Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Even The Demons Believe

Week 4 in our 6 week study of the book of James. 

True faith in Christ is characterized by an outpouring of obedience to God. This lesson focuses on the relationship between faith and action and offers a warning to those whose lives seem to lack an obedient lifestyle before God. True faith in God is more than intellectual belief in Him as the true God. Faithfulness to Him results in obedience to His Word. A life unchanged from worldly ways is only intellectual belief. True faith in God results in spiritual fruit.

James 2:14-26 (ESV)
Faith Without Works Is Dead
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Supporting Passages:   Galatians 5:16-26, Romans 6:1-14 and 1 John 3:17

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? There cannot be chickens without eggs. But there cannot be eggs without chickens. They’re a package deal. One leads to the other, and the other leads to the one. In a similar way, faith and works go together. True faith gives birth to good works—and good works, in turn, give life to growing faith. Saving faith is demonstrated by good works. James began this passage with a question regarding a man who claims to have faith but has no deeds: “Can such a faith save him?” Then, in the following verses, he gave the answer: No. True saving faith leads to and is evidenced by good works.

1. Godly behavior provides evidence of true faith (Jas. 2:14–18).

James said that faith without action is dead—there is no spiritual life to a faith that is not demonstrated through action. He wanted his audience to fully understand that mere intellectual faith without the backing of concrete action is meaningless, worthless, useless, and lifeless. Faith without action was not true faith in the first place. Imagine slicing a dime thinly in half. The heads piece would have the bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt and be smooth on the other side. The tails slice would have the olive branch, torch, and oak branch on one side and be smooth on the other side. Would each piece be worth 5¢? No. Each would be worthless. Such is the case of faith without works. Separated from active obedience, faith is worthless. James’ message was this: True faith causes you to do something. True faith in Christ affects your life. It causes you to act upon God’s commands—stand up to bullies, reach out to the students in your school who have no friends, and care for those in need. Don’t just verbalize empty prayers—do something.

2. True faith is more than intellectual belief (Jas. 2:19).

James said that the existence of true faith in Christ is proven not simply by what one claims to believe but by a change in one’s lifestyle. He illustrated such a poignant truth by stating that even demons believe that God is the true God. Obviously, James’ readers knew that demons were not followers of Christ—although they knew that He was the Savior. They merely believed with their minds instead of having faith that transformed their entire lives. Columbus might not have been the first person to believe that the earth was round. But no one cares about who that first person might have been because he or she didn’t do anything to prove it. Columbus did. It’s one thing to say that you believe that your ship won’t sail over a great waterfall at the edge of the earth. It’s another thing to pull anchor and prove it. Faith in Christ is proven by what you do, not simply by what you believe in your head. Prove your faith by your actions. If the only evidence that you have of your faith in Christ is the fact that you say you believe, then you should reevaluate your faith. Following Christ is not simply evidenced by our words; it is evidenced by our lives. What is your life saying about your faith?

3. Obedient action grows and demonstrates mature faith (Jas. 2:20–26).

Because James was speaking to an audience with a shared Jewish background, he used Abraham, the “father” of the nation Israel, as an example of how faith and works go together. He stated that Abraham’s faith in God was what counted him as righteous, but his faith was completed by his obedient actions. James meant that Abraham’s faith was brought to full maturity through the growth of his faith in obedience. Obedience to God’s Word is a catalyst to growth and a demonstration of faith. I do Crossfit. It's hard and tedious, but I love watching the heavy weight lifters. Have you ever seen a weightlifting competition, like at the Olympics? Really strong men and women push the limits of their strength in an effort to beat their competitors. These athletes have trained over long periods of time to strengthen their muscles so that they are ready to compete. But they can’t just do a lot of repetitions of 10-pound weights. Their muscles would never grow stronger that way. Rather, at times they push themselves to their limits so that they can keep increasing their maximum weight. By training this way, they are not only poised to prove their strength by competition—rather, they are ready to grow their muscles to lift more and more. For your faith to mature to completion, you have to put it into practice. As you obey God’s Word, you show your faith and also grow your faith. At times you may think that obeying God is difficult, and it can be. But pressing forward will bring your faith to maturity and give you the strength to continue obeying even in times of struggle.

