Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Dead Faith is No Faith At All

Today we come to the final part of this week's series on examining our faith.  We have discussed certain things that are essential hallmarks of someone who has given their lives to the Lord including forgiveness, proclaiming our love for God, and not turning back from the Lord.  Today we will talk about something I have posted on before, but it is also an important part of this week's series.  This week we will be talking about works.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14-17 NKJV
Faith without works is dead.  In other words, faith without works is meaningless.  This is not the say that we are saved by works, the Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone.  So how does one reconcile faith without works being meaningless and being saved by faith alone?  It is a good thing that God does not end His discussion on faith and works at James 2:17.
But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  James 2:18-24 NKJV
As we see in this passage, works are a proof of faith.  James challenges someone to show their faith without any works.  That challenge stands to this day.  Can we say we have faith with no works to back it up?  Of course not because without works, faith is something we merely claim to have.  We show our faith by our works.  This is simple principle true is just about every area of life.  We have commercials for motor oil on television that show mechanics telling us not only how good it is but that they use it in their own car.  We all remember the Hair Club for Men where the president liked to quip that he was not only the president, but also a client.  Of course these are paid professionals and while it seems to work it is really meaningless for an unprofessional celebrity to endorse a product they supposedly use, but it is a perfect expression of faith and works.  They tell you how they believe in a product (faith) then the close the sale by saying they use it themselves (works).  One would not use something they had no faith in and we would not believe an endorsement if that person never seemed to use something they claimed so much to believe in.  Both are necessary.  James goes on to give the example of Abraham and Isaac and how Abraham's faith in God led to the work of offering Isaac to be sacrificed.  How meaningless would the faith of Abraham be if he only said "God I promise to sacrifice my own son if you ever asked."  That is not faith, but an empty promise unless tested.  Look how good those words of faith worked for Peter when he proclaimed that he would never deny Jesus.  We are justified by faith, but works are a proof that that faith.  You can not say you have faith with no works to back that faith up.  So again, we are not saved by works but we can not say we have saving faith if we have no works. 

To further illustrate this point, I want to take us through another parable told by Jesus.  I share this to illustrate the point that merely showing up to church and claiming to have Jesus as your Lord does not mean anything if Jesus is not your Lord.  If Jesus is truly your Lord and if you have truly put your faith in Him, there will be works. 
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Matthew 25:14-15 NKJV
I am sure we have all read or heard a teaching on the parable of the talents.  There are many lessons we can learn from this parable, and today we will be focusing on the lesson faith without works being dead.  For the purposes of the parable, the king is God and the servants are those who are or who claim to be Christian.  Note that everyone who received talents is considered (at least in their own minds) a servant.  They claim to be servants of the king and associate as servants of the king.  They must even play the part of a servant of the king because the king treats them all as servants. He gives each of a trust with the expectation that they will all be fruitful with what the king has given them. 
Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.  Matthew 25:16-18 NKJV
The three servants received their charge and two of the three profited on what was entrusted to them.  The third, while claiming to be a servant, did nothing with his.  At this point, we really need to ask if that third servant is a servant at all.  He played the part, but it was never in his heart to serve.  Maybe being a servant of the king at that level was a good job.  Maybe he worked with friends.  Maybe he liked ideology of the king and so wanted to remain close to him.  Either way, whatever his motivation, it was not to serve the king.  A servant naturally serves and two of the three did so.  I think we need to ask ourselves why we go to church.  Do we go because we like the benefits it gives us?  I mean some churches has programs that may benefit your family or maybe you are in a paid position at church and it meets your financial needs.  Maybe you go to church because you have friends in church and enjoy spending time with them.  Maybe you like the idea of Jesus, but just do not want to commit yourself.  Whatever the reason, if you do not attend because you have a desire for God then you are going to church for the wrong reason.  Just like in serving the king, whatever ancillary benefits derived from doing that are not bad things in and of themselves, but if you attend church for those reasons in and of themselves, then you need to ask if you have really given your life to God. 
After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'   Matthew 25:19-23 NKJV
The king comes back and calls his servants to give an account of what they have done.  The first two servants, the ones who actually did something, are rewarded for their works.  It is here we read those words we all should long to hear from our Lord when we see him face to face "Well done, good and faithful servant."  These two were true servants and not just in name only as shown in their diligence to be fruitful for what their king gave them charge over.  Now let's look at the third "servant." 
Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' Matthew 19:24-25 NKJV
We see here that this man knew not his king.  He claimed to be a servant, but he was no servant at all.  He tries to excuse his lack of service by claiming that he was scared of the king.  This is poor logic because if you feared the wrath of the king, then why would you put yourself in position to be under his wrath by disobeying his instructions.  He thought (or at least that is his claim) that just returning the king's talent would be pleasing to the king.  Considering how the other two were rewarded for what they did with their talents, we see that his man did not know his king at all.  We also see, by what he said about the king, that he had no real love for him.  May we not face God in this same condition.  May we not face God not knowing Him.  May we not face God after a life of disobedience thinking it will serve us well.  May we not face God with excuses instead of fruit or justifications instead of Jesus.  If we face God in that condition, we will receive the same reaction this so-called servant received from his king.
But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'  Matthew 19:26-30 NKJV
That's harsh.  Casting someone into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is saying that person will be cast into Hell.  Did the works of the other two save them and it is the lack of works of the third that judged him?  That is not the case at all.  The first two were truly servants and being servants they served the king.  The third was no servant at all.  We see here that he did not even take the time to deposit the money in the bank.  The king says that if truly feared him, why would he not have even taken that small step?  I mean, at least in that case it shows at least the minimal desire to serve, but a desire overruled by fear.  Putting the money in the bank does not make him a great servant, but it would show that he had some concern for profiting the king.  Even a poor servant is still a servant, but this man did not even get that far.  He was not a servant at all and for that he was judged. 

