Pastor Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
SERMON AUDIO – James 2:14-26
We continue through our series in the Book of James… we’re going to be walking through this book right on up to our time in Easter together. We’re introduced in this video to 3 words: FAITH, SALVATION and WORKS. If you’re not familiar with one or all of those terms, no problem, we’re hoping our time together will shed some light on those terms, “faith, salvation and works”; but if you are familiar with those terms there’s a good chance you’re also familiar with the debate that centers around these three words through the video.
The idea of what order do these 3 words properly appear when it comes to understanding our salvation; and many of you understand that the debate lies within two familiar terms to most of us in this room… the term PROTESTANT, and the term CATHOLIC.
What we mean by that is under the umbrella of Christianity there are two major camps: the Catholic church and the Protestant church; and the Protestant church then breaks down further into various denominations: Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterians, on and on and on….
So just as a sidebar, you’ll never hear me say things like, ah, when someone switches from a Lutheran church to a Presbyterian church, “Oh, you switched religions”.. alright? You’ll never hear me say things like, “Oh, they’re not Catholic, they’re Christian”, or “They’re not Christian, they’re Catholic”, or They’re not Christian, they’re Protestant”… because both are under the umbrella of Christianity.
But historically speaking they lie at the heart of this debate, of where we should put these three terms. And, many folks within the Roman Catholic tradition as taught believe the idea that it’s FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION. And many folks in the Protestant realm believe the idea that it’s FAITH = SALVATION; and then there’s some debate as to how they put in the term WORKS or “good deeds”.
The truth of the matter though is there are people out there who rely on FAITH without WORKS, and there are people out there who rely on WORKS without FAITH. And BOTH groups of people are found both in the Protestant and and Catholic churches.
But I hope to show to you from the Book of James in our Scripture together that I think the proper equation that James is laying out for us in the Scripture as a whole is that TRUE FAITH = SALVATION; and TRUE SALVATION = WORKS… that true FAITH equals SALVATION and true SALVATION equals WORKS.
To help you decide whether or not you might be struggling with one of these two-part equations I want to ask a couple of questions to you before we go into our passage together this morning; first question
- Are you trusting in your WORKS or in the quality of your life… are you trusting in the idea of being GOOD ENOUGH to get into heaven? And if that’s you, then we need to look at the first part of our equation.
Now some of you might say, “that’s sort of a softball type question for us”… we know the answer here at Kirkmont; we’ve been taught to say that the answer to that is “No, I don’t trust in myself for my salvation”. But here is a more diagnostic question as to whether or not you might actually do that.
If when I ask you, “How does God feel about you?”… if you first think about YOUR life instead of Jesus’ life, then there’s a good chance that you’re counting on being good enough to get into heaven.
If when I ask you, “how does God feel about you” you first think about what YOU have done instead of thinking about what Jesus has done on the cross, then there’s a good chance that despite what you theologically say about the subject, you actually believe that you need to be good enough to get into heaven.
- And for the OTHER side of the question, “ARE YOU TRUSTING IN YOUR FAITH AS AN EXCUSE TO NOT HAVE GOOD WORKS?” Are you trusting in your faith as an excuse to not have good works?
Our passage this morning tells us the answer to both those questions… which should be “NO”… as we’re trying to discover that TRUE FAITH = SALVATION and TRUE SALVATION = GOOD WORKS.
I invite you to our passage in James chapter 2, starting in verse 14. In James 2:14, I’d love to have you open up a Bible and join us there; if not, it will be on the screen here as always.
Faith and Deeds
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Well we wanna look at the first part of this equation, that TRUE FAITH = SALVATION, to get started together this morning, and what James says is, “What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?”
It’s good to understand that James is addressing a particular group of people… and the particular group of people he’s addressing are those who claim to have FAITH but have no DEEDS. We’ve all met that type of person, we can imagine that type of person… these are the people who go to church, who know how to talk religious things, who might talk religious things outside of the church as well, but at the end of the day their life isn’t impacted any way at all by their faith. Not only do we all know those people, but many of us have known ourselves to BE those people… people who claim to have faith, but a faith that does not impact anything about the way that we live our lives.
He’s not addressing… James is not addressing in this passage those people who merely claim that salvation is sound by FAITH ALONE. In other words, he’s not addressing a theological issue, he’s addressing a particular group of people. And that particular group of people are those who claim that they can be saved by FAITH ALONE, but that faith has not impacted the way that live their life at all.
We give it this label called, “antinomianism“… it’s an idea that there was a group of people in the early church and still today who gladly embrace the idea that Jesus Christ has died on the cross for their sins, and they’re justified as we said at the outset of our service, they’re justified freely by the work of Jesus Christ. But they embrace that forgiveness as permission to ignore the law… that’s what antinomianism means — anti-law.
