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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Faith without deeds is useless
Text:James 2:18-26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read: Romans 2:17-29; 3:21-4:3

Text: James 2: 18-26

Psalm 101: 1, 2, 4
Psalm 19: 1, 4, 5 / Hymn 1A
Psalm 87: 1, 2, 4
Psalm 26: 1, 2, 4, 7
Hymn 34: 1-6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

Did you know that demons are believers? They have no doubt that God exists and that he is almighty. In that sense they are even stronger believers than you and me. For isn’t it true that we have moments of doubt; that often we have moments when we don’t trust in the Lord our God in the way that we should? Do we not often forget about God’s almighty power? That was even the case with the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Think, for example, about Peter, about the time the Lord Jesus beckoned him to come to him on the water. Suddenly Peter started sinking. And what did the Lord Jesus say to him? He said, you have no faith. At that moment Peter did not believe. He forgot about how powerful God is.

Demons, however, are well aware of God’s power. Do you think that those demons because of their faith will be saved? No, of course not. It is impossible for a demon to be saved. They are absolutely corrupt. In other words there is nothing that can change their position. When they fell into sin there was no turning back for them. There was no chance of repentance for Satan or his followers.

What about those people who believe in God, as many people around us state that they do, but they live as if he doesn’t exist? They see the beauty and the magnificence of creation, and know that you cannot attribute it to anything except to God. However, they do not go to church or read their Bible or pray to God nor are they interested in giving glory to God for anything. Do you think that those people will be saved? No, as long as they continue in their ways they will not be saved either.

Why is that? That is because their faith does not include works that are acceptable to God.

In our text James shows that you need works to go along with your faith. Without works your faith is useless. It’s like a motor without an electrical current flowing into it. Without it that motor is useless. It’s dead. You need that electrical current. The same thing is true of the relationship between faith and works. When there are no works, your faith is dead.

The question then arises, “do our works then save us?” That was also the pivotal question at the time of the Reformation. The Roman Catholics taught that you have to do something in order to be saved. Works are necessary. However, according to Paul in Romans 3, that’s not the case. But is this not a contradiction with what James writes? Well, it is these things that I will preach to about. I will preach to you about the relationship between faith and deeds and what the role of our works is. The theme for this morning’s sermon is:

In order to demonstrate that James gives us two examples:
1. The faith of demons;
2. The faith of Abraham and Rahab.

What James is saying is actually quite shocking. He compares the faith of some of the people to whom he is writing to the faith of demons. Why would he do that? Well, he is making that shocking statement in order to shake them out of their complacency. He wants to make them think.

Throughout chapters 1 and 2 James is concerned about the relationship between works and deeds. And now in verse 18 he moves into a new stage of his argument by interjecting the opinion of another person. He says there, “but someone will say”. James does not state who that someone is, but it is clear from the context and from the way he builds his argument that he is having this imaginary conversation with a non-Christian Jew.

And he uses the viewpoint of an Orthodox Jew in order to support his argument. He says, even a Jew who does not believe in Christ recognizes that faith and works always go together. For both he and the unnamed non-Christian Jew have in mind the person who in verse 14 holds the opinion that you can have faith without deeds.

For you see that is the kind of thinking that lived amongst some of the people to whom he wrote. They thought that faith is something separate from deeds. The Lord gives the one person faith, and he gives another deeds.

It is like those gifts that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 12. Each one has his own gift: the one is able to prophesy, another is able to speak in tongues, and yet another is able to interpret those tongues. There are also those who are able administrators and those who are able to contribute in other ways. Each person has his own gift. And so it is also with faith and deeds. The one person can show his faith, and the other person can show his deeds. They are two different gifts.

Perhaps there are those amongst us who think the same. I’m a believer, but I don’t really have any other gifts to contribute. I’m not much of a conversationalist and because of physical and other limitations I’m not able to do much for the church or for others. I just have my faith. I know what I believe. And that’s enough. Those who are able to show their deeds can use that gift. But I don’t have that gift or the opportunity.

Well, says Paul, even the Orthodox Jews recognize that you cannot separate faith from works. You need both. They go together.

