If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. James 2 is where we’re going to be. The alarm went off this morning, and as I get older it takes longer to recover from this kind of time switch we’ve done. I have read there are some states that just said, “We’re not doing it.” If any state should do that, it should be Texas. So if one of you wants to get to work on that I’ll be with you and encouraging that.
But anyway, the alarm went off this morning, and groggy-eyed I began to ask the Lord to do what I ask him to do every week when we gather. Really to frame that for you, I think the fight we’re in together, the fight I’m in with you is really for your and for my delight. As we talk about strategy and structure at The Village Church, what I’m fighting and what I’m thinking about is really your delight because I can believe that where your delight is is really where the rest of your world is going to follow.
So I’m asking the Lord on your behalf, on my behalf that he might do a profound work in us that enables us to feel and to intellectually know God in a way that leads to a delight that drives our lives. I asked him this morning, and my hope coming in to preaching the Word of God to you today is that we might see and savor Jesus and rest and know the delight and peace that comes from knowing we are fully forgiven, that we are deeply loved, and we are affectionately liked by faith alone.
That’s my hope, that you would understand that delight, the delight that comes in knowing that, that all of our sin, past, present, and future, has been paid for on the cross of Christ. I say that all the time, and yet I find myself constantly in conversations where we just don’t believe that to be true, that you are fully forgiven because of what Christ has done for you on the cross. Regardless of how you dragged yourself in here today, that would be true for those of us who are sons and daughters of God in Christ.
I want you to know the peace and delight that comes in knowing he loves you, that your Creator God who knows everything about you hasn’t just forgiven you, but that he loves you, and on top of that, not only has he forgiven you and not only does he love you, but that with deep affection he likes you, and not some future version of you, but the messy, goofy, ignorant version of you right now. (No offense.)
If you get that and you know that, there’s a delight, there’s a sense of peace, there’s a rest in the soul that begins to make its way through your heart and life. It melts away the cold places. It softens the hard places. It establishes righteousness deep in our soul, a righteousness that is not of ours by works but rather a gift of righteousness from God made possible in Jesus Christ.
I desperately want you anchored in that hope, assured in that hope, unmoved from that hope, that as you live out the days of your life, as your week progresses and you have the peaks and valleys of your week that what would be constant is the delight in knowing your Creator knows you, has forgiven you, loves you, and (I’ll say it again) affectionately likes you (and, look at me) not because you did anything but rather because he did everything. Are you tracking with me?
So you would rest in all of that being true not because you used to and now you don’t, but all of that simply being true because of Christ and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and that your anchor would be that alone, that by faith alone you have been adopted as a son or daughter of God. I want you to know it. It’s the way I pray for you. It’s what I think we’re talking about when we start talking strategies and structures at The Village Church, we start talking programs, we start talking sermon series.
Where my heart is is, “How can I increase their delight in you, Lord? How can I help them see and savor and be deeply moved by these realities that are true for them? How can we communicate in such a way that they’re freed up from the near-constant enslavement to works-based righteousness and set them free to just know they’re loved in you? How do we do this?”
That’s how I woke up praying this morning, wanting you earnestly to delight in the Lord, wanting you to leave this place today really unburdened by the weight of feeling like you must perform for the Lord but rather that you might be able to simply rest in the fact that the performance has already happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and now you get the benefits of that performance.
His perfect obedience imputed to you, his perfect righteousness imputed to you so that when God looks upon you in Christ he sees the righteousness and perfection of Christ and calls you his beloved. I desperately want to get you towards that delight, and so I think to get there I’m going to let the Word of God lean on us. I will just, right out of the gate, tell you this. The passage we’re in this morning is one of the more difficult passages in the Bible, and it’s one of the more argued-about passages in the Bible.
With that said, let’s dive into it. I’ll give you, even before we read it, James’ point. James is going to say that while faith alone saves us, it’s a faith of a certain kind. So that’s what James’ argument is going to be. Here’s what he’s going to say. It is a faith which produces works which saves us. The works do not save us, but a faith that does not produce works (and we’ll define that term works here in a minute) is a faith that will only deceive and cannot lead us into the fullness of life or into eternal life with our Father.
