29 May 2016
James 2:14-19 Faith or Works Pastor Chee Keen 29 May 2016 Does James contradict the New Testament teaching of justification by faith alone? Or is he pointing out something else to us? James wants to sharpen our focus and understanding on faith. He intends to clear up a misunderstanding about faith and works, which continues to be common today. He directs us to see with more clarity what true faith involves. So is it a question of faith or works? Come and find out from James today!
Does James contradict the New Testament teaching of justification by faith alone?
Or is he pointing out something else to us? James wants to sharpen our focus and understanding on faith.He intends to clear up a misunderstanding about faith and works, which continues to be common today. He directs us to see with more clarity what true faith involves. So is it a question of faith or works?Come and find out from James today! Slides
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I have just completed a series of messages, a journey through the book of James, entitled “How to live out your faith” and I just thought that it would be good if I could share with you some of James’ thoughts on faith, like a second opinion on what the author of Hebrews and Paul is saying, so that we can have a more balanced, a more well-rounded understanding of this very important aspect of our relationship with God.
So if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to the book of James in the New Testament. It is towards the end; chapter two and we'll be covering verses 14 to 19. And if you are familiar with that passage in Scripture, you would know that this deals with a subject of great controversy in the New Testament. It seems like James is suggesting that salvation is by works when we have been taught, and we know that salvation ought to be and must be by faith alone. So what is the situation here? Well, we are going to go into this passage and I hope that out of it, we will have greater clarity, focus, to help us in examining our own walk with God, as well as to help us help those around us because that's what James wants to do. James wants to bring clarity to the faith.
A story is told of a man who professed faith in Jesus Christ, came to the pastor and spoke with him. And the pastor, in examining his faith asked him, ‘Have you ever been united with the church?’ The man thought about it for a moment and shared. He said, “You know, remember the story of the dying thief at the cross?” You know, he was hanging there, he couldn't do anything, couldn't be united with a church. And all he did was look at Jesus and say, “Remember me, Lord, in paradise.” and Jesus saved him - a beautiful example of salvation by faith alone! And therefore, this man replied to the pastor and said, “You know, the dying thief was never united with the church and he was saved, he was accepted. So am I!” So the pastor probed further and asked, “You know, have you ever sat at the Lord's table? Have you been in fellowship, in communion with the saints, remembering the Lord's death till he comes?” And again, this man who professed faith in Jesus, he said, “You know, Pastor, the dying thief, he never had taken the Lord's Supper, nor had he taken communion, and he was received! So am I.” Then a pastor went on and probed further and said, “Friend, let me ask you again. Have you ever given to missions? Have you ever served the Lord or done anything at all in your life, since you trusted in Jesus?” Then the man who professed faith once again answered the pastor and said, “You know, pass, I remember the dying thief. He never gave to missions. He never did anything with his life for the Lord Jesus and yet, he was saved! So am I.” The disgusted pastor looked at him and said, “The only difference between you and the dying thief was dying and you are a living thief.” You know, friends, is our faith just a mere matter of profession? Is it just claiming to believe that's all that matters? If you've been hanging around in church long enough, you will realize that there's a lot of talk in the church, whether from the pulpit, in conversations or in small groups - a lot of truth in theory, but is that all there is to it? Can we therefore conclude that if we have the right ideas, if we know how to say the right words, we are okay? Well, James is going to give us a twist, a different perspective to that kind of thinking, if it is found in our church today.
Faith that has no works is not real and does not save.
So I'd like you to turn with me to James chapter two, verses 14 to 19. Because in this passage, he's going to teach us a simple but important truth - one that we sometimes forget. What is it? I hope that after this message, you will realize this simple but important truth, that faith that has no works is not real and does not save. This is what he's trying to tell us here. And I feel that it is so important that we need to stop, slow down a little and think about it. Now, this morning, we're not talking about whether you are doing this, doing that and what have you not done, etc. But we are looking at faith - that is the spring, that is the source, that is the beginning. What kind of faith do we need in order to be truly saved and to be growing in the Lord? And James is telling us here that if you do not have a faith that is evidenced by works, chances are it is not real and it does not save.
