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Autopsy of a Dead Faith [2-19-23]

Updated: Mar 11, 2023


February 19, 2023

James 2:14-20

“Autopsy of a Dead Faith”


Alfred Adler {who lived from 1870 – 1937}, was an Austrian doctor and psychotherapist. He developed a theory of psychotherapy, called individual psychology, which diverged from Freud and others. In it, he examined how the individual feels a sense of worth and belonging in the family and society. He said:

“Trust only in movement. Life happens at the level of action…We are not what we say, but we are what we do. What we do is the real key to our intentions. Trust only in movement.”

Quite the observation for an atheist. He stumbled into James without even knowing it.


Here’s where we’re going with these seven verses of chapter two {and it’s something you might want to write down}:

THE ONLY REAL REVELATION OF A PERSON IS THROUGH THAT PERSON’S BEHAVIOR.


Beginning with verse fourteen, James gets us thinking about what a dead faith looks like. He starts us heading in that direction with verse seventeen, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Here’s our whole section:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds

is useless?

  • James 2:14-20 {New International Version}

What’s the first thing the autopsy discovers? Inevitably, people with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They want you to believe that they are what they say they are. But what does James remind us? We are what we do. True faith will always be seen in works.


Years ago, I had a conversation with someone who went on what I call a “Decrying Rant.” It was in response to something I had said affirming free market capitalism. He decried that rich people weren’t taxed enough. He said rich people should pay their fair share. So I asked him the logical question, “What’s your fair share of another person’s earnings?” He did not like that. He decried there was no national health care. He decried there weren’t reparations for America’s past wrongs. He decried that corporations weren’t taxed enough. He decried the low minimum wage. He decried that income wasn’t fairly distributed. He decried a lot.


After patiently listening, I asked about his recent trip to Europe. I observed

how it seemed like he and his wife had comfortable retirement income. I suggested perhaps he could use more of that money to help people here in Lenawee County. That would be a tangible and even, perhaps sacrificial, expression of his concerns. I calmly made my case. He was not happy. He said no pastor had ever talked to him that way. I suggested maybe it was about time somebody did. He seemed to regularly criticize and complain that wealthy individuals and corporations weren’t doing enough. I told him it seemed like he was a lot of talk. He left, angry.


I had no ill-will toward the man. He did what a lot of people do. A lot of decrying usually indicates wanting to sound good or noble without actually doing anything. James was on to virtue signaling before he knew there was such a thing. True belief will always be seen in works. Noble words or noble positions or noble passions without action is dead faith. They are a vacuum of nothing.


Here's what John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:7-12:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to

his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In other words, don’t count on your heritage; your works will demonstrate the legitimacy of your faith.


Then, in Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” He follows that, in Matthew 7:21, with, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is

emphatically saying, don’t trust in what people say…trust in what they do.


Now, here’s the beauty of the consistency of God’s Word. Jesus called both James and Paul to be his disciples. He called them and equipped them to serve him. What that means is everything they write and teach was given them by Jesus. Therefore, both James and Paul are consistent in the issue of faith and works. Here’s something else you might want to write down:

PAUL AND JAMES MEAN ROUGHLY THE SAME THING WHEN THEY REFER TO DEEDS: ACTIONS DONE IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD.


Here’s a good way to look at it. We know James says faith without works is dead. We know that Paul says, in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” They both say these things that are complimentary, not contradictory. They are not in conflict. Imagine it this way. Paul and James aren’t face-to-face in a confrontation. They are standing back-to-back, fighting two common enemies. Paul is pushing back against those who want salvation to be by works. James is pushing back against those who want a salvation that makes no demands. Paul is saying salvation is by grace alone. James is saying grace alone produces good works. There’s no disagreement between the two.


In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And today we are reading James 2:14-20. Perfect harmony.


Make no mistake. Nowhere in the Bible does it equate simple knowledge of the gospel with being saved. Faith without works is dead. Or, to put it another way, our good works give testimony to a real and living faith. We are not saved by works, but our good works are evidence of our salvation.


Here’s the evidence James has pointed to so far:

  • How you respond to trials or troubles is an indicator of a dead faith or a living faith.

  • Most of the time, in most situations or circumstances, are you

rejecting the temptation to do or think what is contrary to God’s

Word? That’s a daily battle.

  • Are you letting God’s Word speak to you? Or are you telling it what it

speaks?


In looking at these initial three things, we see a pattern to the test of true

faith. Righteous action and righteous behavior, in obedience to God’s Word, radiates a godly nature. How we live shows who we are. These things work together to provide the evidence of our faith. One of the keys, for me, is the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:

“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

If, most of the time, these things are evident in your life, then you are demonstrating a life transformed by the truth of the gospel. They are the marks of a living faith.


Finally, let’s look at verse eighteen, where James employs an ironic rhetorical tactic. Here’s the literal translation:

BUT WILL SAY SOMEONE YOU FAITH HAVE AND I WORKS HAVE

SHOW ME THE FAITH OF YOU WITHOUT WORKS AND I YOU WILL SHOW BY THE WORKS OF ME FAITH.

It is sometimes delightful to look at the literal translation of a passage. Did you notice that Biblical Greek does not have punctuation? That alone can make the work of translators quite challenging.


Anyway, James is anticipating objections to faith without works is dead. So verse eighteen is his response. He is answering his own rhetorical question. And in the answering, he gives us two examples of a dead faith:

1. False Compassion – I call this the “Oh, bless your heart” test. It’s when there’s an opportunity to do something tangible to help someone but all that’s said is, “Oh, bless your heart. Be warmed and filled.” Kind of like saying, “Sending warm thoughts.”

2. Shallow Conviction – This can be exemplified by things like superficial emotionalism or overly dramatic outbursts. It screams spotlight…look at me…see my faith. The word translated shudder in verse nineteen is from ancient magical texts to describe how a sorcerer used his

body movements to elicit a similar response by his followers.


Instead, James says, “How about just engage in acts of kindness and compassion without having to draw attention to yourself?” Let your faith show in real and tangible ways. Along that line, here’s the last thing you might want to write down:

FAITH THAT HAS NOT WORKS DOES NOT WORK.


Let’s Pray:

HEAVENLY FATHER, THANK YOU FOR DRIVING THESE TRUTHS DEEP INTO OUR HEARTS. OUR GREATEST DESIRE IS TO UNDERSTAND AND DO YOUR WORD. HELP US TO EXAMINE OUR HEARTS TO SEE IF OUR FAITH IS PRODUCING HEALTHY FRUIT. GROW IN US A VITAL, VIBRANT, LIVING, DOING FAITH. IN JESUS’ NAME. AMEN.



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