So here’s the outline of the text. I’ll just give it to you. Faith without works is useless, faith without works cannot save, faith without works is ineffective, and faith without works is dead. It’s no faith at all. So that’s the outline of the text itself. You should be able to pick up on that as we read, and so let’s dive in, starting in verse 14 of James 2.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ’Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, ’You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well.” That’s a compliment there. “Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ’Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith [that is] alone.” That’s a better translation there. “And in the same way was not also Rahab…” I love, love, love that Rahab is in this text. “…the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
Now you can feel your internal legalist starting to activate, can you not? Can you not immediately just reading this text start to feel like, “Okay, give me the list. Do I have to learn how to play the acoustic guitar? Do I have to get up at 5:00 a.m.? What is it? Go ahead and give me the list. I feel it. Faith without works is dead. I don’t want to be dead. Give me the list of works I have to do”?
We can feel it in this text, but let me tell you what James is not saying. James is not, cannot be arguing that works must be added to faith. He cannot argue that way. If he argues that way, the cross of Christ means nothing.
Do you hear me? If James’ argument is now that we have our faith we must add works to that faith, that is the opposite of everything I have ever preached to you in the last 12 years when I have said on repeat that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a door we step through only to forget and get to work cleaning ourselves up, but rather the gospel saves us, sanctifies us, and holds us firm to the end.
So James is not arguing that now that we have faith let’s get to work on our works. He cannot be arguing that way. To argue that way would belittle the cross of Christ and mean we are fools and there is nothing for us in the sacrifice of Christ, that we are still enslaved to the law we’ve never been able to accomplish, right? You know that, right? Do we need to do the Ten Commandments thing again? Do we not? We don’t. Okay, so you fail all 10 of them. If you’re a guest, you go through all 10 and you fail. Zero. You don’t get to make up.
God is not interested in self-esteem. He’s not going to go, “Oh, you made a zero. Try it again.” You’re always going to make a zero on that. We cannot, weak as we are in the flesh, fulfill the law. One of the reasons the law was given is show you you can’t, that you do need a righteousness that’s greater than your own, namely the righteousness of Christ. So James is not arguing that works must be added to faith, but rather his argument here is that genuine biblical faith will inevitably be characterized by works.
Now before we get going and you start getting out your notepad and getting ready to list out the works you have to add to your faith, let me define two terms. Here’s the first. I want to talk about what faith is. All right, here’s faith. Faith trusts God and faith obeys God. We’ll talk more about why it has to be defined by that as we make our way through this text, but faith trusts God and it obeys God. If it doesn’t trust God and if it doesn’t seek to obey him even imperfectly, it’s not there. But that’s James’ argument in about three points, that it’s dead.
Then I want to define works. Is James talking about the Torah? Is he talking about the Law? Is he talking about the Ten Commandments? Well, earlier in chapter 1, you saw James talk about the royal law of love, and so he’s going to argue really from Christ’s perspective. So here’s how we’ll define works. Works is a life of loving God and loving others. There is your works.
Now as I’ve said from week one to now, this week right here, what God is looking for is progress not perfection. No one in this room is going to perfectly love God and perfectly love others. Did anybody fail at that this week? Let’s go ahead and do it. All right, so if you don’t have your hands up, you now can check off that “I’m a liar” thing on the Ten Commandments and prove my point.
So everyone in this room we’re saying that faith without works is dead. It’s ineffective, it cannot save, and that ultimately it is useless, and yet right here in this room we just all of us, 100 percent, confessed, “I have not loved God and loved people like I ought this week.”
So hear me. My argument will not be, cannot be, must never be that you must add works to your faith to validate your faith, but rather legitimate faith leads to an ongoing love of God and an ongoing love of others as imperfectly executed as it might be, and where those two things do not exist I would not enter into rest that is not yours to enter in.
But with that said, let’s walk into this. Faith without works is useless, it cannot save, it is ineffective, and it is dead. Let’s start with the first. It is useless. Faith without works is useless. So if you say you have faith, if you say you trust God and you say you’re going to obey God and your life is marked by loving God and loving others and there’s no movement in that, it’s useless.
Look at the illustration starting in verse 15. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food…” Now let me just talk to you for a second. When it says “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,” he’s not saying he’s wearing a Knights of the Round Table polo instead of a Polo polo. Right? It’s not poorly clothed as in “Got that at Wal-Mart.” That’s not what he’s saying here.
