Vol. XI — No. 35 August 30, 1970
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Dear Christian Friends:
Have you recently smiled at all—coming out of a pharmacy? I would hardly think you could, if you had gone in to buy medicine. But I heard a man explain the other day why medicine is so expensive. It’s not that the ingredients themselves cost so much! It’s rather, that in all the testing to find the right combination of ingredients, which will really help you and me, a lot of money had to be spent. And that money must be recovered. But can we really object to that? Who of us would really use medicine, which had not been fully tested as safe? Notice the recent flight from cyclamates. Notice the more recent tremor over birth-control pills. Let’s say a new air machine had been manufactured. Would we buy a ticket to fly, without that machine first being tested to see if it is able to fly? So wherever we look, let a man claim something regarding a new invention, a new medicine, a new food—and we say: Let him prove it. Let him test it first before he tries to sell it to me. Even in the stock market we all want, first of all, a sure thing. Will it pass the test?
Perhaps what we demand for our own personal safety from others will help us to appreciate how our God looks upon us, and how we are to look upon each other. I would assume that, since we are sitting here so comfortably, or otherwise, in this church, we are laying claim to the title of “Christian.” We are claiming to be Christians. We are asserting to be followers of Jesus Christ. And should we ask anyone, who has his name on our membership list, I would assume the same thing: he or she is indeed claiming to be a Christian, someone who expects to go to heaven when death comes. Well, there’s only one more thing: PROVE IT! Test it! Put the assertion into the testtube. Put that claim through the wringer. Does it still ring true? Is it an honest claim? Has it been proved?
Does this shock you? Perhaps you did not expect someone to come a long and demand proof of your faith. Perhaps you said to your self: so long as I say I am a Christian, that is enough! But no, it is not! Science says: What you don’t use, you lose! A muscle unused is a muscle being lost. And faith is like a muscle. It needs using to be not losing! And if it is not being lost, it is being used. As simple as that! Perhaps our text contains the second most important Bible passage in all the Bible! Next to “God so loved the world…” there are the words, “Faith without works is dead.” Let’s talk about that, perhaps shocking realization, under this theme:
Next Sunday we have confirmation examination. We expect our members here! To hear what? Many of us hope—the right answers. And perhaps you remember your own confirmation. Wasn’t it the same thing? You worried about giving the right answers. Even this year’s class is wondering: What if they give the wrong answers? So friends, what if the answers are all perfectly right? Our text says in verse 19, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” OK, do you see the point? Even the devils have what we could call faith. If in some way I could conjure up the devil himself and place him and six evil angels on chairs in front of this church, and put them through a confirmation examination, they would all give perfect answers. The devils in hell know the answers to the catechism questions better than we do! If knowledge is faith, then the devils in hell are Christians. If knowledge of God is faith, then Satan himself is saved. If knowledge of what the catechism says is faith, then many in hell are going to heaven come judgment day. And still, for many people, that seems to be the essence of faith—if they can recite the Ten Commandments, if they can recall the Lord’s Prayer, if they can recite a Bible passage or two—that for them is Christianity. That for them is faith. That, to them, is all that God should expect from them.
But the devils also have this kind of faith! What do you say, if Satan can recite the passages better than you? What do you say, if the devil gets 100% on a confirmation examination? Do you say, “Then he should go to heaven.” St. James tells us: the devils shudder and tremble. Just because they truly know God, they know they have reason to tremble. For God is a just God. The devils have sinned, and so they are condemned to hell forever. Knowledge of God is not in itself faith in God. Knowledge of God is to know that the wages of sin is death. Knowledge of God is to know that without faith it is impossible to be saved. Knowledge of God is to know that good works do not merit salvation; we do not earn heaven; we cannot buy paradise. To have knowledge of God is to live in fear and distress, to shudder in terror, to quake, for the righteous punishment which God shall mete out to the impenitent sinners, to all unbelievers.
But how many are not forever satisfied with their confirmation answers? If they answered right, they must have faith. And that’s that! After confirmation, what’s to do? What’s to do more? And perhaps it only was head-knowledge! The head knew the answers, but the heart did not hold the faith. It was all brain power, not soul power. It was all good memory, but not a believing heart. Friends, please beware of thinking that because you happen to know what the Bible teaches, that therefore you are automatically a Christian. The devil also knows— more than we ever will or can!
And in the same regard, if we have all the right outward functions, we automatically think we have faith. If I do go to church, that automatically means I have faith. If I am willing to serve as a church usher, that means I have faith. If I send my children to Saturday School, that automatically means I have faith. So, we put on all the outward trappings of a Christian, and we say, “See here is my faith. I am a Christian.” But remember that even the devil can appear as an angel of light! The devil can dress up to look like Gabriel. What does that prove in essence? So there comes the time when we have to test ourselves—privately, individually, personally.
Do I come to church because I have to? Because I am forced to? Because it looks good? Do I serve as an usher because it makes me look good? Do I go to the Lord’s Supper to put in my required allotment of four times a year? Do I put something into the church treasury to get the preacher away from my door? Do I have the trappings of a Christian because this is what my parents or my spouse expect of me? Of course, my heart is not in it! I sleep when I go to church. I cry when I do give some money. I resent it when I am asked to do something for the church. It’s all only put-on, anyway! But if I can fool the preacher and the congregation, I can fool God.
