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Monday, April 13, 2015

Wanted: Faith - Dead or Alive?

Copyright April 7, 2015by Chris Mullis
James 2:1-17
What is faith?  A nun who works for a local home health care agency was out making her rounds when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it there was a station just down the street. She walked to the station to borrow a can with enough gas to start the car and drive to the station for a fill up. The attendant regretfully told her that the only can he owned had just been loaned out, but if she could wait he was sure it would be back shortly.
Since the nun was on the way to see a patient she decided not to wait and walked back to her car. After looking through her car for something to carry to the station to fill with gas, she spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, she carried it to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried it back to her car.
As she was pouring the gas into the tank of her car two men walked by. One of them turned to the other and said: "Now that is what I call faith!"
            I want to talk about faith today.  Listen to what God’s Word says about faith in James 2:1-17.

James 2:1-17
1My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Salvation is by Faith Alone
            As most of you know, I live way up in “North” Cohutta—way out in the country almost to Tennessee.  It is especially beautiful this time of year.  It takes me about 20 minutes to get home from the church, but I don’t mind.  It’s beautiful, stress relieving drive.  The other day, I was driving home, enjoying the greenery and flowers that are beginning to spring forth.  The sun was getting low, painting the sky a glorious orange yellow.  The sky was clear, the weather was mild, and I had the sunroof open so I could enjoy it all.  Just about that time it hit me—the rotten stench of a dead animal on the side of the road.  It entered in through the sunroof, swirled around the interior of my car, and found its way up my nostrils.
            Somewhere, along the roadside lay the rotting carcass of an animal.  Once it had been a living, breathing organism—perhaps a raccoon or a possum, a rabbit or a squirrel.  But now, it was just a dead, stinking corpse.  There’s a big difference between something that’s dead and something that’s alive.  The same is true of faith. 
We Christians like to talk about faith.  It is the hallmark of our religion.  In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul systematically described God’s plan for salvation.He started by describing humanity’s condition—that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (3:23) and that the consequences of our sins is physical and spiritual death (6:23).
 I once had a Muslim friend who I shared the gospel with.  He got hung up on this idea that everyone has sinned.  He didn’t see himself as a sinner.  “Chris,” he would say, “I never hurt anyone.  I don’t steal; I don’t murder.  I won’t even kill a spider if it gets into my house.” 
“But Nadeem,” I used to say, “surely you realize that you’re not perfect.  You tell little white lies or get jealous or say something that intentionally offends somebody.  Even if you only sin a little, you have fallen short of God’s glory.”
Sometimes we Christians are like Nadeem.  We try so hard to be “good.”  Sometimes we begin to think we really are “good.”  We come to church every Sunday; we give our time and money.  We do all these “good” things.  But all it takes to make you a sinner is one violation of God’s law.  For in our scripture lesson, James plainly says, “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” (James 2:10)
Even something as simple as looking down on a poor person or showing favoritism or loosing your temper or being jealous or gossiping makes you guilty before God and the consequence of even these little sins is still death.
Luckily, Paul goes on to describe God’s plan for saving humanity from this inevitable death through the gift of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for each of our sins.  In Romans 10:4, Paul says that all who believe in Christ are made right with God.
The theological term for this doctrine is justification by faith.  From time to time, Christians stray from this doctrine.  We begin to think we can earn God’s favor by doing good things.  But we can never do enough to work our way into God’s Kingdom.  Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us, 8God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
In many ways, this doctrine of justification by faith is very liberating.  It means that we no longer have to feel guilty when we mess up and fall down in our Christian walk—for God’s forgiveness cleanses us of our sins (Acts 13:38).  It means we don’t have to worry about whether or not we have been good enough to earn salvation—for we can’t earn salvation; it’s a free gift that cannot be earned.  It means that being a real Christian is not about following all the rules and being a good person.  No, we are Christians because we are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus Christ. 

Living Faith
On the other hand, this doctrine of Justification by faith has led many Christians to be lazy or worse—to cling to a faith that is as dead as the road-kill we pass on our Georgia highways.  I know people who can explain in great detail exactly how God achieved salvation through Christ.  They can quote you scripture that neatly lays out the intricate details of sin and salvation and can even relate back to Old Testament prophecies.  But you know what, that doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you aren’t living what you believe.
I love how James put it in 2:19-20, 19Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! 20Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?
What an eerie and powerful image.  I imagine the wretched demons down in the depths of hell trembling and shaking.  They know all about God’s plan to save humanity through Jesus Christ.  They know all about the doctrine of justification by faith (I’m sure they could even explain it better than our most prestigious theologians).  They also know who God is and who His son Jesus Christ is.  They tremble in fear and dread the day of the Lord because they have rejected Him as their Lord and they know their punishment is coming.
Yes we are saved by faith, but not a dead, complacent, do-nothing faith.  The faith that saves us is powerful and alive.  It changes who we are and how we act and even how we think.  
We cannot cheapen faith.  A person who has faith in God, trusts in God.  A person who has faith surrenders his life to God.  A person who has faith gives up everything and turns to God and says, “I am Yours!  Do with me what you will.  Show me how You want me to live; send me where You want me to go; tell me what You want me to say and I will do it.”   
You say you believe.  Well show me what you believe.  “Well, I know that I’m a sinner and Jesus died on the cross for me…”  No, I didn’t say tell me what you believe.  I said show me. 
Do you really believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That he really did die on a cross for your sins and for the sins of the whole world?  Do you really believe that he came back to life and is alive now? And that he’s going to return on judgment day?  Well, if you believe all that, then that ought to lead you to do something?  Does your faith lead to action?  Or is your faith dead—like the twisted carcass of an animal lying on the side of the road?
These are difficult times for our world.  The last thing we need is a bunch of Christians walking around clinging to a dead, complacent, do-nothing faith.  What we need are Christians who are willing to stand up and live their lives for Christ.  What we need are Christians who proudly proclaim their faith in Christ, not just with their mouths, but also with their actions and with their money and with their votes and with their sacrificial service to their community. 
Look, right here in this community we have the opportunity.  We have children who need to be taught the basics of the faith, the basics of Christianity, the basics of the Bible.  Public schools aren’t allowed to do it.  The government can’t do it.  The TV, the radio, the movies, the video games sure aren’t gonna do it.  If the Church doesn’t teach them something of lasting value, then nobody will. 
I shudder to think of this nation in 20 or 30 years if the Church fails to teach the children of this generation, the future of our nation, what living for Christ is all about.  I tremble to think of what this community will be like in 10-15 years if we don’t teach our children what being a Christian is all about.
But we have a chance to make sure the future is bright.  In Matthew 5:13, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…”  Have you ever thought about what that means?  To be the salt of the earth?  Think about the qualities of salt.  Salt can be used as a preservative.  Before the modern use of refrigeration, people used salt to cure meat and keep it from spoiling.  You can still buy salt-cured ham in the grocery store.  (I made some of my own salt-cured ham last week.)  In the same way, Christians who truly have a living faith have a preserving influence on society.  Our commitment to love and holy living keeps the world from slipping into total godlessness.  Can you imagine how fast our country would slip into moral chaos if our Christian influence was suddenly and completely removed?  But that’s not going to happen, because I believe in you.  And I believe your living faith is going to compel you to do something to make the world a better place.
But that can only happen if your faith is alive.  Is your faith dead or alive?  Let us pray…
Dear Father, revive within us a living faith that we may live a life of love and service to others.  May our lives be pleasing to You and bring goodness to our communities. May our Christian faith add flavor to life just as salt adds flavor to food.  And may You receive all the honor and glory for it all.  Amen.

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