Real Faith That Really Works
It seems if you put the word "real" in front of anything it sells more – “real coffee” or “real leather.” We’re interested in the genuine article. There is Real TV. There’s a book out Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. Coke used to be the "real thing".
I want to talk to you today about what James has to say about how to have a real faith. There are a lot of phony religions out there -- people who think they are Christians and really aren’t. In this passage James talks about the difference between real and counterfeit Christians, authentic believers and fake believers. He talks about how you can have a real faith. Jesus verifies this saying that by a person’s fruits you can know them.
This is the most controversial and misunderstood passage in the book of James. Many cults misunderstand it and try to use this passage to prove you have to work your way to heaven. The entire New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith alone. "By grace, through faith." James comes along and says, “It’s not just faith but faith and works.” What is he talking about? James or Paul…which one is right?…Martin Luther wanted to try to take James out of the canon of scripture because of how Catholics misunderstood this teaching on works. So, is James right or Paul? They are both right. They are talking about different things.
Paul was fighting the problem of legalism -- the problem of: "I’ve got to keep all the Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian." Paul is talking to that group.
James is not fighting legalism but laxity -- those that say "It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe."
They are fighting two different enemies. But they both use the word "works" in different ways. When Paul uses the word "works" he’s talking about Jewish laws like circumcision and things like that. When James uses it, he’s talking about the Christian lifestyle -- acts of love. It’s totally different. Paul focuses on the root of salvation -- what happens to me internally. James focuses on the fruit of salvation -- what happens on the outside. Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them." Paul is talking about, “How to know you’re a Christian.” James is talking about, “How to show you’re a Christian.” Paul is talking about how to become a believer. James talks about how to behave like a believer. It is not a contradiction.
It’s summed up in
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
There are three prepositions in this passage -- "by grace", "through faith", "unto good works". If you get those out of order, you’re in trouble. If you think you’re saved by works, for faith you’re in trouble. But he’s saying we’re saved by grace, through faith. We’re saved just by accepting God’s gift.
But how do I show I am a believer? James says there’s five ways you can know you’ve got the real thing. He gives us five steps or principles here in this passage.
1. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU SAY
v. 14 Real faith is not just something you say, something you talk about. "Can that faith save him? Can such faith save him?" It doesn’t say he actually has faith, he just claims to have it. He talks about it. He knows all the right phrases. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians. George Gallup says that 50 million Americans say "I’m born again," but you don’t see anything in their lifestyle. Today we tend to label people as Christians if they make the slightest sound of being a believer. It’s more than just talk that is involved in real faith. Jesus said, "Not everybody who says to me `Lord, Lord’ is going to enter into the kingdom of heaven." Not everybody with a Christian bumper sticker is a believer. [holding John 3:16 sign between the goalposts!] Not everybody who is a professor of Christianity is a possessor of Christianity. "Can such faith save him? What value is this kind of faith?" Nothing. Talk is cheap. Remember when Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler, said he was born again? But you never saw any change in his life. He kept right on printing pornography. No difference. No change.
James is saying that real faith is not just something you say. Do you know anybody that claims to be a Christian but you don’t see any evidence in their life? That’s a phony faith.
Real faith is not just something you say.
2. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU FEEL
It’s more than emotions. A lot of people confuse emotions and sentiment with faith. You can be emotionally moved and never act on it. You can go to church and get a quiver in your liver, or goose bumps, but it may never make any difference.
Then he gives an illustration:
v. 15 I saw a Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown and Linus are inside all bundled up and Snoopy’s out in the cold shivering in front of an empty dog food bowl. Charlie and Linus are having a discussion on how sad it is that Snoopy is hungry and cold. "He’s cold and hungry. We ought to do something about it." They walk outside and say to Snoopy, "Be of good cheer, Snoopy." I read that Charles Schultz got that idea from this verse. What good is it if you see someone in need and you say, "I feel for you!"
He’s saying, “It’s more than just words. It’s more than just feelings.” If, after church, you’re getting into you car and you happen to slam your fingers in your car door, and you’re standing there in agony with blood on your fingers, and I walk up and say, "I really feel for you!" -- is that any help?
Real faith is more than just sympathy and feeling and emotion. You get assistance. You do something about it. You act on it. Real faith takes the initiative. A real believer has real faith and it’s practical. It gets involved with people. He’s talking about Christians here. (This is the only time in Scripture that Christian women are called sisters.) When you become a part of God’s family you have some family responsibilities. A real believer will care about other believers.