To ignore, that they are no longer bound by any law of any kind and they get to live however they want because it’s not whether they’re good enough or not to get into heaven.
It is to this particular group James is saying, “Look, you’ve totally misunderstood what real faith is; real authentic faith leads to a transformed life, not to somebody who says, “Well, I’m saved by Jesus and now I can do whatever it is that I want.
It’s that group that James is asking the question, “Can such a faith save them?” And the obvious and implied response is “No”… such a faith cannot possibly bring about someone’s salvation.
I know that some of you, you’ve been taught that the Bible teaches that we ARE justified by faith alone. In fact the entire Protestant Christian Church was built upon that principle. At least it was perhaps the most significant principle.
The entire Protestant Christian church is built upon this idea that we are justified by faith alone and there’s good Biblical evidence for that. There are so many different passages we could go to look at this idea that true faith DOES actually equal salvation. One of them was found in the video from Ephesians Chapter 2; the Scripture reminds us that we were saved by what, “Grace through faith… and this is not from ourself, but even faith, the thing that we often tend to think that we muster up and provide to the equation… even FAITH IS A GIFT FROM GOD, the Scripture says in Chapter 2… so that nobody has anything to possibly boast about’, Paul says to the Ephesian’s church.
But also in the Book of Galatians Chapter 3; I chose this passage of all the different ones we could use to solidify that true faith equals salvation… I chose this passage because Paul speaks just so directly and so plainly to those folks about this very subject, He says, this,
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? (by WORKS or by FAITH?). Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, (because you’re good enough, because you have enough deed, because you have enough WORKS?)` or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse,”
Do you understand why we have to be so adamant that true faith does actually equal salvation. Because what Paul’s saying here is that there’s no possibility of a combination. We can’t combine our efforts plus Christ’s efforts and somehow make up Salvation. In fact, it’s incredibly insulting to Christ and what He did on the Cross if you begin to think for a moment that you have any ability in of yourself`that you can ADD something to what Jesus has already done.
It not only implies that what HE DID ON THE CROSS is not sufficient for your salvation, but it also implies that you can be good enough, that you can offer something that is on par with what Jesus has done on the Cross… and the two might equal your salvation. But NO, instead, Scripture is telling us, “that is not an option”.
YOU FOOLISH GALATIANS… who has bewitched you to think FOR A MOMENT that you can add anything to the work of what Jesus Christ has already done.
To those of you who’ve been taught these truths from the Scripture, it seems like THIS passage that we read is contradicting the teaching. I mean it seems like James is saying that FAITH ALONE CANNOT JUSTIFY US… does the Bible contradict itself? That’s what it SEEMS like it’s doing here; but is that really what James is saying?
I suspect that if James wanted to tackle the larger principle, the theological issue of justification by faith alone, he wouldn’t have needed to qualify the TYPE of faith he was addressing. It wouldn’t have mattered… he wouldn’t have needed to say things like, “Can such a faith save someone?” He would’ve simply said, “Faith cannot save someone”. PERIOD.
But he sets up a straw man type of faith, a very particular type of faith and is arguing that THAT type of faith cannot save. The fact that he even does that actually implies that he believes in justification by faith because he needs to clarify that there are false teachings of faith that don’t save, which implies he does believe and wants to defend rigorously the idea that there IS a faith that DOES SAVE… and it’s the type of faith that also produces good works.
CAN YOU BE SAVED WITHOUT WORKS? Is there a Biblical example of somebody who did absolutely nothing for the Kingdom of God and yet is in heaven? Can you think of anyone?
We’ll be coming up here in a couple of weeks, on Good Friday, where we look closely at the Cross. We’ll be reminded that Jesus wasn’t crucified alone, but He was crucified alongside of two others. And the Scripture tells us that at first, BOTH of those men insulted Jesus. But while on the cross, one of them had a major change of heart, and CONFESSED that he deserved to die, acknowledged that Jesus was innocent and asked Jesus Christ to remember him that day when he was in Paradise.
This is a man who had no religious resume… no baptism as an infant, no confirmation, no Sunday School attendance, no stickers from Sunday School or anything like that.. right? NO TITHING.. no volunteering at the church, no helping people across the street or broken down on the side of the road. NOTHING OTHER THAN HIS LIFE had earned him a place on the cross as he said was just to do so.
And he asked Jesus to SAVE HIM. And what was Jesus’ response (in joking tone…) “Welll.. we’ll see when I get to heaven (laughter), I’ll open up the Book of Works and see how ya did… I’m sorry, but it’s too late for you, it’s too late in the game, you’re not going to be able to turn things around.”