Let's turn to the scriptures now and see what he says in James chapter two, verse 14. He said, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” So that is the issue here that he raised. He says, ‘You know what? In church, it is easy to get comfortable.’ In fact, it's easy to get convenient, that we say to ourselves, “well, I have been to church all this while, I understand what are the doctrines, I agree to it, I say the sinners’ prayer, I raised my hand, I made a decision, I was baptized” but then your life doesn't really change. And James is challenging that comfort zone of ours. James is challenging, perhaps, that complacency that we can lapse into and he's saying, ‘you know what, it's great that you say you have faith. But now let's look at whether there is evidence that it is real!’ So he goes on to say this that can be very shocking and jarring for us who know that salvation is by faith alone. What does he say? He said, “Can that faith save him?” Some Christians tried to get around with this by saying, ‘well, this is deliverance from trials or troubles and tribulation’. But James does not use the word ‘saved’ in the original Greek in that way. In fact, in the New Testament itself, 29 out of 30 times, this word is used in reference to eschatological deliverance. What does that mean? It sounds so cheem? Well, eschatological deliverance simply means future salvation, where you're finally saved from sin, death and hell. That is the way the word is being used. In other words, have no doubt about it - this is about salvation.
Now, if this is about salvation, then we have a problem, don’t we? Because did not Paul teach very clearly that salvation is by faith alone? Look at what Paul says in Romans chapter two, verse 28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law”. This we all know, this we have been taught, this we have embraced, and therefore we call ourselves Christians. We have said the sinners’ prayer, we have agreed to the truth of salvation whether by the Romans road, NetCasters (if you use that) or through any other means such as John studies or whatever - this is what you have embraced. Then how come, or how can James now suggest something otherwise? This seems like “Well, I tell you what. James is only one epistle but Paul has 27. So, the majority wins!” So is it one against the other? It seems that way. In fact, the Chinese have a saying, ‘shui huo bu xiang rong” - so it seems like there is water and fire and they are not mixing. There is a clash. Ah, I say, there is a contradiction in the Bible. We have a problem here.
In fact, there was a famous man in Christian history. His name is Martin Luther. Martin Luther, not Martin Luther King. Alright, so Martin Luther, he is a German, he was way back in the 17th century and 16th century. And he started what is called the Protestant movement, the Reformation, whereby he lifted up the wonderful truth that salvation or justification is by faith alone. In fact, that is what, you know, happened in Europe that caused the gospel to spread once again throughout Germany into France, into England, into all the Scandinavian countries. So that now when you go on nice European tours, you see quaint church buildings out on the mountaintop, you know, by the lakeside, and you could visit them and say, “How nice!” It is because the gospel spread throughout Europe, no longer controlled and contained by the Mother Church, known at that time as the Roman Catholic Church. Now, when Martin Luther came across James, because he's all on fire and is ready to charge ahead and teach that salvation is by faith alone, and he came to James and James says, “Can that faith save him?” He was so angry that in the preface to his translation of the New Testament in 1522, he wrote in it and said that this Epistle of James is a straw epistle that deserves to be thrown into the Rhine River. He was really angry. How could there be such a contradiction? Now, you may be thinking that way too. You may not be Martin Luther but you know your Bible. You know the gospel. And you are similarly crying in your heart. How can this be true? How could James have talked like that?
Actually, we may have misunderstood James. So let's come back to James chapter two, verse 14, and revisit the verse, shall we? Look at what he's saying. He said, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith ...” You see, James is not questioning faith. He is questioning those who merely claim to have faith. And so, he went on to say, “if he merely claimed to have faith but does not have works”, there is no evidence of a changed life, no change in priorities, no change in values, no changing anything at all. He simply said, “I said the sinners’ prayer - Do you believe in the gospel? Yes, I believe the gospel. I'm a Christian!” If this is what he claims, then James asked this question, “can that faith save him?” You see the article ‘that’ in the original Greek makes us refer back to what he's talking about. He's not talking about faith and that it doesn't save. He's talking about a mere claim to faith that doesn't have any evidences, that doesn't have any proof. And he is saying, ‘can that kind of faith save a person?’ Obviously, not. And that is the question at stake. That is the issue at stake.
In fact, as I prepared this message, I felt that the Lord led me to share with you this morning. I prayed with my brethren in the prayer meeting on Friday morning and asked the Lord to go before us and work in all of our hearts because I understand that this could be a little jarring. This could be a little discomforting. It could be jarring and discomforting because it could cut across the grain of what we think is nice and convenient and it makes us relook at our salvation. But you see, my friends, you have to be careful. There has to be some quality control, some checks, to make sure that your faith is real, that you are truly saved. Because when that is cleared up, then are you able to help others also. But if you have a woozy, fuzzy feel about what it takes to be saved, to be really in the faith, then it is hard for you to help your children, it's hard for you to help your loved ones, it's hard for you to be able to lead them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul is teaching us that before conversion salvation must be based on faith alone. James is teaching us that after conversion faith must be evidenced by works.