1 John 3:17
But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
Real faith is generous. It wants to give. Can people count on you in a crisis? How many Christians have the freedom to call you up in the middle of the night if they are in an emergency? Not just talking the talk. Not just feeling for people. I John 3:14 says that one of the proofs of salvation is that we love other Christians. Do you have fellowship with believers? Real faith wants to be around other believers. You love them. It is known we are Christians by our love.
We are a lot better at verbalizing our faith than practicing it.
v. 17 If I don’t feel like helping other Christians, I don’t have a sick faith, I have a dead faith. James is laying it on the line. He says, “Do you want real faith? It’s more than just something you say and it’s more than just something you feel.”
3. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOME SOMETHING YOU THINK
For some people, faith is an intellectual trip -- a matter to be studied, debated, talked over and discussed. James imagines this intellectual objector…
v. 18 He’s imagining some intellectual guy who says, "You’re into faith, I’m into works. That’s cool. Different strokes for different folks. Let’s debate it. You’ve got your thing, I’ve got mine. To each his own way. Stimulate me mentally but don’t ask me to make any commitment." "Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do."
Circle "show me". Real faith is visible. You can see it. It’s apparent. If you claim to be a Christian, people will be able to see it. It’s visible. We’ve got a lot of “Miss Clairol Christians” -- nobody knows for sure. Well, only God knows for sure. Faith is odorless, weightless, and invisible so anybody can claim to have it. How do you know for sure? James says, “Show me.” If you claim to be a Christian I have a right to ask you to prove it by looking at your lifestyle.
ill.--ever seen the big Baconator sandwich at Wendy’s? Somebody said, "Faith is like calories. You can’t see them but you know they’re there and you sure can see the results." You can’t see faith but you can see the results. [wind!]
James would have made a good Missourian. [I was born in “Misery”!] The theme of the state of Missouri is "Show me". James is saying, “You say you’re a Christian? Prove it. Let me see if your actions back up your words.” If I say, "I believe my health is very important. Personal health is a high priority in my life. I believe that health is one of the most important things we ought to have." You say, "Do you eat right?" No. "Do you exercise? Do you get your proper rest? Do you take vitamins? Do you ever go for a check up?" No. It doesn’t matter what I say. What counts are my actions. Real faith is more than just something you think. You can point it out and see it in people’s lives. The kids sing a chorus: "If you’re saved and you know it then your life will surely show it." That’s what James is saying. Show me. You claim to have real faith. It’s more than something you say, something you feel, and something you think about. You can prove it.
II Cor. 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Not overnight. But they start becoming new.
If you grab onto a 220 volt wire you’re going to know it. I don’t see how somebody as big as God can enter your life and it not change you. James says flat out that if it doesn’t change you there’s a question whether He’s really in your life. What can I see in my life that proves it?
`If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’ That’s a good question. That’s what James was talking about. If you say "I know it!" Then show it! How do you know you’re a believer? You’ll see some changes in your life. Real faith always produces change. Real faith is not just something you say. It’s not just something you feel. It’s not just something you think.
4. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE
v. 19 There are a lot of people who have strong beliefs in God and the Bible, and about Christ. They can recite creeds to you and catechisms and talk about doctrines of the Trinity, and quote Bible verses. James says, "big deal!" Just saying I believe in God is not enough to get you to heaven. Even the devil believes that. The Bible says in Psalms, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." It’s foolish to be an atheist and the devil is no fool. The devil believes in God! The devil is a great theologian. He knows a lot more about the Bible than you do. He’s been around a whole lot longer. He knows theology backwards and forwards. He believes. His demons believe and shudder. The Greek word is "to bristle" -- their hair stands up on end. It’s the kind of word you’d use reading a Steven King novel. Why? Because the devils understand the majesty and awesomeness of God. They believe in God and they tremble.
The word “believe” in Greek means "to trust in, to cling to, to rely on, to commit yourself completely." I believe in Hitler but I’m not a Nazi. I’m a Christian because I believe in Jesus. But it’s more than just a “head” knowledge. A lot of folks are going to miss heaven by 18 inches. They have got it in their head but not their heart. They say "I believe in God." James says, "Big deal. Everybody believes in God. That’s not enough.”
Real faith is not just saying "I believe". There is so much ’easy believism’ in America. A recent article in a So. California newspaper said: "Many in Orange County believe but don’t practice." They did a survey and asked people all over Orange County and they found a high degree of belief. "Sure, I’m a believer. I’m a Christian." Do you attend church? “No,” or “not regularly.” "Do you donate your time?" “No.” "Do you tithe?" “No.” James would say that’s a phony belief. You’re just conning yourself. A lot of people are doing that.
