What Does True Faith Look Like? — Lord’s Day 33
// April 17th, 2013 // Sermons
Tonight, we continue on to our next question in the catechism and we find ourselves confronted with a question that needs to be answered. Not only is it a question that needs to be answered, but it also needs to be answered correctly. The longer I ponder this question, the more I realize how far off our society is from the right answer. That’s why this question is so important. When the world around us is heading in one direction, it’s very easy for us to get pushed that way as well. Tonight, I want to push back against our culture and give the bible some room to speak in light of this situation. But before we do that, we need to ask a couple other questions.
As we come to the catechism today, we’re presented with another question: “What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? Let me come at this from another direction. Have you ever looked around at all of the people that claim to be Christian and wonder why they think they are a Christian? Are they a Christian because they said a prayer once? Are they a Christian because they raised their hand at a youth rally? Are they a Christian because their parents are? Maybe they think they’re a Christian because they believe that there is a God. Then after looking at everyone else’s life, we should look at our own and ask the same question. Why do I think that I’m a Christian? That’s what our catechism is getting at this week. By asking the question about “genuine conversion” it is assuming that there are some non-genuine conversions and we should take the time to ask ourselves what that looks like.
Because this isn’t where I want to spend all of my time tonight, I’m going to go to one passage of scripture to give you an idea.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. — James 2:14-26
For some this passage has been controversial over the years, but the more I study it, the more I love what it’s saying. I honestly believe that this letter was written to a church that is in the exact same situation that the American church is in. James starts off by saying,“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith…”Pay close attention to how that is worded–“if someone SAYS he has faith.” There are people all over the USA who say they have faith. It is very easy for us to be Christians in our country. We don’t have to worry about being banished from our families or killed for our faith. It is easy. This is exactly what James is addressing when he goes further saying,“if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”Is that the faith that scripture talks about. A faith that doesn’t change your life? No, it isn’t.
I think I like the book of James because he is kind of in your face about this topic. You can tell that he is frustrated that there are people in the churches that are claiming to be Christians but their lives look nothing like it. I can almost see him with his finger in their chest, looking them in the eye and saying,“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”How is James saying that we should show our faith–our true conversion? He says we should show it by our works. Our lives need to be continually conformed to Jesus Christ because a true faith makes that a necessity.
Why do I say that a true faith will change the way you live? Let me give you an example of what I’m saying. If you are walking in the jungle and you find yourself standing at the edge of a cliff, what will you do? Let’s say that you have to get to the other side. Staying where you are is not an option. You begin searching up and down the edge of the cavern until you find a little rope bridge. It is at this point that you need to decide if that bridge is going to hold you. If you look at that bridge and say, “I have faith that the bridge will hold me, but I’m not crossing it,” you don’t really have faith that the bridge will hold you. If your faith doesn’t change your actions, it isn’t faith. If you say that you have faith in God but don’t strive to live the way he instructs you to live, you don’t really have faith. I realize that we all fall short–I fall way short of God’s standard–but what I’m saying is that we are striving to live our lives the way God wants us to. We are striving to submit our lives to God’s Word and not submit God’s Word to our lives. If we truly have faith that God is going to do what he says he’s going to do, our live should change and we should give ourselves over to him.
That brings us to our next question. I just said that we need to submit ourselves to God’s Word and not submit God’s Word to ourselves. What did I mean by that? Before I answer that question, let me ask another one.“What do we do that is good?”That’s what the catechism is asking us today. If part of a true faith is a changed life–a life that strives to do good–how do we know that we are doing good? Some of you may think that is a stupid question, but I think that as we dive into this more you will understand why it’s so relevant.
In order to answer this question, I want to start off by discussing ways we don’t discern what is good. So, rather than telling you what to do, I’m going to tell you what not to do. I’m only going to address two issues, both out of the catechism. I know there are many more ways that we can mess this up, but these two were relevant 500 years ago and are even more relevant today.
