I chose that song as an intro today to remind you of what we talked about last week. I know that many of you were not here last week. It was one of those perfect storms where everyone is gone on the same day, but you missed a very important message if you weren’t here and didn’t catch it online. Last week we covered the first week of How to Be the Church. We went through the first chapter of James where he lays out a very important and probably the most important scripture in the bible for people who call themselves Christ followers. In fact, I made an argument that this one verse is the test of who is a true believer and who is just pretending.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
The KJV says that we are to be DOERS of the Word and not listeners only. I talked at length about that last week, but I thought it warranted reminding this week. We no longer have volunteers here at Reality, we have DOERS. Because it’s not pew sitters who change the world, DOERS DO. Therefore, we will be a church of DOERS.
In fact, in a few weeks, on June 5th, we are holding a DOERS DISCUSSION! It’s going to happen effectively at the same time as the pot luck, and this time only DOERS are invited (and perhaps guests that day who know nothing about that). If you are a listener only and intend to stay that way, then you may not want to come to this one, because we will be talking a lot about what Reality DOERS WILL BE DOING and we will actually expect self proclaimed DOERS TO COMMIT TO DOING SOMETHING. So, if you do call yourself a doer And not just a listener only(and if you are a member, you definitely fall into that category), then you really need to plan to be there. That’s June 5th after service at the potluck.
If this announcement ahead of time surprises you, I understand.
In the past we would try to surprise you when we did a big push for volunteers (I mean doers), because we didn’t want anyone to skip that Sunday because we were going to ask for more participation than sitting in the seats. Well, here at Reality, we’re done playing that game. We’re all adults. Most of us are Christ Followers. I’d rather treat you with respect. So, this time we are promoting it. We’re telling you in advance, so you can make an informed decision whether you will come and be a doer, or settle for being a listener. We don’t want to catch anyone unawares and be accused of guilting people into obeying God’s Word. I hope to see you there. June 5th potluck. It will be a discussion about the future of volunteering/doing here at Reality and what part you, the doers, will play in that.
Enough about that, let’s see what else James has to say about how to BE THE CHURCH.
Today we are getting into the second chapter of James, which begins with another thing we are supposed to be doing. Or rather something we should stop doing.
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
You can picture this scene easily in the modern church, right? Two people come in the doors. One is well dressed, clean, smiling and looking successful. The other is clearly homeless, dirty, and probably doesn’t smell very good. What happens?
Sadly, in many churches, one would be welcomed with open arms and given a tour of the place, while the other is ignored and possibly even forced from the premises. And without me specifying, I’m sure you each assumed it was the homeless man that was treated poorly rather than given a tour. Why?
Because this kind of prejudice is inside of all of us. It’s just like in that movie, “A Time to Kill” from the 90’s. If you don’t recall the movie, there is a scene when Matthew McConaughey (the lawyer) asks the jury to close their eyes and picture what he’s describing. The trial is about a black man who killed two white men who had raped his 10 year old daughter. And McConaughey is describing the rape of the little girl to the jury, in detail I won’t get into here. You can tell the jury people are squirming as he talks them through it. Some are in tears as he talks about the horrors this little black girl went through. Then he says something totally unexpected: “Now imagine the little girl is white!” To which most of the jurors open their eyes with looks of shock and horror – no doubt at the obvious difference it made in their own hearts and minds picturing a little white girl being raped – one that could easily be their own daughter (the jury was all white) – rather than a little black girl that obviously couldn’t.
While it’s just a movie, it certainly captures the truth about our humanity. We are inherently prejudice. We almost can’t help it. And not just prejudice about color of skin or rich or poor, but a whole number of things. We size people up. We create a whole profile on a person with just a look. A profile that includes that person’s value and we treat them accordingly.
And James is telling us that this kind of treatment of others is NOT OK.
Remember, he’s talking to a group of Jews who had recently been scattered from their homes due to persecution from the people who used to be their leaders. They had put their faith in Christ and were getting the same treatment he got.
And while James began the letter in chapter one with some encouragement about going through trials, the rest of the letter is anything but coddling. In fact, if you read the New Testament and realize that it’s mostly letters from pastors to churches, you will realize that the modern church has become quite soft. Those early preachers spent most of their time pointing out their member’s faults and calling them to task!
