Monday, July 4, 2016

Faith, Works...What? James 2:14-26 MSG

"Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?" (James 2:14)

Today's verses actually remind me of the very holiday we are celebrating today. In the United States, we are celebrating our independence from Britain, written up and submitted on July 4, 1776. The cool thing about this, the part that is comparable to our verses, is that the American Colonies talked a good talk about wanting independence. For years, they grumbled about wanting to be free and then one day, everything came to a head, and they did it. There was, of course, a whole lot more to it than that but this isn't a history lesson. The point is that they declared they were independent.

But that declaration wasn't the end. It was only the first of a long list of actions that they had to take in order to make their dream come true. People died for the dream. There was a war that lasted eight years involving multiple countries. Our own country was a wreck that needed fixing when it was all over. This isn't much different from being a person who loves Jesus today. All over the world, there are Christians who love Jesus and just want to share the amazing news that he died for us all and they are being persecuted for it. They are dying for the dream of sharing Jesus with everyone. Those are huge actions.

Let's look at an example from James:

"For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, 'Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!' and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" (James 2:15-17)

Ouch. This one hits too close to home because we do it every single day. We see a need that must be addressed and we just hope someone else will take care of it. But what if we are the very "someone else" that Jesus had in mind when that person crossed our path? We are missing out on an amazing opportunity to help a fellow human, to possibly introduce them to Jesus, and to demonstrate our own faith with a little bit of action. We are far too passive here in America. We are comfortable and are rarely willing to step outside of our own bubbles to help someone else whose bubble has popped.

"I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, 'Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.'

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove." (James 2:18)

Those are technically James' words from thousands of years ago, but they are still completely applicable now. I am apparently full of examples today because I have another one to share. This one is a little more personal.

When I was a teenager, I made a ton of bad choices. If you asked me then if I loved Jesus and if I was a follower of Christ, I would have said, "yes, absolutely." But you wouldn't have believed me. Do you know why? Because I wasn't showing my love for Jesus in my actions. My actions said that I was a spoiled rotten, bratty teenager of the world who acted entitled to whatever she wanted. That's not Jesus.

It was like a game of mini-golf gone terribly wrong. I was still carrying my tiny little ball of faith around with me, but I had dropped the club I needed to launch my faith into the windmills and castles and across the moats of the world. So instead of playing the game with those around me, I just put my little faith ball in my pocket. From the outside, it looked like I wasn't playing the game. No one else knew except me. So it didn't matter how good I was at tossing my ball toward the little goal. No amount of holes in one were going to make me a winner because I wasn't really playing! I had no actions to back up my claims.

Do you know what James says about my pathetic faith?

"Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?" (James 2:19-20)

And by the time I was 19, that was exactly what I had- a corpse. I had dropped about as low as I could go. I was a single mom and already divorced. Yes, there were still some amazing things in my life- my incredible blessing of a son being the biggest one and my supportive mom being a close second. She came alongside me and helped me pick up the pieces of my broken, dead faith. She walked me back into church, she prayed with me- she had the actions that my faith lacked. And that's when things finally turned around.

Just like Abraham and Rahab did in the Bible, I needed to back my faith with some actions. Here's what James says about them:

"Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham 'made right with God by works' when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are 'works of faith'? The full meaning of 'believe' in the Scripture sentence, 'Abraham believed God and was set right with God,' includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named 'God’s friend.' Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse." (James 2:21-26)

Read that last verse again:

"The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse."

Let's fast forward from 19 year old Kristi to 35 year old Kristi (that's me today, by the way). If you asked me again today if I was follower of Jesus, the answer would still be yes. And I'd like to believe that you could closely examine my life and see the actions that back that claim up. I'm doing my best to show the world that I love Jesus.

How about you? Do you have the actions to back up your claim of faith? It's easy to say you're a Christian. It's far harder to act like one. I pray that we all figure this one out and demonstrate our faith to the world through our actions.  

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