So test your faith. What kind is it? The kind the devil has? One which knows all the answers, all the doctrines, all the teachings? One which can recite the books of the Bible backwards? Is that the substance of our faith? Or—the kind of faith that puts on a show? I have all the right mannerisms. I fold my hands in prayer. My head is up to hear the sermon. I read the bulletin from cover to cover. I even take it home with me. Is that the substance of our faith? Well, this kind of faith the devils have too. But they shudder and tremble. And so should any human being who thinks that just because he was confirmed, knew the answers, and has all the ornaments of a Christian—that therefore he is automatically saved I should anyone of us find that such is all the faith we have—start to tremble and shake! Death will be too kind to us, compared to the after-shock in hell! Lip service is such a tragic fake! “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”
On the other hand, there are those who go out and obtain a divorce! Is divorce wrong? Most of them are wrong sinful, and evil. But more deadly is this divorce—when faith is divorced from deeds! We reread this portion of our text: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?. And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
Let’s state the principle clearly: faith and works are partners! Because Abraham had true faith, therefore he was willing to take Isaac his son, and sacrifice him because God said so, Rahab was a harlot. How much lower can a human being sink? And yet, because she came to faith and had faith, she was willing to hide the spies of Israel and see them safely back to their camp. Her faith had works! Her faith produced deeds! Her faith brought forth fruit! FAITH, IF IT HAVE NOT WORKS, IS DEAD. FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD! As a body without the spirit is stone dead, so faith without deeds proves itself only to be stone dead. It is no faith at all!
But for us, the thinking sometimes goes in a different direction. Someone may say: “I don’t have to go to the Lord’s Supper, and still I can be a good Christian.” Someone may say: “I don’t have to go to church, and still I can be a good Christian.” Someone may say: “I don’t have to support any church, and still I can be a good Christian.” Friends, that is a lie! It is belief spawned in hell! It is a philosophy right out of the devil’s handbook. It is impossible for a human being to have the Christian faith, and still not want to hear the preaching of God’s Word! That’s like saying that light is darkness, and darkness is light. It is a contradiction in terms! But it has been said! One person told me, and he never goes to church: “I am a better Christian than some of those who do go to church” That’s a lie. That person is no Christian at all, if we must base our opinion on actions! One cannot divorce faith from deeds.
You say you have faith? Test it! A work of faith is to put God first. True faith struggles to honor God with our lives, avoiding what displeases Him. True faith causes us to devote our whole life to His service. True faith is mission-minded. It wants to save the souls of others. True faith is kind and loving. True faith leads us to obey lawful authority. True faith causes us to guard our tongues, lest they speak evil words, True faith does not envy the success and riches of my neighbor, but compels me to help him keep what is his and prosper even more. True faith does not speak lies, does not tell evil tales about other people. And we could go on and on, couldn’t we?
So, you test your faith! Does it produce fruits? Don’t be fooled! If the fruits of faith are missing, then faith is also missing! Even the weakest of faith will have some kind of fruit. Even a weak faith will call upon the pastor to come out for a visit and discuss spiritual problems. But where there is not fruit, no good works, no Christian deeds, no outward evidence of a living faith within, then James asks us to remember: Faith without works is really dead. Deeds are as natural to faith as breathing is to our bodies. No breath; no life! No deeds; no faith! Don’t let anyone tell you: “I can be a good Christian, the best, even if I don’t go to church.” True faith moves a person to hear the Word of God. True faith overcomes all blockades to do what God desires. So, let each of us test himself. We claim to have faith? Test it! Prove it! First, to ourselves; then, to others.
For, let it be clearly noted: A saving faith bubbles! James describes such a faith that responds to the needs of a brother or sister. These acts of love are a demonstration of faith. True faith is active. Where there is need, faith answers the need. True faith puts love in motion! It’s a beauty to behold! Are we so beautiful? Do we say to our neighbor: “Oh, it would be nice if you could be warm.” Or do we give him something to make him warm? Saving faith bubbles!
And so likewise, and may we repeat it, saving faith bubbles in acts of love toward God! God cannot but speak, and saving faith is already doing it! As Luther says of saving faith: “It does not even ask whether good works are to be done; but before one asks, it has done them, and is ever doing.” Does that describe what lies in our hearts?
If not, our work lies before us, doesn’t it? We must warn ourselves about being misled by fake faith! It can’t be just head-knowledge, knowing all the confirmation answers! It can’t be just “let’s pretend” faith, which has all the ornaments of being a Christian, but all just a show. It can’t be a faith divorced from works, for a faith without works is no faith at all! It’s dead as a door nail! A living faith bubbles. You can see it. You hear it. You can feel it. For true faith produces a crop in the form of deeds. It has to. It’s part of its nature! If we truly believe in God, we cannot but show it.
And that’s how we live with each other. The pastor looks for the fruits of faith from the members, even as they look for fruits of faith in his life. When the fruits of faith are few in number, we try to help each other. When the fruits of faith are conspicuous by their absence, we warn each other! For it is faith that saves, yes! But it is good works that prove that faith is living. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.