So you see, James is not contradicting faith. He is challenging those who merely claim to have faith. So let me put it this way. Paul is teaching us that before conversion, salvation must be by faith alone, no question, no doubt about that - this is clearly taught in the Scripture. But here's the other angle. Here's the second opinion, here is what balances out our faith so that our Christian faith is not just a matter of talking and not merely theoretical. James now is saying, he is teaching us that after conversion, if you claim to have faith, then faith must be evidenced by works. We have to be able to see the fruits of that salvation. We need to see evidence that your life has changed! Now we know that you may struggle and there are weaknesses. We know that you can be tempted and you might fall. I would be too, because we are all merely human. But you see, the general trend, pattern and direction - does it evidence a changed life? Or is it just a mere matter of profession?
Our Christian Life Needs to Have Growth
Look at what John F. MacArthur, a famous Bible teacher, in his book, “Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles”, said about James in this passage. He said, “The error James assails (which today we must confront in our own hearts, in our understanding of the gospel) is faith without works.” Now that might seem to be contradictory. But he goes on to explain, “justification without sanctification”. That means, you are saved but nothing changed in your life. You have no desire for God, no humility in your heart, no hunger for the word, no attempt or effort to pray. There is just nothing in your life that tells you that you are growing even though it may be slow and difficult in a walk with God. It's just a Sunday matter - Sunday Christian. It could be just, “well, I have been to church since I was young”. It could be, “Oh, I went to a Mission School so I know about these stories.” And so it's all just a matter of knowledge and information for you but there's no growth. That's what James is confronting - salvation without the new life. You see, if we are truly saved, the Bible tells us clearly that we are to walk in newness of life.
That means your life will constantly be changing and changing into the image of Christ. It may be slow, it may be challenging, it may be difficult but you can look back and you wife can tell you, “You know what, after all these years, there is something different about you” or maybe after salvation, “You know what? It is amazing what has changed about you!” There is evidence of a new life and not just dead silence. Now, this concept, this truth, is so challenging that it may be hard to grasp immediately. So James, being the wise pastor he is, he gave us an example or an illustration. So listen very carefully to me and see in your own Bible so that you can follow along and know what he's talking about. He's giving you an example of how faith cannot be a mere claim. So he says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed or lacking in daily food ...” - now the word ‘poorly clothed’ in the original Greek refers to one who is either naked or he has very thin clothings”.
Now, of course, in our equatorial climate here in Singapore, with all these heat waves passing through, you really don't want to have thick clothes because that will really suffocate you - the thinner, the better! But as you are probably aware, in other countries, there are seasons, especially in the north and south. The further you go, it could be really cold. And just wearing a thin cotton blouse, for instance, will freeze you to death or you will really catch a cold and fall sick. So we are talking about that kind of situation here, whereby the person has a real need and is shivering. Okay? Now, the next phrase here, description here, “lacking in daily food”. What does it mean in the original Greek? It means what he needs to live another day. We're not talking about his lack in shark fin soup. We're not talking about a situation whereby he is lacking in a bigger and better buffet in the hotel, because the last one wasn't that satisfying - it didn't have the right sashimi mix. We're not talking about that kind of situation here. We're talking about daily food - he is lacking in it. He's struggling just to live.
Now, in this situation, when someone like that comes into our church, for instance, and he's struggling in life, lacks clothes, lacks food, and one of us who is very pious, very spiritual, walks up to him, and then says to him, “Go in peace. Be warmed and filled.” And you even remember “in Jesus’ name, amen”. And you give him nothing. Nothing. No help! Never even considered that, ‘over there, there’s coffee’ or ‘come, come, I can find some food for you here!’ Nothing. You know, James says, ‘you see a practical need, a real need here and you try to bless him and you offer no practical help’. He says, “what good is it?” What good is it? Now, ‘what good is it’ is English and it makes sense for you so I tried to cut through all the layers of defenses we might have against this horrendous thought with some local interpretation.
If you are Hokkien, James may be saying gong nia ma (translates to ‘I am only saying it’). Are you getting the picture of a person who acts like that? If you are Chinese, then James is saying in Chinese, ‘jiang er yi la ni’ - you get the picture? If you are Singaporean, the Singaporean slang will be, ‘See, talk only. Talk and talk only.’ You see, that is what James is saying. He's saying, you know, you have a real need in front of you but all you do is sit - they all say, ‘do something’. It looks good. It feels good and it even ends with the right words. But at the end of the day, it is talk only. My friends, James is giving this example not to point us in the direction of love - that's very important. But he is helping us understand what it means to have a faith without works.