Come on… NO, in case you haven’t heard the story before, Jesus says, “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE”. This is a clear Biblical example of a person who had NOTHING to offer towards his salvation other than to receive it from Jesus Christ.
A living example, more modern to my time was my Grandfather. My grandfather was a man who, from talking to my mom I would say… he had a lot of regrets in the way that he treated his wife and the way that he treated his children and some of his habits and patterns. And he was on his deathbed dying of cancer in his home with hospice care there… and no faith to speak of … of any kind.
So my mom had become a Christian… many of you know my story; I didn’t grow up in the church and one day she led ME to a relationship with Jesus Christ and we kneeled beside each other and prayed… and she decided to give it a shot with her dad… thinking ‘he probably won’t listen to me… think I’m silly or stupid or whatever it might be, but, thinking, “what do I have to LOSE at this point.
So she went over to his house in prayer, she told him about Jesus Christ and about placing his faith and trust in Christ and not himself… and by the end of their conversation, my grandfather got out of his hospice bed and kneeled beside my mother and prayed with her to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
And I have ABSOLUTELY no reason to doubt that we won’t see our resurrected grandfather in all of his glory someday.. even though he has absolutely NOTHING to offer from a religious resume standpoint the way we would see him… other than his faith in Jesus Christ.
Is there an example of someone who can be saved without works… is there evidence for the idea that TRUE FAITH can result in salvation… and the answer is ABSOLUTELY.
Ya know, when I was in high school I used to play sports; I played 2 sports in high school, I played soccer and I played tennis. And I did my very best to be competitive at those sports but sometimes I got beat or we got beat and got beat bad.
I played soccer and tennis which are very different sports. Soccer is like many sports in America where there’s a set amount of time… you play a soccer match and it’s 90 minutes; and as with most sports in American there’s a SET amount of time and at the end the match is over and whoever is leading at that time wins. Which means that if you fall behind so far, eventually you just get to the point where you say, “We’ve dug ourselves too deep of a hole; there’s no way we could possibly get out of this.. let’s quit, I mean there’s no chance.
That happened. We were in a scrimmage and our soccer team was losing 13 to nothing; now I don’t know if you know about soccer but the football translation would be like 140 to 0 (laughter)… it’s really bad; and our coach just stepped out on the field and said, “that’s it… sorry guys, sorry”… apologizing to the other team, “my guys didn’t show up today”… and we ran the rest of the time (laughter).
And the thing about TENNIS though is you keep score very differently.. there’s no time… there’s no time factor at all so if I found myself getting beat really bad I could muster up the hope and encouragement that I MIGHT be able to turn things around, because if you just stop the other person from scoring and score yourself, you can come back from any deficit because there was no time factor limiting you.
BUT LIFE IS NOT LIKE TENNIS… right? … we may not know the exact time limit but we HAVE a time limit. And for many people, we would have to embrace the idea that our salvation comes from being GOOD enough…
Many people have dug too deep of a hole… that they’ll never be able to get out of it… THAT WAS SOME OF YOU, WASN’T IT? You’re so thankful that your salvation doesn’t come by being good enough because you lived so many years of your life in rebellion to God… and there’s NO WAY you would’ve had enough TIME to make up for it.
If that’s the case, we might as well determine the median life expectancy for people and then just say, “let’s not tell anyone who’s over that age about Jesus because they’re not going to have enough time to dig themselves out of the hole (laughter).
But the Scripture says, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GOOD ENOUGH to find salvation… salvation is found by having TRUE FAITH… but, there’s another side of the equation…
TRUE FAITH = SALVATION… absolutely true… that’s the part I expected you to agree with. The more challenging part is the second part of the equation where we discover that TRUE SALVATION results in GOOD WORKS.
And the Scripture goes on and tell us this parable…
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
Ya know this passage is often used as a parable to motivate people to do good for those who are in need. And there’s nothing wrong with using this passage to motivate people to do good for those who are in need, but this passage is first NOT a parable.. this passage is first a illustration that James is using to describe to us what faith without deeds is like… and what he’s saying is… “it’s useless to be someone who claims that they wish those who are less fortunate were better off, and yet do nothing about it.. completely useless. Just like it is useless to be someone who claims to have FAITH… but whose life is not impacted by those claims.. at all
See, it’s first an illustration as to what faith without deeds is really like; but the beauty of the illustration is that it also serves as an example of how we might put our faith into action.. yes.
Church, this is something that Christians, both Protestant and Catholic can agree upon–that God’s desire for our lives is not to have us just profess or even possess some kind of faith in Him if that faith doesn’t actually impact on the way we live our lives.
