FAITH AND WORKS
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Miss America question Why is it that Miss America contestants are asked, If named Miss America, what would you do to promote world peace?
- The interview question portion of the contest seems sort of empty and contrived.
- Its not that the contestants give empty answers, sometimes they answer the questions quite well, but what is Miss America really going to do about it? Thats the problem. I dont recall the title of Miss America having any real authority. We never see Miss America brokering peace in the Middle East or enacting legislation to lower gas prices. We know that Miss America cannot really do much, but we want to hear a good answer.
- Then again, I suppose the public and the Miss America organization decided that actions do speak louder than words. So, beginning in 1989 Miss America contestants were required to choose and issue of relevance to society and set out to make a difference in that area.
We have a lot of old sayings that send this message:
Actions speak louder than words.
If you talk the talk, then walk the walk.
Practice what you preach.
The first century version of this is: Faith Without Works is Dead.
What James is Not Saying:
- He is not saying that we earn our salvation through works.
- We cannot do anything that places a claim on God. James 2:24 has been the focus of controversy for many hundreds of years now. It seems to contradict what Paul says in Romans 3:24
- All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
- The confusion is centered on the word justification. Paul and James use the term differently. They both use it differently than we do. We tend to think of justification as legal ruling. Justification is the process through which something Gets us off the hook. And the debate for at least the last 500 years has been over that can happen through anything we can do.
- Terms and concepts that Paul and James wouldnt have concerned themselves with have added a lot of baggage to this term. But maybe theres another way for us to understand justification. Take it out of the legal world and move it into the world of typesetting. One makes the text line up on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right. Justify in this sense means that someone or something lines the text up to a norm.
- Maybe this gets us closer to the biblical meaning, even though typesetting is completely foreign to James and Paul. God, in his grace, is lining us up. He is moving us from unrighteousness to righteousness. Its a process; it is change; it is training. Hes making us holy.
- James is not saying that words and faith are unimportant. He covers the follow up to the concern that faith is just empty talk. He can hear someone whos really task-oriented saying, Alright, you take care of the faith stuff and I will handle the deeds!
- But that sort of unenlightened and uninformed work is just as empty and meaningless as faith without deeds.
- We can suffer not only from idleness, but also unreflective work. Such work will tend to focus on ourselves and our own talents rather than God and the power of his Spirit.
- James is making the case that faith and deeds go together.
What James is Saying:
- James is saying that faith must be embodied. That sounds a lot like Jesus who taught us that our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus was the word of God made flesh. Probably no one knew that as well as James.
- So the illustration about failing to meet the physical needs of a brother or sister.
- We are body and spirit and being a friend of God is faith and deeds.
- James is saying that faith means risk. Abraham and Rahab. They took a chance, they risked. Why? Because they believed in Gods word. They had faith.
- James is saying that faith and deeds are always working together.
- A friend of God not only believes what God believes, but does as God would do.
- This goes back to the lesson of hearing and doing the word. We have to put it into action.
- We must be careful that we do not get caught up in any false dualism that forces an emphasis on faith and teaching to the exclusion of action OR an emphasis on action to the exclusion of prayer, reflection, teaching and faith.
A. J. Jacobs The Year of Living Biblically
- Jacobs sets out to live the instruction of the Bible as literally as possible. Nothing is left out. Along the way he finds that this task begins to affect his thinking and his actions in more than just the obvious externals (like growing a beard and wearing fringes). One of the people who quizzes Jacobs about his project is his free-spirited, hippie neighbor Nancy. Nancy lives alone with her dog Memphis and she is working on a book about Jimi Hendrix.
- On Day 372 of his project, Jacobs learns that his neighbor Nancy has died. Jacobs feels regret. Maybe he and his wife should have invited her to dinner. Maybe he could have helped her get her book published. He could have bought her a gift to repay her for the ones she bought his son. So many good thoughts and good intentions, but no action.
- His last chance to redeem himself was to find her dog, Memphis, and good home. After some work and campaigning with friends, Memphis found a good family in the suburbs. He moved from the apartment to a house with a yard and a porch. Jacobs felt like he had done something that Nancy would have liked, but he flashed back to a question that Nancy had asked him months ago: Did he help because the Bible told him to, or because he really wanted to?
- What Jacobs discovered was that in time and as faith matures, the line between pretending to be better and actually beginning to be a better person fades away. What the Bible says and what he wants to do merge.
We can ask so many questions about faith against works, maybe we just need to start letting them work together as God always intended.
I commend this congregation. May God help us to 1) know what we believe and trust in Gods grace for salvation, and 2) live out that salvation and show it at work in us through the things we do. I see it.
CURE, Hope Chest, Car Care, Girls Making an Impact see, we even have a name for some of it at West-Ark. But then there are all the many and varied ways that you are showing your faith in your deeds: visiting others in the hospital, providing for the needs of those who cannot supply them, fellowship that overcomes loneliness, taking meals to new parents, young people mowing the lawn of widows, sending a card. Thats not just busy work thats faith.
Do you have faith? Put it into action.
Are you active in good works? Great, but is your faith in the work or in the One who equipped you and prepared the work for you?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 August 2008
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