And here, James is calling his people to task. He’s saying, yea you’re in less than desirable circumstances, but that doesn’t give you an excuse for being prejudice and treating other believers differently based on stupid superficial reasons.
Because we are all equal before the eyes of God! God is no respecter of persons, and we are now his children through our faith in his Son, and therefore WE should resemble our father and treat everyone equally too.
Paul talks of this in Romans 2
11 For God does not show favoritism.
Then he specifies…
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Paul is specifically talking about Jews right now and making the point that they are not called righteous just because they are born into the nation of Israel – that would be God playing favorites. You are only righteous if you obey His law! Jew or Gentile makes no difference to God.
Paul is also speaking specifically about salvation BEFORE Christ, which was though obeying the Law of Moses. Something that NO ONE could do. Which is why Jesus Came, and Paul continues
21 But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Again, impartiality is shown in the cross. ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Black, white, yellow, orange, green, and purple. Rich, poor, man, woman, slave, free, old, young, short, tall, thin, and chubby. ALL HAVE SINNED, AND THUS LOOK THE SAME TO GOD – AS DESPERATE SINNERS.
And likewise, ALL ARE JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
All people are equally in need to God’s grace, and all people have equal access to it. It’s just on you and me to accept it or reject it. And if God himself is this impartial with people, then so should we be. We should look at every other human as being just as lost without God as ourselves and worthy of our respect and love.
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
Sadly, this was a common reality of that culture. Still is today in some parts of the middle east. It’s effectively the caste system, which is completely foreign to us in America. The rich and the poor were not seen as merely more and less lucky with money, but as literally more and less WORTHY of wealth because of something inherently wrong in the poor person and inherently right in the rich person. And so, for the rich, they liked this very much and abused the poor, because they obviously deserved it. And James is saying to these new Christians that they are not to be like that. That there is no inherent difference between the people who are rich and the people who are poor.
James adds the comment: 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
It is a sad truth back then and still today that it is hard for the rich to follow Jesus. Jesus knew this.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s not that it’s impossible for the rich to enter heaven. It’s just impossible for them to enter with all their worldly wealth in tow. And many rich are unwilling to let go. Like the rich young ruler that came to Jesus hopeful but walked away sad when he realized he would have to give up his wealth.
And it’s not that Jesus wants us poor. He just wants us to trust HIM instead of our wealth, which is easier for most when they just don’t have any.
So, James is saying, don’t act like the rich of that day who are self-important and look down on the poor, but recognize we are all made of the same stuff. Then he continues.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Remember he’s speaking to Jews who up until this point had based their whole life on following God’s law as perfectly as possible. It was a very bad thing to be called a “lawbreaker” so they did their best to keep up with it all. Of course their esteemed leaders didn’t help by multiplying God’s law by adding hundreds of man-made “buffer” type laws. James is saying that if you really, no kidding, actually kept the “royal” law of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you really did that, then you are good to go. But, if you don’t , then you are just as much of a lawbreaker as a murderer. So, quit being so high and mighty. Instead…
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,
Here James is saying that his audience should stop trying to please the old law of condemnation and failure, but instead live as if being judged by the Gospel – the law of freedom. Speak and act, not in accordance with a list of rules and regulations – but actually live the Christian life, which is guided by the Spirit and you will be obeying all the Laws that God wants! He’s saying, don’t try to break down what it means to love your neighbor and see where the boundaries are, what you are responsible for and what you are not. Just LOVE your neighbor. Treat them as you want to be treated, because they are equal to you in God’s eyes. Just as hopeless as you, and hopefully just as saved. And if they are not, who are you to withhold the truth from them with your prejudices?
This is what a true Christ Follower will be like. This is what the church should be like.
Next, James finishes this section with a warning. A reminder that this is not just a bunch of good advice. This is the EXPECTATION of those who are now in Christ.
13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Judgment without mercy if you are not merciful with others. It’s the same thing Jesus said
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
2 In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
I’ve spoken on this before. Don’t think God is cool with you accepting all of his wonderful mercy and forgiveness and then withholding it from others.