It is then that he makes a shocking statement about the demons. He says that demons also believe. They are strong believers even. They are neither atheists nor agnostics.
Brothers and sisters, think about it, James is right. For that is clear from the Scriptures. It says, for example, in Mark 3:11, “Whenever the evil spirits saw him (that is, the Lord Jesus), they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’” That is quite a confession those demons are making. They knew who Jesus was – the Son of God. Hardly anyone in the world at that time was making the same confession. But the demons were.

The demons also know that there is a place of punishment. For we read in Luke 8:31 that the demons “begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.”

And from the episode described in Mark 5 regarding a demon possessed man it is clear that the demons also recognized Jesus as the great judge. For they knew that Christ had total power over them. And so they begged the Lord Jesus to enter the pigs. Because they believed in the Lord Jesus they shuddered. They were deathly afraid of him. And so they should be.

One of the most important doctrinal statements to the Jews, known as the Shema, is the one from Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” As a matter of fact that is often how Jews greet each other. They also recite it twice a day. It is a statement of orthodoxy. In this way they distinguish themselves from the heathens who have many gods. They also use that phrase, the Shema, in the exorcism of demons. The Jews also recognized that the demons would flee at the name of the Almighty God. For they knew that the demons are painfully aware that God exists and that he has absolute power over them.

But, what is the result of that demonic faith? Well, their faith results in fear. Especially since they knew so well who God is, and who the Son of God is, they wanted to flee from him. That is what Adam and Eve did as well when the Lord God showed himself to them after the fall into sin. They were deathly afraid of him and they tried to hide. The same thing is true of the demons. They know how almighty God is, and how almighty his Son is. The very presence of God brings about great emotions in them. They tremble with fear and yet they believe. They tremble because they know that their faith will not save them. They have a faith without the works that God requires. And therefore James warns about separating faith and deeds. He says faith and deeds go together. He says even the Jews recognize that. Even they realize that faith and works go together. You cannot make all kinds of doctrinal statements, such as the Shema, and then think that now you are a true believer. Your faith must also go together with deeds. But it has to be the right kind of faith and the right kind of deeds.

For you see, brothers and sisters, that kind of thinking we encounter amongst us as well. There are those who can be very nitpicky and particular about very fine nuances of doctrine of the Scriptures and confessions. They can pick it all apart and have long and heated discussions with others about this doctrinal nuance or that doctrinal nuance. And some people can get so worked up about it that they won’t stop. They will even take it all the way to Synod.

Don’t get me wrong, we have to be doctrinally sound. It is important that we do not stray from the truth. But don’t think that every theological distinction is a matter of life and death. Don’t think that it is only your opinion that counts. Because of our limited understanding we will always have discussions about various minor points of doctrine. And it is good to discuss these kinds of things as well. We need to sharpen each other. We need to help each other think things through. We also have to make sure that we don’t go on the wrong path. But, if you argue for the sake of the argument itself, if it is done in a spirit of acrimony, in a spirit of always wanting to be right, of not listening to others, of thinking that you alone have all the right answers, then you had better think again; you had better think about what God wants from you. If you get so worked up about it and get totally carried away by some minute point of doctrine, and if that’s the one thing that gets you all excited, then there is something seriously wrong.

Do you know what should be the most exciting thing your life, brothers and sisters, boys and girls? The fact that you are a child of God through no merit of your own. The fact that you are a saved individual. The fact that you have a great hope in your life. The fact that all your sins have been forgiven. That’s what should excite you more than anything else. For that is something to get exited about, isn’t it?

And if that’s the case, then you will also want to defend the true faith in the right way. Then you will not tolerate it if someone says to you, for example, that you must add something to your own salvation. Or that Adam and Eve were not real persons. For that would take away from the glory of God. Then you will also do everything in your power to bring others to Christ, to let them see the great joy that lives within you.

For when you have the right kind of faith, then you will also show that in your life. You cannot help it. Your deeds and your faith go together. If our discussions about doctrinal issues do not comport with a Christian attitude and lifestyle, then all we are spouting is hot air. Then your faith is a dead faith.

And you see that’s what happened to those who did not repent, to those Jews who did not want to believe in the Lord Jesus. O sure, they said, faith and works go together. But look at how they defined their faith. They made all kinds of very fine distinctions and had running commentaries from this rabbi and that rabbi and had endless discussions about fine doctrinal points.

