James 2:1-5, 8-10, 14-18
Pentecost 17 – September 16, 2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Some of you have perhaps seen the commercial on television where a husband and wife, looking very tired from lack of sleep, open their medicine cabinet to find a man standing on the other side of the wall promising them a good night’s sleep. He makes the promise because he’s invented a pillow that he claims will help them get a perfect night’s sleep.
The man’s name is Mike Lindell who invented MyPillow. He built his pillow company in northern Minnesota and sells thousands of pillows and other types of bedding.
Mike Lindell happens to be a Christian, and in all of the commercials, he does for MyPillow he wears a cross around his neck rather prominently displayed. Even after he was advised not to wear the cross or any kind of religious article in a commercial he refused wanting the cross to be evidence of his Christian faith. And for Mike Lindell the cross he wears is very much a testimony to a faithful Christian life.
But wearing a cross necklace is not always the evidence of Christian faith or a Christian life. Plenty of entertainers and sports stars over the years have worn crosses around their necks, sometimes very large and prominent crosses, yet their lives give little evidence of any Christian belief or behavior.
In our text today James writes about our Christian faith making itself evident by what we do, showing our faith by our actions. And James certainly has in mind more than just wearing a cross. He talks about demonstrating our Christian faith in our behavior, especially our behavior toward others.
Today James challenges us to show our faith by our deeds. He says to us
SHOW ME YOUR FAITH
In our sermon series on the disciples, we noted that there were two disciples named James – the more prominent James, the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, and the lesser-known James, James the Less or James the Younger.
The James who wrote this letter from which we take our text was still another James. He wasn’t one of the twelve disciples. As a matter of fact he wasn’t really a believer in Jesus until after Jesus had risen from the dead. And that may surprise us a bit because this James was actually a brother of Jesus, of course a half-brother. But once he came to believe that Jesus really was the Son of God and the Messiah and Savior he became a very strong and committed believer. James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. He even died as a martyr put to death by King Herod.
But before he died he wrote this letter that we have at the end of the New Testament. Even though James’ letter is listed near the end of the New Testament it’s quite likely that it’s the first book of the New Testament ever written. But as early as James wrote this letter it seems to allude to a problem that already was making itself evident in the church – Christians who were not living very godly lives, Christians who said they believed in Jesus but did not really make their faith evident by how they lived.
What was a concern in James’ day, what has been a concern in every New Testament Christian generation, ought to be a concern in our generation as well and probably more so. We live in a society where the majority of people, a vast majority, have been baptized. But we all can honestly think of lots of people we know who have been baptized and would even say they believe in Jesus but don’t live anything even remotely resembling a godly or Christian life.
What about you and me? What about our lives? We’ve been baptized. We say we believe in Jesus. Do our thoughts and words and actions make it evident that we’re Christians, that we believe in Jesus? That’s what James is concerned about in this letter.
In the verse immediately following this text James writes some words that ought to challenge us, words that ought to make us stop and think real seriously about our faith in Jesus and whether we make that faith evident by how we live. James says to anyone who is quick to say, “I believe in Jesus,” “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” James’ point is this: It’s easy to say, “I believe in Jesus.” Even Satan can do that. Satan knows exactly who Jesus is, but he’s terrified of him. Satan knows Jesus but has no saving faith in him. You and I know Jesus too. You and I say we believe in him. We need to make sure our faith in Jesus is real. We need to make sure our faith proves itself by our actions, by what we do.
Some people down through the years have criticized the book of James because it doesn’t really clearly teach how Jesus has saved us. James doesn’t write about Jesus dying for us or how he has atoned for our sins. In some ways James takes that knowledge for granted. In other words he’s writing to Christians who already know who Jesus is and what he did to save them from their sins. James gets right to the matter of sanctification, Christian living, that saving faith in Jesus needs to show itself in actions.
But everything that James writes and encourages us to do in this letter is based squarely on who Jesus is and what he did to save us from our sins. James himself had come to clearly understand who Jesus was and that his own brother was also the Son of God and his Savior from sin. James was recognized as such a faithful believer that he was raised up to be the leader of that young church in Jerusalem. In the book of Acts he was present at the first Christian council that gathered to rejoice that even the Gentiles were receiving and believing the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Putting it simply James believed, and we share his faith, that Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins. He rose again from the dead to prove that we are forgiven and justified in God sight, declared not guilty of sin.
So James tells us believers now how to live. In our text he writes, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Then he goes on to describe a situation in a church service we can certainly imagine. A wealthy person comes into church wearing expensive jewelry and clothes and a poor person comes in not dressed so well. If we show special attention to the wealthy person and not the poor person then we’re not showing love, but favoritism.
And what a terrible mistake that is. James writes, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” And it is a general truth that it’s not the rich and well-known who become Christians. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians in his 1st letter: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”
James also says that it’s a terrible mistake to show favoritism among our fellow Christians because it breaks the law of God. And he warns if you break just one of God’s commandments you have really broken all of God’s law. The law of God is like a chain. You can break just one link, but you’ve broken the whole chain.
In this 2nd chapter of his letter James encourages us to demonstrate our faith especially in acts of kindness and love to others, to fellow Christians. So how do we do that? What motivates such care and concern for others? How do we avoid showing favoritism? How do we avoid not showing love at all?
The answer of course to those questions is of course the love that Jesus had for us. But to comprehend the extent of Jesus’ mercy and love for us we need to remember where we came from. We came from sin and death. And we are not wise by human standards, as Paul says, not really all that influential, not of noble birth. Every one of us, no matter who we are, where we’ve come from, how wise we are, or how wealthy and influential, every one of us has to agree with the hymn writer, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to your cross I cling.”
We are those sinners who like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable can only say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus has had mercy on us, on all of us. Think of the mercy that Jesus has had on us and show that same love and mercy to all.
And, James says, that’s how you demonstrate your faith. That how your faith proves itself as real, by what you do, by showing love to fellow Christians.
He writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” The answer to James question is of course that kind of faith can’t save him. That kind of faith sees a fellow Christian without food or clothing and just wishes him well without providing some food and clothing for the needy person. That’s not real faith at all. And so James concludes, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Don’t be one of those baptized people who insists, “I believe in Jesus,” but never worships Jesus, breaks God’s commandments, doesn’t live like a Christian, lives immorally, shows favoritism, and doesn’t love fellow Christians.
Rather listen to James’ challenge: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” In other words, “Just try to prove to me you have faith without any deeds or actions to prove it. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. I’ll show you my faith by what I do. That’s the only kind of faith that’s real faith.
In a few minutes we’re going to confess our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the words of the Nicene Creed. And that’s a good thing. We are to confess with our mouths what we believe about God and what he has done to save us from sin. But all week long, and all lifelong, may God help us to prove our faith is genuine, to show our faith by what we do. Amen.