So, in the first half of James 2, he is making it clear that we are not to show partiality with people. We are not to treat some people well and others poorly. We should give everyone an equal chance to know God and we should not stand in their way with our misplaced prejudices.
Now, 30 years ago, that’s where this explanation could stop. Everyone knew what it was to be prejudice based on superficial things like skin color and socio-economic standing. But in our modern culture the waters have been muddied quite a bit in this area. The meanings of words have been changed. And now it’s not enough to be impartial with regard to race and such, now we must be tolerant and affirming of any and all BEHAVIORS. The idea of impartiality has expanded to include demanding that the church be welcoming and accepting of lifestyles clearly condemned in Scripture FOR BELIEVERS. That is not what James is talking about here. Scripture does not contradict scripture. So when James says that we should not discriminate, he is not giving a blanket command to the church to allow any and all types of BEHAVIORS in the church, but only types of PEOPLE. Unfortunately, today people can’t even tell the difference between what is a behavior versus a state of being.
That is why while we must not be discriminating, we must be discerning. We must know God’s Word – ALL OF IT. So that we don’t read one passage and make a bunch of assumptions based on our modern culture that is not actually included in the text. We must combine it with the rest of Scripture to get a clear picture of the full intended meaning.
And James here is only advocating for impartiality when it comes to people’s state of being. No one human is better or more valuable to God than another. But he is NOT advocating for tolerating and affirming everyone’s insistence on deviant behavior. The rest of the New Testament makes it clear there are lines we don’t cross, and people we don’t associate with. We’re not talking about lost people. If they do not belong to Christ, we cannot judge them and should welcome them with open arms so that they might come to know him. BUT people who claim to be believers but live a life completely contradictory to God’s Word – Paul says we are not to associate with them. Look it up. 1 Corinthians 5.
Do not be deceived by the lies of our culture.
If you have questions, I’ll be happy to talk with you, but there’s more James to get through today.
Next, James gets into one of my favorite parts of scripture. If you were here last week, it’s going to sound pretty familiar.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
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.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Few passages in scripture have been debated more than these.
Many people see this and think that James is directly contradicting Paul when he says:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
James says faith without works is dead. Paul says we are saved by faith and not works. So, which is it? The answer is that both are true if you have your concept of faith and salvation correct. One place that so many go wrong is in taking this quote in Ephesians a little out of context. If you continue to the next verse, it’s easy to see that Paul and James are in agreement.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Notice that it’s not the works that save you, but clearly we are saved (created in Christ Jesus) TO DO GOOD WORKS.
Many people are confused about this, but I would argue that the confusion is not so much over WORKS. But that people are generally confused about what FAITH is and subsequently what SALVATION itself is. I believe there is a very dangerous misconception about salvation that unfortunately many preachers actually sell. And it’s that misconception that causes the confusion between Paul and James for people.
Let me illustrate.
Some people think of salvation like going to a travel agency and ordering a ticket to heaven. When the bill comes you find that it’s already been paid for. You are elated and excited. You pocket the ticket and go back home and live the rest of your life how you want with promises of an easy and wonderful life. If that’s how you view salvation, then what James is saying will definitely confuse you. You’ve heard all your life that all I have to do is believe and say a prayer and BAM, I’m on my way to heaven and nothing more is required. I’m sorry to tell you, but that is not salvation at all. That’s a consumeristic distortion of God’s Word. The idea that salvation is just a one-time transaction that pays for your sins and gets you a one way ticket to heaven with nothing else required of you is flat out wrong and nowhere found in Scripture.
The salvation we find in scripture is more like you are walking through an endless baron wasteland and come upon a walled city. You go up to the gate and ask what it takes to get in. The guy at the door says that it’s totally free, but once you walk through the door you will not be the same person you are right now. Because this here is a Kingdom. And in a Kingdom, the king rules – not you. Out in the nomad wasteland, you can be your own king (which I can see is working out real nice for you). But in here, we do things His way.
I can see you’re getting a little antsy, well let me set you at ease. Our king is amazing. He’s not a tyrant. Instead, He’s all about love. He actually loves us. Yes, he demands his own way, but trust me my friend – his ways are better than ours. I’ve seen it time and again. He just seems to always know what the right way to go is, and when we follow him, things work out. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Yea, it’s free.