They did the same with their deeds, their good works. They brought it down to a fine science. Each commandment had all kinds of regulations attached to it to make sure that the commandment was not broken even in the minutest detail. They knew exactly what they should do and what they shouldn't do. They applied that to other people’s lives as well. And they got all excited about that. But they did not get excited about their salvation as such. For they thought that this was an automatic thing. They figured that they earned their salvation.

Listen to what Paul says in Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

In verse 20 James calls the man who conducts himself like that and who thinks that faith and deeds are two separate manifestations of the gifts of God “foolish”. The Revised Standard Version uses the term “shallow”, and the King James Version calls him “a vain man”. In the original language James uses a term that means, “empty headed”. It refers to someone who does not want to listen to reason. He’s got a one-track mind and nobody can get him off that track. Such a person is firmly convinced of his position and there is no way that anyone can dissuade him. He wants to draw attention to himself. He wants to show off with his own piety and conservatism.

And so it is clear that it is not enough just to believe. Faith is not just an intellectual assent to a firmly held position. It is not even so that if you are emotionally affected by that faith, that then you have the right kind of faith. No, there is a lot more to faith. We come to the second point.

2. In the text James gives the true faith of Abraham and Rahab as an example. When you have a true faith, then that faith also translates into action. However, faith has to have the right object. Pagans also have faith. They believe in the gods of their own imagination and make images of them and they worship those images. But their faith is directed at a dead object. It doesn’t do them any good. They can jump high and they can jump low, and they can sacrifice all kinds of things, even their own children, to those idols, but it won’t make any difference.

The same thing is true of the non-Christian Jew. He may have a very strong faith. And he may have a faith that is very active. But, his faith is also the wrong faith.

People get zealous and excited about all kinds of things. Have you ever met a true communist? O, they have a strong faith. They believe in the power of the man. And they are full of zeal. And what about Jehovah witnesses? They too have a strong faith and are full of zeal. But what kind of faith do they have? It is a false faith. Their faith does not have the right object. Their faith is directed at the law. It is an egotistical and legalistic faith. That faith is directed towards a god without Christ. If you take Christ out of the picture then you are worshiping a false god. Such a god is a god of your own making.

In Romans, Paul has those kinds of Jews in mind. He recognized their great zeal. At one time he himself was full of that kind of zeal as well. The devout Jews were very zealous to keep the law. But what kind of law? Well, first of all the ceremonial laws. In the passage that we read together in Romans 2, Paul is dealing with those Jews who believe that in order to be saved you need to keep the ceremonial laws, including circumcision. Those Jews believed that those who were not circumcised did not belong to the true Israel. They will be condemned. Well, says Paul, if you think that your salvation depends upon the keeping of the ceremonial laws, then you must keep all the laws perfectly. There may not be any flaws in your worship.

In another context, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks about the Judaizers. These were Christian Jews who were also intent on keeping the Old Testament laws, the ceremonial laws. Although these Judaizers considered themselves to be Christians, they also took Christ out of the equation. But these ceremonial laws did not need to be kept anymore. Circumcision and the other sacrificial laws are a thing of the past. They pointed to Christ. Now Christ has fulfilled those laws.

But, says Paul, it goes even deeper than that. Christ also fulfilled the moral law, the 10 Commandments. He says, if you people are so intent on trying to earn your salvation by keeping the law, and every minute point of the law, then you had better keep it 100%. For that is what God requires.

The Jews and the Judaizers practiced the religion in the original sense of the word by going through a ritual – a form or a ceremony. Christianity is not a religion in that sense. Oh sure, there are certain rituals and ceremonies. But they are done only as a result of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish religion and all other religions of the world put the cart before the horse. To them, the rituals and ceremonies come first. The rituals determine the religion. But a Christian is a follower of Christ. Christ is first and foremost. He takes the lead. Christ even prepared our works beforehand as we saw when we dealt with Lord’s Day 23. When you follow the Lord Jesus Christ, with him also follow the rituals. But you still can’t separate your deeds from your faith.

