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Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26


I was reminded this week, as I was reading, in preparation for my message today, that some people believe in the strangest things. One such person was Charles Johnson, who died back, several years ago, in 2001. But for nearly thirty years of his life, Charles Johnson devoted himself to what he called, "The fight for the lonely and futile battle to "restore the world to sanity." Now there seems like a noble goal: to restore the world to sanity.

The problem is that Charles was the president for those thirty years of the International Flat Earth Research Society. It took a minute for that to settle in, didn't it? I'm not making this up. For thirty years, he served as the president over a group that had several hundred members: The International Flat Earth Research Society. In an article in Science Digest, back toward the end of the last century, he wrote, "Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world." He published a map of the world, which was as circular and as flat as an old phonograph record. He said, "Just as a guess, I'd say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far from us as San Francisco is from Boston. So, it's all a matter of appearance of distance, but not real distance."

The North Pole in his map is at the very center. And at the outer edge of the phonograph lies the Southern Ice, reputed by him to be a wall, about 150 feet high. And he says, "No one's ever crossed that wall, and so no one knows what's beyond it." The sun and the moon in Johnson's theory are only about thirty-two miles in diameter. So, all that you've been told about the sun being so huge and being ninety-three million miles away is, in fact, incorrect. And the sun is much closer, and it's only thirty-two miles in diameter. The moon and the sun, he says, circle above the earth in the vicinity of the equator (Remember, now, his earth is a flat disc, like a phonograph record) circle above the vicinity of the equator. And their apparent rising and setting are tricks of perspective, like railroad tracks, that appear to meet in the distance. He believed that the moon shown by its own light, and was not eclipsed by the earth. Rather, lunar eclipses were caused by an unseen, dark body, occasionally passing in front of the moon.

You say, "What did he do with the space program, and all of the probes that we've sent out?" Well, of course, he believed, as many did, back in the '60s, when the lunar module landed on the moon, that all of it was a hoax; that the main purpose of the space program, and even today's modern space shuttle program was to simply prop up a dying myth: the myth that the earth is a globe. I won't ask how many members are here of the Flat Earth Research Society. Say, "How can anyone embrace something that foolish?"

As I thought about Charles Johnson, it occurred to me that the faith that some professing Christians have in the truth of God is just as out of touch with reality as Johnson's belief in a flat earth. Their problem is not, like him, that their faith has the wrong content. It's that their faith is dead. It's a faith that shows absolutely no evidence to prove it even exists. It's as out of touch with reality as the Flat Earth Research Society. This is the very issue, this issue of a faith that has no evidence to even prove it exists. This is the issue that James addresses in the passage that we began to study last week. For those of you who're visiting with us, you need to know that we're in the middle of a study of the letter of James. And we started five or six months ago. And this morning we find ourselves in James 2:14 - 26. Let me read them for you to remind of the flow of James' argument and thought, here. You follow along as I read.

James 2:14:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet, you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Now there're some very difficult passages in this part of James, and ones that we'll have to grapple with, as we go through: some that seem to conflict with other portions of Scripture. You'll see, I hope, when we're done, that there are no conflicts; that James is saying, in essence, the same thing as the apostle Paul. But, when you look at this passage, while there may be some question marks (there may be some confusing issues), the theme of this passage is certainly NOT unclear. James is saying this: that in the church, there are two kinds of faith. There is a real, living faith that saves, and there is a deceiving, dead faith that damns. The problem, of course, is that, those who have whose faith is false often look a whole lot like those whose faith is real! After all, they both claim to be Christians. And in fact, according to this passage, as we saw last week, they both genuinely are convinced in their hearts that they are Christians! They both embrace the same biblical doctrine.

So how can we tell the difference between a real living faith that saves and a deceiving, dead faith that damns the soul forever? Well, James answers that question for us in the verses I just read. In this passage, James gives us two detailed descriptions of each of those two kinds of faith. In verses 14 - 19, he gives us what I call "An Autopsy of Dead Faith," and then in verses 20 - 26, "A Portrait of Living Faith." Now last Sunday, we started our autopsy of the corpse of dead faith. I hope to finish it this morning. And then next Sunday, Lord willing, we'll study closely "A Portrait of Living Faith." What does living faith look like?

