“Let Us Show Our Faith by What We Do”
(James 2:1-5, 8-10, 14-18 – Pentecost 17 – September 19, 2021)
James 2:1-5, 8-10, 14-18 – 1My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? … 8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all…. 18What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Dear Redeemed by our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Missouri is called the “Show Me” State. The slogan can be seen on its license plates. Legend attributes this “show me” slogan to Missouri’s U.S. Congressman, Willard Vandiver, who served in the House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. In a speech Vandiver declared: “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me.”
Similarly, our text says with regard to faith: “Show me.” Just saying you have faith in your heart neither convinces nor satisfies me. No matter how eloquently you can describe your faith, it remains invisible and meaningless unless I see it fleshed out in acts of love that grow out of faith. “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Therefore today we consider as our theme: “Let Us Show Our Faith by What We Do.” In order to examine what kind of faith we show, let us ask two questions: 1) What sort of faith shows by a lack of love? and 2) What sort of faith shows by Christ-centered love?
1) What sort of faith shows by a lack of love?
Our text gives two examples of how we may show a lack of love – by showing favoritism and by failing to help a brother or sister in need. What sort of faith shows by a lack of love?
First it says: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” Apparently, some Christians to whom James wrote had a problem with favoritism when it came to how they welcomed people in the worship assembly.
Picture this. “A man with gold rings, in fine apparel” sets foot in God’s house. The members’ eyes get big. Such outward adornment communicates wealth, influence, and maybe a fine reputation. So the ushers tell him: “You sit here in a good place.” Who would want to lose out on such a man’s usefulness in the congregation? Then “a poor man in filthy clothes” shows up. The members’ eyes get narrow. Such outward adornment communicates poverty, a low social position, and maybe an undesirable reputation. The ushers say: “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool.” Who would want to lose out by associating too much with such a man?
God forbid that we should show such favoritism in His house! What would it mean to show a warmer welcome to one person than another based on outward appearances, or how much a person appeared to contribute to the congregation, or how much we might stand to gain by rubbing elbows with that person? On the other hand, what would it mean to keep our distance from someone who offended us somehow, maybe someone on whom we could only see the filthy clothes of a sinful past, someone by whose company our reputation might be tarnished?
What sort of faith would be shown by such actions? Would it not proclaim that in God’s house, only those who bring something that benefits us are valuable? Or that in God’s house, only those who fit into our social class or background are acceptable? Or that in God’s house, those who have a better reputation and measure up to our standards are more desirable?
But what does God’s Word teach? James points out: “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” God did not show favoritism toward us. He did not choose us because we measured up to His standards, as if we were wearing a gold ring and fine clothes of worthiness before Him. Rather, when we were dressed in the poor and filthy clothes of our sin, by grace He saved us through the merits of His Son, and He called us into the riches of His Kingdom through faith in Jesus.
Therefore as believers, according to the new man, the Holy Spirit-led nature, we do not want to show favoritism in God’s church, but to share the riches of His grace in Christ for sinners.
Here James gives a second example of the sort of faith that would show by a lack of love: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”
Picture this. As the weather gets colder, a stranger knocks at the door of a Christian’s home. He is poorly clothed, shivering and starving. The Christian says, “I don’t have time to help you now, but let me say this. God loves you and promises to provide everything you need. ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’ May His love warm your heart and fill you to overflowing. Goodbye.” The words about God’s love were correct, but the actions were not consistent with that love.
It leads us to examine how we respond to people in need around us. If we were to see someone in genuine need and we were in a position to help, what sort of faith would we show by well wishes that left them in their distress? It would reveal a faith that is in the head but not in the heart, a faith that is coldly intellectual and not warmly applied in real life. Or as James puts it: “Thus also faith by itself, it does not have works, is dead.”
Perhaps it is easy to think we are excused from such a problem. After all, we have donated our clothing and food to the pantry. We have given our charity money. We have volunteered our time to good causes. Maybe we begin to feel proud about living our faith.
