A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

God Makes Us Fruitful!

-Through An Encounter With Jesus!

No one has a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ & walks away unchanged! The deaf were made to hear! The blind were made to see! The lame could walk again! The hungry were filled! The ignorant were instructed! The guilty were forgiven! And, sinners were set free from their sin! There is nothing in scripture to support the “cheap grace” religion so prevalent in the western church— that someone can be saved without becoming Jesus’ disciple! That repeating the word to some kind of “sinners prayer” is like a “get out of hell” free card!

-Saved From A Self-Absorbed Life!

Jesus didn’t save us to live a self-centered, self-absorbed life! He didn’t just die, on the cross, so we could listen to a good sermon & some worship music every Sunday morning! This post is about FRUITFULNESS! God makes us fruitful when we enter into a genuine salvation relationship with Him! Just as you anticipate that an apple seed, planted in the ground, will grow an apple tree that produces more apples; so, God will produce the fruit of the Spirit, in us, when the seed of the Gospel is planted & His Spirit begins to indwell us! Always! Every time! Let me tell you why that’s important! It’s important because if you don’t get this right it could lead to eternal judgment & condemnation!

-Gotta Get This Right!

If you’re holding on to some prayer, that you repeated in 3rd grade Children’s Church, as proof you’re going to heaven, you may have been misled! The scriptures never encourage us to hold onto something WE did or said; or, our parents or pastor did or said, as proof of our salvation! God’s Word focuses on a changed life & a progressively changing life now! “If anyone is in Christ, HE IS A NEW CREATION; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” 2 Corinthians 5:17. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “YOU WILL KEEP My commandments” John 14:15. Our life will be marked by a love for obedience to God’s Word & a hatred & abhorrence for all sin we stumble into! The Apostle John wrote: “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life” 1 John 5:13. The written Word, inspired by God’s Spirit, was written to act like a mirror to reflect back, to us, our spiritual condition.

-Test Yourselves!

Seek proof, of your conversion, from the Scriptures! “Test yourselves TO SEE IF YOU ARE IN THE FAITH. Examine yourselves,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless you fail the test” 2 Corinthians 13:5. Test your life according to God’s Word! Examine yourselves! Is there any evidence of a changed life? Is there FRUIT, in your life, that can only be produced by a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ? Listen to Jesus’ Words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 15:1-2. Evidence, of genuine faith, is produced by life IN JESUS!

 

Why Is There Evil & Suffering?

That Is A Hard Question!

Some of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to answer begin with “why”—Why did my baby die? Why does a loving God allow suffering? Why is there hunger and starvation in the world? Why does God allow terrorist killers like ISIS to exist; and, why does He allow them to kill Christians? Why do sex trafficking, human trafficking & slavery exist if God is in control? Why earthquakes, tsunami’s, hurricanes & tornadoes if God is love?

There Are No Easy Answers!

First, I’ll not try to pretend that there’s an easy answer to these questions! I’ll try not to offer the usual “pat answers” & smugly look the other way! I would ask you to open your Bible to Romans 8 as I intend to reference it through this post. In v.20, the Apostle Paul makes a difficult observation: “For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it…” That seems like an obvious reference to Adam & Eve’s “Fall” in the garden! He’s saying that our present suffering, in part, is the result of God’s judicial act against Adam’s disobedience.

Adam’s Apple

There’s an old Hungarian proverb that says: “Adam ate the apple and our teeth still ache.” It means that because of Adam’s “headship” over the human race, his sinful deed was passed down through our human nature. His “headship” also carries the idea that we all sinned “in” Adam; or, if given the same opportunity, we all would have sinned just like he did. So, that’s where all the “futility”, the groaning; and, the corruption began. God followed through on His threat that, “…the soul that sins shall die.”

Hope In The Suffering

Though it sounds bleak, v.20 finishes out with these words, “…in the hope that the creation would be set free from the bondage of corruption.” In other words, pain and suffering will not continue forever! There’s a day coming when ALL of creation—including those who put their faith in Christ to save them—will be redeemed from this world’s “futility”!

The Justice Of God

God’s act was just and righteous; and, it carried with it a purpose. After their sin, God removed Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden, Genesis says, so they would not eat of the “Tree of Life” and be eternally separated from Him. He, therefore, placed the curse on creation “…in the hope…” that it would reveal, to us, our brokenness & depravity; and, set us free from our bondage to sin. So, when our “why” questions are directed at God—almost like an accusation—they’re misplaced! We need to stand in front of a mirror, when we ask “why”; and, humbly admit: “All the pain & suffering in the world is because of my sin ‘in Adam.’ All the ‘suffering’, all the ‘natural disasters’, all the ‘futility’ is my fault!” Our “hope” is ultimately not in this world; but, in the Resurrected Christ who will one day resurrect our broken bodies in Glory! Hallelujah!