We continue looking at the challenges of having a living faith, using James 2 as a guide. This popular chapter on works prescribes an antidote for the hypocritical church of Smyrna, claiming to be alive but not acting out the gospel. Having a living faith profits us and will increase our capacity to love. We should start with whatever measure of faith we have and do our best to add to it. All the while, being watchful and waiting attentively for Christ’s return.
A living faith or a dead faith
Let’s look at James 2 because it’s the most famous dead-works passage. Let me just do a couple of pieces of it.
So 2:14. What does it profit, my brethren—
The Bible is a Bible about profit. As a matter of fact, one of the most famous chapters of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. Isn’t it really famous? Did you ever catch why it tells us to love people? It’s profitable. Because he says, if I even give myself to be burned as a martyr and have not love, it profits me nothing.
So, the reason we do all this is because it’s profitable.
God designed us to always seek our best interests. That’s why he says love others as you love yourself. He built us to seek our own best interests. No one ever does anything that they don’t perceive to be in their own best interests. Often it’s not; but they perceive that it is.
So what does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?Sozo. Sozo means something’s delivered from something. You always have to look at the context and say what is being delivered from what?
Let’s see what we’re seeing here.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food—If someone’s naked, what do they need to be delivered from? Nakedness. Cold. Exposure.
If they have no food to eat, what do they need to be delivered from? Hunger, right?
So, 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.”—What good is that? I give you my spiritual blessing. I’m giving you spiritual food. Is that what’s needed in that moment? No! We don’t need spiritual when we’re dying of hunger and exposure. We need clothes and food at that point in time.
So, don’t give me the spiritual platitudes when there’s work to do. That doesn’t profit people.
Now, does spiritual food profit people? Absolutely it does. But that’s not all there is.
Then we look over to the end of this whole thing about faith and works being what God wants us to do. Take your faith, put it into action. It ends with verse 26, and says, For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
The body without the spirit is dead just like faith without works is dead
Let’s go through this analogy. I have a body. You can see it. If my body suddenly turned blue and my tongue stuck out and I fell over on the ground and stopped breathing and you couldn’t resuscitate me, everyone would say Tim is dead.
Why? Is it because my body disappeared? Is my body still there? Could you walk over here and look at me and say, “There’s poor Tim; his body is still there, and he’s dead”? Could you see me? Yeah. But why am I dead? The spirit left!
The body without the spirit is dead. Why does the spirit make the body alive? It makes it stand up and talk. It makes it breathe. It makes it interact with other people. Life is not existence. The body exists without the spirit. Life is interaction. It’s animation. That’s what life is.
And the spirit makes the body live.
Well, as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. In the analogy, which one is faith, body or spirit? Body. So the body is. It exists.
You believe in Jesus? You have faith. That’s all it takes is to believe in Jesus. And then your faith has given you new life. The Spirit indwells you. You’re a new creation in Christ.
Just like my body is here because my mother birthed me. How much did I have to do with that? Did I plan it? Did I have any participation in the causation of it? Was I even aware of it? It just happened to me. It was a gift.
When I received the free gift of being a new creature in Christ, I didn’t do anything for that either. I just received it. But it’s real. It exists. The body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. Faith is something we receive. It’s a gift. It exists.
But, if it’s blue and lying on the floor and not breathing, it still exists, but it’s dead. What animates faith? What makes faith come alive? Works! Works is like the spirit. It makes it come alive.
When we have a faith that’s interested in appearances, when we have a faith that’s interested in the opinion of others, when we have a faith that’s trying to look righteous but does not really care about others, a faith that wants to appear true, but is not actually true, a faith that tries to speak the appearance of truth, but does not actually speak truth, a faith that wants to look like it loves others, but does not actually seek the best interest of others, then we’re dead.
Our faith still exists. It’s just dead.
You can be successful at this because this church, Sardis, had a reputation for being alive. But do you know what one of the things about living a fraudulent life is? At least one person always knows. At least one always knows, right? We know.
Start with what you have
What he’s saying here is, if you’re living that kind of life, here’s what you do: strengthen what remains. That’s encouraging, isn’t it? When your life is decayed, and you’ve started this path of living a hypocritical life, living a fraudulent life, just work with what you’ve got. If you’ve got all these bad habits, you’ve got all these bad patterns, just start working with what you have. Isn’t that encouraging?