So, let's go back to our autopsy. James says that, if we could find someone in the church, whose faith is dead, and we could do an autopsy of that dead faith, you would invariably find three conditions present. The first one we noted last week. You would find an empty profession of faith an empty profession of faith. Look at verse 14: "What use is it my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" Now James, here, asks two rhetorical questions. And the first question could better be translated, based on the tense of the Greek verbs: "What does it profit, or what use is it, my brethren, if someone keeps on saying he or she has faith, but keeps on having no works?" It's valueless. It has no benefit, whatsoever!

Now what are these works that James describes, here? Last Sunday, and I won't go over all of the detail. If you weren't here last Sunday, you can get the tape or the CD. But last Sunday, we looked at what James has to say about this. We also looked at the rest of the New Testament. And we discovered that in the language of the New Testament, "works," as James calls it here, (or as Paul calls it: "good deeds") has to do with all those attitudes and actions that the Bible commands. So, when James describes a professing Christian who has no works, he means that that person's life does not have a pattern of obedience to the Word of God. It doesn't mean the believer never sins. We all sin. Doesn't mean that we have perfection in this life. He's talking about the direction of the life. He says a genuine believer will have, as the direction of his life, a pattern of obedience to Scripture, good deeds, works.

James' second question gets even more to the point (verse 14): "Can that kind of faith save him?" Can the kind of faith that keeps on saying "I'm a Christian," but keeps on having no obedience to the Scripture can that kind of faith be true saving faith? The understood answer is a frightening "No! No, it can't be!" And then in verses 15 and 16, James gives an analogy, or kind of parable to show how worthless it is to say you're a Christian, and yet not to live like one. You'll remember, in verse 15, he says, "Imagine that there's this fellow-Christian that doesn't have adequate clothing; that doesn't have enough food for that day. And your response to that Christian is, 'Go in peace, be warmed, be filled.' (Sort of a blessing from God: 'May God warm you and May God fill you') and yet, you don't give them anything that they need, "What value is that?" he says. "What use are you?"

His point is this. We understand that the words, "Be warmed and be filled" are absolutely worthless to a person who doesn't have the clothes they need, and doesn't have the food that they need, unless you do something to meet that need. He says, "In the same way, the words, 'I'm a Christian; I'm a believer; Oh, yes, I'm a follower of Jesus Christ,' they're absolutely worthless, if they aren't accompanied by obedience." In both cases, in the case of the words, 'Be warmed and be filled,' and in the case of 'I'm a Christian,' the words are of utterly no value! So, our autopsy reveals to us that dead faith is always characterized by an empty profession of faith.

Now that brings us to where we left off last time, and to the second condition that's always present in dead faith: and it's a consistent pattern of excuses, a consistent pattern of excuses. Verse 18, "But someone may say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." Now notice he begins here with an adversative: 'But.' He's now going to say, in contrast to what I have just taught you, there're others who will say something different. By introducing it this way, "But someone may say," James adopts a familiar device of debate a familiar device of argument. He anticipates the response of those who disagree with him. He puts words in the mouths of his opponents. He says, "I've just taught you one thing, BUT there's going to be someone else who'll come along and say this.…" Now, this verse presents us with a problem. How far does the quotation of James' opponent go? There's disagreement on this. And, you know in all the Greek manuscripts, there was no punctuation. There were no quotation marks. And so, it's a call of us trying to interpret what was said here.

There're two common approaches. The first is taken by the New American Standard. You'll notice, they put the quotation marks at the end of verse 18; that all of this is said by James' opponent. The compilers of the Greek text put the break at the end of the first part of the sentence. And this is my preference, as well. In other words, all that he's putting in the mouth of his opponent is this: "You have faith, and I have works." And then the rest of the sentence is James' response to that. Now I think that's an appropriate approach to this Scripture. And the reason is this. It makes no sense for James' opponent to say, "I'll show you my faith by my works;" because it's the very thing James is saying and that his opponent's disagreeing with. So that must be James talking.

