Friday, August 12, 2016, 4:55 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Zeal for Your House.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read James 2:14-26 (NASB).
Dead Faith (vv. 14-17)
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.
What I see at work here is that on one end of the scale (or pendulum) are those who teach that we must earn our way into heaven by good deeds (works). On the other end are those who teach a “Do Nothing” gospel, which teaches that not even repentance, nor obedience to Christ and to his Word, nor submission to the cross of Christ are required by God. In fact, they teach that God requires nothing of us, but he does it all. I believe the truth is somewhere in between these two opposing viewpoints.
It is true that we are not saved by works. We can do nothing to earn or to deserve our own salvation. Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad deeds. If we are trying to get into heaven by our own works, then we negate what Jesus Christ did for us in dying on the cross for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co. 5:21). When we believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives, his righteousness is credited to our accounts (Phil. 3:9; Ro. 3:22; 8:1-4). Not one of us is saved by our own righteousness, which is like filthy rags in God’s sight (Is. 64:6). So, what is the purpose of works then?
If you look with me at Romans 8:1-4 you will see that the law could not save us, because no one could keep the law perfectly. So, God the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for our sins to be a sin offering for us. Through Jesus’ death on a cross God condemned sin in sinful man so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. As well, we read further in scripture that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24), and that Jesus died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life up for us (2 Co. 5:15).
In other words, Jesus didn’t die for our sins just so we could be forgiven of our sins, or just so we could escape hell and go to heaven when we die. Jesus died to radically transform us from death to life, from the power of Satan to God, and from darkness to light. His purpose in dying for us is not that we might just be made positionally righteous in him, but that we might live righteously day by day. So, when we truly believe in Jesus to be Lord and Savior of our lives, the Holy Spirit transforms our lives away from living for sin and self to living for God and his righteousness. Our hearts are changed. We are crucified with Christ in death to sin and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
So, the works we now do are not our own, nor are they of our flesh. They are the works of God – of his righteousness – being lived out through our lives in the power of the Spirit now living within us, who has given us these new lives in Christ. If there is no change in our lives; if there is no evidence that we have been translated from death to life; if there is no power of the Spirit in our lives and we are still walking according to our own flesh, then the faith we say we have is not living but dead. It is completely useless!
Faith without Works (vv. 18-20)
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?
I believe the issue really comes down to this question: “Are we operating in our own flesh, or are we operating in the power and working of the Spirit in our lives?” I hear people say that walking by faith means they just let God do it all, and they stop trying to be good enough, and they stop performing. What many of them mean by this is that they have given up on trying to live the Christian life and they have given up on trying to resist Satan and to flee temptation. This “God does it all” philosophy may sound noble on the surface, but it is often an excuse for people to continue in willful sin against God guilt free. And, it is because they are still operating in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, because they are not willing to yield control of their lives over to the Spirit of God.
This also comes down to the question of “What is faith?” This is really the clincher. So many people speak of faith as a religion or as religious preference, or as an emotional decision made at an altar, or as an intellectual assent to who Jesus is and what he did for us. Believing in Jesus Christ, though, is not just a choice to escape hell and to go to heaven when we die. It is not just a choice to receive Jesus’ forgiveness for our sins. It is also not saying a set of words repeated after someone else after which we are then congratulated that we now have the hope of heaven upon death. When we believe in Jesus we die with Christ in death to sin and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, and we are created (as new creatures in Christ Jesus) to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
In other words, true faith in Jesus Christ means we die to sin and we live to righteousness – all in the power and working of the Spirit within us, as we cooperate with the Spirit’s work of grace in our lives. This is what James means by our faith working with our works (See: vv. 21-26). When our hearts are truly changed by the Spirit of God, Jesus becomes our Lord (owner-master) and we become his bond-servants (slaves), and slaves to righteousness. When we were slaves to sin, we were free from the control of righteousness. But now that we have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to God, the benefit we reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (See: Ro. 6:1-23).
We don’t work to earn our salvation. We work because the Spirit of God is now alive in our hearts, and because our desire is for God to please him in all we do and are and think and speak. If our desire is not for God, to please him in all things, then maybe we don’t really know God intimately and personally. Remember what it says here about even the demons believe and they shudder. The problem with modern-day Christianity is that not many people who profess to know Christ even shudder (have the fear of God) in God’s holy presence, but they take God and his grace for granted as though it is something owed to them. We live in a me-me society of people, many of whom hold to an entitlement mindset. And, that has carried over into this philosophy that God does it all and he requires nothing of us – no repentance, no obedience and no submission to the cross of Christ.
Yet, this is not the faith that Jesus and his NT apostles taught. The grace of God, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (Tit. 2:11-14). If we say we have fellowship with God, but we walk in darkness, we are liars (1 Jn. 1:6). If we say we love God or that we know God but we don’t do what he says, we also lie (1 Jn. 2:3-6; 3:24; 5:3). True faith in Jesus, thus, is evidenced by the works of the Spirit in our lives.
Zeal for Your House
An Original Work / August 1, 2016
Based off Jn. 2:17; Ps. 69:9
Zeal for Your house, it consumes me.
Lord, I love my times with You.
I love to worship You and sing Your praises.
Time in Your Word brings me closer to You,
List’ning to You speaking to me,
Gently guiding me in truth.
Lord, You are my life’s example,
Showing me how I should live.
I love to walk with You where’er You lead me.
No greater joy have I when serving You.
Loving, giving, resting in Your strength,
I’m yielding to Your will.
Zeal for Your house, it consumes me.
See the church turned upside down:
Marketing ventures taking place of worship,
Men of the gospel turning into clowns.
Gospel message made appealing,
So the world will feel at home.
Lord, we need a great revival.
Turn their hearts, Lord, back to You.
Open the blind eyes, turn them all from darkness,
Lord, to the light. May they return to You,
Turn from their sin, forsake idols,
Be restored to God again.