Is your faith real? Or is your faith fake?
Thank you, Graham. Thank you, Marsha. Thank you church, again. I love worshipping outside, but I love hearing you sing. I love hearing the voices of this congregation raise up to heaven as we sing praises and glorify God. And so, it is good to hear that.
This morning I want to ask a very simple, yet very powerful question to start with. Is your faith real, or is your faith fake?
As we continue to look at this letter that James has written to his church that has been scattered, this is the question that we come to. It is one of the hardest sections of James to deal with. And it’s probably the most convicting of the sections cause we have to look at this, and we have to answer the question. Basically, do we have real faith? Do we have living faith, or do we have a dead faith?
When Jennifer and I first built our first house, we planted a few dogwood trees. Anybody like dogwood trees? I love them, and the one in the back had yellow flowers. It was gorgeous. The first two seasons, it bloomed, and I loved it. The one in the front was just white or pink. It may have been pink. I don’t know. I can see yellow. I can’t see white or pink, so I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t like the one in the front as much as I liked the one in the back. And then the third season, the one in the front was blooming, gorgeous, full, but the one in the back – nothing. What does that mean? It’s dead. I could see the tree. I could look at it. It had no blooms, no fruit, so to speak, and I knew it was dead. And I knew that it was going to have to be taken up or cut down.
That is what we have to look at this morning – is our faith real or fake? And James tells us how we can answer that question. He tells us how we can know whether we have real faith or fake faith. We can know if we have living faith or dead faith, and so it’s my goal this morning – what I want to do as we open this text is to teach us, is to let God’s Word teach us what real faith looks like. I mean that’s the goal of this text is to know whether you have faith or not.
Because it’s, and here’s why it’s important, because if we have fake faith, our eternity is not as secured as we may think it is. See what I’m saying. So that is my goal and that is why this is important for us today and my prayer all week is as we wrestle through this text is, if there’s anybody here who’s never truly accepted Christ in your heart, that you would be so convicted by the Spirit of God that you would come to understand that even though you’ve been professing to be a Christian, it’s never moved from your head to your heart, and you’re not saved and that today you would make that decision to move your head knowledge into your heart.
So, here’s what James says. Read with me in Chapter 2, starting in verse 14 through 26.
James 2:14-26: 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder. 20 Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Let’s pray. Father, as we approach this text this morning, may Your Spirit move in my heart and the hearts of these people, so that we could truly understand what it is You are communicating to us. Father, we don’t want to misunderstand what James is writing about. But we don’t want to miss the importance of knowing that we have a living faith. Father, as always, let this be a light unto our path. May it guide and direct our ways. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen, Amen.
Kind of the one overarching main idea or the main truth of this whole passage is that our fruit, the fruit that we produce, the fruits of our life, is that is the evidence of real faith. Real faith is evident by the fruit in our life. That is what James is getting at.
1 – Real faith is evident by the fruit in our life. Fruit is not necessary for salvation.
But don’t miss that fruit is not necessary for salvation. So, before we really dig into what James is talking about, I want to make very clear that fruit is not necessary.
That dogwood tree I told you about that was dead – when I went to cut it down, I didn’t have to cut it down. I pushed it. It just fell over. You know why it fell over? It didn’t have any roots. You see, the fruit was not the root of the tree.
The fruit is not the root of our salvation. It is our faith that is the root and the foundation of our salvation, and that’s important to understand. James is in no way advocating for faith plus works, even though it sounds like that. Cause we know what Paul says – Paul teaches it is faith alone. Paul teaches it is God’s grace through faith in Christ alone that saves us. That is true, and James is not contradicting Paul – they’re coming at this from two very different perspectives.
Paul focuses on a pre-conversion set of circumstances. Paul, when he writes, is focused on the Law of God, the 10 Commandments – the Mosaic law. Keeping that Law is not going to save you because nobody can keep it perfectly.
James is focused on the post conversion circumstances. He wants to know what you do after you are saved, not before you are saved. And so, where Paul uses that word “justified” as we are found not guilty in the eyes of God because of our faith, James uses the word “justified” to mean proven. Your faith is proven, so I don’t want you to misunderstand anything that James is talking about. You don’t have to work. In fact, you cannot work your way to salvation. You don’t have to work your way to salvation, but, Paul and James actually agree with each other on the post conversion, the post salvation attitude. Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians.