So, let's take a look, then, with this understanding, at this verse again. How did James expect his opponents to respond to him? What was their argument? Notice the first part of verse 18. "But someone may say, 'You have faith and I have works.'" What are they saying, here? It's not that they're claiming to have works that support their faith, and James doesn't. Instead, they're essentially saying that faith and works can be separated; that faith and works can be disjoined. It's O.K. for one of us to have a faith that works, and for another to just have faith. Perhaps their implication was that, just like spiritual gifts are handed out, and everyone gets something different. "Maybe that's how it works with faith and works," they're saying. Some just get faith and others get a faith that is accompanied by works.

Now what's going on, here? Well, remember where James has taken us so far. In 14 - 17, James lowers a decimating blow against a particular kind of faith. It's not genuine, saving faith, although at first glance, it looks a lot like it. It has one dead give-away; one fatal flaw: it is without works, without obedience. It is not accompanied by a pattern of obedience to the Word. That's James' point.

Now having made his point, what does James expect? He expects that those who keep on saying that they're Christians, who keep on saying they have faith, but keep on having no obedience, he expects them to argue with him. He expects them to respond to him by saying, "No, no, no, wait a minute, James. You're too quick to say that." He expects them to respond with even quasi-biblical arguments. "What about spiritual gifts? They're given out differently! Maybe faith and works are given out that way." He expects them to try to show that true faith can be present, even without obedience. The same thing happens today! Often, those with dead faith will try to argue with you, and try to defend the reality of their faith. They'll say things like, "Wait a minute," to insist that good works always follows true faith is to make salvation "works-based." It's to add works to salvation.

Or they'll say (and this is one of my favorites.), "I just know what I've experienced in my heart." On several occasions, I've talked with someone who, as a pattern of life, has lived like an absolute unbeliever, by their own admission, for years and years and years. But they made some profession in childhood. And as I just urge them. I don't tell them they're not a Christian. I can't look inside their heart. But I urge them to do what Paul has urged them to do: and that is to examine their hearts, to test their faith, to see if they're genuinely in Christ. And their immediate response is not even to seriously consider it, but to say, "Oh, No. No. I know I'm a Christian!" And I'll say, "Well, well how do you know you're a Christian?" "I just know. I just know what I've experienced. I remembered when I prayed that prayer."

Whatever form such an argument or response takes to what James has taught, here, is nothing more than an excuse. Let me ask you about you. When you find yourself reading a passage like James 2, or hearing a message like this one, do you find yourself making excuses for your utter lack of obedience; to the fact that there is no pattern of righteousness in your life? Such arguments and excuses, James says, are symptoms. They're symptoms of a dead faith. So, James opponents respond by arguing with him.

Now notice his response to them. The rest of verse 18 is vitally important, because in this response, James shows that he's not talking about a "faith plus works" kind of salvation. That, by the way, is what Roman Catholicism does with this passage. They say that faith combined with the works that God, by His grace, enables us to do, that together, that faith and those works are the grounds of our justification. But in James' response in verse 18, he differentiates between faith and works. He makes it clear that one: faith is not a work. And two: that faith cannot have works added to it to gain the grace of forgiveness and justification.

Instead, notice what he says. "Works SHOW your faith." The word, "show," in verse in this verse is absolutely crucial. It's key to understanding this entire passage. The Greek word means, "To bring to light to display to exhibit." You see, works aren't part of faith. They exhibit, or they put your faith on display. James responds to the idea that faith and works can be separated by saying, "O.K. Show me your faith without your works. Show me your faith without any works." In other words, "Just try to display or exhibit your faith without, or separate from your works or your obedience to the Word of God. It can't be done."

We understand this. Take forms of human virtue. Let's assume, for a moment that you come up to me and you say, "Tom, I just want you to know something about myself. I have courage." Well, of course, I'm gonna take you at face value. "O.K. You're courageous. You have courage. Let me challenge you. Just try to show me your courage without, or apart from, an act of courage. It can't be done." The veterans here this morning will tell you that many a soldier has professed his courage in training camp. But the way true courage is both proved and shown is under fire in the heat of the battle. True virtue true character, spiritual reality, they're all evidenced by our actions. Let me put it differently. No virtue, no character quality, no spiritual reality can be seen apart from action. The only way you can show courage is by an act of courage.