He’s not saying a brother is not fashionable; he’s saying this person who’s a part of the covenant community has fallen on the type of times in their life where they’re not able to survive from day to day. They are naked and cannot eat. They are completely and utterly in trouble.
What good is it if “…a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ’Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body…” Here’s his question. “…what good is that?” What good is that? See, where there is perceived faith with no works, it’s useless and God does not minister through both the one in abundance and the one in need.
So when we say that faith without works is useless, in James’ illustration that cuts two ways. Here are the two ways it cuts. For the poor man, he receives blessings from the Lord. For the destitute man who is unable to eat and unable to clothe himself and his family, he is ministered to, encouraged, loved on by God via the wealth of the saints, and the wealthy man is used by God in profound ways to minister to those who are hurting among them.
See, I think that where faith isn’t active things start to really break down in a hurry. Here’s what I mean by that. If you have been given by God, you have not been given by God so you might constantly be increasing the size of your house and car and barn and 401(k). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of that as much as I’m saying that’s not the primary purpose by which you have been blessed by God. You have been blessed by God to live an open-handed life that shows you are not enslaved to those blessings but rather are grateful for them.
See, what happens when faith is static, it’s not moving, is that we have a tendency to become spiritually constipated. Are you tracking with me? Don’t make me draw that out anymore than I did. Just those two words are all I’m going to give you. You have been blessed by God, and are now to be a conduit through which the blessings of God flow. You rob yourself when you’re uppermost in your own affections while disguising it in religious language, because that’s certainly what this person just did.
He just said, “Hey, God bless you, brother in your nakedness. You’re not going to survive the day. Children starving to death. Be warmed. Hey, do you know what you should do? You should eat dinner. That’s what I would do. If I were you, I’d put some drawers on and I’d eat some dinner. God bless you.” What good is that to the one in trouble and what good is that to the one who has been blessed by God to help his brother in the day of trouble? Faith without works is useless.
In fact, we see here (and Beau pointed this out several weeks ago), James tends to mirror the teaching of Christ in some places identically. I think this section in particular mirrors Matthew 25:40-43. If you know this text, Jesus is telling the parable about separating out the sheep and the goats and saying to the sheep, “Hey, you fed me. You cared for me. You visited me in prison. You came.” Then to the goats, he says, “You never did that.” I’ll read the text to you. Matthew 25:40-43.
“And the King will answer them, ’Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ’Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 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.’”
So Jesus’ point and now James’ point is that as we experience the grace and mercy of God, as we rest in that saving faith alone, our heart begins to be transformed and changed so that our love for God starts to translate into a love for people. That our love for God translates into a love for people. It’s not a love for people that makes us love God but rather a love for God that translates into a love for people…look right at me…an imperfectly executed love for people.
People are hard, huh? There are some people I don’t like. Anybody? You just leave me up here hanging with my hand up? There are people I don’t like. Do you have anybody in your life you avoid if you see them? Go ahead unless you’re sitting next to them. So look at this. This is hard, and if you did, you failed this morning in your trying to maneuver.
Here we are. We’re being honest about the difficulty of this. The answer to the difficulty of people is not to just try to make it work, but rather to fall more deeply in love with Christ. How’s that possible? But for faith. Faith without works is useless. Here’s the scary one and the one in which we’ll spend the most amount of time. Faith without works cannot save us. It’s mentioned in a couple of places, but the argument is in 17-25, so let’s read this.
“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ’You have faith and I have works.’” Okay, so here’s what he has done. James has just interjected an antagonist into the letter. I don’t know him personally, but if James is passive-aggressive, this brother is actually in the church that this letter will be written to. All right? He’s like, “Let’s just say hypothetically speaking there was a guy who would say that faith and works are two separate things and shouldn’t be tied together in any way.”
So that’s what he has just done. It’s a form of argument where he would say, “Someone would say. I don’t know, maybe Bill. Somebody here would say…” So it’s a form of argument. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Here’s James’ dissecting of this trying to parse apart faith and works.