So what's the big idea of the passage?

Faith without works is dead. James concluded this passage by comparing faith without works to a dead body that is no longer breathing (2:26). He could not paint a more vivid description. Faith that is defined only by intellectual belief or cerebral knowledge and is not supported by a lifestyle of good deeds is DEAD. Many of us treat faith as a matter of knowing the right things or having the best theology. We engage in debates with other believers in order to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Instead, James would say to let your faith be shown by how you live and what you do.

This epistle identifies its author as James, a common name in the first century. Although some Bible scholars have suggested that James the son of Zebedee is the author, most scholars conclude that evidence does not favor him. Since the third century, the author has been widely considered to be James the half-brother of Jesus, the leader of the early Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem. Because of James’ martyrdom in A.D. 62 (according to the Jewish historian Josephus), his letter had to be written before then. Many scholars believe that it was written in the early A.D. 40s.
The epistle was addressed to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” who appear to be Jewish Christians scattered across the Roman Empire. Evidently, these Jewish believers had left Jerusalem because of persecution following the stoning of Stephen (recorded in the book of Acts). These believers had faced some difficulties. Evidently reports of various problems reached James, and so he wrote to provide instruction to these followers of Christ who lived in distant lands. Although some Bible scholars have suggested that James taught a “salvation by works” doctrine, which would stand in contradiction to the apostle Paul’s teaching, most today recognize that James’ message complements Paul’s teaching and is similar to the teachings of Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount.
This passage of Scripture is important for students because it emphasizes the Essential Truth that salvation is by faith alone. The apostle Paul, especially in his letter to the Romans and the Galatians, made it clear that salvation comes by the grace of God to those who respond with faith in Christ. James also emphasized this teaching but in a different way. James taught that Christians who received God’s salvation would demonstrate their faith by doing good deeds. James did not state that anyone is saved by actions but rather that actions prove that a person has faith. Therefore, people cannot resort to an “easy believism” or a “cheap grace” and simply claim to be a follower of Christ—they fail to produce any spiritual fruit. James argued persuasively that faith unaccompanied by action is dead (2:17). James’s message is particularly relevant today as many persons seem to believe that a profession of faith alone proves the genuineness of one’s faith. James declared that true faith is evident through actions.
The notion that humans receive salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ is a clear New Testament teaching. James in no way contradicted this instruction. Instead, he sought to point out to the early Jewish Christian community that a mere intellectual acceptance of Christ did not lead to salvation. When a person has true faith, then the person will display good works. The two are inseparable. Good works flows from a living faith. As we go throughout each day, we should ask God what He wants us to do in order to please Him. Actions do not earn us merit with God, but they do serve as proof that we have faith. We do a disservice to students when we teach that a simple prayer of salvation or “walking an aisle” is all that is required of us to follow Christ. In reality, we must lead students to understand that a life lived for Christ is one that reflects Him with actions and produces spiritual fruit.
Understanding this truth should lead students to regular Bible study, prayer, and a life devoted to actively living out God’s commands. How can you model a life of faith that extends beyond intellectual belief? How can you lead students to connect their faith with their actions? How would you respond to a person who says that merely professing belief in Christ is sufficient?

Small Group Questions:
  • How do we often use the phrase “I’ll pray for you” as an excuse to not take action to meet a need?
  • Does your lifestyle match what you believe?
  • If you took a look at your life from the outside, would you say that your behavior reveals a true faith in God?
  • How have you been avoiding being obedient to God’s Word because of fear, peer pressure, laziness, or an apathetic attitude toward the things of God?

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