The only way you can show patience is by an act of patience. The only way you can exhibit love is by an act of love. The only way, James says, that you can display true faith is by acts of obedience, by your works. That's why James says, "Try to show me your faith apart from works. It simply can't be done." So, notice how James continues in verse 18. "I, on the other hand, (this is the approach I'll take.) I will exhibit, or display my faith BY my works. I'll put my faith on display by my works, by my obedience to Scripture. The only way that true faith can be shown for sure to be present is through works or obedience to God." And this is exactly what James is saying. It's the only way it can be seen.

By the way, this is also what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Turn back a couple of pages to Hebrews 11. You remember this great passage. Let's begin in 10:35. The writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised." And then, course, those classic words from the mouth of the prophet, Habakkuk: "MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM, But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction," He says, "I'm convinced of better things of you. But we are of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul."

So how do you know that you have faith? Well, of course, this brings us to the great chapter of faith: the Hall of Faith verse one of chapter 11. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." By the way, I can't pass over this verse without remarking on this word, "assurance." When I was in seminary, for a full semester, it was my responsibility to translate Greek papyri. Now some of you don't even know what Greek papyri are. But, essentially, papyri was the reed that grew on the banks of the Nile, that were pressed together to form ancient writing substances, an ancient paper, if you will, form of paper. And they would write on that. And then, when they were done with it, just as we do, they would throw it out. Well, because the climate there is so conducive to preserving things like that (it's so dry), they're able to dig out of the ancient trash heaps, if you will, bits of paper that give us insight to how these New Testament words were used in the secular world.

And so that's what I spent my semester doing, was translating these pieces of paper, some types of letters, some kinds sometimes legal documents that were pulled out of the trash of the ancient world. And there were several of these documents that had this word that's translated "assurance" at the top of them, or in conjunction with them. And you know what the word was? "Title Deed." It was a deed. "Now faith is the deed of things hoped for." I hope for something in the future, and I hold in my hand the deed that proves that it belongs to me. That's faith. Faith is "the conviction. It is the evidence of things not seen."

And then he goes on to detail how this faith has demonstrated itself in the lives of righteous men and women down through the ages. He begins in verse four with Abel, who "offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous." Verse 5, "Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up that he was pleasing to God." Verse 7, "By faith Noah, being warned [by] of God about things not yet seen, in reverence, prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." And he goes on with Abraham, and so forth, and so forth.

Now here's the point: How do we know that these men and women, as it goes on through the passage, had genuine faith? The writer of Hebrews is saying, "Their faith was evidenced by, was put on display by their obedience. How do we know that Noah was a man of faith? Just look at the boat that he's building in the middle of nothing! What is he thinking? But it was by his works by his obedience to God, that the reality of his faith was demonstrated. And that's exactly what's true of us. The way they knew they had faith was the, (or excuse me) the way WE know they had faith was by the actions they took.

And it's the same thing today. True faith is clearly seen only in the life of obedience. If you find yourself continually claiming to be a Christian, constantly saying, "Yes, I'm a believer. I'm a follower of Christ," and yet, continually making excuses to yourself, and perhaps to others about why there's no pattern of righteousness in your life, then James says, "You have a dead faith." It's not real. It's not genuine. It's not the saving kind.

By the way, sometimes we make excuses, not for ourselves, but for the people we love: for a spouse, for a child, for parents. There're people in our lives that we love dearly who, years and years, sometimes decades ago, made a profession of faith in Christ. But then they've lived like an unbeliever year after year after year. And we don't want to admit that they're that there's a chance they may not really be in Christ. And so, what do we do? We make excuses for them. We say things like: "Well, you know, they've just never been in a good church." "They're just too busy at work to get involved in the life of the church." Or "They're just a carnal Christian."