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ’Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith [that is] alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”
So this antagonist James has introduced into the argument is saying, “Now faith and works are separate. They’re just two different things. If you get those things too close together, it’s dangerous. So you have works, James, but I just have faith that the Lord will save me.” That’s the argument. So here’s James’ argument against such an idea. The first one is this. “Okay, you have faith. That’s great. Show me. Show me.”
If I could make it simple… You’re sitting in a chair. There’s an aspect of faith for you sitting down, correct? My wife collects antiques. That collects probably is overstated. She buys old chairs and decorates the house with them. I don’t know if your spouse does something like that. So there are chairs in my house I have no faith in. Maybe that’s a good way to say that. There are chairs… She’s like, “Just sit there.” I’m not sitting there. I know how that ends. That ends with me visiting the chiropractor. I’m not sitting in that chair.
Then these chairs. I have no problem sitting in these chairs. They’re made of steel. Right? So here’s James’ argument. James is saying, “Hey, you’re saying you believe that the chair will hold you. Well then, have a seat. I’ll show you I believe the chair will hold me by having a seat. Mr. Antagonist, have a seat. Do you believe the chair will hold you?”
“I absolutely believe the chair will hold me.”
“Well, have a seat.”
“Well, you know, I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure of what?”
“I’m not sure I want to sit down.”
“But you’re sure the chair will hold you.”
“Absolutely confident that that chair will hold me.”
“Well, have a seat, brother.”
“Can we just stand and talk though? I’ve had some stuff back early in my life where I’ve had some issues with chairs. Do you think maybe we could just stand and talk for a bit?”
“I mean, we can, but surely you’re eventually going to get tired. When you get tired, would you like to have a seat?”
“Yeah, I don’t know, man.”
“Well, do you not believe the chair will hold you?”
“Well, I mean, I do. What’s it made out of?”
“Steel, brother. You’re 130 pounds. This is steel. You should be fine. Have a seat.”
“I’m just not sure.”
Right? So James’ argument is, “Have a seat. I’ll show you I trust the chair. I’ll sit down.” Then he moves from this idea of “Show me faith without works.” How does that even look? What is that? So here’s what a clever man will do. A clever man will say, “Well, I intellectually, mentally believe what is doctrinally true about the person and work of Christ.”
Now, you’re not going to slip something past the Bible and the arguments in the Bible for the good of your soul and the glory of God. So James immediately goes to where we want to go. “Well, I intellectually believe what’s true about Christ. I believe the physics of the chair being able to hold me. I can see this is steel. I know steel is strong. I can see the structure of the chair is sound. So I don’t need to sit down because I can see the chair will clearly hold me.”
Well, James immediately dives into that argument. “You believe God is one? You do well, but even the demons believe that’s a chair and they shudder.” Intellectual assent to correct doctrine is not salvation. Look right at me. Intellectual assent to correct doctrine is not salvation.
See, this is where you come across the brother who knows a lot of doctrine, but his heart is all dry and crusty and crispy, and he uses doctrine as a club to whip people and beat them into submission, and his pride is built, his rootedness is found in his knowing the Bible better than you. No real love for God. No real love for people. He’s just smart. That smartness at times might betray him.
Because James knows the argument. If you say you trust the chair, have a seat. It’s to argue about the structure of the chair and how the chair actually works, and if I only trusted more in the structure of the chair then I wouldn’t even need to sit down. I could just, like him, say, “Well, the chair will hold me.” But see, I’m a weak man because I have to actually sit to find out. Right? That’s the argumentation.
James is going, “You believe God is one. Congrats. But even the demons believe that, and they’re not children of God. The demons believe that.” The demons have better theology than most pastors…this one included. They know more than I do, I can promise you. They know the Bible better than I do, I can promise you. Yet I have awaiting for me by faith alone what they can’t fathom, an eternity of reigning and ruling alongside the Creator of the universe. So they have correct doctrine, but it’s not saving doctrine.
Then finally, the third response for this idea of faith and works being these separate things, they have no business being anywhere near one another as James is going, “Okay, show me your faith then,” and then secondly, “Don’t just go intellectually. You have to sit in the chair. If you’re going to say you believe the chair will hold you, you have to sit in the chair,” and then finally he finds biblical support showing that the unity of the Bible is that faith alone saves you, but not faith that is alone.
