Do you ever feel like your faith just isn’t getting off the ground? Do you ever feel like one of those early airplane designers? You have the right idea, but it just won’t fly?
I think we have all been there at one time or another.
Sometimes our faith just does not seem to work. It spins and spins, it flaps and flaps, it makes a lot of noise, but it never seems to get off the ground.
If you know what I am talking about the book of James just might be for you. The book of James is kind of like a repair manual.
Fundamentally, the message of James is FAITH ONLY WORKS WHEN FAITH LEADS TO WORKS. Now, don’t get bent out of shape by the word “works.” We have been taught that salvation comes by faith not by works. That is absolutely true. Remember, however, “works” are not bad. When James says “works,” he is simply referring to our actions. Works are the things we do because we have faith.
What James is teaching us is the next step. After we are saved by faith, “NOW WHAT?” I’m a Christian, NOW WHAT? I am forgiven, NOW WHAT? The “NOW WHAT” is that we have to let our faith seep in to all our pours and every corner of our lives and color us through and through with the love of Christ. Faith changes us. If it doesn’t, it is empty.
• Faith that does not affect our actions is a useless faith…
• Faith that does not change the way we live is a worthless faith…
• Faith that does not influence our decisions has no better chance of getting g off the ground than those airplanes in the video. It is a broken faith that does not really work.
To put it bluntly, being a Christian, or even a member of the church, or even coming to worship means nothing in and of itself. It only means anything if our faith changes who we are, the way we think, and the way we behave. In other words, FAITH ONLY WORKS WHEN FAITH LEADS TO WORKS.
James says, “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Be livers of the word, not just hearers because you are not fooling anyone but yourself. Be changed by the word because Jesus didn’t die to maintain the status quo.
I don’t think I have ever used the TV show2 ½ men in a sermon illustration before, because it frankly makes a mockery of every Christian value, but Charlie Sheen has a great line in one episode. “There's something you should know about me. When I say, "I understand,” it doesn't mean I agree, it doesn't mean I understand, it doesn't even mean I'm listening.”
I am convinced that we have a culture-wide hearing disability, and the church is no exception. We say “I understand” but we aren’t really listening.
Two psychiatrists meet at their 20th college reunion. One is vibrant, while the other looks withered and worried. "So what's your secret?" the older looking psychiatrist asks. "Listening to other people's problems every day, all day long, for years on end, has made an old man of me." "So," replies the younger looking one, "who listens?"
To loosely translate verses 23 and 24 of this first chapter, “It is just wrong to go to worship, or a Bible study, or Vacation Bible School, or a mission trip, and forget what you have heard as soon as you get through the door. The Christian life should not be business as usual.”
If we are to mature as disciples, we have to break that habit. It isn’t very complicated there are only 4 steps. Here is James discipleship plan.
1. Listen to what God expects of you.
2. Listen to all of what God expects of you.
3. Listen to what God expects of you first.
4. And then just do it.
Therefore, the rest of this sermon series is about just doing it. It is going to be a very practical examination of the affect of faith on different parts of our lives. I’ll probably step on some toes, but the book of James does not side step the difficult issues and neither will I.
Eugene Peterson translates the 2nd -4th verses well: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” In other words, if I step on your toes, don’t expect an apology, but you can expect me to say, “You are welcome.” It is only by being challenged that we grow to mature discipleship.
In this first chapter, James hits five big areas of our life: Image of God, self-image, temptation, generosity, and speech.
Fortunately, we are going to hit generosity hard next week with chapter 2.
And fortunately, we are going to dedicate a whole week to our words in chapter 3.
So let’s tackle the other three topics.
The first part of our lives into which James sticks his big nose is our IMAGE OF GOD.
The Message Bible reads, 5-8 If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.
If you are listening you will hear again and again, “trust in God,” “depend on God,” “rely on God,” Jesus says, “Don’t build your house on the sand… build your house on God’s solid rock.”
For those who are saved, God is not some big scary, furry faced, ogre of a judge that sits on a cloud with his flyswatter ready to strike us down at the first opportunity. As Jesus taught, God is our beloved father. ABBA would have been Jesus word for it. A daddy in whose hands we can place our life without hesitation or fear.
Hearers, hear God’s love preached, but continue to trust mostly in themselves, and want to do life their way instead of God’s way.
Doers hear God’s love preached and trust it. Doers make that love the very core of their lives, trusting in God for all things, and staking their lives on God’s grace.
Which are you; A Hearer or a doer?
Second, James addresses our self-image.
We live in a culture obsessed with self-image.
• We don’t want to bruise the kids’ self-esteem so we can’t keep score.
• We fall to advertising ploys that assure us that we will feel better about ourselves if we just use this makeup or eat this food.
• In the last years, we have started to talk about body image and how sensitive particularly young girls are.
James writes, “9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”
James compares us to wild flowers. You might be the most beautiful flower in the meadow, or the most noxious weed that ever existed, but when the scorching sun comes both wither just the same. No matter how beautiful the building or how humble the shack in the path of the tornado both are just a pile of lumber in the end. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we are rich or poor, what color we are on the outside, what choices we have made, where we live, or who our parents are. That is not how faith works.
Do not think that you are better than you are. On the other hand, do not put yourself down. Do not shape your life around what others think of you or what others think you should be. Do not try to be what you are not, because you can’t fool God. You might fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can never fool God. It is not our self-image that counts, but how closely our lives conform to the image of God.
Hearers, hear that they are made in God’s image, but try to make themselves into something bigger, better, more impressive than they are.
Doers hear that they are made in God’s image and they seek to conform perfectly to that image in which they were made.
Which are you; A Hearer or a doer?
Finally, for this first chapter, James really gets to meddling and tackles temptation.
There are two extremes here.
• Some hear, “You are a sinner and domed to fall to temptation. There is nothing you can do.”
• Others hear “you are forgiven and immune from temptation. There is nothing you need to do.”
Either way they let themselves off the hook. They take an easy discipleship by relieving themselves of responsibility for their temptations and their choices.
The disciple follows Jesus down the hard road of temptation. Neither giving in, nor being naive.
Jesus doesn’t promise an easy road. He says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”
Jesus doesn’t promise a sin free life. He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin cut it out.”
Jesus doesn’t promise immunity from temptation, he prays, “lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.”
Jesus doesn’t promise perfection, even Jesus was
• tempted by Satan in the wilderness, by
• Peter on the road, by the
• knowledge that because he was God, at any moment he could have stopped the merry-go-round to get off.
Those of us who struggle with temptation, know that some of the worst ideas are born in our own hearts. We know that we have free choice and responsibility. We know the power of sin, but we also know the power of grace. We live our lives on a very thin line that separates sin from grace.
James writes that disciples, who are trying to do the word, not just hear it, have to struggle with temptations, “one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.”
Hearers hear “grace - grace,” and believe that their salvation creates a cloak of invisibility in the face of sin. They think they have it made.
• hear the promise of grace for those who take up the cross in spite of the temptation to rest.
• Doers hear the promise of grace for those who sell all they have to follow him in spite of the lure of material comfort.
• Doers hear the promise of grace for those who do unto the least of these and love their neighbor in spite of the temptation to think only about ourselves.
• Doers know that the temptation to take the easy way is always lurking around every corner but they follow Jesus down the hard road anyway.
Which are you; A Hearer or a doer?
That’s a lot to pack in to one sermon.
But you can sum it up this way.
When faith works…We trust God completely
When faith works…we become God’s love..
When faith works… we follow Jesus no matter what.
Or you can decide to follow this genius of early aviation.