Faith In The Everyday World (5) – The Test of Genuine Faith
A Vibrant and Flourishing Faith
James is very much like any parent would be with kids moving out. He is over the top concerned that they would settle well, find their way, and most of all not lose the faith they had back in Jerusalem.
In many ways this would be the first test of faith. First time they would be away from the home church and the way of life they had always known. It would be like when your kids move out as they move on with education and career elsewhere.
What parent wouldn’t be concerned? Will they be ok? Will they be safe? Will they find their way and most of all will they stay true to their values, convictions and faith?
This is exactly what James goes through with his people as they were being scattered into the four winds by this terrible persecution.
Would they be well grounded and established with a faith that was vibrant and flourishing?
In fact, in James’ mind there was nothing more important than a vibrant and flourishing faith.
In his mind a flourishing and genuine faith is a faith that’s lived out in the open, which is the point he makes in James 2:14-25 in a section the NIV calls “Faith and Deeds.”
This is a faith that’s seen in actions and deeds and not just in something private, invisible or personal.
A thriving faith is a public faith impacting every aspect of our lives.
Living their faith in a public way didn’t have to happen in this new reality of theirs where they were scattered even amongst themselves and ended up in places where no one knew them.
How easy it would be to keep their faith private instead of living it out in the public arena, especially because of the opposition to the faith they were experiencing.
Private Christians occur when their personal faith is totally separate from how they live their day-to-day lives; with a faith that has no impact on daily living.
A Useless Faith
When you stop to think about it, isn’t that one of the big issues of our days as well, where professions of faith and lifestyle choices don’t necessarily add up and where people call themselves Christian but break every commandment under the sun?
James says: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” James 2:14
When James asks whether such a faith can save them, he is actually introducing the possibility of a faith that doesn’t save.
There is a faith that saves you and a faith that doesn’t save you and in James’ mind it had to do with deeds, behaviors and actions lived out in the public arena.
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Faith that does not impact the public arena is not worth the paper it’s written on.
James calls it a dead faith in vs. 17 and in vs. 20 he calls faith without deeds useless.
In fact, non-saving faith is actually worse than useless because at least useless seems to suggest no harm done as in without good use and something that’s not going to hurt you. A useless thing is just that, useless, right? When in reality a non-saving faith is actually incredibly harmful both to the person who lives it and to those who see it.
What I mean is that if someone thinks they have a saving faith when in reality it’s useless, they may well be lulled into complacency assuming theirs is a saving faith when in reality it’s not so.
Imagine how terrible it would be to find out at the end of your life that yours was not a saving faith?
This actually raises the specter of false faith. Is false faith possible? Absolutely!
What kind of a faith is a false faith? This is not a false faith as in a faith in idols or other gods, but a false faith within the Christian context.
Can such a thing even be possible? You bet it can.
It could be a confessional faith in a catechism where a profession of faith is made and maybe even the right things are believed, but it never connects to the heart and doesn’t impact the public life.
It can be a historical faith that’s never personally owned. It’s what we always believed, the Judeo Christian heritage and the faith of our fathers that hasn’t trickled down into personal convictions. We’ve never owned it personally.
It can be an emotional faith where it’s rooted in feelings, experiences and exuberance that quickly shrivel up when emotions fall away.
It can also be an intellectual faith with head knowledge and mentally believing in something but, like emotional and historical faith, it doesn’t trickle down into the heart and soul nor impact how life is lived.
This stands in stark contrast to the personal faith outlined in the New Testament, which Serendipity defines as:
“The comprehensive, whole-life commitment that characterizes true New Testament faith (which involves) believing with all one’s being: mind, emotions, body (behavior) and spirit.”
This is what James was getting at. His fear was that that they would revert to a private faith not lived out in the public arena.
“The people James has in mind differ from their pagan and Jewish neighbors only in what they profess to believe. They are orthodox Christians who believe in Jesus; however, they live no differently than anyone else.” Serendipity
In fact, James draws this startling parallel between private faith and the faith of all the devils in hell: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19
So in James’ mind there is a useless and a useful faith, a dead and a living faith and a saving faith and one that doesn’t save. All of that can happen within the Christian realm.
Showing Faith with Deeds
This in turn raises the question of what are the markers of genuine faith especially since faith is invisible?
That’s the problem with faith, isn’t it? It’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s what I believe inside of me and invisible to everybody but myself.
Since faith is very much invisible to the naked eye, so the only way to test if it is genuine is by rolling out in public life.
In other words, it has to be seen in the way I live my life.
In actions, reactions, attitudes, words and most of all in our deeds, which is what James says in James 2:18 - “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
By the way, his point is that you cannot show faith without deeds, at least not the New Testament faith that saves you.