So now, if you look at your Bible, he's going to bring us back to faith. So the next verse says this and it clinches the deal, it seals the matter for us. He says, “Do also faith by itself ...” What does it mean to have faith by itself? He is dealing with that particular claim to faith that has no real works. So he goes on to define what he means by ‘faith by itself’. He said, ‘it does not have works - that is faith by itself’. That is that kind of faith that that's not save; he says, “is dead”. Now, this is very sobering. This is very shocking. And that's why I pray that the Lord will give us a right frame of mind and a humility of heart to take it in the right spirit.
What does it mean that ‘faith is dead’?
Now I want you to know that I speak this to you as much as to myself and I'm not criticizing you but I trust that the Lord will work in our hearts. This is what James meant. He says that if all you have is a claim to faith, a top-only kind of faith and have no works at all, the word ‘dead’ means that it is so deficient that its’ reality is calling the question. What does that mean? It means that that kind of faith is ineffective. That kind of faith is empty. That kind of faith is useless. And this may sound very strong, but this is what it means when he says that that kind of faith is dead. He says that that kind of faith is good for nothing. I don't know about you, my friends, but I do not want, as a Christian, to have a good-for-nothing faith. I don't want to have a deficient faith. I don't want to have a useless, empty faith. And James doesn't want any one of us to have that kind of faith. That's why he says, “You know, all that the scripture says about salvation by faith alone is true. But you need to make sure that your faith is not just a claim and is not just a profession. It is not good enough to just say, “I raised my hands, I went to church when I was young, or I said the sinners’ prayer.” You know, when I asked some of the brethren in China, when I visited them, “When were you saved?” Some of them, they get a little defensive and they would say that, “you know, I've been to church since I was in my mother's womb”. So that's how early they have been to church.
But you will see, that's not the point. It's not about church attendance. It's not about a prayer you have made. It's about the reality - the reality of your faith. In history, of Euro, in France, there is a famous man by the name of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and he is a philosopher, a thinker, who greatly influenced the political thinking during the time of the French Revolution and guided them in the transition from the monarchy into what is known today as democracy. So he is an influential man - he is a well-known and respected figure. And in his own writings, he claimed to be the greatest lover of all mankind. In fact, he said this in his writing, he said that “if anyone will examine my life, no one would disagree with what I say that I love all mankind, more than even the preachers and the churches in Europe. You know, just examine my life, and those who question it ought to be strangled.” And people do question and they begin to examine his life. And they have found that here is a man who sold who was not even there when his father passed away. When he searched to confirm the passing away years later of his brother, he only did so to ensure that he could inherit the family wealth. His own children, all five of them, when they were born, he immediately put them into a hospital which had a guaranteed death rate, because only 14 out of every 100 who went into that particular French hospital survived, and he did not even name his own babies. You know, when we think of a man like that, who made such a claim to love all mankind and in his own life, he could not even be bothered with his father, with his brother, and with his own children, we would question and we will say, “Why see like that?” And if you look further, maybe we could give ourselves the explanation that Rousseau is not a Christian. He's not a believer. And so theologically, because of the sin nature and its deception and the wickedness of the human heart, of course there are inconsistencies. Even though we can explain his claims and his life that way, we would still be turned off because he is claiming something that he's not. But at least we can give an excuse.
We have to re-examine our lives!
But how about us as Christians? How about us? If we claim to have faith, to believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins to be saved and on my way to eternal Heaven, not hell anymore, and yet our lives have no evidence of it, would you not think that others might be turned off by such claims that are actually empty? And so we have to re-examine our lives.
And if you think about it, my friends, Paul actually does not disagree with James. You might think he does but he doesn't. Why do I say so? Look with me in 2 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse five - it says here, “examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith”. You see, Paul has no problem with having us question whether our faith is real. He knows that faith saves and it is faith alone. But that faith has to be real faith! So he says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you're in the faith”. And he goes on to say, “Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” You see, what Paul is saying is that if Jesus Christ is in you, then there will be changes. There will be notable differences if you have faith in Jesus. It is not a theory; it is God, by His Holy Spirit, living in us. And that brings about changes in our values and priorities, the things we pursue. And so he is saying, if you, after you are saved, all your life you continue to go after the world, money is your God or success or ambition, or you only live for yourself; then he said, “examine yourself”. Don’t you realize what it means to be saved? It means that Jesus is in your heart, in your life! How could there be no changes? How could there be no works, in James’ words?