And now James illustrates from two Old Testament examples what true dynamic faith is all about. He gives the examples of Abraham and Rahab. Abraham and Rahab were well-known figures, but for completely different reasons. In the first place, Abraham was a Jew, and Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham walked and talked with God, and therefore was known as a friend of God. He grew up with the knowledge about God. Rahab hardly knew who he was. Abraham was a man who was known for the fact that God’s promises were made to him, and to all of his descendants, to Israel. Rahab doesn’t even come close to any of that. She belonged to a heathen nation. She belonged to a nation that was supposed to be rooted out. Also, she was a very worldly woman, even a harlot. She was a sinful, immoral woman. And yet, both the faith of Rahab and Abraham are held up as an example.

We are all familiar with the history of Abraham. The Lord God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Abraham was commanded by the Lord to leave the land of all his relatives and friends, and to go to a land that God would show him. And Abraham obeyed. He believed in the Lord and that he would be with him. The Lord God made wonderful promises to him. He promised him numerous descendants. And again, Abraham believed in him.

And then James mentions another event in Abraham’s life when the Lord God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar. Abraham obeyed the Lord. Oh sure, the Lord stopped him just before he was about to kill his son Isaac, but nevertheless if the Lord God had not stopped him, Abraham would have sacrificed his son. Abraham believed God when he told him that he would be the father of many nations, that great nations would spring from his loins.

And now James connects this event with the time that Abraham showed his faith in God’s promises by quoting from Genesis 15:6 where it says that “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

That same statement could be applied to Rahab. We are all familiar with her. Her story is found in Joshua two and six. She was an important figure at the beginning of Israel’s history in the land of Canaan when Israel was about to invade her country and take the city of Jericho. Joshua sent out two spies into the city of Jericho in order to find out the lay of the land. Rahab hid these men because their lives were in danger. Rahab had heard of the God of Israel and believed that he was almighty and powerful. Her faith translated into action. She hid the men and thereby exercised her true faith.

It is a great story. She had very little knowledge about the God of Israel at that time. Nevertheless she believed. She had seen and heard about how the Lord God had rescued the nation Israel from the grasp of the Egyptians and how he had drowned Pharaoh and all his men in the Red Sea. For make no mistake about it; all the nations round about knew what Lord God had done. And they trembled. Rahab had heard about it, and she believed also. But her faith translated into the right kind of action. She put her life into the hands of the Lord God and trusted him that he would rescue her and save her. And he did. When Israel invaded Jericho, Rahab’s house was the only house that was left standing. She and her family were not destroyed along with the rest of the city.

Can you imagine separating your faith from your deeds? Can you imagine if Abraham had done that? Imagine if he would have said, “I believe you, Lord, that I have to go and leave the land of my fathers” and then he would have just stayed put. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? What do think the Lord would have said? He would have said, “You don’t believe me. If you did, you would have done what I told you.” Brothers and sisters, Abraham believed and then he went into action. And God credited it to him as righteousness. The same thing is true of Rahab. She also believed and then put that faith into action. And therefore also her faith was also credited to her as righteousness.

But don’t think that faith as such can save you. Abraham and Rahab were not saved by faith plus works, they were saved by a faith that works. Faith is the means by which you access all the gifts of God. It is through faith that you can plug in to God’s power. It is through faith that you can plug in to the works of the Lord Jesus Christ whose works were perfect.

But faith is still only an instrument. Faith as such does not save. It is through faith that you are saved. God saves you! He does so through his Son Jesus Christ. And therefore you must put your trust in Him.

And so, brothers and sisters, let your faith be an active faith. Put it into action. Soon we’ll start a new season. How are you going to put your faith into action? How will you be involved in church life? You all have gifts. There are all kinds of things you can do. Even if there is little you can do because of limitations, you always have a role to play. You can pray for your fellow believers. You can pick up the phone and call someone to encourage him or her. You can also put your faith into action by being an agent of peace and harmony, by showing kindness and compassion. There are numerous ways in which you can serve God and others.

And so, brothers and sisters, let your faith be an active faith. Put it into action. Let your works demonstrate that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when you believe in him there is no limit to what you can do. When you believe in him there is no limit to the great riches that you will receive. Amen

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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