9/5/21 – Pentecost 15 – “Faith Works” – James 2:14-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Epistle Reading from James chapter 2. We will be focusing on the final section, verses 14-18, under the theme Faith Works.

1. I’m reminded of a story, I’m not quite sure of the origin of it, but the story is of a tight-rope walker who was performing at Niagara Falls. I don’t know if you have ever been to Niagara Falls, but it is one of the most intimidating places I have ever been. The sheer volume of water that flows through combined with the incredible height of the falls is enough to make anyone queasy, especially when you’re standing at the edge looking over. Well, anyway, this tight-rope walker has a rope strung across Horseshoe Falls, the largest and widest of the falls. And he gathered a crowd around him and asked, “Do you have faith that I can walk across this rope and back without falling?” I’m sure the crowd wasn’t exactly sure what to think, but then again, this guy probably wouldn’t attempt such a feat if he couldn’t do it, right? So, the crowd nervously replied, “Yes, we have faith you can do it.” So, the man got on the rope and walked all the way across and back as if he were strolling down the sidewalk. Next, he had a wheelbarrow brought to him and asked the crowd, “Do you have faith that I can wheel this wheelbarrow across this rope and back?” The crowd, this time being reasonably confident in his abilities, said, “Yes, we have faith.” So, the mane proceeded to wheel the wheelbarrow across and back as confidently as before. Finally, when he returned, the man asked the crowd, “Do you have faith that I can wheel this wheelbarrow across this rope and back, this time with a person in it?” By this point the crowd was completely confident in the man’s abilities, so they replied enthusiastically, “Of course, we have faith!” The man looked over the crowd and responded, “Very well, who’s getting in the wheelbarrow?” It’s one thing to say you have faith, it’s another thing entirely to put that faith into action.

2. This is, essentially, St. James’ point in our text for today. True faith involves action. Or, to put it differently, faith work. Listen one more time to verse 14: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? So, right here in this verse, we have what appears to be a tension between faith and works. We’ll see shortly that this is actually not the case. But in this verse the question is, can a faith which is separated from works save someone? Spoiler alert: contrary to what your good-Lutheran-instincts might be telling you, the answer is, “no.” It is not enough to believe in a purely intellectual sense. There has to be some practical application for this belief. James goes on to give an example of this in verses 15 and 16: 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? See, not only do these empty words of this ‘believer’ do no good for the person who is in need, but also there is no spiritual benefit for this ‘believer.’ There’s two important things going on here: there is the believer in relation to other human beings and the believer in relation to God. Yet somehow these two relationships are intimately tied together. A bit more on this later, but James does makes this tie clear when he says in verse 17, So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Notice the interrelated nature of faith and works. James is making a contrast here, but it’s not between faith and works. Let me repeat myself: there is not a contrast between faith and works. The contrast is between a living faith that has works and a lifeless faith which does not have works. The choice is between faith-and-works or a bogus faith. This is why James concludes our reading in verse 18 by saying, But someone will say, “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. The point is simple: Faith works; it involves action. To use Luther’s words, O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever, who gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet such a person talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works. Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake life itself on it a thousand times. True, living faith involves a busy, active life filled with good works.

3. Now, there are two things I would like to address as we think about what all of this means for us. First, I would like to discuss this intimate tie between your relationship with God and your relationship with others. Then we’ll conclude with a discussion of what to do when your actions don’t match your belief. First, the tie between relationship with God and relationship with others. You and I live at the intersection between two realms which were never intended to be separated. But because of Adam’s fall into sin and because of our continued participation in that sin, the realm of God and the realm of man have been separated. But you and I who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus live at the intersection of these two realms. We are eternal beings who live by faith before God, yet we are also mortal beings who live by works before others. We’re caught in the tension between these two realms. And the reality is, the way in which we live in one realm impacts the way in which we live in the other. As we continue thinking about how faith and works relate, I’ve always found this quote from Luther to be helpful: God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. In light of our discussion of James, I would add something to this quote: God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does—and so do you! I say this for two reasons. Yes, it’s your faith in Jesus which saves you, but your works bear witness to the state of that faith. Your works are like a diagnostic tool that gives you a glimpse as to what’s going on inside of you. But the reverse is true too. Your actions also have an impact on your faith in Jesus. When you are unfaithful to God’s call on your life, it has a weakening effect on your faith. And when you are faithful, it has a strengthening effect. Your relationship with the Lord and your relationship with others effect one another, although the starting point and source of all our faith and works is ultimately Jesus.

4. All of this brings us to our final point: What do I do when my actions don’t match my belief? And let’s be honest, we’ve all found ourselves there. In fact, maybe you find yourself there right now. It’s so easy to act like faith is nothing more than an intellectual exercise. But it’s not. Our faith by its very nature is based on action. It’s based on the action of our heavenly Father, who sent his only son into the world to restore lost human beings like you and me to himself. It’s based on the action of Jesus, who willingly suffered and died on our behalf in order to offer us forgiveness. And it’s based on the action of our resurrected Lord’s Spirit, who now works in us a faith that works. Faith is anything but a purely intellectual exercise. It’s based on the action of our Triune God for us which leads us to action for others. So, what do I do when my actions don’t match my belief? Two things—and the order is important. First, I trust in the forgiveness of Jesus. I run to him in prayer and confess my sin asking for his Spirit’s help to do better and to be better. And then I eagerly hear his word of forgiveness and strength spoken by the pastor or through his Word directly. And now that I have trusted in and turned to the forgiveness of Jesus, I turn to the second thing, I do what I’ve been given to do. If I need some instruction on what I’ve been given to do, I turn to the Ten Commandments as a guide. It doesn’t matter if I feel like doing what I’ve been given to do—it’s God’s command to me for my good and for the benefit of others. And so, whether I feel like it or not, I trust in Jesus, I get into the wheelbarrow, and I do what I’ve been given to do because that’s what faith does—faith works.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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1 Response to 9/5/21 – Pentecost 15 – “Faith Works” – James 2:14-18

  1. Don Pryor says:

    Now FAITH is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

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