But when God says in His royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” He does not mean we are to love only when it is convenient, or we can choose which neighbor to love. He means that neighbor we have been happy to keep on the other side of the fence. He means that person we have a hard time being around at work, school, or church. He means that family member we have been overlooking. Sometimes we can zealously go out of our way in favorite avenues of charity we choose; yet we cannot see the needs of someone right around us. Maybe they hear us talk of God’s love in Christ, but they have a hard time seeing it.
Honestly, at times we all have shown favoritism, loving the loveable but not the unlovable. At times, we have failed to help our neighbor in need when it felt inconvenient. What is the solution? Is it saying we must try harder to keep God’s law of love if we hope to be saved? No. The Bible says no one is saved by his own acts of love or works of the law. If anyone thinks he is it warns: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”
2) What sort of faith shows by Christ-centered love?
The only solution is to focus all the more on Jesus, who has kept the law for us by His loving acts of charity and saved us from our sin by His loving sacrifice. When we take to heart His great love and the salvation He won for us, it cannot help but move our hearts and show in our lives. So let us ask our second question: What sort of faith do we show by Christ-centered love?
First, we remember how Jesus set foot into our lives to save us. He did not come among us “with gold rings, in fine apparel” of glory. He came in the lowly “clothing” of His humiliation. His outward adornment communicated poverty and a low position on the social totem pole; and to many, a less than desirable reputation. The eyes narrowed. His enemies said: “What do we do with Him?” Who would want to lose out by associating too much with such a useless man?
But He came in such humble form to identify with us lowly sinners. He left behind the riches of His Father’s heavenly house to come beside us poor miserable sinners. He found us when we were dressed in the “filthy clothing” of our sinful nature. He found us when our reputations were in the mud, covered by our countless offenses. He found us outside His Father’s house, as beggars with nothing to offer; but He came to change all that for us and to bring us in.
In every way we have failed to keep the royal law of love, Jesus kept it perfectly for us. Never once did He show favoritism. Never once did He fail to help those in need. God’s Son loved perfectly all His earthly life, in order to credit that perfect life to us. Yet, He took all the filth and shame of our sins on Himself on the cross. He suffered and died in our place. He lifted His innocent life, death, and resurrection before His Father to present us forgiven and purified.
And Jesus brought us into His house, His Church. He washed our sins away in baptism, and dressed us in the fine clothing of His holiness. He anointed us by the Holy Spirit and faith. He lifted us out of our poverty of sin and death, to make us rich heirs of eternal life in His Father’s heavenly mansions.
How is the heart of faith moved by the riches of His all-giving love and salvation? “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Faith wants to respond with Christ-centered love. We say: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Here comes that “poor man in filthy clothes” into God’s house. Here comes that person by whose company it appears we have nothing to gain. Here comes that person dressed in a filthy reputation, who has offended us somehow. As we remember how Christ welcomed us into His Father’s house, His unconditional and impartial love empowers us to say: “Welcome to God’s house. We are all poor sinners, gathered in God’s hospital of grace and healing. We are gathered to His throne to hear His Word of forgiveness and share His grace in Christ with each other.”
And here comes that brother or sister in need. Here comes that person who needs our help and attention, in season or out of season. As we remember how Jesus went out of His way to give Himself and the riches of His Kingdom to us, His loving sacrifice empowers us to share with those in need. It moves us to share our earthly resources, time, and abilities in a way that says, “What I want most for you, dear friend, is that you know the riches of Christ’s salvation.”
Do our acts of Christ-centered love make a difference? Yes. We live in a world where the love of many is growing cold (Matthew 24:12). The hearts of many are yearning for more than just words; they are yearning for substance. In matters of faith, the soul says: “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me… You have got to show me.” Therefore, let us show our faith by what we do. We have Christ’s love to share, and there is true substance! We know God’s impartial, all giving love and charity toward us in Christ; and we want to share it. In faith we pray with the hymn (O God of Mercy, God of Might):
All are redeemed, both far and wide, Since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died;
Then teach us, whatsoe’er betide, To love them all in Thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.