And in another place in Titus. Now, when Paul wrote to Titus, he wrote to the believers that he was ministering to in Crete. Now the believers in Crete had a problem that we will be ashamed of because they are known to be lazy. And so Paul actually rebuked the Cretan believers, and said, “this thing is true, that you guys are lazy.” What does it mean to be lazy? It means that you basically want to be comfortable, you want whatever is convenient, you want whatever is good for you and that tends to twist and shape our faith in a certain direction. And as a result, it becomes not uncommon for false teachers to gain an entry because they usually have something tempting, something fashionable, something they like to sell, and they embrace! And Paul is saying to the believers through Titus and he said, ‘you know, watch out for these false teachers!’ Because “they profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 3:16). In other words, Paul is aware of this reality that there could be a profession of faith, a claim to know God, to have received Jesus Christ, even to teach truth concerning Jesus. Yet, by their works or by their lives, they deny everything that the Bible says. And concerning these people, Paul went on to describe because of how empty their faith is, they are detestable. Now, those are strong words. Disobedient - because they actually have no concern to reorient their lives around scripture to align their purposes and pursuit with God's will; unfit for any good work (Titus 3:16). You know what friends? We don't want that kind of faith. We don't want just a mere claim to know God but by our lives, by our works, we deny the same truth, we claim to hold onto.
A story is told of a group of demons - this is not a real story, who gathered and decided on how they're going to deceive people and lead them into error. So one young demon said, “well, we'll just tell them God doesn't exist, isn't that popular? I mean, that seems to be very well accepted.” And then the wiser older demons said, “you know, we can't do that because we ourselves believe that God exists. So we can’t lie to them with conviction.” And another demon decided and suggested, “How about this? We tell them that God exists but we tell them that it doesn't matter because after we die, there is no eternal punishment, you can just move on and you will go into annihilation - nothingness.” And, again, the older wiser demon said, “you know, this doesn't work too because we know it is not true. That is not true. We know that there is eternal punishment for the disobedient who do not receive Jesus as your Savior.” Then he scratched his head, and said, “How about this? Why don't we tell them that God is real, He exists, Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and if they believe in Him, they can truly have eternal life. But after they have said they believe in Jesus, they can just live as they please, sin freely, do whatever they want. Nobody cares because God loves you. Don’t you think that's a good idea?” The other two younger demons said, “Oh, yeah, that's a great idea!”. And you know what, they begin to promote that idea. And you know what, this story may not be true but this kind of thinking is common, isn't it? Common in the churches, common perhaps even in the secret thoughts of our hearts that we could just believe in Jesus and then live as we please because we got an insurance, a fire escape, out of hell into heaven.
And you know, that's why Paul says that when you profess to know God by deny him, that's a false idea, a false teaching! That's not the gospel, and it is detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good works. And so my friends, James, in chapter two is not raising the question of faith or works - it is not a conflict, it is not a contradiction. You see, James, he was highlighting the emptiness of a faith that has no works. So let's be clear about this.
Okay, so if you're sitting there thinking to yourself, “you know, okay, I thought that you mentioned that there's a contradiction of whether it's salvation by faith or works...?” No, no, no, no, no, no. James is not dealing with that. James is dealing with what is closer to heart? What should cause us to sober up even though it gets a little uncomfortable - to ask ourselves, “Do I really have faith? Or is it empty? Do I really believe? Are there changes in my life? Can I prove it? Or do I just have a claim?”
Now at this point, it seems like James, the wise pastor, was listening to the hearts of the audience he was writing to and it seems that he's almost listening to believers down the centuries and knew what they would suggest as objections. So in the same passage, he began to answer two objections. Okay, two objections that people may have. Because you know what? It works like this - if we listen and hear something we like and we appreciate it, no issue, thank God, amen! You know, good message, Pastor. And good message, James, you know, right on - no issue. But the moment we hear something that sounds jarring to us, that cuts across the grain, immediately our minds begin to react. We try to defend and we try to argue. And it seems that James can hear those and he offers an answer to the two common objections.
What's the first one? The first one is simply this. He said, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works” (James 2:18). He is saying “Hey, James, don't you realize that there are different spiritual gifts? You know, you may have the gift of help so you like to do a lot of work, you like to help out in the church, you like to serve. You know what, that is good for you. But I'm different. I'm wired differently. My personality, my gifting, my spiritual gifts are different. Mine is the gift of faith. Doesn’t the Bible talk about that? You know, I am the mystic in my family. I am the mystic and church. I am the kind who meditate and I feel God is so near. I am the kind who prays, the kind who looks into the future and I see visions and dreams. You know, that's my expression of faith. Hey, what's wrong with that? Everyone has different spiritual gifts, right? So in other words, they're trying to separate faith from works. Now, what does James say about this? Let's read on and see. James goes on to tell us, “Show me your faith apart from your works.” Really? James is saying, “You really think so? Okay, I tell you what, you say that my gift is help and your gift is faith. So show me your faith without any proof.” Huh? How do you expect me to show it when it is faith? Can you see the confusion and the emptiness of this claim? But then he goes on and says, “I will show you my faith by my works”. In other words, he is not saying that there are two different kinds or variety or strains of faith. He is saying that there's only one kind and the only kind that is true, is those that can be proven by the changes in your life and by your works.