He doesn’t ever ask us to do something that we’re not capable of doing. Just start with what you have.
The next thing he tells us to do is remember. Look at verse 3. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. (Revelation 3:3)
Add to your faith
Let’s look at 2 Peter. 2 Peter has a great verse about this, about remembering. 2 Peter 1:5. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith—Faith is something that exists. It’s a gift. We have a new creation in Christ. We have a faith. What he wants us to do now is add to it. It’s not add to being born again. Being born again is a gift. What he wants us to do is add to our life. What does he want us to add? Virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. Why?
Verse 8. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He wants us to be fruitful. He doesn’t want us to be barren. Can we have a barren faith? Yes. That would be the same thing as a dead faith. It’s not producing any profit. It’s not benefiting anybody. It’s speaking as though it benefits people. It’s creating an illusion of benefiting; but it’s not actually benefiting anybody.
For he who lacks these things—So you’ve got the faith, but you haven’t added diligence and virtue and knowledge and self control. You’ve got it, but you haven’t added.
Remember that you’ve been cleansed
Is what? —shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten—A fundamental problem is we forgot. What did you forget? That he was cleansed from his old sins. See, we forgot! We forgot that Jesus came in and cleansed us; and now we’re living as though we have to create our own righteousness. Make the rules, keep the rules. Build the façade, maintain the façade.
Why? We’re looking at the opinions of other people. We are trying to be judged by others, and we’re saying, “I’m OK because Dan thinks I’m OK.” How do I know Dan thinks I’m OK? Because I’ve projected onto Dan that he thinks I’m OK. Do I actually know what Dan thinks? Dan probably thinks I’m a jerk. But Dan is worried about what I think of him, so he’s pretending that I’m righteous. We are now propping up each other’s facades about how wonderful we are.
Then Dan will go home and say, “Can you believe what a jerk that guy is?” That’s what we do! Because we’re watching the wrong thing.
Watch for Christ’s return
What Jesus says is, “I want you to watch for me. I’m coming back.” Behold I’m returning and my what is in my hand? My reward is in my hand! To give to those who have been faithful. That’s what I’m coming back to do.
If you won’t watch, you’re going to come like a thief. Now is a thief welcome or unwelcome? Looked for or unlooked for? Yeah, you’re not going to be glad that you’re at this judgment. You won’t be glad.
If you will watch, you’ll be glad I came back. You’ll be happy. That’s the position I want you to be in.
It’s very encouraging here to the extent we are living a life that’s kind of a fraud. Here’s the way out. Start with what you have. Start remembering. We’re cleansed from our old sins. We don’t have to pretend like we’re not sinful. We can be real that we are sinful. Then we can start living a life to say, how can I bless others with my gifts? How can I speak the truth to false authorities? How can I love others with the truth that I have without bending the truth? How can I seek the best interest of others?
We can start with where we are.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Let’s end with a passage we’ve already gone over several times. I Corinthians chapter 3. We’ve gone through this, and this is judgment day. I just want to underpin that judgment day is a fire day. We’re all going to be in the presence of the consuming God who has the face that causes the heaven and earth to flee, who caused the righteous prophet Isaiah to say, “Man! I’ve got dirty lips! When I’m in Jesus’ presence, I just feel dirty!” That’s where we’re going to be.
Jesus will be the judge
And it says in 1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. Here’s another analogy. We’re like a building.
Verse 10. According to the grace of God which is given to me—Paul says—as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it—like Apollos and people like that. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.
The controversy here is people are saying, well, should we follow Paul? Should we follow Apollos? And what Paul is saying is, you know who’s going to determine that? Not me. If other people come in and lay on this foundation—there’s just one foundation, that’s Jesus. I laid that. Nobody’s laying a different foundation. If they do that, they’re false. Don’t listen to them. But do you know who’s going to judge what other people bring in and their teaching? You know who’s going to judge that? Not me! Don’t ask me! Who’s going to judge that is Jesus.
The quality will be revealed by fire
Verse 11. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire—It’s kind of like the Three Little Pigs, except that instead of wind, it’s fire.
The quality of the house was revealed when the wolf blew, and the two of them didn’t stand, right? It’s going to be the same sort of thing. What did you build on this foundation?
