Well, good morning, Saylorville. If you’ve got a copy of scripture with you, you can find James, chapter two, as we continue in our study of Keeping It Real in the epistle of James, this very, very practical book in the Bible, much like the Proverb of the New Testament.
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. We certainly did. Ate a lot, had fun, hung out. We take over the whole church because no house will hold our entire family. But we really had a great time. And again, I hope you did as well, and you’re thankful. This is a great season to be thankful. We have lots of reasons to be thankful and not the least of which is the subject of the message today, which is not a feel-good message. I don’t have to apologize for that. I’m just preaching the Bible after all. But this is a strong word from God’s word, so buckle up if you would, all right?
Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher during the late 1800s, once had a woman come up to him, and she had a theological conundrum and she wanted him to solve it. She said,
“Mr. Spurgeon, how do you reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility?” And his reply is one of my favorites. He said, “I wouldn’t even try.” He said, “I never reconcile friends.”
That’s a good line, by the way, because just as no balanced believer would debate the reality of God’s sovereignty, that is his rule over all things, and the necessity of human responsibility when it comes to saving faith, neither should we debate the necessity of a changed life that accompanies salvation. It’s true, the thief on the cross never got an opportunity to live for Jesus. He died next to Jesus. But had he lived, we know, based on the truth of God, that he would have lived for Jesus. Because if anyone’s in Christ, they’re a new creation, [2 Corinthians 5:17] right?
So James is writing to Jewish Christians who have found Jesus Christ as their true Messiah, and they’re free from the law, so they’re released from this ‘do good in order to please God’ theology. But James is reminding them that while they’re free from the law and a theology that said it’s faith plus works that gets us to heaven, we have, in Christ, a faith… not faith plus works to be saved, but a faith that works. There’s the question before you. Does your faith actually work? Is it working?
So with that in mind, this most powerful passage in James and probably what it’s known for more than any other section in his book. Verse 14 of chapter two.
James 2:14-19, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith (or can that kind of faith) save him? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.) 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? (And this is sort of the linchpin of the whole thing.) So also faith (prepositional phrase) by itself, if it does not have works, is (What? It’s) dead.
But someone will say, “(Well…) 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. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
So James has often been compared to the Apostle Paul and some actually believe they’re in conflict with one another. I’m going to show you this morning that they are not. The Apostle Paul, in his epistles, (particularly think Ephesians, think Galatians, think Romans) was addressing what occurs before salvation leading to saving faith. Whereas James, the half-brother of Jesus, is addressing what happens after salvation, proving that your saving faith is real. So any claim that saving faith does not have to be backed up by a changed life is a false faith. In fact, it’s worse than false. Look at verse 17. It’s dead. See that? It’s dead. That’s the Greek word “nekros.” One writer calls this an ugly word, and it is. John Calvin, the great reformer, said,
“It’s faith alone that saves, but faith that saves is never alone.” John Calvin
The Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation, (now we’re going back into the early 1500s, okay?) their argument, the Reformers, like Calvin and Luther and others, they gave us the solas; Sola Gratia (grace alone,) Sola Biblios (the Bible alone,) but the biggest one was Sola Fide which is a Latin term for faith alone saves and we believe that. But the Roman Church countered with their own counter-reformation that it wasn’t faith alone. It was faith AND works that saved you, and their biggest argument was the book of James. The greatest section they used as their apologetic is the one we just read.
I did not know that when I first became a Christian, by the way. I didn’t know that when my sister showed up at our house. My sister is a Nemmers, and let me tell you something. We go nose to nose when we argue. My sister came in and she challenged me on that very basis. She says, “It’s not faith alone.” She said, “We believe in the book of James, too.” It caught me off guard momentarily until I looked at the book of James and saw what his message was. If James was at odds with the apostle Paul, then you’ve got conflict in Scripture, and you can throw your Bible away. The Bible never contradicts itself. (Can I get an amen? Thank you!) But if James was at odds with Paul, who wrote,
[Ephesians 2:8-9,] “For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, lest any man should boast.”
So if James was at odds with Paul, he’d also have to be at odds with Moses, who many, many years earlier said of Abraham,
[Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3], “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness by virtue of believing. He’d also have to be at odds with Jesus, who said to his enemies, ‘You want to … do the works of God? Here’s the work of God. Believe in him that was sent.’