And you know what, by the way, that is the journey through Hebrews 11, isn't it? Can you imagine if we read Hebrew 11 and it reads, ‘And Abraham believed God and he felt good’. And you know, earlier with Noah, that ‘he believed God and he went swimming’. Later, Issac, ‘he believed God and he sang a song’. You know, if it is all like that, whatever is comfortable and safe and what have you, and nothing cuts across the grain, then what examples do we have? How would we know? It becomes talk only! And you know, James is saying, “Come on, let's move on from those mediocre thinking about the Christian faith. You show me your faith without works. I'll show you, my friend, I'll show you by the changes in my life that I truly believe.”
Faith cannot and must not be separated from works in our Christian life.
So what is he saying here? An important truth. And let's get this right. Faith cannot and must not be separated from works in our Christian life. Faith cannot and must not be separated from works in my Christian life. You see, if I believe that the Bible says ‘husbands, love your wife’ and that is true, then I need to hold up my life and examine it (do I love my wife?) and not give excuses and separate my obedience to God's Word with some claims of feeling good and singing a song or going on a nice enjoyment of a walk with God that has no reality. If I truly believe ‘wives submit to your husband’ then I cannot separate it from my works and say, “You know what? That's a great idea. But do you know that culturally there are these five different interpretations (I don't know how many there are) about what it means to submit and therefore I have not quite made up my mind. I have been married for 20 years but I'm still trying to figure it out. God is gracious, I'll try to understand it one day.”
You know what, you can’t separate what the scripture commands of our works and our obedience from what we believe. In fact, Paul said this, “I believe, therefore, I speak.” And that's why Paul's preaching has power. If we live our lives in which we believe but we only claim to believe, then we're separating our lives from work and we go down that slippery road into dead faith. So you see, friends, what I am calling you to do today in your own heart and life is this: quality control of your personal faith and walk with God. It is a reality check. It is a wake up call. If you have grown comfortable in your Christian journey and you have found that which is convenient and you begin to ignore for yourself those teachings in the scripture that you're uncomfortable with, then it is a reality check - do you really believe? Because faith cannot be separated from works!
But that's not the only one. Here's another one that is so common, even till this day. And so James moves on and says “You believe that God is One; you do well” (James 2:19). We're talking about orthodoxy here. We're talking about the doctrines of the Christian faith. One God alone - monotheism. And he says, “You know what? That's not wrong. You do very well.” And you see, there are Christians who think like that. They say, “you know what, why are you rambling over this for? I already know the doctrines of the Christian faith. I went to Bible classes. I understand the church constitution. I will know the vision and mission of the church. I could say it forwards and backwards in English, Chinese, and get it translated. No issue. Why are you challenging my faith?” But you see, he says, “You know what? If you think like that, then you are reducing the Christian faith to a mere theory, a mental assent.” Then he gives you this very shocking statement. Are you ready? Hold your seats. All right. He's gonna say something really shocking. He said, “Even the demons believe!” (James 2:19). What do I want to do with demons? And he said, “not only do they believe that is true, they even shudder!” I like the King James translation - it says that “the demons tremble”. What is James saying? He is saying, “You know, what you are believing is not wrong. But the demons believe that too. In fact, they know it so true and so well that they are even moved emotionally. They tremble at the thought that God is One. They tremble at all these central, key doctrines of the faith. What good is it? Are demons changing in their Christian life? Have you met a Christian demon? And would you want to meet one in heaven who says, “I believe too”? Of course not. So what is he saying here? Well, he's teaching us that faith cannot and must not be confused with mere intellectual assent or emotional experience. You cannot confuse it. It's much more than that. Believing in Jesus brings about drastic changes in your heart and life. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; all things have become new. And you sit down there and say, “hmm, good idea”. You are on the wrong track. You have confused it. You say, “Wow, that is a wonderful thought. I am sure in the new heaven and new earth, I will be a new creation.” My friend, you're off track. You're confusing mere intellectual assent or emotional experiences with true faith.
