Don’t be discouraged by James’ marriage of faith & works

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Patrick has been continuing to preach on that often controversial passage in James 2 about how faith and works relate.  Yes, we are saved by grace through the gift of faith.  But the changes in our thoughts, words and deeds (‘works’) that follow our conversion offer proof of the genuine nature of our new faith.

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Having just finished Michael Crichton’s novel – State of Fear, a fast-paced thriller about stopping some extreme eco-terrorists, I easily recalled a perfect example of this faith needing works to be legit.

State of Fear

Toward the end of the race to save America from an induced natural disaster, the main character is challenging the claims of both a housewife and a TV actor that the environment is their primo cause that motivates them.  Their testimony or profession crumbles with each pointed question:

  • Why is it that your main residence has 10,000 square feet?
  • How do you also justify maintaining an apartment in NYC and a vacation home to which you travel?
  • Why is it that you jet here and there to environmental conferences?
  • Why do you live so far away from your husband’s office that he commutes daily by vehicle, thus adding to carbon emissions?
  • Why is it that you think that those eking out an existence in ‘natural’ jungles in the 3rd world are content and we should all return to the wild?
  • Why haven’t YOU given up living in a 1st world country, then?

It is not enough to claim you believe something without proof that your convictions have changed the way you live.  As James points out so pointedly,

James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

This morning I was reading in 1 Samuel 11 about the terrorized people of Jabesh Gilead whose village was besieged by the Ammonites.  They sent word to Saul and Samuel who through the Holy Spirit united all of Israel to come to their rescue.  See if you can discern how faith and works are coupled in this next verse: 

1 Samuel 11:9 They (the mustered Israelite army) said to the messengers who had come, “You shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have help [against the Ammonites].’” So the messengers came and reported this to the men of Jabesh; and they were overjoyed.

That last word, ‘overjoyed’ is evidence of the Jabeshites’ faith in the messengers’ news. Anxiety and fear fled when they trusted the communiqué. How do we know?  Look at how they rejoiced – not just a little, but with exUBERance.

Their demeanor and response backed up their profession that they believed the messengers. There was no longer a ‘need’ to fret.

Works don’t have to always be big actions.  Our settled feelings, our resting in God prove our faith.

Are these kinds of works easy? No!  I have to sometimes fight the fear and anxiety when facing a situation for which I have no answer and see no solution.

Just this week God has gifted us with a new opportunity to prove our faith.  An old enemy, a bodily response to worry sprang up suddenly, attacking my husband 3 days ago.  This condition had not plagued him for 4 1/2 years, so the return was a shock.  You know how the fear works, the well-worn pattern of thinking and ‘what-if-ing’ that accompanies these situations.

Immediately I pulled out my go-to weapon of choice, Psalm 84:11 NO good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

I have to conclude, by reason, that if God has seen fit to allow this old enemy to plague us, then He has only good in mind.  By His grace, Mike and I ARE stronger and more practiced at trusting and wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s hard and continual, but I trust our good and loving Father.  And I want the spiritual forces of darkness AND my Christian brothers and sisters AND the unbelieving world to witness what faith in God looks like in a Christian.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, YET I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Stay tuned for how God brings us through this excursion into the valley.

 

 

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

Do you believe Jesus or believe IN Jesus? Just what is it that you believe?

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Words matter. And ubiquity weakens the meaning.

Take for example our use of the verb ‘LOVE’:

  • I love my husband
  • I love chocolate
  • I love to read
  • and my common email/letter closing of ‘love, Maria’

The overuse and cross-categories application of ‘to love’ has so watered down this affectionate inclination that when we are told to love God, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

Same with the idea of ‘BELIEVE’:

  • I believe that people are basically good
  • I believe in family
  • I believe in luck
  • I believe in love
  • I believe in being the best I can be
  • I believe that 2 and 2 are 4

The Bible takes the exhortation to believe VERY seriously. It actually seems to be a matter of eternal life or death, what we believe. So how should we think about it? Does it matter how we believe or what we believe in?  After all, the half-brother of Jesus taught us “…even the demons believe (in God) and shudder!” James 2:19b

Maybe a more precise question might be: How do we distinguish saving belief and simple factual belief?  And does that preposition IN make the difference?

Blue Letter Bible is the name of a website/app that provides a wealth of examples in how terms are used. In their discussion of the verb ‘to believe’ (Greek verb # 4100 PISTEUO) they consider contexts both in the Bible and in literature preceding and after NT days.  I found these nuanced meanings helpful:

  • to rely on
  • to place one’s confidence in
  • to embrace with joy
  • to make the foundation of your faith

In view of the richer and deeper concept of ‘to believe’ I now make a point to use one of these fresher substitutes. So in lieu of saying: I believe in Jesus, I substitute I rely on Jesus for all my needs.

I used to think many people were Christians when they said with easy confidence, “Oh I believe in God!”

But as I pointed out above, people believe in all sorts of things on a surface or shallow level, some of which are not even real (think – tooth fairies, conspiracy theories and a government that can fix our problems!)

I ask you then, does it matter what we mean by ‘to believe’?  Actually it does matter.  For what we believe and rely on….

Life and death balance

…..determines where you and I are going to spend eternity.

Here’s one example. When Jesus arrived at Mary and Martha’s house after Lazarus had died, Martha berates her friend by postulating that her brother would not have died had he arrived earlier.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

The question then is, does everyone who mouths the words, “I believe in Jesus” receive ‘forever-life’ with God?

Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself by sharing pastor John Piper’s view of belief in Jesus.

“Believing is coming to Jesus to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.”

From his sermon on 10th anniversary of 9/11

So I see belief in Jesus to be a reliance on Him as my constant and never-ending source for every need, desire, joy, anxiety, and problem.  He IS my treasure.  He IS my greatest good.  And His presence is rest and peace.  That is belief.

And what we believe in can actually be what we truly LOVE. I’ll let John Piper have the last word tying the two together:

“So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money — belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.”

Question:  What is it that you believe or base your life on?

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