Well, it’s not exactly free. Actually it cost quite a bit to let you in here. But you don’t have to pay it. You see, the king himself actually paid it for you. In fact, he died to pay it for you. Why? Because he loves you. But don’t worry, he came back to life so we could all have this kingdom together. He likes to be with us.
So, do you want in or not?
All you have to do is believe all of what I just said (especially the part about him rising from the dead – I got proof if you need it) and say and mean that Jesus (that’s the king’s name) is your Lord, your King, your master, and you are in! Yea, it’s going to be a lot different than what you’re used to. It’s a whole new worldview. And yes, he expects obedience. But here’s the best part. He actually changes you so much, that you now WANT to obey Him and you will find that you have something of a helper inside of you, helping you live the way the king wants. If you just let go and let it happen and trust him, man there’s nothing better. So, what about it, you in or not? No, you can’t bring that in here. All you can bring is yourself. You’re about to have a whole new life and the King provides everything you need.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I hope you get the picture. Salvation is not a transaction with Jesus where He gives you a golden ticket and says “See ya when you get to heaven!”
Salvation is entering into a whole new life. It’s leaving the baron wasteland that is your life without Christ and it’s entering His Kingdom. It’s coming under His rule. It’s inviting the Holy Spirit to take up residence and take over control of your life.
So that’s salvation. If you have a wrong understanding of salvation, there’s no way to understand how James and Paul are saying the same thing.
Now let’s talk about faith. Faith is more than intellectual believing.
Faith in God is ultimately and simply trust in God. Saving faith is the faith that trusts in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. It’s trusting that what He did on the cross was enough. It’s trusting that he did indeed rise from the dead. But saving faith does not stop there. It can’t. It’s not a one time transaction. It’s a lifetime commitment. True faith says “Lead me Lord and I will follow. I don’t have to know where we’re going, just tell me where to step.” That’s serious trust.
So how can you know if you have that kind of trust? Well, it’s kind of like the wind. You can’t see the wind itself, but you can see its effects. If you see branches swinging around and you feel it on your face, then you know that wind is present. Likewise, God does not take that kind of trust claim and do nothing with it. He will tell you to move.
James uses the example of Abraham. Abraham was given probably the ultimate test of faith. God told him to go sacrifice his only son. The son that was born to him in old age from a promise from God. Most of us would surrender our faith in an instant if God asked that of us, but Abraham didn’t hesitate. He trusted God so much that he would literally do whatever God told him. And his trust was rewarded because God stopped him before he actually killed his son and then he blessed Abraham in great ways. If you read the whole story, it becomes clear that Abraham actually trusted that God would not let him go through with it – but he was going to go until God stopped him. That’s serious trust.
When you have faith, it’s not merely believing the stories and believing that God exits. James points out that even the demons do that. Faith is more than believing. It’s believing that results in doing, because God never sits on our faith. He moves us like wind moves a branch. And if you don’t move, then it means you really don’t have faith. Hence, faith without any outworking – works – is dead. It’s like Jesus is standing out on the water and saying – “So, you say you trust me? Walk out on the water.” If you truly trust him, you’ll do it. If you trust your senses and your knowledge of gravity and buoyancy more, then you won’t.
It works the same in human relationships. You can claim you trust someone all day long, but it’s not until you do something based solely on trusting that person that the trust is truly exercised.
This really comes back full circle to the listening vs. doing. God has all kinds of action items in His word. These are the things that He wants you to do or not do if you trust him. If you are a listener only, what that really means is that you trust your own judgment more than God’s Word. You listen. You take it in. But you make no changes. Why, because you don’t trust Him. Or you don’t love Him. Either way, it’s disobedience.
James has it two places here in his letter that a true believer is a DOER. A true faith results in outward expression of that faith. As James says, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. If you can’t look back on your Christian life and point out times when you did something for the sole reason that you knew God wanted you to and you were trusting him, then you may want to do a self assessment about just how much you actually do trust God. If it’s never accompanied by action, then it’s not really trust.
I’m going to get a little personal now. A little real.