Listen! Don't make excuses for the ones you love. Pray for them. Pray that God would help them to examine their hearts to see whether or not they're truly in the faith. Graciously and gently confront them. Express your love for them. But also express your concern for them. Urge them to do what Paul urges us all to do, in 2 Corinthians 13:5. And that is: to test themselves, to see if they're truly in the faith.

James says that if you could do an autopsy of dead faith, you would find, first of all, an empty profession of faith; secondly, a consistent pattern of excuses; and thirdly, a biblical orthodoxy without fear; a biblical orthodoxy without fear.

Verse 19: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder. But are you willing to recognize (verse 20), you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" Now verse 19 is one of the most shattering indictments of the kind of faith in Christ that has no works or obedience that is on the pages of Scripture: an absolutely shattering indictment; because it addresses the issue of, "What is the content of the kind of faith that doesn't save?" What does somebody who has the wrong kind of faith, what do they believe? If you'd never read this passage before, it would shock you to discover that the faith that doesn't save that James is describing here, is orthodox. It embraces the same truth you embrace.

Now, obviously, if someone doesn't believe in the God of the Bible, we know they don't have saving faith. Scripture's clear on this point. There's only one true God. And as David said in his prayer in 1 Chronicles 16:26, "All the gods of the nations are what? idols!" And Paul, in I Corinthians 10:20 says that "behind those idols, behind all of those false gods are evil spirits, or demons energizing that faith." So, if a person doesn't embrace the one true God of the Bible, then I can tell them, unequivocally, that they do not have saving faith. What about Christ? If a person doesn't believe in Jesus or if they don't believe in the Jesus of the Bible; instead, they have concocted a Jesus of their own making, then I can also tell them they don't possess saving faith.

If a Mormon comes to my door and tries to convince me that he's in Christ, and he tells me that Christ is the half-brother of Lucifer, physically begotten of a physical involvement between God the Father and a woman, I can tell him that he does not have saving faith because he embraces a different Jesus. Acts 4 of 12 says that "there is salvation in no one else," Peter says; "Only in the Jesus that we knew and that we tell you about. For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

Moreover, if someone believes that there is a different way of salvation; if they have presented a gospel that isn't the biblical gospel, then I can unequivocally tell them with certainty that they do not have saving faith; because there is only one gospel. And even if they sincerely believe something else, then they do not have saving faith. Isn't this what Paul says in Galatians 1? Turn there, for a moment: Galatians 1:6. He writes to the churches in Galatia, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by His, by the Grace of Christ, for a different gospel, which is really not another. Only there are some, who are disturbing you and want to distort, or pervert, the gospel of Christ."

So here is a gospel that has Jesus Christ involved in it; that has some relationship to the truth you and I embrace; but it is different. It is distorted from what Paul taught. How should we respond? Well, notice what he says in verse 8: "But even if we (this is, if I, Paul) or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you.…" Now think about that for a moment. If this morning, (and I've explained this to you, before. But it's so important to get this!)

If, this morning, the apostle Paul came walking down the center aisle, and walked up here on this platform and stood next to me; and we could verify, beyond any doubt that it was, in reality Paul, himself. Or if an angel descended from the skylight, and came down and set his feet on the stage, and again, we could prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was, in fact, an angel from the very presence of God; Paul says, "If I, or an angel should give you a message of the gospel different than what you have received, right here, let him be what? Let him be damned. "Grab me," he says, "by the seat of my pants and throw me out." There's only one Gospel! And is someone doesn't embrace the true gospel, then they're not in Christ, no matter how sincerely they may hold that faith.

But what James wants us to know is that you can have faith in the true God and in the biblical Jesus and in the Scriptural way of salvation, and yet, still have a dead, non-saving faith. In other words, your faith can be entirely orthodox. Notice verse 19: "You are believing that." This, he says, is the content of your faith: You are believing that "God is One." Of course, these words come from that famous passage in Deuteronomy 6:4 of the Shamah, that classic passage that Jews of James' day, and Jews of our day still recite at least twice a day, that they put in little scrolls and leather boxes on their foreheads or on their arms, their phylacteries to remind them of this classic profession of faith: "THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE." We don't worship the gods of the nations. We worship the ONE, the ONLY, the LIVING, THE TRUE GOD. This profession was absolutely foundational. It's what separated them from the rest of the ancient world.