He uses two illustrations. One shouldn’t surprise us at all, right? The first is Father Abraham, right? He had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord. Do you remember that? If you didn’t grow up in church, you’re so lost right now, but if you did, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So Father Abraham showing up in this text as a defense for James’ argument being written primarily to Jews should not surprise us, but Rahab the prostitute? There are no songs about Rahab. Anybody remember the Rahab the prostitute song? You don’t! There’s not one, and yet how important and beautiful is this woman in the lineage of our salvation! I love that Rahab stands here.
What you have is the argument that Abraham revealed he trusted God by sitting down in the chair. So Abraham had faith. “God has given me an heir. Through that heir the nations, the world is going to be blessed.” God says, “Let’s sacrifice that promise on the altar,” and Abraham by faith put his son on the donkey and headed up the hill even as Isaac said, “Dad, where’s the ram?” “The Lord will provide.” With trepidation, trust, and hope, he headed up the mountain, and the Bible tells us he bound his son.
Can you imagine? Don’t dehumanize these people. He bound his son and was prepared to sacrifice when the Lord stepped in and said, “Don’t.” See, Abraham trusted God. How do we know? Because he took the promise up on the hill. Abraham had faith that the Word of God would come into its fullness. How do we know? Because he took Isaac up on the hill, because he bound him, and he was ready to be fully obedient to God, trusting that God is able.
Then really, after that moment, we don’t see any more of the kind of foolish wickedness Abraham was marked by in his early life when he lied and said, “Hey, that’s not my wife. That’s my sister. Abimelech, you can have her. Just don’t kill me.” I just have to believe that that came up for the rest of their marriage. I mean, you don’t whore your wife out to save your own skin and not hear about that in arguments in the future, right?
So Abraham. It’s not a surprise he’s here. After this moment, his faith in the Lord is robust. We don’t have any of that silliness his early life was marked by. Then we have Rahab. Now here’s what I need to do. I’ll set my Bible over here. I’m going to walk over here for a second. Rahab, one of my favorite biblical characters, is a prostitute in Jericho. No little girl dreams of being a prostitute when they grow up. You become a prostitute because very wicked, evil, demonic, deplorable things happen to you. You are used and abused, treated like a commodity, treated like a soulless recreational vehicle.
Rahab in Jericho, used and abused. Women were already treated as not even second-class citizens. What would a prostitute be if just women in the court were treated as second-hand citizens? Can you imagine the type of abuse she had to endure? The longings of her heart. Here are the spies being sent by Joshua to scout out Jericho. “We’re going to conquer this massive fortified city.” Rahab, having caught wind that the people of God, that salvation was coming, began to help the spies.
Then when she found out that word had gotten out the spies were there, she hid them and then redirected them and put her faith, her small faith that this God would usher in what is new, that this God would usher in a new beginning for her. I love that Rahab is here because what I feel is probably happening right now. It’s your waiting for me to get to that list of things you must do. How simple was Rahab’s step? Hide them.
“Well, God, what if they come in here and use me? What if they show up and take advantage of me? What if they treat me like a cow or like some commodity?”
“Trust me, Rahab.”
“Okay, hide over here. Remember me when your God gives you this city.” Rahab finds herself in the lineage of our Savior, and therefore is our family. It was just a step. Faith without works cannot save you. What do I mean by works? You saying, “I’m a Christian,” with no love for God that leads to love for others as imperfectly as that is executed means you should stop calling yourself a Christian. I love you. You’re not one.
See, I’ve said this a lot. I think the most miraculous baptism testimonies we do start like this, “I grew up in a Christian home.” Like, are you serious, Chandler? I’m totally serious. Not the witch? No, the witch knows she’s a mess. Not the drug addict or the promiscuous. Of course, I know where that leads. It leads to heartbreak, so it makes sense for somebody to go, “I’ve been addicted to heroin for 10 years. It destroyed my life, and Christ saved me.” We should applaud and rejoice of the saving work of Christ.
But the kid who grew up in church picks up Christian jargon. He picks up Christian language. He knows, she knows what to say, when to say it, knows the behavioral expectations of the community, and it’s easy to play the part and not have a heart that loves Jesus. It’s easy for a bulk of your life to have your parents’ faith.