Ephesians 2:10 – 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Listen, you need to hear this if you’re saved. If you’re a Christian, God’s got a purpose for you to impact the world around you. He’s got work for you to do. He’s got fruit for you to produce, you see. And this is where I think James is coming.
There are people here or people listening online who maybe at some point in your life, you said a prayer. And you guaranteed and punched your ticket to Heaven or so you thought, right? You said I just want to go to Heaven. I just want to go to Heaven. You heard one of these fiery, Hellfire and damnation sermons, and it scared you because Hell is a bad place. And so you came down, you prayed a little prayer, and you punched your ticket to Heaven. And that was it.
But listen, salvation is not primarily about going to Heaven. Yes, that is an amazing, glorious result. And yes, that is something we should all look forward to and celebrate, but that’s not the primary result. God didn’t save you to get you to Heaven primarily. He saved you to bring Heaven to earth. Did you hear that?
What does the Lord’s prayer say? Our Father, Who art in Heaven. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. He saved you to bring Heaven to earth. You have a purpose.
This church on this homecoming, we have a purpose. He put us in this place, and He put us right here in China Grove because there’s a large number of people around us who aren’t in church this morning.
How do I know that? I see them. We are here because God wants us to impact the world around us. He has created us and called us and saved us for a work that He has prepared ahead of time for us to do. That’s why we are saved – to produce fruit.
So, the fruit is not necessary for salvation, but fruit is certainly a part of salvation, and so James breaking it down says that this – faith is more than just a verbal profession.
2 – Faith is more than just a verbal profession.
James opens up with two rhetorical questions. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works – can such a faith save them? They answer those two questions is no. The way this is constructed is it demands a “no” answer. He’s telling us that faith and works go hand in hand – that works is a result of our faith. We need to understand, he is not contrasting mature faith with immature faith. This is not a baby Christian with an adult Christian. ???
It’s not a nominal Christian with an authentic Christian. This is a real Christian versus a non-Christian. This is a person with a real faith or a person with a non-existent faith, a living faith, or a dead faith. That is what he is talking about, and faith is more than just a verbal profession. It’s more than just speaking it into existence.
I mean look at the illustration he gives in first in verse 15. He brings this scenario where someone in the church, a brother and sister or sister in the church and has not gotten enough clothes or enough food, and this is a real scenario.
The church he’s writing to – they would have lost their jobs. They would have lost family. They would have lost their money. It’s very likely that someone in this church would have had no food, no clothes, and yet another member of the church looks at him and says, “Go in peace, stay warm.”
I mean, you ever tried to put a word on as a coat? By saying you’re going to stay warm, is that going to keep you warm? Oh, there’s this be fed. That word is not going to provide nutrition. To that person, what good is it to say it without meeting the need?
Listen, authentic real faith will see the need. This person in the story they saw the need. But real authentic faith will meet those needs. Because we’re just going to be honest, words are pretty useless, right? I mean they have meaning. But actions…I can tell Jennifer I’m going to do the laundry 1000 times. What does she expect me to do? The laundry! What good is it for me to say honey, I’ll do the dishes? You know what happens? They’re still piled up in the sink. What good is it for me to say it without doing it?
What good is it to say, I’m a Christian without following Christ? What good is it to say I’m a Christian and then get on social media and talk like a non-Christian? Oh, I better be careful – that’s next week. I’m jumping ahead of myself.
What good is It to say I’m a Christian, and keep living the same life I was living before I became a Christian, because that’s what James is talking about. That’s what he’s arguing against.
There’s a false teaching in this day that says, oh, you can go to church. You can be a Christian and live your life however you want to live it. You can go out and party and talk and do drugs and drink and have sex with everybody you want to. It’s OK. You’re a Christian. And James says no. That’s not the Christian life, and I would say if you’re not following Jesus as closely as you should, you might not be following Him at all.
And that’s what James is getting at. And I want to tell you something. This may be going on in that day, but it’s going on today as well. There are preachers all over TV who preach this kind of stuff.
There are people who believe that I go to church every Sunday. I’m in Sunday school. And I got to be careful because there are people who have been baptized who have produced no fruit – shown no difference. And they think their eternity is secured, and it’s not.
We’ve bought into this lie that we can say it without doing it, and we’re going to be OK. We’ve bought into this lie that we can just add Christianity to our resume to have a more complete life. And we’re going to be surprised when we stand before the Lord.