First, we do not discern what is good by our own feelings. Here a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. “Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyways.” I would say that many of you would agree with that statement. Everyone around us says that we should follow our heart. There’s even a Steve Jobs quote about following your heart. Is that really a biblical way of thinking? Is our heart the guide to understanding everything? What about right and wrong–good and bad? Let me quickly take you to scripture to see what it says about the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says,“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”Ouch! If that is how scripture describes the heart, should we rely on it to make our decisions? No, we shouldn’t. We also shouldn’t use our heart to decide what is good. We are all too easily swayed here and there by our heart. When we truly understand our sinfulness we should never trust ourselves. That’s why we have the Body of Christ. We need both God’s Word to guide us and we need God’s people to guide us. We know what is good by studying God’s Word and relying on the Body of Christ to help us along.
Secondly, we do not discern right and wrong from cultural norms. Again, this is highly relevant today and it flows directly from what I just finished saying. If our hearts are wicked, we should trust our hearts, especially the hearts of non-believers. A current example of this is the issue of same sex marriage. The increasing trend in our country is away from the biblical stance of marriage. I realize we could get into a debate right now, but that’s not my point. My point is that many people, and many churches are changing their definition of good based on the culture around us. This is what Jesus yelled at the pharisees for. In Matthew he said,“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘ “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”’”Jesus really chews them out and one of the things he addresses is that they are“teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”The leaders of the church began taking the commandments of men and claiming them as God’s commands. This is exactly what is happening across the US. Many people are coming to conclusions about what is right and what is wrong outside of God’s Word. Then they come to God’s Word and make it agree with them. Once again, they are making God submit to them, rather than submitting to God.
Now that I’ve discussed a couple ways not to discern what is good, I want to point out a few prerequisites of something being good. First, I want you to look at Hebrews 11:6. It says,“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”This is absolutely necessary. If you don’t have true faith, you cannot please God. That’s a pretty scary statement to some of you. That also gives us the prerequisite for something being good–it has to spring from true faith. That makes sense doesn’t it? God is only pleased in what is truly good. Therefore if it doesn’t please him, it isn’t good. And if it is impossible to please God without faith, then faith is a prerequisite for good. What does this mean? The bottom line is that in God’s eyes the only people who are doing anything good are those who are living their lives with true faith. That’s it. From our point of view there are non-Christian who do good, but from God’s point of view they are not doing good. Only that which springs from true faith is truly good.
Secondly, I want you to look at 1 Samuel. This verse comes as Samuel is prophesying against King Saul. The verse says,“And Samuel said, ‘Has theLordas great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of theLord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of theLord, he has also rejected you from being king.’”Did you hear what was being said to Saul? God doesn’t delight in sacrifices and burnt offerings. He has a great delight in obeying the voice of the Lord. For us that’s God’s Word. This means that in order for something to be good, it has to be from God’s Word. Or to direct it at you, if you want to do good, you must obey God’s Word. What if your heart is telling you something different that what you’re reading? We submit to God’s Word because we have faith that it will lead us along the right path.
Thirdly, look at 1 Corinthians. It says,“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”I realize that some of you have heard me say this a million times, but I’m going to say it again. This is our purpose verse. It tells us what the purpose of our life is. We were created to glorify God in everything that we do. If we are not glorifying God through our lives, we are not doing good.
Now, the question that I want you to ask is, “Are all three necessary for something to be considered good?” I would answer yes. If you are obeying God’s Word but are not doing it for His glory, it is not good. If you are obeying God’s Word but aren’t doing it in faith, it is not good. As I thought through this a little more, all of these flow out of true faith. If we have true faith, then we will obey and we will strive to glorify God. If we don’t have true faith, then we won’t desire to glorify God. We may be obedient but it would only be for our own benefit–it would be US focused rather than God focused.
What does this mean for you? First it means that you need to evaluate your life. Do you say you have faith? If you answer NO, why not? What’s holding you back? Realize that without faith, you can never please God. That should make you think. If you say that you have faith, then you need to look at your life. Are you showing your faith by your works? Is your faith changing your life? Are you living a life of faith, obeying God’s Word, and desiring to glorify God? If that describes your life, get on your knees and thank God for His mercy and grace in your life. If that doesn’t describe your life, get on your knees and ask God for mercy and grace. You need God to change your heart–ask Him.
None of us do this perfectly, trust me I understand that in a very personal way. Our challenge is to continually seek God more and more each day, striving to obey Him and glorify Him with our entire life.