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James #8 - chapter 2, verses 14-20
The Book of James
The Test of Righteous Works
James 2:14-20
 
Text
 
I used to hear one of my old preacher mentors say, “What you do is what you really believe.  Everything else is just religious talk.”  That’s true.  It really doesn’t matter how loudly you say you believe something because the truth will be better seen in your actions than heard in your words. 
 
We are not what we say.  We are what we do. That’s what James is saying in this text.  Now if I were going to paraphrase James’ comments, I would say it this way:  faith plus nothing equals nothing.
 
James is describing "dead faith”.  He mentions it in verse 17, in verse 20 and again at the end of the chapter in verse 26.  Dead faith does nothing. 
 
And I will tell you what I’ve noticed.  People with dead faith always substitute words for deeds. They want you to believe that they are what they say when their actions tell you a completely different story.  And the truth always comes out because we are what we do and everything else is just a bunch of religious talk. 
 
Now the point James is making is there is a kind of faith that does not save and he refers to it as dead faith.  And understand, he’s describing people in the church.  They have faith in God.  They will tell you they have faith in Jesus Christ.  But he kind of faith they have does not save.
And the defining characteristic between dead faith and living faith is righteous works.  In other words, your faith is not sufficient to save unless it involves a new birth followed by a transformation which leads to a life of obedience and righteous works. Valid saving faith is always verified by fruit and a false dead faith is indicated by the absence of righteous actions.
 
And it’s very obvious there are a lot of people that  possess that kind of faith.  How else do we describe the massive numbers of people on church rolls who never contribute anything to the service life of the church?   I’m not talking about showing up on Sunday.  I’m talking investing their life in eternity-changing ministry and service that reflects the character and nature fo Jesus Christ Himself.
 
They believe in God. They believe in Jesus Christ. But they do not believe to the point of salvation and certainly not to the point where they will be obedient to His call to service. 
 
And that is a great burden to my heart.  We’ve got to deal with the fact that many people who’ve sat in churches for years and years are going to die and go to hell because they thought a simple knowledge of the gospel is equal to saving faith. Knowing the truth does not equal redemption.
 
And to that point, James writes this section of his letter to propose the test of righteous works.  If you want to authenticate your faith, then examine your works.  Just as you can look at the response to trials or temptation or your response to the word of God or if you show partiality, you can evaluate whether your faith is living or dead.
And to help with the evaluation, he offers three characteristics of dead faith.  The first one is
 
1. Empty Confession
 
verse 14
 
He asks two questions.  First, what good does it do to claim you’re a Christian and have nothing in your life to back up the claim?  And secondly, is that kind of faith saving faith? 
 
Think about it, and use some common sense.  Just for the sake of argument, a man comes along, and calims, “I have faith, I believe. I believe in God. I believe in Christ.  I love the Lord and live to serve Him!"
 
What good is such a claim if that man does not have a pattern of life to back up his claim?  What good is such faith? The answer is it's no good at all.  That's the obvious answer. It's nothing but an empty profession of faith with no evidence. And we’ve all been there and seen that. 
 
How many times have I welcomed some new member to the church and heard them talk about how much they want to serve and get involved and they can be counted on and all that.  And then, when they don’t even come back to church for the evening service and you don’t see them again for a few Sundays or they are hit and miss, then I all we got out of the deal was another liar on the church roll!
 
 
 
 
Dead faith is nothing more than an empty confession that has no benefit at all. After all, what we do is what we really believe.  Everything else is just religious talk. 
 
Secondly, James says dead faith is is marked by
 
2. False Compassion
 
verses 15-16
 
Again James gives us a hypothetical situation, much like the two men we saw earlier.  Here we have a person who is obviously in need.  They don’t have enough clothes to keep them warm.  They are hungry and deprived of food.  And they are a fellow Christian. 
 
And this professed Christian comes in contact with this person in need and just says, "God be with you, God bless you, Hope you do well,” and does nothing of any practical value to be of help to them.  The hunger is ignored.  They fact they are cold is ignored and you just say,  “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.”
 
And the Greek experts tell me the words and tenses used by James very possible express an attitude of sarcasm that makes it that much more insensitive and indifferent.  In fact, it’s a very cruel comment that says, “Warm yourself and fill yourself and don't bug me with your problems."
 
At the very least, it’s saying, "I hope you can find somebody to clothe you and feed you.  I’ll be praying for you."
Either way, whether you're sarcastically saying "Don't bug me with your problem,” or whether you're saying, "I sure hope you can find somebody who can help you,” neither comment expresses the heart of the Christian faith.
 
In other words, what good is that kind of faith? You claim to be a child of God with His nature and you can’t even concern yourself with someone in need?
 
Verse 17
 
A faith without fruit is a dead faith marked by empty confession and false compassion.
 
I remember hearing the story about a queen who went to the theater one cold, wintery evening to see a drama.  She was so moved by the characters and their presentation that she wept through the entire performance.  After it was over, she went out to get in her carriage and found her coachman sitting in her carriage awaiting her arrival had frozen to death.  And according to her biographer, she wept not a tear. 
 
It's amazing how people can cry over fiction and not cry over reality. Have you noticed that? It's amazing how people can watch a movie or hear a song and weep.  They can watch the soap operas and sling snot and come away with eyes swelled shut from the tears, but see a destitute person and be absolutely indifferent.
 
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t spend all of our emotions on fantasy and have none left for reality. We see so many disasters portrayed on television that we've pretty well emptied our emotions.
And God has so blessed us that real life just doesn't seem so bad.  Nobody cries anymore over the things that deserve our tears.  We are no longer moved by the things that moved Christ. 
 
So, as James says, we take it all in and casually respond by saying, “Good luck!  I’ll be praying for you!  Hope you get warm and have a nice supper!”
And then claim to be a servant of God.  What good is that kind of faith? That faith that has no works is alone and therefore it proves to be dead.
 