Now folks, just a side note real quick. I’m not encouraging you to not pour into your children and read the Word of God over them and help them with language and structures and understanding. I’m also telling you don’t freak out when they fail because one of the things I love seeing in my children’s wickedness is, hey, that can be regenerated. That can be regenerated. That type of sickness, that type of sin, that type of foolishness, that exposes their need for Christ.
Then from there, it can’t be lost what he just argued, so I’m going to just spell it out for you. James is saying, the Word of God is saying, that there are those who claim faith, they claim to be Christians. They are connected to the community of faith. They’re active in their church. They confess an orthodox faith. They’re even supporters of the faith, and they do not love God, and it has not led to loving others, and therefore they are not saved.
Are you ready? I’ll do it again. I know some of you are like, “Hey, bro, you started this thing with delight, man. It feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch here.” We’ll get there. There are those who claim faith who are connected to a community of faith. James is writing to people in the church who confess an orthodox faith, who are supporters of the faith.
If you went to their Facebook page, they would have all sorts of little links to cool YouTube religious clips. They’d have a favorite preacher, a favorite author. They’re in, but they don’t love God and that loving of God has not led to a loving of others, and James’ argument is, therefore, they are not Christians. They are not Christians.
So faith without works is useless. Faith without works cannot save. Then faith without works is ineffective. One of the things I’ve tried to lay before you again as often as I possibly can work it in is that all of the commands of God found in Scripture, every “Thou shalt not” and every “Thou shalt” is about God inviting you into the deepest life possible.
Every week of this James series I have said what God is doing in James is inviting you into the richest, most full life imaginable. He’s not trying to steal from you anything. He’s inviting you into all there is to have. In every family with a child you go through this season where you’re trying to convince the child that the pool is awesome, right? So the kid stands on the side of the pool, and what you do as a dad, as a mom, is you get real close. You’ll be like, “Come here. Jump to me. Jump to me.” They can clearly see (I’m 6’5“) that the water is up to my thighs. ”Jump to me.“
”I don’t know. Scoot closer.“ I’m like, ”My thighs are also touching the side. There is no closer.“ Then you can pick them up and get in the water, and they grip on, and they’re like, ”Ah!“ You’re trying to convince, ”Hey, this is awesome! You’re going to love this. There’s going to be a day I’m not going to be able to get you out of here without threat. Trust me. Jump into me.“
There’s fear and there’s nervousness. If you’re like me, you’re trying to reason. It’s like, ”Have I ever tried to drown you in the bathtub? Do you think I’m going to do it now publically in front of all these people? Jump to me. Look, if Dad wanted to kill you, he’d have done it already, all right? Now come on. Come to me.“ I’m just kidding.
This is what is happening here. When God says, ”Don’t,“ when God says, ”Do,“ when God says, ”Pursue me,“ the invitation is, ”All you want is found in this direction. Jump in. All you desire, all you hope for is this way.“ So we’re nervous like the kid standing on the side of the pool, and until you jump in, you’ll never really understand the delight of what it looks like to swim.
So faith without works is ineffective. If faith is meant to lead you into trusting God and obeying God and loving God in such a way that it flows out into love of others, the invitation isn’t a bunch of, ”Quit doing this and start doing this,“ but it’s, ”See me, love me, pursue me, chase me.“ This is why if you wonder why I’m constantly going, ”Look up. Quit looking at you. Of course you’re a failure at this,“ it’s because of this right here.
Then lastly, faith without works is dead. This is a strong statement. He uses it twice in this passage. What he’s arguing is that faith without works is not merely outwardly inoperative but rather inwardly dead. He’s saying faith without works isn’t faith. I’ll let Charles Spurgeon give us a good illustration here. Spurgeon was the pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, a massive church in its day. Upwards to 10,000 with no amplification. Just a total beast.
Here’s what he said about this passage. ”A tree has been planted out into the ground. Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree stands in the orchard, and when the springtime comes there is no bud, and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing, but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are correct; it is dead.
It is not that the leaves could have made it live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead. So, too, is it with the professor.“ Those who say they have faith but have not works. ”If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one.“ Do you hear Spurgeon’s argument? It’s not the leaf and apple that make the tree alive; it’s that the tree is alive that produces leaves and apples. So there is no list.