As some of you know, I’ve spent the majority of the last two weeks in bed. It began shortly after church on Mother’s Day, I came down with a hard case of strep throat. I was in bed with a fever and couldn’t swallow for three days. I felt a bit better on Thursday that week, but still stayed in bed. Friday morning I felt great, except for this surprise little pain in my left ankle. I decided to ignore it and spent the day limping around taking care of some stuff around the house. Saturday morning it hurt like crazy, but I could still limp on it. Sunday you saw I was on crutches, but I still limped on it at Josh and Lauren’s wedding. Monday it was swollen and I could no longer walk on it. So I spent the entire last week in my bed with it propped up. The few times I went out I was on crutches. During that time this mysterious pain also spread to my big toe on the same foot, and we determined this must be gout since it’s actually the fourth time something similar has happened – though this time was by far the worst one.
I tell you all of that because I wanted you to know that I consider this experience a trial, like we talked about in James 1. And the whole time I’m going through this, I’m also writing these sermons about it. And so, in that sermon, and in that passage it says to ask God for wisdom. So I did. And I kept asking, and finally the answer came. God was allowing this to happen because of something I had not listened to him about a long time ago. I may not look unhealthy to you, but I have a terrible diet. I eat a lot of sugar and almost no vegetables. Well, God had been telling me to change that…but I’ve been putting it off. Well, this is where it got me. It’s not like God cursed me with gout. But He definitely already knew I had it, and the only way to prevent flare ups like this is to have a better diet. He was telling me all along to do something that was for my own benefit that would have prevented at least a week and half of the misery I just went through. Not to mention all the other benefits of a better diet.
So, now I have a choice. Will I listen now? Will I obey now? Or will I just keep doing things my way and be surprised when I end up waking up with a pain in my ankle again? Will I trust God and do what he says? Or will I trust myself more and do nothing? Those are my only options. Only one is the option of faith. Well, this time I’ve decided to listen and obey. Because I can’t very well stand up here and preach to you about obeying if I’m not going to do it myself.
So, in an act of solidarity we’re not going to be serving donuts anymore…just kidding. I’ll just have to control myself.
But what’s my point?
My point is that I’m sure that each one of you has something in your life that you know God is wanting you to do but you are putting it off or downright ignoring it. Maybe it’s something you saw in Scripture – like asking God for wisdom. I did that out of obedience to His Word, and just as His Word said, an answer came. Maybe you know you need to forgive someone. Maybe you need to start controlling your tongue, the words you say, like we saw in James 1. Maybe you have a prejudice you need to get rid of. Maybe you need to start DOING, start serving in the body that is the church, start giving. God didn’t save us so we could just sit around. These are all things we find in God’s Word. What will we do with it? Will we listen just to listen? Or will we show our faith by actually doing what the person we have our faith in tells us to do?
If we have true TRUST in God, that HE knows better than us and that He only wants what is ultimately good for us, then why would we not want to do what He says?
So, James 2 tells us two very important things.
First, he tells us not to show favorites. Jesus is an equal opportunity savior, and we should be welcoming of all people. But we should also be discerning. Not discriminating, but discerning. All people are equal, but some people choose to take themselves out of fellowship by their actions. We are not commanded to be welcoming of all types of behavior, only ally types of people. Make sure you know the difference. Don’t be deceived. That’s point 1 of James 2.
Point 2 is another angle on the BE DOERS OF THE WORD AND NOT HEARERS ONLY. Maybe he’s telling it twice because it’s important. I believe so. Faith without works is indeed a false faith. Trust without action is no trust at all. Believing with your head is not enough. Even the demons do that, and shudder – why – because they know they are doomed for their disobedience, not their unbelief. Don’t fall into the same camp.
Instead, actually follow the advice of the wisest man who ever lived: Trust in the Lord with all of you heart and DO NOT lean on your own understanding. In all your ways LISTEN TO HIM WITH THE INTENT TO OBEY and He will make your paths straight.
I encourage each of you to do some self examination. If you call yourself a believer, what evidence is there in your life that you are trusting God and obeying Him? Could you give examples? Does anything come to mind? If the only thing that comes to mind are a bunch of “I know I should be’s” then maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time you actually put your real trust in Jesus – not just to forgive your sins and send you to heaven, but trust Him with your whole life. Quit trying to trek through the baron wasteland on your own. Come into the kingdom. It’s so much better.