TRUE FAITH, he is saying, should transform everything about which who we are… our GOALS, our DESIRES, our ASPIRATIONS, our DREAMS, our SELF-ESTEEM, the way we view other PEOPLE… the way we view our JOB.. the way we view our marriages, our kids. EVERYTHING… .TRUE FAITH should transform ALL of that.
We can all agree that there are so called Catholic and Protestant Christians who have not allowed their faith to impact ANY area of their life. James is saying that THAT type of faith proves itself to ultimately be FAKE. The way we behave is a reflection on what we truly believe.
Friends.. to that end, this passage is addressing one of the greatest criticisms of the church, one of the greatest criticisms of Christianity… and that is our hypocrisy… the idea that there are so many people who gather together in some sort of religious practice professing some element of faith, then GO ON about their lives.. is that has absolutely not impact in any way at all. That is something the world finds completely unreconcilable… they hypocrisy of people who profess faith and yet don’t have that faith change the way they live their lives.
And vs 18 and 19 address one of the excuses for the early church’s hypocrisy. People are going around and describing these things such as FAITH and WORKS as “spiritual gifts”… like “I have FAITH and you have WORKS, it’s our spiritual gifting… it’s how God as made you… He hasn’t made me to do good works, he’s made me to have faith”… THAT WAS ONE OF THE LOUSY EXCUSES THEY CAME UP WITH TO SUPPORT THE FACT THAT THEY WERE LIVING COMPLACENT LIVES AS CHRISTIANS AND THEIR FAITH WASN’T IMPACTING THINGS.
Are you a different person… do you live your life differently because of your faith?
Have you ever said “no” to something that you wanted to say “yes” to because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
Have you ever said, “YES” to something that you wanted to say “no” to because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
When was the last time, if ever, you attempted to do something and there was NO OTHER WAY to accomplish it… EXCEPT THROUGH FAITH. When was the last time, if ever, you attempted to do something and there was no other way it was going to be accomplished except through your faith in Christ?
If you can’t think of an instance, invite that question to challenge you to say, IS MY FAITH really changing the way I live my life if I’ve never DONE anything that was totally, solely dependent upon it.
– trusted in faith to save your broken marriage
– trusted in faith to reconcile a relationship
– trusted in faith to be generous with money
– trusted in faith to take a new job, to lead a ministry in church, to tell someone else about Jesus Christ.
And this by the way is a question all churches should ask themselves as well… when is the last time we did something as a church that we thought to ourselves, “the only possible way we can do this is through our faith in Jesus Christ”. It brings everyone to their knees and unifies them in utter dependence upon Jesus Christ.
I believe a church should ALWAYS be in one of those seasons. You should be able to go into a healthy church and say, “What are you all trusting God in for right now?” And the answer should be UNIFIED because it’s clear from the leadership down that the church is trying to accomplish something for the Kingdom of God and it will only do so with the help of God.
Ya know the video we played had the equation: FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS. And I want to change that just a little bit if you don’t mind.. no offense to the makers of the video.. they’re probably not going to listen anyway (light laughter). I want to change it to:
FAITH = SALVATION = WORKS
I don’t know if you can have 2 equal signs in an equation … (laughter)
And here is the reason why: the first version kinda implies that if you have FAITH, not only does it equal your salvation, but if you have faith you can just sort of muster up the ability to do good works. It’s just not Biblical friends.
When we first understand that our FAITH actually brings about our salvation, and what happens then in that moment when we first transfer our TRUST from ourselves to Jesus Christ, is the separation that happened between us and God because of our sin is immediately removed, our sin is gone and God IMMEDIATELY restores that relationship by dwelling inside of us through the Holy Spirit.
And it is only when THAT happens that our life can begin to actually change. We don’t want to create the image that you can somehow be good enough by mustering up faith. It’s when we enter into the relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit enables us and empowers us and we begin to see our lives change.
If that’s not you this morning.. if you are looking at that equation TRUE FAITH = SALVATION and TRUE SALVATION = CHANGED LIVES… if that’s not you this morning, I invite you to honestly come before God and say, “What part of this equation is wrong?” Maybe it’s the part where you haven’t fully trusted in Jesus for your salvation and you’re still relying on yourself.
Or maybe you’ve done that.. and this is hard to discern… and maybe the Holy Spirit has dwelled inside of you and you have begun a relationship but you are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit with all of your might; and you’re not seeing the changed life that could very well be happening.
Well… lets pray:
Father we thank you for this morning; as always we thank you for Your Word and we bring it forth before you and pray that it would resonate on our heart.. that it would indeed change and transform not only how we think about You, but our lives as well.
We invite you to show us as individuals and as a church how we might take this passage and apply it to our lives and make it real for us. And we ask these things in the name of the one who IS the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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