There is no such thing as a private, hidden away faith! As Serendipity says:
“If faith does not make itself known in one’s lifestyles then it is non existent. Deeds are the only demonstrations of inner faith.”
Genuine faith will always impact the way we live our lives. Genuine faith shapes how we live our lives in the public arena.
If our faith doesn’t impact our day to day lives in terms of our choices, decisions, thoughts, attitudes, words and actions then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on!
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26
Abraham and Rahab
To drive home his point, James points to two masters of genuine faith in the Old Testament. Two people whose private faith impacted their very public lives.
The first one of these was Abraham.
Remember that James’s audience was intimately acquainted with the Old Testament and so when he mentions Abraham as an example of genuine faith it would resonate deeply since Abraham was considered the father of faith.
21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:21-24
Abraham’s faith in the Lord prompted deeds, actions and behaviors that never would have happened if he didn’t have the kind of genuine faith that he did.
In fact, if anything, what he was prepared to do with his son Isaac would never have happened if it weren’t for his incredible faith in God.
It actually pointed to a mature and advanced faith, which is what James says in “his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:22
Don’t misinterpret this. James is not saying that Abraham’s deeds added to his faith or somehow made his faith but that his extraordinary deeds were reflective of the mature faith that he had.
Only someone with a well developed faith in the Lord would be prepared to sacrifice the very thing that was God’s promise to him.
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.” James 2:23
Abraham had such an incredible trust in God that he was even called God’s friend!
And then there was a second example from the Old Testament, someone far more surprising and controversial, and that was Rahab who in a previous life was known as a prostitute.
25 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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:25-26
The fact that she was a prostitute points to how anyone in this life can have a genuine faith that shapes public life.
Rahab obviously had a spark of genuine faith that made her take a very public stand of hiding the spies.
I’m not sure where and when that faith sparked up in her. Maybe it was when she saw the impossibility of a couple guys driven by their faith in Jehovah climbing over the walls under the cover of darkness knowing it would end in their sure death.
I mean, who would do a thing like that? Maybe that was the spark of faith in her, but we know for sure that her faith showed itself in a remarkable courageous public act in which she defied her king and endangered her life.
I also bet that the very next thing in which her very real faith showed itself in her public life was in that she never ever went back to prostitution. I can almost guarantee you that.
“In both cases faith is demonstrated by means of concrete action. Abraham actually had the knife raised over his beloved son Isaac, and Rahab actually hid the spies. Without faith, Abraham would never have even considered sacrificing his only son, nor would Rahab have defied her king at great personal risk.”
So whether it’s hiding spies, or giving up a child of promise, the point is that genuine faith absolutely impacts how we live our lives in public.
A Very Public Faith
James’ point is these Christians, who were scattered far and wide, needed to come out of their closets and live out their Christian lives in the public arena and stand up and march by a different drummer and swim against the tide.
How easy it would be for them to keep their mouth shut, their faith private and let no one notice the difference.
Everybody knew that Abraham was marching to different orders and that his faith in God drove him to trust him in some of the most public acts possible.
Everybody knew that Rahab’s faith sparked an incredibly risky stand that could have cost her life.
So what was it going to be for the James’ people?
One thing for sure was how they were going to respond to perhaps the most pressing issue of their new reality and that is what to do with those in great need.
Their present reality as descendants of refugees meant that even some 30 years later there was still this crippling poverty among some of them and this would be an incredible test of their faith.
If they could be generous toward the needy even though money didn’t grow on trees and probably meant everything to them, they would demonstrate that their faith in Almighty God was stronger than their faith in the Almighty Shekel.
That an outpouring of generosity truly would be an example of genuine faith that spills over into the public life. So James says:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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?” James 2:14-16
While that was certainly one way of demonstrating genuine faith where they could overcome the pull of mammon by acts of generosity, it was by far not the only way of showing genuine faith.
The reason this is mentioned was because it was so obvious and so in their face.
So what does that look like for us today? What is in your face? What, where and how do you need to live out your faith in the public space?
For sure it includes a response to the poor. This thing with poverty continues to bedevil us.
We continue to have the poor with us, even as Jesus said we would. Maybe the reason for that is as a test of the genuiness of our faith.
I mean, let’s face it, folks. Nothing has a tighter grip on us than money.
And if faith has really come into us, then it would make us generous, willing to share, and respond quickly and with great compassion.
Stinginess and tightfistedness where every dollar has to be pried out of our hands is a sure sign that genuine faith has not come. So for sure what we do with the poor is indicative of the quality of our faith.
But it doesn’t stop there. Genuine faith spills over into every aspect of the public life. So what is that for you, friend?
If for Abraham it was his son and for Rahab it was her spies, then what is the big thing that you have in front of you?
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.