Listen, he says, faith is dead. Faith without works is as dead as a body without air to breathe. You let that sink in. Faith without fruit, faith without works, is as dead as a body without air to breathe.
In verse 18, James develops an imaginary person and has this imaginary conversation. It’s an imaginary objector. This person shows up, but with a kind of laissez faire live and let live. I’m OK, you’re OK attitude regarding faith and works. The objector, says James, I got faith. You got works. We’re both OK. That’s the objector.
It’s as if this man is showing up and saying, listen, you do you, I’ll do me, and we’ll be OK on the day of judgment.
I love this cause I mean, you really need to capture – I don’t think the words on the page capture the attitude in which James explodes with his words, because he just he absolutely explodes, and he says show me your faith – show it to me. I say I have faith and you can see my faith because of my work. Show me your faith.
I heard it this way. This is the best way I’ve heard it explained. We’re getting ready to go and have an amazing lunch – steak, pecan pie, and I think chocolate cake. You know what’s in that stuff? Calories. Can you see a calorie? I’ve never seen a calorie. I’ve seen the results of calories. Right? That’s faith. That you can’t see faith. I can’t look at you and say, oh you, you got faith. The works are result of faith.
Works is a result of our faith and so, James says, show me your faith. I’m going to show you my faith by what I do. I’m going to show you my faith cause I help those in need. I help the poor. I’m going to show you my faith cause I tell people about the Gospel. I’m passionate enough to look at somebody and say you’re not right with God.
Here’s what the Bible says. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. I’m going to tell them. James says I can show you my faith by the fact I stopped doing what I used to do. And James gets it. James was a non-Christian, and God radically transformed him when he became a Christian. He gave up his old life, and he began working to fulfill the plan that God has for him.
And then he goes on in verse 19, and this is, I think, where it gets fantastic, cause he looks at the objector and he says, oh, you believe God is one. By the way, that’s a part of Jewish law. I mean, that’s the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 – listen Israel, the Lord our God – the Lord is one – every Jewish person knows that. And he’s writing to Jewish people. Every Jewish person around could have quoted that. Every Jewish person could have verbally said, hey, the Lord is one and James says, great.
So can the demons. He basically said you are now in the category of the demons. You see, the demons are better theologians than me. The demons know more about the Bible than all of us. Satan knows more about God than probably anybody here. And you know what happens when they have an emotional experience? They shudder. I love that. The demons respond to God more than some people do.
They shudder. You know what that means? It means the hair on the back of their neck stands up. It means they cower in fear. You know why? Cause they know who God is. They know what God has done, and they know where they’re going. And it ain’t good. Do you know who God is? Do you know what God has done? Do you know where you’re going? The answer to that question may make you shudder. This objector is no better than the demons. In fact. If you know best I can tell, a demon was the first person to confess Jesus as the Son of God – not a human. A demon.
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. Right doctrine is important. Right theology is essential. But that is unsatisfactory if the right doctrine and the right theology never leads to the right action. Heard it said this week that the difference between unsaved and saved is about 18 inches – from here to here. From here to here. Do you have him here?
So, fruit is not necessary for salvation. Faith is more than just saying it. We can’t just say it. Even the demons say it.
3 – But fruit is necessary evidence of salvation.
Jesus, this is where James gets it, says in Matthew 7 that you will recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs or thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t produce bad fruit. But Jesus goes on to say neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So, you will recognize them by their fruit.
Fruit is necessary evidence of salvation, and James uses Abraham and Rahab to explain it. You see, Abraham waited so long to have a kid. Ever thought about this? An old man unable to have kids and God promised to give him a kid. And first thing, God tells him to do is take your kid up and kill him. Can you imagine what’s going through Abraham’s mind? Wait a minute. Abraham could have easily said, God, I trust you. I know you could provide a way, but I’m not doing it.
But what did Abraham do? He grabbed Isaac and he took him. And as he’s getting ready to kill him, he looks over, and I love this picture cause you’ve got a ram in a thorn bush as the sacrifice. Don’t miss the beauty of that picture because Jesus is going to wear a crown of thorns when he’s put on the cross. Do you see that connection? Abraham did it. He didn’t just say it.
