I’m from Missouri: Show Me Your Works (James 2:14-26)

It has been identified that a significant problem in the evangelical church over the past couple of decades is that a genuine faith has not been owned by rising generations. Even with great youth programs and creative church ministry like no other time in history, so many have not held on to a personal faith and really made it their own as the went into adulthood.

The problem is neither new nor uncommon. It existed in the first century. And the writer James spoke to it by asking what good is a faith that is nothing but words? Is it not clear that a person with a genuine faith will have their lives so radically changed that they cannot help but have it impact what they do and how they invest with their time, talents, and treasures?

Apparently in James’ day there were people who also only came to church when there was nothing else better to do.

The beginning of this passage is really quite humorous as James raises the theological question with a hypothetical situation …

14 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Even before he was a believer in Jesus as the Christ, it was clear that this brother of Jesus had a very spunky personality. I like him; he could be from New Jersey! He continues …

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

This really is a great line. And it is true that even the demonic world believes in God. They know what the truth is; they know it better than we do. Just knowing and believing is obviously not everything!

And James will use two illustrations – the first one an obvious person that any good Jewish Christian might have expected to hear about, and that is Abraham …

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 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,” 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.

Be sure to be with us on Christmas Eve at 7:00, as we will be covering this Scripture and this story of Abraham’s faith displayed by being willing to offer up Isaac. We know from the account in Hebrews that he was willing to do so because his faith was so strong that even if he killed his own son, he believed God would raise him from the dead and give him back to fulfill the promise of his seed coming through Isaac. That is powerful faith and action.

But then James turns to the opposite extreme and a most unlikely person – the prostitute Rahab …

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.

As we have already said of Rahab in this series, her faith was magnificent and huge. In the midst of a Canaanite culture and city where none believed in the one true God, she was sure that the God of the Israelites was the real and most powerful deity – in fact the only true diety. But she didn’t just think it, she put her everything on the line by aligning with the enemy of her own people.

In the midst of the sin and chaos of her life and her world, she believed that God would save her. Our sin may be of a different nature, and our world may have a dissimilar sort of chaos, but we are just as needy as this prostitute of old. We need a new identity beyond what we have in the here and now; we need a new family to be a part of – an eternal connection and membership in the kingdom of light.

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How to be a Hero in One Simple Step (Hebrews 11)

Before we jump into the Hebrews 11 passage today, let me thank all of you who read these devotionals and comment here and there about how you are blessed by them. Since Chris and I have been writing these for close to two years, with today’s piece we have now penned 400 of these studies. Please see them as a reference not only for the current series, but also as a searchable reference, as I think we have now covered about 25-30% or more of the Scriptures.

Who wants to be a hero?

The ultimate commendation would be to have God say that in your life you were a hero of faith. And indeed we strive, hope, and press toward the upward calling of life in Christ with the hope of hearing on a final day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

It may seem to be a very “out there” thing to have any hope of being commended by the creator of the universe in such a way. Actually, it is very simple in that it only involves one step – just trust God in faith.

But that step is difficult to take, isn’t it?

I’m probably a bit “over the top” with this illustration, and it will drive our own Home Depot manager Tony Mazolla crazy when he hears this, but there is no way I am going to ask for help in finding something in that store. Even if someone says, “May I help you find something?” I’ll say “No, let me try to figure it out.”  Only when I’m completely stuck will I ask for help (unless I see Tony himself)!

Same thing with asking for directions. No way – that’s what maps and GPS systems on phones are for – I’m not going to bother anyone and ask!

Silly?  Probably. But that’s how we often live the Christian life – trying to figure out and work out situations on our own when God simply wants us to trust him with it all.

We get a sort of definition of faith at the beginning of the chapter.

11:1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

Faith is believing that something you cannot see is as real and certain as something that you can see. That is difficult.

Imagine how difficult that was for Rahab. Why should she believe that two spies from the most powerful and apparently God-blessed nation on the earth would protect her from getting wiped out when her city of Jericho was destroyed? But in faith she believed God, and she acted on that faith by helping God’s people and risking everything in her own place and culture.

For this, she is listed in this chapter that records quite a who’s who, hall of fame of those characters of the Old Testament that found God’s pleasure because they lived in faith – they believed in things they could not see as if they were clearly visible before their very eyes.

She appears rather later in the chapter, being commended about the story of the defeat of Jericho and her faith to help by hiding the spies …

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

That final word “disobedient” could be understood as saying “unbelieving.”

So if a prostitute in a heathen culture can trust God and get commended for it in the Scriptures, how difficult really … really … is it for you to trust God right now with whatever is a burden or concern in your life?

Here is the rest of chapter 11 of Hebrews – a book we will be studying in the spring of 2015 …

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

<Rahab verses here >

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

A New National Identity (Joshua 6)

As we continue today with the story of Rahab, we skip from Joshua chapter 2 to Joshua 6. In the intervening chapters is the story of the nation of Israel crossing the Jordan. It was accomplished during the flood season, but as with the Red Sea, the waters stopped and the nation crossed on dry ground.

Most of the people would have had no memory of this happening when coming out of Egypt. Only those who were children at the time could recall it. So this must have been an amazing experience of fortifying their faith that God was with them.

I will leave most of the text of today’s chapter at the bottom of this writing, as you know the story of the fall of Jericho. But here at the top, let me pull up the portion that deals with Rahab …

Jericho ruins

Jericho ruins

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

So Rahab and her family were spared, and presumably they all became proselytes to the Jewish faith and worshippers of the one true God. This was quite a change of identity for her.

There are three summary items that I would say are take-away points relative to the story of Rahab:

  1. God’s great sovereign power and his magnanimous love – Nothing on earth is too big for him, and no sin is beyond his grace to reach.

Throughout the Scriptures we see that the spirit of God did not choose to hide sin or glamorize people as better or more perfect than they truly were. Even the greatest of biblical characters are often deeply flawed people. But by God’s grace, when they yielded to Him, they accomplished great things for His glory. There is instruction and encouragement in this for all of us.

  1. God honors great faith – the most expedient thing for Rahab to have done would have been to turn the spies over to her own people.

Rahab risked everything in great faith when trusting that the God of Israel was the only true God. The same principle is true for us. It is not complicated. Trust God in everything; obey Him in all things … and there is no limit to what can be done.

  1. God can take a mess of a past, and turn it into mission for the present, and a legacy for the future.

Here is a great lie: “I’m OK; you’re OK.”  Nope. The truth is this: “I’m a mess; you’re a mess.”  But God is in the mess reclamation business.

Like Rahab, when we come to trust in Christ for salvation, we are new people with a new identity. For Rahab, she went from being a Canaanite to being an Israelite. We go from being enemies of God and members of the kingdom of darkness, to being his royal family and members of the kingdom of light.

Peter describes this so eloquently:  (1 Peter 2:9)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

There is nothing there to be insecure about, is there?  It is all about understanding our new identity; the rest falls into place.

Joshua 6 

6:1 – Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.”7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

<< The Rahab section above fits here. >>

26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

“At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.