The interesting thing here is, this is actually talking specifically about Apollos, these other teachers, these other apostles that are building by investing in these churches; but I think the way he uses the language—he says, each one. We’re all in this. We’re told to do the great commission. And the great commission is to make disciples of other people. We’re doing that all the time whether we mean to or not. Your example and your life the way you live is influencing other people. What are you building with that influence? Is it something lasting? Or is it something that’s just going to burn up, that’s not going to have any enduring quality?
The Day will declare it. The judgment day, because it will be revealed by fire. Because God is going to sort out the thoughts and intents of the heart.
God grades on the curve
There’s going to be a lot of surprises. Probably some things that actually weren’t good are going to be deemed to be good because of what was intended. (I’m talking about actually good in terms of the results that it had and the consequences in daily life.)
And it’s probably going to be just the opposite. Because thoughts and intents of the heart, and God judges clearly based on what our capabilities are. He judges based on what opportunities we have. To whom much is given much is expected. To whom little is given, little is expected. There’s a curve.
People are going to say, hey, wait a minute! I worked all day! You’re going to give me the same wage as the guy who worked an hour? Well, yeah, because the last will be first; the first will be last. It’s not going to be a judgment like we would do. It’s going to be a judgment where God meets every one of us right where we are. And he’s going to ask, “What did you build with the materials I gave you?”
Verse 14. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
That’s what this is about. Do you want to live a rewarding life? And the reward of life is life. The reward of life is life.
If anyone’s work is burned—if what we do in this life just goes up in flames—he will suffer loss. It’s a loss. It means that we will have to look back on our life and say, “I wasted it. I wasted my opportunity.” That’s not going to be a pleasant time.
Tears in heaven
We will see as we get on in Revelation that there’s going to be a time when all tears are wiped away. What does there have to be if tears are wiped away? What has to be present? Tears.
There’s going to be a time that we get to learn. Have you noticed that learning is not comfortable? Have you ever cried because you were so frustrated because of something you had to learn, and you couldn’t get it? And then you finally got it, and it was such a great—
Well, that’s the way I think this is going to be. God doesn’t want us to miss out.
The clear message is if you will have this embrace-death in this life, then the second death won’t hurt you. If you’ll embrace life in this life, you get way more life in the next one.
What life is, is letting your faith be animated by works and doing things that are true to serve others, not being a fake.
Verse 15. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Dr. Radmacher used to have a phrase: “Bikini believers at the Bema seat.”
I guess that’s actually not biblical. The Bible actually says naked. Because there’s no defense. There’s not going to be any self justification. There’s not going to be a defense lawyer that’s there saying, let’s get you off because of lack of evidence. Or let’s get some evidence suppressed. It’s just all going to be naked and bare. Who we are is who we are.
But do you know what? There’s going to be an opportunity to learn through that fire.
We’re all going to be conformed to the image of Christ. The question is, are we going to embrace the opportunity now? It’s not comfortable. In which case, that conforming is going to give us this massive overcoming thing where we get all these incredible rewards that are unthinkable.
Joy in heaven
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has entered into the thought of man that which I have for those who love me. Is it going to be that? Or is it going to be, “I made it, but just barely. Through fire. And I’m going to learn all the things I could have learned walking by faith. I’m now going to learn by sight. I still learn it, but all those rewards are not there for me.”?
It’s a simple book. If we will learn these lessons, if we will embrace these opportunities and walk faithfully and be his martyr, martyreo, his witness, then we get all these massively wonderful things, and avoid a lot of stuff that we don’t really want.
Alternatively, if we don’t, we miss out. We might have the Balaam opportunity to have something of this world, but what Balaam ultimately got was death.
We might not have to face Jezebel down. We might not have to have the confrontation with Jezebel. But Jezebel was eaten by dogs.
It’s real simple. If we have an ear, we can hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Now, we talked about these as ages, and the model I proposed, the middle age church where everything is all about appearances and so forth. But at the time this was written, each of these churches was a real church. Each of these problems was a real problem. And each of us can be anywhere or everywhere that these churches have been.
I can see myself in every one of these eras. Can’t you? Do you ever try to be a fake? Yeah. Well, being a fake isn’t a good deal.