Some people they look at it like this and say, “You know what, that day I trusted in Jesus, I wept buckets. I cried and cried and cried. I have never cried before. And after that, my heart feels so good. I know I believe in Jesus.” And after that, what has changed? “You mean, I need to change? You mean, there needs to be changes? No, I mean, after that I just felt good and after that, I just continued to come to church to feel good.” You know, friends, if that is what you're after - a mere emotional experience, then I'm afraid you're on the slippery road to dead faith. James says, “Please do not confuse that. Do not confuse the two.” It's not just a mental assent. It's not just an emotional experience. Real faith has works that produces changes in our lives.
You know, years ago, I went to Vivocity and had a reunion dinner or reunion lunch at one of the restaurants. I was really anticipating that meal because I could be in one of the favorite restaurants with my family, enjoy the scenery over at Sentosa. And guess what? When we sat right there by a window, there was this huge ship that blocked our view. So I was really upset. I say, “Of all times, you must come during Chinese New Year and you must dock right next to the restaurant”. So after the meal, I got curious to find out what kind of ship it was that was blocking our view and, you know, diminishing our pleasure at our reunion meal. And I saw and I looked, “Wow, that is the ship!” And I was like, “wow, this ship is the famous ship that sails around to preach the gospel!” And the fact that we could get on board this ship - you can see the picture of my son seated there. And this ship that we got on was selling Christian books there and is evidence of the faith of a man by the name of George Voer. Who is George Voee? Well, he is a man who believes that God can do great things and he needs to be faithful to spread the gospel. So one day, he looked at the world map and he got excited because he saw the other major ports and cities are all by the sea lanes. And he thought to himself, if I could get a ship and I could fill it with gospel tracks, fill it with volunteers, then every major port that I could dock at in a third world country, we could send out armies, passing a gospel tracts, supplying people with these, inviting them to come up, listen to Bible classes as they are queuing up to come up the ship, and against the white walls of the of the ship, we can flash the gospel. Then, he got all excited. And he began to pray and pray and pray. And the Lord asked him, “if I were really to give this to you, what would you really do?” So this man, George, he shared with the Lord all his plans and he also confided in a friend. But this friend wisely told him - he said, “George, you know, you're talking about a ship. Not a yacht. We are talking about a huge ship.” Where are we going to get the money for that? And think about it with me, George, if you have this ship, who are you going to get to captain the ship? Any man who has risen in his career in sailing, up to the point whereby he can command a ship, captain a ship - he has invested so much of his time and energy and life to pursue that; why would he turn around and sell a Christian ship around third world country docks that earns no money and gains him no prestige. And so, you know, he told him, “George, you know, this is close to impossible”. But you see, George believed that God can do great things. And God wants to use all these that we bring before him to spread the gospel. And let's continue to pray! True enough, God not only gave him one ship, God gave him two ships! It was not only the dulos, he also got the logos. And not only did he have two ships, he got two captains. Why? All because of the faith of a man who believed in God. In other words, his faith has substance to it. His faith has evidence to it. And I show you this picture of myself on this ship to tell you that this is the concrete reality - that even in our world today, when a man has faith in God, it expresses itself in works. And you know what's so amazing? After the first service, there was a man visiting with us in our church and he came up to shake my hand and he said, “You know what, Pastor, I work for operation mobilization." And as you probably know, he said, "Operation mobilization is the outfit that is helping and that is working on these two ships." And he said, "Now, we not only have (the logos has already been decommissioned), now we have the Logos Hope as well and now it's right in South Africa, sailing the coast, spreading the gospel.". And this man who is working for operation mobilization stays in Punggol as well. So I say, "You must come over. And if you can, one day, how about you sail the ship into Punggol Waterway, so that we can see again, the reality of faith.".
My friends, what George has done in his life is to tell us that God is still real today. And if we believe him, there has to be something to show for it. And you'll see why you and I, we may not have a ship or two, or captain of a ship, to show us the evidence of our faith. But what do we have in our life? Do we have the evidence of a changed attitude? Our priorities, values, relationships? When someone close to you looks at you, can they say, "you know what, you're not the same anymore". It doesn't feel the same. In fact, you are, perhaps, maybe, I can't put my finger to it but maybe I can just say, "nicer to get along"? Well, some personalities are quirky but you know, there's something different. I'm not quite sure. Can people say something like that to you? Or do you know that to be true of yourself? That you can point back and say, "you know, that's the evidence of my faith; that I am truly saved". It's not just about having said the sinners' prayer. It's not just about having understood what the gospel is all about bt what can I look back and say, "You know what, my faith is real, my faith saved me, because of these changes I can see that God has brought in my life.". You see, if we do not have such quality control checks on our own hearts, then how are we going to help others who come to us? If you are pinning your hope on a formula or tradition or an experience without looking hard and clear at the changes in your life, then how can you help your children, your loved ones, that they may have faith that is real? Why? Because James warns us that faith that has no works is not real and does not save.