Rahab did it. She didn’t just say it. If you are saved by faith, then faith will produce fruit. If you are saved, then it is going to be your heart’s desire to do what God tells you to do. Heard another pastor this week. I think it was Steve Daines. He put it like this. Christians may sin, but not for long. Because a Christian, when a real Christian with real living faith sins, the Spirit will eat away at you and eat away at you and eat away at you until you have to confess it and turn it over to God.
If you sin and you don’t have a problem with it, maybe you need to evaluate your faith. If you live your life however you want to go, doing this, doing that and actively, willfully, continually committing a sin and you don’t have a problem, well, you might not have the Spirit. Because Christians won’t do that cause it’ll eat us up inside when we mess up. It’ll eat us up inside.
One more illustration from the Old Testament I want to share with you that I think will give light to this a little bit better. A demonstration of faith, OK? This comes from Numbers 21. And the context of this is the people of Israel are wandering in the desert. They’ve been complaining. You know, doing the rebellious things, and so God sends these vipers, these snakes. I think they’re vipers with little bitty horns, but the Bible doesn’t say that. He sends snakes.
And as soon as the people of Israel are bit, they die. A lot of people die. Here’s what happens. They get convicted; they confess. In Numbers 21:8, the Lord said to Moses to make a snake image and mount it on a pole. I love that by the way. The snakes are biting them, so make a snake. I love God’s way of thinking. Anyway, when anyone is bitten now, don’t miss this, when anyone is bitten and looks at it, he will recover. So, Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on the pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
Now, if you’re an Israelite and you’re in the wilderness and a snake bites you, what are you going to do? You’re going to do everything you can to get to that bronze statue and look at it. You’re going to get on somebody’s shoulders. You’re going to climb up on somebody’s back. Climb on top of whatever they’re carrying. You’re going to do whatever you can to see it. Listen, you’re not going to lay there with a snake bite and say, well, I know if I look at that I’ll be saved, but I just don’t feel like it.
You’re not going to say that. You’re not going to lay there like, well, I know there’s a bronze serpent. You’re not going to say, bronze serpent save me. No look at it. You can have the faith to know it’s going to save you, but then you got to look at it. Right, you got to look at it.
You see, we like to think of faith and works in this hand and this hand, and it’s different. Faith and works are together – saved by faith to produce fruit. A bird can’t fly if he’s only got one wing, right? Got to have both wings. Faith and works – what’s so amazing about this story in Numbers 21. Jesus is going to tell Nicodemus the same thing. We all know John 3:16, right? So say it with me – for God so loved the world. That’s awesome. That’s John 3:16. Do you know John 3:14? Here it is. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. That’s John 3:14. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so too, the Son of Man must be lifted.
Jesus has been lifted up on a cross cause he loves you this much. You got to look at it. You got to respond to it. You can’t just say oh, Jesus saves. I mean, that’s a powerful statement, but you got to do something.
You have to respond, and the first thing you do is to accept Him as your Lord and Savior. Surrender your heart, surrender your life, give it to Him. That’s the first work you have to. I mean, again, it’s really not a work you do you. Just respond. You accept that free gift.
I mean, Christmas is coming up. You ever seen a kid get a Christmas present and shove it away? No, they take it. You’ve got to receive the gift. But it requires surrender, which means you now follow Him. You do what He says, not what the world says. Do you need to make that decision today? Do you need to respond? Do you need to look and receive Jesus?
You’re a little backslidden? Do you need to approach God and say, I got fruit to produce. Maybe you need to just pray this prayer – God show me the fruit you want me to produce. Cause a lot of us miss it. Show me the fruit, open my eyes, open my heart. Help me to see the work you have called me to do then give me the strength to do it. How is the Spirit of God working in your heart? This altar is open for you to come and pray.
I’ll be down there if you need to make a decision. We’ll pray with you. We have deacons who will pray with you. How is the Spirit leading you to respond today?
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for your Word. And we know James is a hard Word from beginning to end. And Father, we know that this idea of faith and works is hard to understand and maybe we’re not meant to understand all of it, but we know You save us by faith. And then that faith is to produce fruit, and that’s how we know we’re saved. So Father, if there’s anybody here who needs to make a decision to follow You, Father, don’t let them, don’t let them stay in their seats. Let them come. If there’s anyone who needs to follow You into the waters of baptism to obey, to obey you and be baptized, Father, let them come. Help us as a church to let our faith show to this community because You have produced, You have given, us a mission field right here. Help us to be fruit producers. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.