And Christ affirmed the centrality of this confession. When He was asked what was the most important, what was the first commandment, He began it by quoting this section of Scripture, Mark 12:29: Jesus answered, "The foremost is, HEAR, O ISRAEL, THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD, AND YOU SHALL LOVE HIM," and so forth, "WITH ALL YOUR HEART." At the heart of this statement, "GOD IS ONE," was a confession of who the true God is; a confession that said, "I worship the only God: the God who has revealed Himself on the pages of Scripture; the God who has revealed Himself to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and to Moses." And you and I could add, "To Jesus Christ."

Now notice what James says. "You are believing that God is One? You make that confession, that profession? You do well!" That's great, as far as it goes! But simply to know the biblical truth about God, the biblical truth about Christ, and of salvation, and to agree with it isn't saving faith! You say, "How do you know that?" Look at verse 19: "cause the demons believe that! And yet, all of us would immediately agree that there're not going to be any demons in heaven! They have enough faith to embrace the historical reality of those truths. And yet, they won't be in heaven. By the way, the word translated "believe," here in verse 19, is the Greek word "postuo." It's the only Greek word for the concept of "faith". So, James is saying that the demons, the fallen angels, God's declared enemies, have an orthodox faith. They're, we say, they're evangelical.

You see this in the ministry of Christ. Turn back to Mark 1, Mark 1:24. Well, look again, back in verse 21, Mark 1:21, "They went into Capernaum. And immediately, on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as One having authority, and not as the scribes." (It's been my joy to travel to this very place. The foundation, they believe of the original synagogue where Jesus taught is still there, in Capernaum.) "And they were amazed at His teaching. (Verse 23) As all this was happening, just then, there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit." He has a demon. And this demon cries out, through this man, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God."

At times, their professions were even more to the point. Look at Mark 5:7. Here you have the demoniac with the Gaddarenes. And notice what he says in verse 7 well, verse 6. "Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and he bowed down before Him." He acknowledged Him as Lord, as his master, and shouting with a loud voice, he said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God, do not torment me!"

What I want you to see is that the demons have an orthodox faith. As you sit here, this morning, do you believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the One, the Only, the Living True God, forever revealed in Three Persons? Do you believe that Jesus is the eternal Son of God that He became man, and that He lived in the land of Israel 2000 years ago? Do you believe the gospel? Do you believe that Jesus lived a perfect life, died a violent death, not for His own sin, but for sinners; and that through repenting and believing, you can be forgiven and saved and justified? Great! It's good that you believe that! But so do the demons! Knowing those facts, and even embracing them as the truth puts you on the same spiritual plane with demons.

You see, true saving faith and dead, non-saving faith can both agree in their content. So how do they differ? Well, they differ in the nature of faith. We're going to deal with faith in a couple of Sunday nights. I invite you to come, as we continue our study through the doctrines of salvation. We're going to talk about faith in more detail. But let me just give it to you in a nutshell. The Bible teaches, through a variety of expressions, and theologians have captured those expressions and separated the elements of faith into three parts. True saving faith is made up of three elements or three components.

The first is a mental element. And that is, there are certain things, certain facts, if you will, that you have to know. You have to know who Jesus is. You have to know how He provided a way of salvation. You have to know how it is that you come to benefit from that salvation. There're facts that you have to know. That's the mental element of faith. That's important. It's foundational. You can't have true saving faith without comprehending those facts. And yet, to comprehend those facts is not true saving faith. It's only the first part of true saving faith.

There's a second element. And it is the element of the emotions: ascent. Here, you ascent to the truth of those facts. You say, "Yes, I believe those things are true. I believe that Jesus is all He claimed to be. I believe that salvation comes the way He said it would come." So far, so good. But so far, also the demons come. They know the facts. They agree that the facts are true. And that brings us to the third element of faith, which is always the dividing line between dead faith and true living faith.