So what is this saying to us?  Again it is telling us to examine ourselves.  Do we desire to serve the Lord?  If we do not, we have a serious problem with our faith and we need to examine ourselves to see if we are really even saved.  If Jesus is your Lord, you are His servant.  He can not be your Lord and you not be His servant.  If you are not His servant, you can not say that He is your Lord.  If you consider someone to be your lord, you are by definition that person's servant.  If you are a servant, you will naturally desire to serve.  That is what a servant is by definition.  A servant is someone who serves.  If we have no desire to serve, can we really say that we consider Jesus our Lord.  I say we can not.  No matter if you go to church every week, if everyone else thinks that Jesus is your Lord, or even if you deceived yourself into thinking He is your Lord, if you have no desire to serve Him, then He is not your Lord.  If He is not your Lord, you are not saved.  Please examine your heart, and if you need to, accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

If you are a servant and keep putting the charges Jesus gives you into the bank hoping to earn some minuscule credit on the work done by others, then I urge you to step out in faith and actually do the works laid out for you.  Perhaps you are afraid you will just mess things up.  You probably will, especially if you act in your own strength.  But if we step out in faith and rely on His strength, He will give us whatever courage, ability, and strength we need to do what He has called us to do.  And if we do make a mistake, we have a gracious God who is always willing to restore us and help us learn from where we went wrong.  The biggest mistake we can make is not stepping out at all.  Do not let your desire to serve God be overruled by fear.  You are only cheating yourself of those rewards laid up in heaven for you for the fruit you produce for the kingdom.

Faith always comes with works. Those works are the proof of the faith we have.  If you have a desire but lack works, then you need to repent of that and allow God to do the work in you so that He can do what He desires to do through you.  If you have no desire to do any works, then you need to make sure you are even saved.  Just as works without faith are meaningless, so is faith without works.  They go hand-in-hand with works being the expression of our faith.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but that faith always results in works.  Faith without even a desire for works is no faith at all. 
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Matthew 25:31-36 NKJV

Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'  Matthew 25:41-43 NKJV

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