James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 5)

The wise have a faith that works.

James 2:14-26
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

James unpacks three kinds of people in this portion of scripture. The first kind is the person who claims to have faith but no deeds. This person is the one who says they love God and yet whose actions are not worthy of God; their faith does not impact the way they live. James compares this person’s belief to that of the demons.  The demons believe God and they fear Him. But, they do not have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Just belief in the existence of God does not equate to life giving faith. Faith is something more than cognitive belief.

The second is those who have good deeds but no faith. To James, this kind of lifestyle is also meaningless as actions alone do not connect one to the source of life. And so although these deeds may be good they still lead to death. It is meaningless activity. Both of these kinds of people James describes in terms of being spiritually dead.

James, however, describes a third way. A way in which faith is lived out in a person’s lifestyle. It is a real and true kind of flourishing where our faith meaningfully transforms our attitudes, emotions, decisions and behaviours. This is what James would call true discipleship. James gives two examples of this living faith. That of Abraham and Rahab. Abraham, the Patriarch, the father of the nation of Israel, the good guy and Rahab, the harlot, the foreigner, the bad girl.  What do these two very different people have in common?  They did not look to their deeds to ultimately saved them, it was their faith.  Now their faith was not void of action but rather prompted them into action. The truth is that faith without deeds is probably no faith at all….and deeds with no faith is meaningless.  But a faith that works in us and through us is something real and living.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

James begins this passage by asking some questions, what do you think? Can a faith without deeds save someone? 

Take a moment as a group to read out loud James 2:14-26.

  • James describes faith without deeds as being dead, why would this be the case?
  • In verse 19, James uses the example of the demon’s who believe, what is the difference between their belief in Jesus and a saving faith response to Jesus?
  • In what way was Abraham’s faith made complete in what he did?
  • In verse 22, James describes that Abraham’s faith and actions were working together, in what ways do our faith and actions work together?
  • Is there anything else that impacted you from this passage?

For Personal Reflection:

  • Take some time to reflect upon your own faith?  Is your faith a living and dynamic?  Do you see yourself continuously responding to God’s initiatives and revelation?
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
and assurance about what we do not see.

Wisdom for each day:

Monday:  Being confident in what we hope for. 

In Hebrews 11, faith is described as being “confident” of what we hope for and “certain” of what we do not see.    The author then continues by using Israel’s own history as proof of what happens when people put their faith in the unseen God.   Enoch escapes death, Noah and his family are saved from the flood, Abraham becomes the father of a nation, Moses leads a people out from oppression, the waters of the sea are parted, the walls of a city fall, kingdoms are conquered, lions mouths are closed, the dead are raised and on and on.  And all of this happens through ordinary people who respond with obedience to the level of revelation that God gives them. Now whilst their revelation of God was limited, WE HAVE CHRIST!! They lived in anticipation; waiting for the day when God himself would close the chasm between God and man. We live, having seen God in the person of Jesus Christ. Our hope is grounded in an even better certainty as we encounter the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been given a greater revelation than our ancient brothers and sisters who lived before Jesus. I wonder, if they were given the chance, what would these ancients say to us today? I suspect they would urge us to make much of Christ in everything we do and say. To shout out loud and live on purpose the great revelation that they only caught glimpses of and yet gave everything up for.

Tuesday: Noah built an ark when there was no rain.

Hebrews 11:7 speaks about the faith of Noah.  Noah we read in Genesis 6 is the only person found to be righteous and faithful to God in a generation of people who only “do what is evil all the time.”  God commands Noah to build a boat; He gives Noah very clear instructions about how to build this boat and Noah takes to heart God’s command’s as he commences the work on the ark.  The scripture is silent on the exact amount of time it took Noah to build the ark, but commentators deduce it was between 50-75 years. Imagine what kind of adversity Noah’s building of a giant boat would have incited within that time and yet still He kept faithfully building, relying on God’s character and His promise that God would save Noah and His family.  Now this is faith.  Sometimes God may call us to do the most unlikely things; perhaps he will ask us to keep doing them faithfully over a long time, perhaps He will ask us to do something that seems ridiculous, but faith is continuing to trust that God will do what He says He will do and obeying His commands in light of this.   Is there something that God is asking you to do?  May you have the faith and courage to trust Him and obey Him today.

