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Saturday, February 20, 2016

True Love Has Feet

Jas 2:14  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? Jas 2:15  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, Jas 2:16  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? Jas 2:17  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Jas 2:18  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.
1Jn 4:10  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1Jn 4:20  If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

The above verses are well known teachings on Christian love.  James doesn’t use the word love, instead he uses faith but it is obvious he is teaching that genuine faith is proven by love.  We use the word love so often that it is easy for Christians to use it without thinking through what true love is.  When we do this we can assume we love but can fall into the trap of not thinking of love by its biblical definition.  So we assume that since I like someone and care about them and like being around them and pray for them that I am exercising Christian love toward them when, in fact, I am not loving them very well at all.

What the above verses remind us of is that love is shown by actions not so much by feelings.  Perhaps another way to say it is that love ministers to its objects.  Yes, love cares for the good of others but it also puts feet to it by a willingness to do something to meet their needs.  Love is willing to be inconvenience and to sacrifice of itself so that our love can be expressed to the ones we say we love. 

If we are not careful, we can examine ourselves and assume we pass the test of love because when we think of our church family, for instance, we like their fellowship and we care enough about them to pray for them if they happen to let us know of a prayer request. So we smugly cross off love from our checklist of Christian virtues to work on and thank God that we aren’t as bad as we could be.

But the problem is that we have lowered the definition of love so low that we can easily step over it.  When I see church members willing to spend a couple of hours with each other on Sunday but have nothing to do with the people they “love” until the next Sunday then I wonder if we are really being honest with ourselves.  Is caring enough to pray for someone really a demonstration of Christian love?  Is it not a little like standing on the shore while a “loved one” is drowning and praying for their deliverance instead of jumping in and getting wet and doing what needs to be done?  We care for each other as long as you don’t come over to my house and don’t invite me over to yours.  We are willing to pray for whatever needs they have but not get our feet dirty by getting involved with them and being close enough to them so that you can actually do something beyond mentioning them in passing while you pray for all of your wants and needs.

We don’t want to get to know them to the point that we might have to offer some advice or rebuke and we certainly don’t want them to see our weaknesses and offer to help us.  We reduce love to warm feelings but we don’t do what James tells us to do in the above verses.  We don’t want to get close enough to someone so that they might actually show up on our door step and ask us to be inconvenienced for their sake.  I don’t think that is biblical love and I wonder if sometimes we are fooling ourselves because we are unwilling to examine ourselves in the light of God’s Word instead of our watered down version of it.

Before we dismiss this as applying to the church down the street let’s remind ourselves of Rev 3:1  "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "'I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Rev 3:2  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Rev 3:3  Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

Every church has a reputation of following the Bible and of being alive, even the ones that don’t believe it anymore; people just assume it.  Vs. 2 says that their problem is incomplete works.  Perhaps they talked about how much they loved and prayed for people but they never got around to actually proving it; it was an incomplete work in the sight of God. 

1 John 4:10 above shows how God demonstrated his love by subjecting himself to crucifixion for those he claimed to love.  He practiced what he preached, his actions matched his words, to use some clich├ęs, and if we are going to honestly examine whether we love, we are going to have to see some actual ministry to the needs of others.  Not just you physical family but your brothers and sisters in Christ; those that you can help.  We have to become vulnerable, open, humble, willing to get dirty and inconvenienced for the sake of Christ.  If we are unwilling we have no right to claim to love as Christ as loved us.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Saving Faith

Jas 2:17  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 
Jas 2:18  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. 
Jas 2:19  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder! 
Jas 2:20  Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 
Jas 2:21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

The following is an excerpt from last week's sermon:

We need to understand how this faith which is saving faith is different from the natural faith that all men have.  There is a natural faith and a most unnatural faith.  It is impossible for us to lead normal lives without faith.  We trust people will keep our appointments, travel (you trust the pilot), buying a ticket shows you believe they will schedule it when they say, etc.  Phobias are a result of not trusting people or things to do what they are supposed to do.  There are so many phobias today because so few people know a sovereign God.  Think about it, if you are afraid of leaving your house, will you be willing to die for Christ?  Do you not fear some physical danger more than you fear and love God and want to serve him?  But as we think about this natural faith it is clearly built on experience is it not? 

As we see people stepping off a plane, we are convinced that the pilot and airplane will do what it promises.  I see other long-term workers going about their jobs so I believe that I will get a paycheck at the end of the week if I get hired there.  Faith is the most natural thing in the world and if we will believe men it is the most natural thing that we would believe God who cannot lie and can do all he promises. 

But there is a big difference; natural faith is based on experience, saving faith is not.  In human terms saving faith is quite unreasonable for it calls us to do what our experience has taught us cannot work.  It calls us to quit trusting in all that this life has taught us to trust in and work for.  Saving faith is not unreasonable of course, but it is not going to come naturally.  It comes as God reveals himself to us spiritually.  Not by doing physical acts to convince us or Israel would have believed.  It comes as we see by faith in the Word a sovereign God who created and sustains all things and thus is able to do all that he says.  Then it becomes the most rational thing in the world to believe on him.  Of course, this happens only after he has broken our rebellion through regeneration.

I hope that this is the God you know for if it is then I know you will follow him.  There is another who tries to get us to follow him and he uses experience to call us.  He says, "God helps those that help themselves, your duty is to provide for yourself in this life anyway you can".  Or he might be saying to you, “God will never do anything to you that hurts, he is too merciful for that”, and so you are unprepared for real life.  He might tell you the Bible is a nice book but somewhat out of step with the times and cannot be taken literally.  

It is deceivingly like Jesus’ words, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest".  One kind of faith is based on what we see with our eyes; the other is concerned with things as they really are.  Saving faith then is a gift from God.  Not that he imparts the ability to believe to us but reveals to us what in the flesh we cannot see; the glory of God.  Naturally we have faith it is just directed at everything but God.  You cannot believe in what you don’t understand.  All hear, but few trust in who they hear about.  So when God gives us the ability to believe, it is to cause us to stop trusting in things that can’t help and trust in the One who alone can save.

This is why we preach a sovereign God.  How can faith grow unless we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Abram’s life is not pie in the sky theology; it is a faithful account of saving faith.  It begins and grows according to how big our God is in our hearts.