The third element of faith involves the will, the volition. It is trust. It is throwing yourself, as it were, on Christ, and Him, alone, as your only hope. I love the illustration that James Montgomery Boyce, prior to his death, used of faith, these three elements of faith.

He said faith can be compared to a relationship. Many of you are married. Some of you want to be. When you were dating that person that's now your spouse, you were gaining knowledge about them. You were learning what their likes and dislikes were. You were learning about their history and where they came from and their background. That's the intellectual aspect of faith.

Then there came a day when you decided to love that person. You decided to commit yourself to them; and you began to show love toward them. That's the emotional element of faith, where your heart reaches out and says, "Yes, I like what I've learned about this person. I find it attractive. I find it inviting."

But then there's the third element of faith. And Boyce likened that to the wedding: when you stand in front of God and witnesses, and you commit yourself to be the spouse of that person: to love them in sickness and in health, for better, for worse, until death do you part. That is the trust element of faith.

It's when you commit yourself to follow Jesus Christ, to be connected to Him. That's why, by the way, often, when Jesus extended gospel invitations, He emphasized this third element of faith. That's why he said, "If you want to come after me, you must deny yourself. You must take up your cross, and you must follow me;" because there were plenty of people in the land of Israel who went as far as the first two. They knew the facts about Him. They found Him attractive; but they weren't willing to follow Him, to put their entire future, as it were, in His hands. That's saving faith. True faith shows, then, or displays itself by its works, or its obedience.

Now notice what James adds in verse 19. "The demons believe and shudder." "Shudder" literally means to be struck with extreme fear that causes you to shake. It means to be horrified. The demons not only believed the right things, they even respond emotionally to the truth. The implication, here, is that the demons have an advantage over those with dead faith. They not only believe the right things about God and about Christ, and about salvation. They actually respond to God in fear. But often, those with a dead faith don't really fear God. We read this morning Psalm 111. Turn back there. Notice what he says. Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." This is how you set out on the path to God is by fearing Him. And how does that fear express itself? "A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; who practice His commandments."

James says, if you could do an autopsy of dead faith, you could always find these conditions: an empty profession of faith, a consistent pattern of excuses, and a biblical orthodoxy without fear. Do you keep on saying you're a Christian, but you keep on having no pattern of obedience in your life? Do you find yourself making excuses for your lack of obedience? Do you assume that you're O.K. because the content of your faith is right and solid and biblical? "You do have a kind of faith," James says. And it closely resembles true saving faith; but it's dead. It's a faith that doesn't save.

I beg you this morning; don't pass up this opportunity to examine your heart before the Lord, to be honest with yourself, and honest with God. Find yourself a quiet place this afternoon and throw yourself down before the Lord, and say, "God, I've been living a lie. I repent of my sins. And I embrace your Son as my Lord and Savior. I will deny myself, and follow Him because I so much want the forgiveness that He offers. He is the pearl of great price. And because you want Him, you're willing to give up everything else. What does true saving faith look like? Well, next time, we'll look at several portraits of true saving faith, in the lives of Abraham and Rahab and an illustration from the human body.

Let's pray together.

Father, these are hard things. They're hard for me to teach. And I know that they're difficult, as well, for the people gathered here to listen to. But I pray that You would use this passage, use this portion of Scripture to do the work that You intend in every heart.

Father, I pray for those who are true believers. I pray that you would cause them to examine their hearts, but that You would then only establish their confidence. Establish their firm trust in You. Give them hope, and help and comfort, even from a passage that can be so unsettling.

Lord, I pray for those who are here this morning, who cling to some prayer they prayed; some profession they made in the ancient past. While they kept on saying they're Christian, they keep on having no obedience. Lord, I pray that You would strip away the façade from their eyes, this morning; that they would see themselves as You see them; and Lord, that they would turn in true repentance and faith, because it's a work that You do in their hearts.

Thank you, Father, for calling us from the danger of self-deception, self-examination. Yet, Father, we confess to You that even in the midst of that, we can deceive our own hearts. We cry out with David: "Search me, O God, and know my heart today. See if there be any way in us that causes You pain. And lead us in the way of life."

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

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