Billboards of Belief
What many of you might not know about me is that I am an astronaut. Sure. I believe the universe is real and I am convinced that we have landed on the moon. I am pretty certain there is no life on mars, and I can imagine that a black hole would be terrifying to see up close. I have even watched at least 12 movies about space exploration. I even read 2 articles about SpaceX and watched a YouTube video.
That makes me an astronaut, right? No.
Astronaut [ as·tro·naut | \ ˈas-trə-ˌnȯt , -ˌnät\ ] : a person who travels beyond the earth's atmosphere
So, just reading about, understanding and believing in the existence of space and space travel does not make me an astronaut? No. What if I went to school to learn about it? No. I become an astronaut when I am trained for space travel and then actually travel outside our atmosphere.
Neither does reading about, understanding and believing in the existence of God make one a Christian.
James 2:14–26 || 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. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” 19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? 21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. 25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [NLT]
I think the first thing we need to make clear from this passage is that it is not saying that we are saved by works. Verse 14 is better understood like this, “If someone has no works to back up their faith were they ever saved?”
We are not saved by works. We are saved by faith.
Ephesians 2:8–9 || 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. [NLT]
Ephesians 2:8–9 || 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. [CSB]
If we were saved by works, then we would be able to take credit for it. Salvation is a work of God and only He deserves the credit and glory for it.
Just like God continually did for Israel what they could not, and in ways that proved it was not their strength but obedience, salvation is a gift of God received through trust and obedience.
The very pungent statement James is trying to make in this section is clear – if our lives are unaffected by our beliefs in God, then we do not have saving faith and a renewed relationship with God.
Our salvation does not come through our works, but good works should be a direct result of our salvation. THAT is the point that James is making here, and the point that Paul makes:
Ephesians 2:10 || 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [NLT]
We are made in the image of God (his masterpiece), and redeemed to new life in Christ (created anew) so we can reflect Him on this earth (good things / good deeds).
We are saved FOR good works NOT BY good works.
In our passage this morning we have three different examples of what faith in God should look like, each one is punctuated with a statement about how faith apart from actions is dead.
One of the things I love about this book of the Bible is how very practical it is and how it reminds us that all of the things God wants us to do are simple if we change our perspective on the day to day.
James does not say that your faith will make you all lead bible studies or become elders, or that you will have to open an orphanage or take on a 4th job to support 3 more missionaries to Africa. While those can be awesome things – they can also seem overwhelming!
Our faith is meant to be lived out in the everyday stuff of life.
James 2:15–17 || 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. [NLT]
The first example is someone who needs food or clothing. Shelter could come here as well. Three of the basic needs of life.
SUPPOSE YOU SEE – I mentioned we need a change in perspective. We are myopic. We can have a hard time seeing past our own circumstances to see someone else’s. Jesus did not come to earth and die because of HIS needs, but because He knew OUR needs. He came seeking the lost.
BRO or SIS – we are FAMILY. Do we view each other in this church as family? Jesus restores our relationship with the Father so that we become a part of His family. Family matters to God!
IN NEED - Family takes care of family. If family needs a place to stay, food or clothing, I am going to give it to them. I have been on the receiving end of this when groceries showed up on our doorstep and I have been on the giving end of blessing others with groceries.
SIDE NOTE: We do not always meet needs because we do not see them. Posting on FB is not legit here. When we truly live like family, we know each other and share our lives with each other. I have had people mad at me for not seeing them in the hospital and I asked when they went in and they said, “I posted it on FB”. Lame. We are called to be a loving community, not a social network.
Have you ever hyper-spiritualized a situation so you could feel better about not helping someone? We might not use the same words as verse 16, but it could play out like this, “Suppose you see a brother or sister with not enough money to pay their bills and you say, ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Or ‘God will supply all your needs!’ and you don’t help them, what kind of faith do you have?”
When we SEE a BROTHER of SITER in NEED – it is expected that we will meet that need. See a need, meet a need. Simple.
Meeting needs may be as simple as making up a bed or rolling out a cot. It is as easy as setting an extra plate at your table or giving away some of your extra clothing. It can be picking up a gift certificate or a gas card and dropping it in the mail.
Imagine if we chose to put money into an account just so we would have it when a need came up and we could bless someone? It might mean changing some of the habits we have or giving up some of our creature comforts, but what is life about?
Theology is meant to motivate us to action in the everyday stuff of life.
James 2:18–20 || 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” 19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? [NLT]
“Your faith is useless” is a harsh statement. But let’s unpack that. If I see someone in need and do not attempt to meet that real need, what am I truly believing?
Belief without action is faulty theology. Theology, the study of God, must be practical. It must move us to action to try to be more like God by the power of His Spirit in us.
There is a progression in these verses:
- You believe – obviously not enough.
- Demons believe and they fear God – more that just belief, but not enough.
Belief and awe are not enough. There must be action. That action is the proof that we have committed to following God.
Belief -> Awe -> Action
If you remember when we started this book, we said James was one of the brothers of Jesus that said, “If you are so important, prove it”. Then in 1:22 he says don’t just hear the word, do it! Prove you understand and accept it. Now he says, don’t just say you have faith – prove it!
- If all my resources come from God to be used by God and for God, why should I hold back?
- If all people matter to God and I have a chance to show love by meeting a need, why wouldn’t I?
This is not a place for over-spiritualization. You do not need to know if God wants you to meet the needs of your brothers and sisters. You simply do it.
Our lives are meant to be billboards of our belief in God.
- You can have good deeds without faith in God and be a good citizen, though still God’s enemy.
- However, true friends of God have good deeds that are motivated by their faith in God.
What are we really believing if we are not meeting practical needs as we come across them in the everyday? Are we believing:
- That God only cares about what we do on Sunday?
- That our stuff is our stuff, and not God’s stuff to be used for His glory?
- That faith is something you simply believe and keep to yourself?
- That God cannot or does not want to use us to bless others?
Our theology must impact our actions. To help is get rid of the faulty theology, the wrong things that we have believed, James gives us two examples to look at so we can believe…
Anyone can live out their faith in the everyday stuff of life.
James 2:21–26 || 21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. 25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [NLT]
The example of Abraham.
Abraham was a Jew. He was the father of the Jews. His faith was made complete when he took what he loved and offered it to God. He believed that whatever he had was for God.
Hebrews 11:17–19 || 17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. [NLT]
James says, “His actions made his faith complete”. Maybe you are like me and you have the thought of, “Well that was Abraham! He was THE MAN that God chose to bless the whole earth. He is important, I am not.” I think that is why James picked the person he did for the second example.
The example of Rahab.
The second example is NOT David, who was a man after God’s own heart, nor Solomon who built God’s temple. It is not any of the apostles or prophets. It is Rahab the prostitute from Jericho.
Why her? Because she had no ancestry to count on. She had simply heard about God, feared Him and then took action to live for God by hiding the spies. We know from our previous study that she lived with the Jews and served God the rest of her days and is part of the genealogy of Jesus.
Bottom line – anyone and every one of us CAN live out our faith in the everyday stuff of life.
Saving faith should motivate us to selfless service to others in the name of our Savior. James leaves us with one more reminder of just how important this issue is:
James 2:26 || 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [NLT]
Let me put a positive spin on that for us today. Doing good things for God and others should be as natural as breathing.
Living a life of faith is simple, though certainly not always easy!
So, as you ponder the verses we have been sharing together, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does my faith affect the way I live on a daily basis?
- Does my belief in God affect the way I treat others?
- Does my understanding of God shape the way I approach trials and temptations?
- Do I truly believe that I can live a life of faith everyday?