If it’s not just something you say or think or feel or believe, what is real faith?
5. REAL FAITH IS SOMETHING YOU DO
In the next couple of verses James gives an illustration that say real faith is something you do. Faith is active. It’s not passive. It’s a commitment.
ill.--two very different people, Abraham and Rahab -- exact opposite extremes. Abraham is a man. Rahab is a woman. Abraham is Jewish. Rahab is a Gentile. Abraham is a patriarch. Rahab is a prostitute. Abraham is a somebody. Rahab is a nobody. Abraham is a major character in the Bible. Rahab is a minor character. He uses these illustrations to say, it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you’ve got the important thing. They only had one thing in common -- their faith in God. Their faith in God led them to an action.
v. 20-22 How do we know it? We can see it. He behaved in a way that his belief came out visibly.
You know the story. It’s the ultimate test where God asked Abraham to give up his own son. This has nothing to do with salvation. Abraham was already a believer. Twenty-five years earlier God had said, “You’re righteous.” He’s not talking about being saved by his works. He’s saying that this just shows how you believe. Abraham obeyed God. It was immediate. He followed Him. He took his son up. He did all those faith steps. He cut the wood, built the altar and was ready to sacrifice his own son. Abraham says to his son while walking up the mountain, "We [not I] will return." He knew that God would provide somehow even if it meant raising him from the dead. The fact is God did raise him from the dead, figuratively speaking. Abraham was about to sacrifice him and God says, “I was just testing you to see what’s most important in your life.” It was an action. His works proved his faith. He held nothing back from God.
And he talks about Rahab. The story is in Joshua 2. It’s the story how a prostitute helped a couple of spies when they were coming into Jericho. Rahab ends up in the family line of Jesus. She risks her life to save the spies.
Our faith is not determined by what we do, it is demonstrated by what we do.
ill.--About 40 years ago there was a famous tightrope walker named George Blondin who, for a publicity stunt, decided he would walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. On the appointed day they stretched a tightrope from one side of Niagara Falls to the other. He got out there and there were crowds lining both the Canadian and American side. Thousands of people showed up to see this unbelievable feat. Blondin walked up to the edge of the tightrope, put one foot on the tightrope and put another foot out and began to walk across -- inch-by-inch, step-by-step. He got out in the middle and everybody knew that if he’d make one mistake in balance he’d fall off the rope and into the Falls and obviously be killed. Blondin got to the other side and the crowd went wild, shouting and cheering. Blondin said, "I’m going to do it again." He got to the other side and the crowds went crazy. Blondin said, "I’m going to do it again but this time I’m going to push a wheel barrow full of dirt." He pushes the wheelbarrow across. He got to the other side. He did this nine or ten times. On about the tenth time, he pushed the wheelbarrow right in front of a tourist who said, "I believe you could do that all day." Blondin dumped out the dirt and said, "Really? Get in."
In a very real sense that’s what God says to you. Talk is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is. "I believe in Jesus!" Prove it. Our faith is demonstrated by our actions. Actions speak louder than words. Our behavior shows what we really believe.
2 Cor. 13:5
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
[Test it. Check it out. See if you’re really a believer or not.]
A couple of questions:
Am I really a Christian after all? In the light of what James says, am I really a Christian?
What changes can I point to in my life? Is my lifestyle any different at all from unbelievers? So many people think it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe. The Holy Spirit, thru James, says that’s not true. He’s not saying you work your way to heaven. He’s not saying works deliver salvation. He’s saying they demonstrate it. He’s saying that if your faith doesn’t work, what good is it?
How do I know for sure? You settle it in your mind. Maybe some of you have had doubts whether you’re really a believer or not. You’re a good person, you’ve gone to church, and maybe you’ve known about Christ, and you’ve read the Bible, and you’ve had religion and you’ve gone to classes. But are you absolutely sure that if you died tonight you’d go to heaven? The fact is you can be sure. You don’t have to leave here and have the shadow of a doubt. You can settle it right here.
How do you do that? Ephesians 2:8-9
God’s grace. God reaches down. He says, “I want you to know Me. I want to have a relationship with you.” That’s grace. And you look up and say "I want to know You, Lord. I want to have a relationship with You." When God’s hand of grace comes down and your hand of faith goes up, that’s called salvation. That’s what it means to be a believer. You are believing on Him alone as your way of salvation, for He paid the price for your sins and can forgive them. Saved by grace, through faith to do exactly what God made you to do in the first place. He has a plan for your life. You are not here by accident.
[based largely on Rick Warren Sermon]