Maybe this illustration in closing might serve us. After my conversion, a man who was discipling me gave me this sentence. Discipline not desire determines destiny. I love that sentence. I think if that sentence is applied into certain areas of life it’s effective and helpful and good. A disciplined life is a good life. It’s a terrible sentence to put on your relationship with Christ. No, no, it’s desire that leads to discipline that determines destiny.
I love my wife. I love her. Her name is Lauren. We’ve been married quite some time now. I love her, and that love drives in my life discipline. I’m disciplined about date nights. I am disciplined about doing certain things around the house because I know she likes them. I’m not doing those things in order to make me love her. Are you tracking?
It’s not like I get up in the morning going, ”Man, I’m really not feeling Lauren right now. I mean, I wish I could get out of this marriage. I have no feelings for her anymore except contempt. I know! I’ll clean the kitchen, and if I clean the kitchen then I’ll love Lauren and Lauren will love me back.“ That sounds idiotic, doesn’t it? Does everybody agree that sounds idiotic? Like, ”I just have nothing but contempt for my wife. I know! I’ll take her out on a date. I’ll spend time with her in my contempt for her.“ I mean, that’s just going to do nothing but exacerbate contempt. Right?
No, no, no. It’s my delight in her that drives the discipline; not the discipline that drives the delight. So what are the works of the saint? To know the Lord and to love the Lord. So how do we do that? When Peter preaches in Acts 2, at the end of his sermon, the crowd just cries out, ”Just tell us what to do!“ Then he says, ”Repent and be baptized.“
What would I tell you to do? What I’ve tried to tell you to do for 12 years. Position yourself under the waterfall of God’s grace. The importance of the gathering, the importance of Christian community, the importance of the Word of God, the importance of prayer is not that those things save you or that those things in and of themselves are a type of fruit that verifies you’re a Christian, because we’ve already covered you can be doctrinally astute and not a believer. No, no, no. These things fuel an understanding of the Lord and love for the Lord.
See, one of the things that happens as I spend time with my wife is I get to know her more deeply. Here’s what’s interesting about Lauren. Lauren just keeps changing. She keeps growing. She keeps progressing in life, and so there’s always something new to learn about her and to appreciate in her and to marvel at God’s work in her. In the same way as God is an inexhaustible well, there’s always something else to marvel at, always something else we’re just now starting to understand.
Now how many of you have followed the Lord 12 years or longer now? Yeah, now put your hands down. Now how many of you even now are coming across things in the Word of God, coming across things in your prayer life, coming across things in your relationship with the Lord that are like wowing you because you didn’t see it that way, you didn’t get it? So go ahead and raise your hand on that one. So here we are. There’s always something new. So we do these things not in order to love him but rather they fuel our love, inform our love for him.
The works faith creates is a love for God that leads to a love for others, imperfectly executed but present. So I can with full confidence tell you this. If there’s no inkling mustard seed of love for him, if other people for you are a means to an end, they exist for you and there’s no real love for them, stop calling yourself a Christian. You’re not one.
I don’t care if you got baptized when you were 6 years old because your dad told you about hell. I don’t care if you walked down an aisle and prayed a prayer with a pastor. If there’s not even a mustard seed of love for the Lord, you’re not a Christian. You haven’t been given a new heart.
Now on that delight piece, here’s where I’m fighting for your delight. Because if you came in here all banged up and beat up, trying to serve the Lord, feeling like there’s no fuel for that, no real love for the Lord, this could be a simple season of desert weariness, or it could be you’ve never confessed and repented and asked the Lord to reign and rule in your life.
So the delight that’s offered to you today is that door to walk through. See, I’m not a fool. Our first chairman of the elders was saved when he was the deacon at another church. Deacons getting saved? How does that work? Well again, we already read what James argues. The reason a sermon like this that just basically goes, ”Hey, question your assurance,“ really is the opportunity to delight in the saving work of Christ, because if you just got exposed you got exposed by the sovereign King of glory as a type of invitation into assurance.
One of the things I want to do today, the reason I’ve pared back this message because it could’ve been much longer, is I want to give you some time to consider before we dive into the elements. So I’m going to pray, and as I pray, men and women are going to begin to hand out the elements around Communion. We’re not done, so don’t jet out. This is an extremely important Sunday to not bail.
