on down the street. Of what value is your faith? All of Scripture understands this principle, that people who have needs are to have their needs met with real action, not just with words.

John would say it this way. Are you familiar with this text? 1John 3:16, 17 If you have a brother or a sister who has need and you have in your possession what they need and you don't give it to them, how is that love? How can you claim, he says, that is the love of the Father?

So James would say "faith without works is dead". John would say, "faith without deeds is loveless". It's nothing like the Father at all.

Paul would say it this way in Galatians 5:6, we demonstrate our love for people through our actions - through our deeds.

Or remember when we were going through the book of Titus 2 & 3? Four different times Paul says to those Christians on the Island of Crete - encourage our brothers and sisters to have good deeds. In fact, to be zealous for good deeds, to abound in good deeds.

In other words, James would say, if you don't have faith plus works, it's useless. I mean, it's okay, he says it's alright to believe. Demons believe. Did you notice that in James 2:19? Come back to Verse 19 and look at that phrase again. Believe that there is one God.

You know where that comes from, right? That's Deuteronomy 6:4. It's the Old Testament Shema. All of Israel understood that at least once every day, if not multiple times every day they would quote the Shema. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One. It was their statement of faith. It was the foundation rock by which they governed their entire life. They were to teach that to their children. Write it on their doorposts. Put it on their clothing. God is One.

James says you believe that God is One? Well, that is Good! Even the demons believe that - not only do they believe that - they believe it so much that they even shudder. They not only respond intellectually to God in belief. They respond emotionally to God by shuddering in fear when they recognize who God is. What are they missing? Because demons obviously don't have a relationship with God that is valued if their intellect acknowledges God and their emotions acknowledge God. What's missing? Their "will". They're not doing anything about it. They have no action to accompany it.

Why if James were writing in the 21st Century, he might say to people just like me, maybe like you, "You believe in God? Well, that's Good! You believe in God to the point that you'll actually respond to him emotionally and worship?" Well, even demons do that. I don't think I like being in the company of demons. Because what James would imply is that it's not enough to just acknowledge God mentally, even enough to acknowledge him emotionally, if you do not also acknowledge him with the submission of your "will" to Him which results in some kind of actions. Some kind of legitimate behavior.

So James asks this question. What kind of faith is real faith? What kind of faith has genuine integrity? Well, he goes on to illustrate it in James 2:20. Look at James 2:20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James comes to this question, what gives faith real integrity by offering us two Old Testament illustrations, the righteous Abraham and the prostitute Rahab. Two opposite extremes. Abraham, you know was righteous because he was obedient to God. God said to this man living in one part of the world, I want you to pick up your family. I want to move to an entirely different part of the world. I will settle you there and I will give you as many children as there are stars in the sky and sands in the sea. And then he sits and waits. And it's years, I mean years before he even has one son, much less children like the stars of the sky. And finally when Abraham's a hundred years old, Isaac is born. And then as a young lad, Abraham is told to take Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. This child who is the first in the family that will produce this family that's as large as the sands of the sea, if you kill him, guess what happens to the rest of the family? I mean, what happens to the sand? And Abraham voluntarily takes him to the mountain and is prepared to kill him until God stops him and James says. Abraham demonstrated his faith by an act of "will", giving to God what God asked for. Being obedient.

Then he turns around and he illustrates it with Rahab, the prostitute. Rahab lived in Jericho. Jericho was that walled city, the first major city that Israel conquered in the promised land. Rahab lived on the wall of the city. Joshua sent the two spies in to find out whether or not they could conquer the city. When the officials found out about the spies, Rahab hid the spies from the officials and then sent the officials another direction so the spies could escape. And God ordered that act of obedient faith even from a prostitute. It's enough to give you hope that there's room for all of us to demonstrate our faith.

Now some of you are like the righteous Abraham. You grew up in the church and you've been doing the right kinds of things all of your life. And God uses you in the demonstration of your faith, but some of you find great, well, should find great hope in the fact that you may not have known anything about God and lived a completely horrid life and God still makes it plain. He can use you if your faith is an obedient faith.

I mean, all of us have probably heard Billy Graham. Right? Righteous Abraham. The best known speaker in the entire world has spoken to more people than any other single human being. A believer!

But, how many of you know about Franklin Graham? Franklin is the Prodical Son who came back to faith and is now the President of Samaritan's Purse. Samaritan's

Purse is a benevolent organization that just has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the tsunami victims. In fact, the major leading newspaper this last week carried an article about Franklin Graham's organization, Samaritan's Purse, because once they got over there into the jungle areas, there was no way to get the stuff to people and nobody would give him any means of doing it so he disassembled a helicopter, put it on a transport and flew the helicopter over there, reassembled it so that he could distribute the things that they had taken over there to help people.

God honors the active faith of Abraham and Rahab, Billy and Franklin.

The question, huh, the real question is what in the world gives faith, real faith, integrity? What makes it genuine faith? See, James says three times in this text, faith without action is dead. It's useless. He says it in James 2:17, 20, 26. What makes faith genuine is faith that is demonstrated by our actions. Real faith, genuine faith is being who we say we are. It is acting out on an every day basis, the faith that lives within us. It's not merely the mental nod that says "Yes, I believe in God" or even the emotional response that worships God. It is the response that submits the "will" to God and says I will do whatever God calls me to do. Genuine faith is an active faith. It's a working faith.