Let us pray. Our Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for your Word today. Father, we confess that because life's busy and is often hard, confusing, challenging, we tend to lapse into what is comfortable and convenient. And we do the same for our Christian faith. In fact, we just would be happy to get into a routine of coming to church, maybe reading the Bible, dojng some ministries, and without giving real thought to whether our faith is vibrant, real and alive. I pray that Lord, you would speak to our hearts the truth of the message this morning, not to tear us down but to build us up. But sometimes to build us up, we need to tear down those pieces that are wrong, that are leading us in the wrong direction. And I pray, dear Lord Jesus, that we would be strict with ourselves, to examine whether we are in the faith. Dear friends, I'd like to invite you this morning to take a moment just to be still before the Lord and examine your hearts. Perhaps as you hear this message, you are heartily in agreement because you have seen the ravages and the errors of just merely professing faith in those around you. And that has challenged you to be serious with God. And as you listen, you check your own heart and you know that there are things in your life you can point to that are evidences of God's grace at work in your life ans that your faith is real. And if that is true, I want to invite you to give thanks to God and hlp him to keep you on that sure, straight and narrow road that leads to life.
But perhaps there are some among us this morning, and as you listen to the message and examine your heart, you realize that you know, you may have had such a faith in the past but recently things have changed in you. You kind of just got into the routine of life and and are just sailing along. And you're struggling actually, without knowing, because you're not really exercising a faith in God. And I want to invite you to come back now to the Lord and not be content with mere mental assent or emotional experiences in the past, not be contented with excuses you can give for why you didn't do this and why you didn't obey that. And you know the areas that God is speaking to you about, and you just lack the faith to trust God on it. And I want to invite you this morning to trust God and begin an exciting journey of faith with him - a faith that will lead you into a life you never knew or thought possible. Isn't that an exciting thought? It's not about having more money, more opportunities. It's about having faith, believing in God, taking Him at His Word, stepping out and watching Him work. You want that kind of life. You want that kind of faith. You want to re-enter that journey. You may not be recorded in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11. But you certainly want to stand side by side with them on the day of reckoning with God. And if that is you, my brother, my friend, my brother, my sister, I want to invite you to come before the Lord and pour your hearts to him. Turn from a dead faith, turn from an empty profession to believe. Ask God to help you trust Him, to help you grow, to make those changes in your life. But perhaps, my friends, seated among us, gathered among us, we have people who have been in church for a long time. You thought that you are a Christian, you thought you believed. But as you heard the message this morning, somehow, something spoke to your heart. It's like the Lord taking an arrow, releasing it and it shot right straight through, and you knew there and then, because God did it, that you're not saved. You thought you were because you came to church, or you have Christian parents, or you went to a Christian school. But you knew this morning that your faith has no works. It is a formality, a ritual. And you realize that you are in danger of eternal separation from God, from all that you know and heard to be true and good. And you want to change that. And I invite you this morning as you sit right where you are, to cry out to God and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to invite Jesus into your life to be your Lord and your Savior right now. And if you've been in church long enough, came from a Christian school, you know how to do that - but now, you do it with a sincere, real faith.
And don't be content, my friend, if you have said that prayer, asked him to save you, that you are Christian. Watch, examine yourself to see whether there are real changes in your life, a new excitement about the things of God, a fresh desire or hunger for His Word - all those are little little signs of new life in you. And you need to learn to watch for those things because that tells you that your faith is rael ans is producing changes and drawing you to God.
Our heavenly Father, we thank you. We thank you for Your word that is true and powerful. It may not always say the things we like to hear, but it always speaks what we need to know so that we can be right in our relationship with You. And I pray, dear Lord Jesus, that You will give us a hunger and desire for You that will supersede our desire for personal comfort and pleasure, so that we will embrace You and Your truth with a fervor and passion that will usher us into a real journey of faith with You.
Lord, we pray, and thank you for Jesus who died on the cross for our sins - not so that we can live for ourselves anymore but for Him who died and rose again. And may our profession of faith be evidenced by a reorientation of our entire life, in how we sincerely, honestly and faithfully live for you. All we ask now in Jesus' name, Amen.
More Episodes from Pastor Chee Keen Seethor:
28 May 2023
04 Dec 2022
27 Oct 2019
25 Dec 2018
09 Dec 2018
02 Dec 2018
30 Mar 2018
24 Dec 2017
Episodes from other sermons:
28 May 2023
07 Apr 2023
12 Mar 2023
25 Dec 2022
20 Dec 2022
11 Dec 2022
04 Dec 2022
27 Nov 2022