[John 6:29, “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”]
And if Paul were at odds with James, he’d also have to be at odds with David, who wrote,
Psalm 40:1-3, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, (And then the words you’re looking) making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth (Praise to our God… watch this!) many will see it and fear and trust in the Lord.”
In other words, there should be results that accompany true belief. And that has been throughout the scripture, in fact, predicting the new covenant to come. Now we live in the new covenant era, right? When we take communion, (‘Take this. This is the New Covenant in My blood,’ [Luke 22:20] right?) We’re in that New Covenant. Predicting the New Covenant era to come, hundreds of years before it did come, before Jesus ever came, this is what Ezekiel said. He said, ‘I’m going to take out the stony heart out of their flesh and I will put my spirit in you and (watch this) cause you to walk in my ways or my statutes and you’ll be careful to obey my rules.’
[Ezekiel 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”]
You see what I’m saying? Throughout, the Bible has never contradicted itself. It’s faith that is accompanied by a changed life. And then there’s John the Baptist. (And by the way, John the Baptist wouldn’t even baptize people if he thought they were fraudulent.) Remember what he said to those who, he said
Matthew 3:8, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” before you get baptized.
And then there’s Jesus who said,
John 8:31b, “If you abide in my word…” that’s the proof that you’re my disciples indeed.
Have you ever read that? It was also Jesus who said,
John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice. And I know them, and they… (what?) follow Me.”
So actually, if Paul was at odds with James, he’d be at odds with Himself because we just mentioned it.
2 Corinthians 5:17, “… If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.”
It was Paul, the same Paul who said,
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The same Paul followed it in the same breath with these words,
Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has foreordained that we should walk in them.”
So James is not in conflict with the apostle Paul. He IS, he IS, he IS, admittedly, amplifying the results that accompany true salvation.
Now God knows the stats, but there are theological institutions that have done some research in the American Evangelical Church that have concluded that 50% or more in the average Evangelical Church, like the one you’re in right here, that claim to be saved, are really not saved. That’d be half of you if it were true. Does that give you reason to be concerned? Go like this, [nod your head ‘yes’] because it should.
Here’s the question this morning from this text. When should you be worried about whether your faith is real? That’s a legitimate question, isn’t it? When should you be worried whether your faith is real? I’m going to give you two answers from this passage we just read, and I’m asking you to take these words very seriously, because this isn’t a matter of life and death. This is a matter of heaven or hell, and here’s the first answer… When your faith hasn’t changed your life. How’s that? I mean, that’s pretty evident coming out of the passage, right? You say, look, [James 2:14] ‘what good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but doesn’t have works, can that (kind of) faith save him?’ It’s a rhetorical question. If your faith doesn’t show the root… new creation… the change… you’re not a Christian. That’s why he says in verse 17,
James 2:17, “… faith by itself, if it doesn’t have works, (Is what? Say it again) it’s dead.”
Just the other day, a young woman, they were in our home, we were talking about Christianity with her and her husband, we talked about the Gospel, and she said, “You know, somebody laid this verse on me here just recently, just really scared me.” I said, “What verse was that?” And she shared the verse with me, and I looked at her and I said, “That’s the scariest… that might be the scariest verse in the Bible!” Here it is in Matthew, here’s what it says.
Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone… (this is Jesus talking here) that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of God, but the one who does the will of my Father who’s in heaven. Many will come to me in that day. (By the way, that day there is the judgment day. So picture yourself before God.) Many will come to me in that day saying, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not cast out demons in your name? Have we not done many wonders in your name?’ (Notice, always in the name of Jesus) and I will declare unto them, (and there’s the scariest message in all the Bible) I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Let’s get something clear. That’s a future scene, and that’s going to be a mass of people who think they’re going to heaven, and undoubtedly, that means a number of you. This is why Titus, when he wrote his epistle, said, talking about individuals like this, he said,
Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but in works, they deny him.”
Have you read that? That’s a strong word.
Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist, was preaching, I believe, in Chicago. And the next morning, he was walking between a couple of buildings, and there was a drunk that staggered up to him. He said, “Hey, Mr. Moody, I was in your service last night. I’m one of your converts.” He said, “You must be, because you’re not one of God’s.”
