James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem a decade after Jesus’s ascension, wrote a letter to Christians in the Diaspora. He was concerned about the persecution they were enduring and the false teaching they were embracing. In chapter 2, he says they have misunderstood what faith in Jesus is. Faith does not sit on the sidelines and offer spiritual soundbites. Faith acts.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but doesn’t show it by their actions? Can that kind of faith save them? If a brother or sister has no food or clothing, and you say, “Go in peace; stay warm and eat well,” but do nothing about the person’s physical needs–what good does that do? In the same way, faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead. Now someone may argue, “You have faith and I have works.” How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good works? I will show you my faith by my good works.
James is speaking about the kind of “faith” I became very familiar with in thirty-plus years of pastoring. It defines faith as “agreeing with,” or “acknowledging the truth of.” For example, the Bible says Jesus died for our sins, and salvation is found in no other name. Many of us have been taught that when we agree with what the Bible says and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we are exercising faith, but James says this is a counterfeit definition. Faith is more than accepting the existence of God and acknowledging Jesus is Lord. Even demons do that.
You say you have faith because you believe there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
James uses demons as his example because they would be the first to concede everything the Bible says is true. They saw most of it happen! Demons are quick to acknowledge Jesus is Lord, but faith is more than admitting the truth about someone. Faith, as it is portrayed in Scripture, is a radical kind of trust. Faith is trusting Jesus with my life and knowing God loves me (wills my good) regardless of what my circumstances are telling me.
Faith is trusting God enough to do what he says in even the worst situations. James points to two people who responded in faith at critical junctures in their lives:
Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. The Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called God’s friend. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. 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? Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Two classic examples of faith in action. The story of Abraham is particularly helpful in understanding the nature of faith. Abraham knew the Lord had chosen Isaac to be his heir and the father of many nations, so when God told Abraham to sacrifice his child, he never wavered. He told the servants who waited at the bottom of the hill that both he and Isaac would return, though at the time he had no idea how that could happen. But Abraham’s trust in God’s promise was so strong he believed the Lord would somehow bring Isaac back from the dead. This was no academic exercise in trust building. Abraham was convinced he served a God with limitless power who would never break his word.
Rahab’s crisis of faith came upon her unexpectedly when two Israelite spies sought shelter in her home. She decided they had been sent by God, and she put her life in danger to protect them. Rahab and Abraham teach us to set our hearts and minds on things above and trust God to take care of the rest. Many of us have trouble doing that, but when we stop to think about it, we realize we’re already trusting someone or something to get us through. So the real question isn’t, “should I trust?” The real question is, “what am I trusting in?” And if you want to answer that question, all you need do is look at your life. What do you do with your time? Where does your mind go when trouble arises? What do you spend your money on? Reflecting on these kinds of questions will help you understand who or what you are relying on to make it through life.
Some of us rely upon our own resourcefulness, some of us rely upon the kindness of others, and some of us have faith in God, but all of us have faith in something, and we reveal our faith by the choices we make. We can make “safe” choices, or we can choose to follow Jesus and pay the consequences.
Do you trust Jesus enough to put your life in his hands?
A hundred years ago, George Blondin became famous when he put a rope across Niagara Falls from the United States to Canada and claimed he could walk across. Thousands showed up to watch him fall to his death, but he accomplished the feat with ease. When the crowd’s applause died down, Blondin took a bow and repeated the crossing several times. Then, to add some excitement, he filled a wheelbarrow with dirt and walked it across the Falls. After repeating the wheelbarrow stunt several times, a boisterous fan shouted, “I believe you could do that all day long!” Blondin smiled, dumped the dirt out of the wheelbarrow, and said, “Get in.”
The man didn’t take Blondin up on his offer, and the story may be apocryphal, but it’s a good illustration of what God is asking us to do. He wants us to put our life in his hands. He wants us to get in the wheelbarrow and trust him to take us to the other side.
So you and I have a choice to make. We can stand on the sidelines shouting platitudes and claiming to believe, or we can get in God’s wheelbarrow and take the ride of our lives.