Listen again to how Jesus described this situation in
 
Matthew 25:31-46
 
It’s the same situation.  Those who enter the Kingdom are the ones with righteous works.  I see nothing about those who simply made a profession of faith and had no works to back it up being included. Those with dead, workless faith go to hell.
 
Dead faith is marked by empty confession and false compassion. Thirdly, it's marked by
 
3.  Shallow Conviction
 
verse 18
 
Now the theme of this verse is very clear. Here's the acid test. Again, let’s look at it hypothetically.  Here are two individuals and both claim to have faith.  One has no works and is asked to demonstrate his faith.  The word "show” means exhibit, demonstrate, put on display.  So how do you show faith without works? It can’t be done.  It’s impossible. 
He says, "Well, I believe.”  Prove it.  Show it to me. It's absolutely impossible to demonstrate saving faith without a product. How people can say there is such a thing as a faith that is real that has no fruit is absolutely ridiculous because how can they know that? James says show it to me. And if there is no righteous deed, if there is no fruit of righteousness, there is no way to demonstrate the validity of faith.
 
On the other hand, the reality of saving faith can be demonstrated by works.  The faith becomes obvious through the evidence of the life.  Do you think it safe to say the Muslims that bombed the World Trade Center had genuine faith? 
 
No doubt!  It was misplaced.  But the evidence of the validity of their faith was seen in their works.  It's obvious.  And the same is true for Christianity.  That puts the hypocrites on the spot, don’t you think? 
 
Somebody says, "I'm a Christian.” “Oh really, when did you get saved?”  “Forty years ago in Vacation Bible School.  I haven’t been back to church but I got saved and I’m going to heaven.”
 
Instead of that conversation, try this:  “I’m a Christian”.  “Oh really?  Prove it!  Show me some evidence.  Tell me about your life. Tell me about the pattern of your behavior.  Have you helped any cold or hungry people lately?  Tell me about your business deals.  Tell me how you treat your family!”
 
Obviously there can be some fruitless, barren times in the life of a Christian.  I understand that. But we are saved to produce the fruit of the Spirit and the evidence will be there.  
 
Then, anticipating the kickback this is going to generate, notice what James says in
 
Verse 19
 
Here we have a man who will argue, "Well, I not only believe in God, I believe in one God. I'm a monotheist." And James says, "That’s good.  You believe the basic theological doctrine of Scripture. You believe in the unity of God.  You rank right up there with the demons of hell becaseu they believe the same thing!”
 
And they’re a step ahead of you because knowing what they know, they tremble before God!
 
Let me tell you something, the demons believe that and tremble."
 
There's no such thing as a liberal demon. You know that? Demons believe in the deity of God. They believe in the trinity. They believe in the deity of Christ. All demons believe in the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. All demons believe God created in six days. They believe in the bodily resuurection.  They believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and and earthly kingdom and the rule and reign of Christ for eternity!  They got it all figure out!
 
And when they reflect on what they know, it causes them to shudder and tremble.  The word means to bristle, to have the hair stand on end, they are in a high degree of terror. That is an emotional response. 
 
 
 
Men say I believe that and it stops. Demons say I believe that and their hair stands on end because they understand the implications.   Men believe and could care less.  Demons believe and tremble in fear. 
 
Don’t think your casual response to God will obtain for you a place in heaven.  It’s not saving faith.  It’s not even demonic faith.  It’s dead faith.
 
Verse 20
 
It’s interesting that James uses a different word for “dead” in verse 20 than the one in verse 17.
 
In verse 17 the word is “nek-ros”.  It refers to one that has breathed his last; lifeless or deceased and more particularly in this verse, spiritually dead.
 
In verse 20, the word is He uses the word “argos” and it means fruitless or barren.  Not only do they have no life, but the evidence of that is they bear no fruit. 
 
James says nothing good, nothing profitable comes from those who have dead faith.  It is shallow conviction, false compassion and empty confession.
 
I’ll close with an illustration of dead faith from Scripture itself found in Acts chapter 8. 
 
In Acts 8, Philip is preaching in the area around Samaria.  He is a holy man with a fiery heart.  We discover in verse 9 a man named Simon is listening to him preach. 
 
Verses 9-13
 
What we have here is a genuine moving of God.  Philip is preaching, people are resonding and being saved and giving evidence of their salvation by following in believer’s baptism. 
 
And notice in verse 13, Simon himself also believed and was baptized and continued with Philip.  That’s three good things that are included in every genuine conversion.  We believe, we are baptized and we continue.
 
Verses 15-17
 
Here we may the brand new development of the church.  Unlike with us and the immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it didn’t happen like that at this particular juncture of the church. 
 
So far, so good.  There is a genuine moving of God and many are being saved and baptized and God is living and dwelling among them by the Spirit. 
 
Verses 18-21
 
Now without getting into all the details of this text, just notice here was a man who by Scriptures own testimony believed, he was baptized, he continued, he was amazed and he was damned.
 
Now up against that, notice the requirement of true faith in
 
verse 22
 
 
 
That tells me it is possible to believe, it is possible to be baptized, it is possible to continue to listen, it is possible to be amazed by everything happening in Christianity and still to be damned to hell.  That's dead faith. And what came out of the life of Simon was evidence of an unregenerate heart.
 
A native from a neighboring tribe came to where a missionary had been working said, "I want to know what you teach." The missionary said, "Have you ever heard the gospel?" He said, "No, I have only seen it." And then he went on to describe a Christian that he had met. Have you ever heard the gospel? No, I have only seen it.
 
You can hear about faith but the truthfulness of it has to be seen. And so James says look at your works because they will tell you the truth about your faith. 
 
Let's pray.
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