Wednesday: Abraham left his home and livelihood before he knew where he was going.

I have left home twice in my life.  The first time was when I moved from Hervey Bay to Brisbane to study and the second was when we left Brisbane to move to the UK for what was meant to be 9 months.  Seven years later, I now understand just a little of what it must of been like for Abraham to uproot his household, leave behind his home and head towards a land he had never seen before, all because God told him to do so.  And yet I have learnt from Abraham’s story and my own, that when God calls you, you are wise to listen and obey. For the truth is, that God is writing His story into the lives of men and women who have the courage to follow Him. Out of Abraham’s story comes a nation, and from that nation comes our Saviour. I am sure that it was no small thing for Abraham to leave everything behind and not look back. And yet, through it, God worked out His story of salvation.  May we learn too from Abraham and have enough faith and courage to let God write our story.

Thursday: Enoch walked with God and then was no more. 

The writer of Hebrews describes that Enoch was someone who walked with God and then one day was no more;  God took him away.  Although little is written about Enoch in Genesis, the writer of Hebrews unpacks for us why Enoch was taken. It was because Enoch was someone who believed in God and earnestly sought Him.  Enoch’s story is found early in the Genesis account, within his genealogy.   Enoch had little revelation about God but what he would have understood was that God was the creator God who had once walked and talked with His great, great, great, great grandparents in the garden. That having a relationship with this God was possible. Clearly Enoch was someone who took seriously his ancestors story and chose to seek this God with all His heart. God delighted in Enoch’s heart.  I have heard one preacher say, that God so enjoyed His times with Enoch that He wanted Enoch all to himself so he took him away. Enoch’s faith caused Him to seek out God and when Enoch sought God, he found Him.  Perhaps right at this moment in time, life is busy, hectic and overwhelming, let us learn from Enoch, and may we have enough faith to seek the God who wants to walk and talk with us.

Friday: Moses chose the uncomfortable over the comfortable.Recently at the HTB leadership conference I was struck by the words of a defence lawyer by the name of Brian Stevenson. Paraphrased he said that God rarely calls us to a life of comfort and convenience. in fact, if we are truly going to make a difference for God’s kingdom in this world it will mean being placed in uncomfortable and inconvenient circumstances. I see this in the life of Moses. From the very day of his birth there was a battle on for Moses life. His mother had to let him go in order to save him. (Heb 11:23)…uncomfortable..inconvenient..When he was fully grown he exchanged Pharoah’s palace and Egypts riches for being mistreated, poor and enslaved. He chose faith in God, identifying with God’s people and being counted amongst them because he recognised it was far better to be on God’s side rather than any other. Even if that choice meant temporary uncomfortability and inconvenience compared to the eternal and infinite plans of God. I wonder is God calling you to step out of your places of comfort and convenience so that He might accomplish His purposes through you?

Saturday: The Israelites marched even though the walls were high.

When the Israelites were given the task of taking the promised land one giant city stood in the way, Jericho. Jericho was a fortified city with large walls.  The writer of Hebrews states that “by faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army marched around them for seven days.” (11:30)  Here is an incredible example of the power of faith.  Apart from their conviction that God would act if they were faithful to His commands, nothing could be more pointless than the behaviour of those warriors.  They did not attack, they did not strategise, they just simply marched.  For 6 days once a day they walked around this giant city with it’s high walls and on the seventh they walked around 7 times.  And without lifting a single weapon, the walls came tumbling down. God delivered this city into their hands.  We have access to incredible power, the power of God, if only we trust in Him and learn to be obedient to His voice.