What does it look like? Well, in the midst of tragedy or in the midst of illness or in the midst of disaster, it is the demonstration of trust and peace. It's the cancer victim who goes to the hospital and yes, they do everything they can to find physical healing, but, that's not what impresses the doctors and the nurses. What impresses the doctors and the nurses, the care-givers is the attitude of the heart that says, as long as God is honored in this, I'm okay. That's what gets people's attention, is that we understand that there is something far different in the way we carry out daily life.

It is the person who in financial straights that says, I'm going to give anyway. I don't know where it's going to come from but I'm going to demonstrate my faith in God, my absolute confidence in Him, that even though I don't know where the source of supply is going to come, I'm gonna still be faithful.

I recognize that you won't be aware of this, or at least most of you won't. I'm, I can't tell you any details. I don't know who it is nor how much they give because everything you give here is yours. I mean, it belongs to the Lord. Nobody knows that but you, but I do know this because I do get this report. Some of you know that we have some "Snowbirds" from this congregation and they go south when it gets cold here. I used to think they were "wimps". Now I think I want to join them in Arizona. Anyway, our "Snowbirds", many of them continue to support Madison Park Christian Church financially. They mail their offerings back. That's genuine faith. This is their home. This is their church. Their committed to this place and they demonstrate it through their giving.

Elton Trueblood once said. "The way you can tell whether a person has real faith is found in two books: the date book and the checkbook."

Real faith. What does it look like. It looks like people who even in the midst of not knowing for sure how to respond to persecution and difficulty respond anyway with perseverance. It's people who see other people in real need and rather than just verbalizing some kind of response, actually do something about it.

Many of you have heard of William Booth. William Booth is the founder of the Salvation Army. His son, Bramwell encountered him one morning. Apparently Booth had never spent much time at night out in the street because one night he was coming home late from a trip and he suddenly discovered that living on the bridges of London were homeless people. When his son Bramwell came back the next morning, here's the conversation as it was best recorded.

"Bramwell! "Did you know that people sleep out all night on the bridges?"

"Well, yes, I suppose a lot of poor fellows do that."

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing about it."

Bramwell says, I began to talk about how hard that would be and his father stopped him with this line.

"Go and do something!" "We have to do something."

"What do we do?"

"Get them a shelter."

"That will cost money."

"That's your problem. Go," he said, "Get a warehouse, warm it and find something to cover these people."

And that is the beginning of Salvation Army Shelters.

The genuine recognition that faith moves to an act. It doesn't just talk.

My friend John lives in Poland. He and his wife Zaba run a coffee house ministry in one of the cities of Poland and they were participants in the Samaritan's Purse 'shoebox' Christmas Program. I don't know if you know about that, but churches and other people gather up shoeboxes and they fill shoeboxes full of "goodies" and clothes and "stuff" and Samaritan's Purse sends them to various parts of the world. They were giving literally hundreds of these boxes away in this city in Poland when the evening news came to interview Zaba. This is what Zaba said on the evening news in Poland. "We're trying to show that it's worthwhile living with God. . . .not just on Sunday but throughout the whole week."

Genuine faith is faith in action. It's people in a church who find out that somebody needs their gutters cleaned and so they clean their gutters. If they know how to fix a car, so they fix a car. They know how to write resumes so they teach other people how to write resumes. It's when you recognize someone's real need and you turn around and say, "I know how to fix that!" But you don't just say it, you do it. Because genuine faith shows itself in actions.

Here's one possibility for you that you might want to participate in.

Tape or movie ?? Kids speaking??

Blankets of Love Program

So, what's genuine faith look like? It looks like blankets piled up in the hallway. It will look like a video that we're going to show you at the end of the service about the famine relief. It looks like the $2,000.00 plus that this congregation has already collected for the tsunami relief and some more that will come in today that will be sent with International Disaster Emergency Services which has already sent a $100,000.00 worth of supplies and money over to the tsunami victims.

What's genuine faith look like? What gives it integrity? It's when people like you and people like me live up to the expectation of just letting our life be real. It's when faith isn't just a mental nod of the head, not even an emotional response but an act of the will that produces a behavior that coincides with the life of Jesus. It looks like Him.

Have a friend that I serve on a committee with. Um. . .Paul is also then a friend of the owner of Pax TV. Some of you may have seen it. Ah, Mr. Paxton owns a very large home in Florida. In fact, just a couple of years ago he bought a brand new place that has a big marble patio outside the family room with the marble portico. Paul was there with Mr. Paxton and some other people having a meeting when out of, kind a the corner of their eye, a bird flew out of the marble portico, which stopped the meeting. And Mr. Paxton said, "Birds can't fly out of marble". So they went outside only to discover that the portico isn't marble, it's Styrofoam painted like marble. I'll let you guess what happened after the end of that.

I'm just here to ask you this question. Are you Styrofoam, or are you marble? Are you real? Is your Christian faith just a covering to make it look good? Or, is there integrity in your life so that when we cut in to you, your faith runs all the way through? That it is genuine, real faith in Christ that responds with an active life that demonstrates in the community what it means to know Jesus personally.

Our invitation to you this morning is really very simple. To allow your relationship with Christ to passionately drive you every moment that your life looks like his and there is nothing false about it.

Let's stand!