J. Vernon McGee once said, “I believe in the security of the believer and the insecurity of the make-believer.”
Some of you right now have been making, you’re make-believers. You have no security. You have no confidence. You have no assurance in your mind or in your heart that you are a true child of God. That’s a scary place to be. And I think Tozer got it right when he said,
“God will not save those he can’t command.” A.W. Tozer
If you’re one of those individuals who’ve made, laid claim to Jesus, but you constantly are resisting the things of God, you have every right to wonder whether or not you’re really a Christian. Remember earlier in our study of James in chapter one, he said,
James 1:22, “Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
He said that because… you’ll never deceive anybody else until you’ve deceived yourself first.
I remember back in my first ministry, I had a country bumpkin, father-like figure in my life, but he was a godly, godly man… We were talking about another guy in the church who had laid claim to Christ, but his life was a wreck, a complete train wreck. I’d never seen any evidence in his life. We were talking about him, and I said to the country bumpkin, father-like figure in my life, I said, ‘Yeah, but he tells me he prayed to receive Christ as his Savior.’ I’ll never forget what my friend said. He goes, ‘You tell him it didn’t take!’
I think we ought to ask ourselves that question. When you prayed the prayer, did it take? Friend, I don’t care if you’ve prayed the sinner’s confession. I want to know whether you’ve experienced the sinner’s conversion. You have an example of what real conversion looks like in verses 15 through 18 when he talks about, you know, ‘If you see a brother or sister, they have need, and all you do is say, ‘hey, be warm, be filled…’ ‘Hey, I’ll pray for you.’ and it’s to a brother and sister because that is the emphasis in the New Testament. Yes, we should help others who are not brothers and sisters. I think you ought to help those people that are begging on the corners. I do believe we should, and others. We have our Heart for Des Moines ministry. It’s indiscriminate, but the emphasis in scripture is you better start helping the household of faith.
Galatians 6:10, “… do good to all people, but especially those in the household of faith.”
And he’s saying here, James is saying, ‘I’m not seeing the evidence of a changed life here.’
Now, I have to share something with you that really arrested me just the other day. I was in the book of Acts, and I came to chapter eight and verse 12. It’s a verse that I almost always share in a membership class. The purpose of sharing this verse in our membership class, we’re talking about the subject of baptism at this time in the membership class. And I use this verse to show the sequence or the chronology of salvation. It’s always, you get saved, then you get baptized. You find that in scripture… saved, baptized… saved, baptized… saved, baptized… and here it is.
Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip (Philip was the evangelist) as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
Notice, they were saved and they were baptized, right? But then the next verse came into play. Simon… you remember who he was? He was a sorcerer.
Acts 8:13, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”
Hallelujah! Chalk up another one for the kingdom of God! Amen? Or as Lee Corso [American sports coach] would say, “Not so fast!” Amen! Check out the context here. People start getting saved and miracles are happening, and here’s what it says a couple of verses later.
Acts 8:18, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money saying, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (And then look at these words. This is the guy who believed and got baptized and followed Philip.) “You have no part, (Peter said) or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart for I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
This is the guy who’s supposed to be free from sin. But he says, you’re captive to sin! In fact, Simon says, “Pray for me….”
[Acts 8:24, “And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”]
And guess what happens next? We don’t know. We don’t know. God does this once in a while. It’s kind of frustrating. He just kind of gives you the cliffhanger. And there’s a reason for that. We don’t know what Simon did.
Several years ago, (and I’ll protect this guy’s name) I met this guy in a coffee shop. (And I’m going to be careful here because he’s a very, very successful businessman.) The circumstances of me meeting him were just crazy. (I get those too.) This guy was literally contemplating … what he was doing with his life because he’d been wasting his life, though he was very wealthy. As a result, we started having Bible studies. After about two or three Bible studies, he prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior. Thanks for withholding your ‘amens,’ because you can kind of see where this is going, can’t you? As the weeks went on, it just seemed so perfunctory. It didn’t seem real. There was no heart. I didn’t see any fruit. There was no love for God, the gospel, what he’d done. But I kept meeting with him. That’s what we do. And I invited him to our evangelistic Men’s Steak and Corn Feed…. Sat right over here. We had a testimony up here… great testimony… laid down the gospel. That guy looked at me and you know what he said to me? He said, “Hey, the next time you do that, can I go up there and talk? That’d be great! I’d like to do that.” I looked at him, I went, “What?” I think it’s the last time I ever saw him, in church anyway.