When I say amen, they’re going to begin to hand out the elements, and then I’m going to give you about five minutes to just consider the things that have been said. Give you about five minutes to just consider and weigh your heart to do the hard work of diving in and going, ”Is there a mustard seed of love for the Lord? Is there a mustard seed of affection being given towards others, compassion towards others? Or is none of that present?“
If not, I want to give you just the opportunity to cry out to the Lord for salvation. The same truth you celebrated can be yours not intellectually, but yours spiritually. That should be the desire of our hearts. Not intellectual assent; internal transformation. One little step at a time. Let’s pray.
Father, for the weak and weary, will you encourage their hearts? Those whose faith feels so weak, I pray you remind them that according to Jesus a mustard seed of faith will eventually become a tree so large that birds of prey perch in it, and mustard seed faith can move mountains. So I pray they not feel condemned or weighted down by their tiny speck of faith, but rather that that tiny speck of faith might lead to a deep assurance and delight in you.
But I do pray for those who have learned Christian language, they have learned Christian behavior, they have learned Christian posture, but they do not know you. I pray you would not let them escape today, that you would lovingly expose and that you would lovingly reveal their need for you, their need for repentance, their need for salvation. Help us. It’s for your beautiful name, I pray, amen.
A couple of things on Communion as they begin to pass those out. We practice open Communion here. What we mean by that is if you are a believer in Christ in good standing with the church you’re visiting us from, please celebrate the Table with us. We are heirs of God together in Christ, and so it’d be foolish not to celebrate what Jesus has done for us.
But I would like to ask this. If you’re not a Christian, and I don’t mean you’re wrestling with what has been said this morning. I mean, you know that even as I talked, ”Whatever. Hurry up. Got lunch. Not interested.“ If that’s you, will you just abstain? This will not make you lucky, and this will not forgive any of your sins. It’s grape juice and a cracker, but to those of us who have been bought by the blood of Christ, it is a sacred and profound moment of remembering all God has done for us in Christ via faith alone.
So as they pass out the elements, here’s what I want to give. I want to give you just four or five minutes here to consider, to think, to mull over what the Word of God has said so we might partake together as a family with all the more boldness and confidence in his saving work by faith alone. If it has been revealed in the last 35-40 minutes that we are not Christians, then might we cry out for salvation and find the Lord to be near and at the ready.
Just want to lead us in a couple of prayers here. Would you just keep your head bowed and eyes closed? I want to give us the opportunity. If there is persistent and willful neglect to put sin to death in our lives, let’s spend a moment or two confessing that. Where there is secret sin, where we do not take sin seriously in our lives, we play with it, try to train it, justify it, deny it, let’s spend just a moment or two here confessing before the Lord.
Where there is willful and consistent neglect to pursue a love relationship with the Lord, let’s spend some time confessing that, asking the Lord to fan into flame the hope he has put into us. Let’s ask the Lord to increase our confidence in his saving work, to give us eyes to see whether that mustard seed of faith is there. Not intellectual assent, not church attendance, not right doctrine. Whether that mustard seed of love for him and others is present.
Give us clarity, Father, and it’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.
The Bible says that on the night Jesus was arrested, he took the bread and he broke it, and he said, ”This is my body broken for you, paying for all of your sins. Do this in remembrance of me.“ In that same night after dinner, he took the cup, and he blessed it. One of the things about the Table of the Lord is it’s one of the things that actually should fuel our delight in the Lord. It should fuel our faith to love and trust him because it’s a reminder that he is for us and not against us. It’s a reminder that he is better. It’s a reminder that he has covered our sins.
The reason this moment in our service is so important is because what are doing here except remembering there’s no sin with more power than the cross. He took the cup and he blessed it. He said, ”This is the blood of the new covenant, my spilled blood shed for you. Don’t forget it.“
Father, we confess just in closing today that you are better. Jesus, you are better. You’re better than any treasure, any pursuit, any other desire of our heart. So even as we begin to sing, Jesus, that you are better, would you take that truth just out of our minds alone and will you drop it down into our gut so we would feel and understand and be transformed by the reality you are better. There is no pursuit, no treasure worth more than knowing you and loving you. Help us. It’s for your beautiful name, amen.
Love you guys.