You know what God is asking you and me in Acts chapter eight with the story of Simon and then dropping off and not telling us what happened? I think he’s asking us, he’s asking every one… this question. Is that me? Am I Simon? Are you Simon? I mean, think about Simon just for a moment. He was moved by the message, dazzled by the power of God in believers’ lives, but his heart was never changed. He was never changed. There’s no evidence of repentance and he just drops off the scene. So, when should you be worried whether your faith is real? When your faith, whatever it is, hasn’t changed your life.
Secondly and lastly, when your head hasn’t reached your heart. Just look at the last verse here, verse 19. Look at it again, look at this.
James 2:19, ““You believe that God is one: you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!”
The word “shudder” is an onomatopoetic expression. It’s literally the word [sound] “shoosho.” That’s the word. But it’s not funny because it literally conveys the idea of being horrified! Demons, it says, believe and they… it means “to bristle!” It means “to shiver!” It’s translated here, “to shudder!” What do they believe? What do demons believe? I’ll tell you what they believe. They believe that God is sovereign. They believe that God rules. Demons believe that Jesus is Lord over them. I know that for a fact. In fact, here’s what it says in Matthew eight. Remember the demons that were coming out of the pigs?
Matthew 8:29, “… What have you to do with us, Oh Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time?”
They saw that Jesus was Lord over them. They saw that Jesus was Lord. They know that salvation that’s real changes a person’s life who believes. Demons know that. Demons possess great intellect. They possess great theology. There’s not a liberal demon in all of hell! They believe the truth. It just hasn’t changed them. Just as it hasn’t changed some of you. Knowledgeable, but numb. Bible smart… dead in your heart.
From time to time, we will be confronted by somebody, sometimes face to face, sometimes by way of email, who invariably they haven’t gotten their way on something. And then what they do is they weaponize the Bible. And they come at you just dropping one bomb after another, completely out of context, quoting scripture, with no evidence of the power of God in their lives. If that’s you, dear friend, if that’s you, then Jesus has a word from you. It’s the same word that he gave his enemies.
John 8:37, “My word has no progress in you.”
That’s Jesus’ word to you.
There’s a clever tract that was written probably about 30 years ago. I don’t pass out tracts. I’m not against those who do. I think there’s a more effective way of sharing Jesus. But it was a pretty effective tract. On the front of it, in fact, the front of the tract gave you the whole message of the tract itself. The front of this little tract, it had a picture of a measuring tape, and it said,
“Missing heaven by 18 inches”
which is the exact distance between your brain and your heart. That’s where some of you are at right now. You have knowledge, but you don’t know God. It’s not personal. The Bible doesn’t teach us salvation is faith plus works. It teaches us… of faith that works. How’s yours working? Is it real? Is your faith real? And if it’s not, why don’t you humble yourself this morning and acknowledge it? You prayed a prayer, I’m sure. You meant it even. At least you thought you did. But it never changed your life… Never changed your outlook… Never placed within you a love for God and a gratitude that was off the charts. You don’t show the compassion that God has called. He had compassion towards you, right? If God is speaking to your heart, you may be old here. I’m talking to those of you who are north of 70 because I’m under it, so that makes you old, not me. I don’t care how old you are. Your pride will send you to hell. It’ll send you to hell. And you may be young, raised in a Christian home. You’ve got a head full of knowledge, but as the song says, “a heart full of rocks.” Repent and believe the Gospel so that your faith becomes real. Not faith plus works, but a faith that works.
God, thank you for the word of God. Thank you for the strong word from James, the half brother of Jesus, asking us the question, is our faith real? And I pray for those in this room or those watching online who would admit right now their faith is not real. There’s never been new creation change in their lives. There’s never been a sign of repentance. They’re Simon. They would say, ‘I am Simon.’ Lord, you’re challenging us today to put ourself in that place and ask ourselves the question, ’Is it real?’ And if it’s not, oh God, bring repentance to our hearts and cause a number of people in this room right now to humble their hearts, place their faith in the one who was crucified for them, was buried for them, and rose again for them to take their sin away and become a real child of God. And we pray these things in his name, amen. Let’s stand.