Aloha Friday Message – February 17, 2012 – Looking over the obvious…

1206AFC021712 Looking over the obvious

Read it online here.

ESV James 2:18-20 – 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. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

KJV James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain (κενέ – kene {ke-ne’}) man, that faith without works is dead?

NAB James 2:20 Do you want proof, you ignoramus (kενός – kenos {ken-os’}) that faith (πίστις – pistis {pis’-tis}) without works (ἔργων – ergon {er-gōn’}) is useless?

NLT James 2:20 Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?

Aloha nui loa, Beloved. Here we are just a few days after Valentine’s Day and just a few days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The Lenten Season is a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is a time when the scripture passages we hear, read, and reflect on are reminders of our sure need for redemption which is supplied for us through the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is a time when we ponder our own weaknesses and strive to make some changes in our lives that will bring us closer to each other, and through that, closer to Christ. There is the lingering tradition associated with Lent of “giving something up for Lent.” In the past this meant that for the 7 weeks of Lent we consciously avoided some favorite food or activity – kids gave up candy, adults gave up smoking or drinking, many practice fasting and/or abstinence to varying degrees, all with the idea of denying oneself something that normally is pleasurable. It is still a good practice. I want to challenge you to do something more this Lent rather than something less.

This passage from James, which is part of a treatise on ethical conduct, is one of many exhortations and warnings in this document which is really more of an essay than a letter. It is addressed to the Jewish community that became the Early Church and was probably directed against the persons who claimed that their “immense knowledge” of the life and works of Christ gave them justification and salvation. James gently but firmly puts them down by pointing out the obvious fact that having the facts isn’t at all like having the faith. We see something of the same thing in our own day, often within our churches but more often outside of church communities – not just Christian communities, but all religious communities which advocate for ethical conduct and moral behavior. The group of “believers” in the Early Church were classified as the Gnostics, a pre-Christian and early Christian religious movement teaching that salvation comes by learning occult spiritual truths that free humanity from the material world, believed in this movement to be evil. Thus, in their point of view, knowledge was the antidote for evil. James contradicts this by reprimanding them for their empty-headed foolishness. Good works are insufficient unless they arise out of faith. Let’s take a look at the words used in the essay, and then focus on verse 20 to finish up.

“You have faith, I have works.” Our world has many, many people who do not believe in Christ but who can point to their good works as a demonstration of how it is possible to do good things without attributing them to Christ’s Law of Love – Love God and love your neighbor. “I don’t have to be [religion] to do good things. It is natural for people to do good things for others.” James replies that faith is not a “work.” Faith (pistis) is always a Gift from God; it cannot be manufactured or contrived up by human enterprise. We see this over and over in Scripture, particularly in Paul’s letters: (All of these will be from the ESV – English Standard Version.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 4:16 – That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

1 John 5:4, 5 – 4 – For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 – 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith is always a gift from God given exclusively to those who are redeemed in Christ. It is always the work of God and never the work of any earthling. It comes from hearing his voice (Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God) which persuades us to seek God’s salvation – the preferred state for all of God’s creation which is unity with him. Those who rely on some sort of contrived “belief system,” even if they don’t get hung up in esoteric rituals and secret knowledge, are like the Gnostics who are trying to use human effort to “produce” saving Grace. Ain’t gonna happen, folks!

Another term in this passage is “vain man.” The context here gives it the connotation of “air-head.” This is a person who argues eloquently about erroneously-conceived “truths.” The fallacy, or misconception, that faith is artificial and knowledge is the only reality fosters such arrogance as to claim to know exactly what must be done to win or earn God’s favor by understanding his thoughts. Sounds pretty dumb, right? But there were – and are – people who still operate from that faulty premise. These are people who are destitute of spiritual wealth; spiritually bankrupt; they claim to have transcendental awareness and boast of their ability to “pierce the veil” by intentionally and foolishly claiming to be able to exceed the indescribably colossal character and powers of God. They are overlooking the obvious: God is far too great to be pinned down with a handful of manufactured explanations. God is GOD. James tells them instead to observe the obvious presence and power of God, admit that God alone is God and God alone is best encountered through faith – a gift he provides – and not through theories, rites, rituals, or even theologies.

Lastly, for today anyway, we have works. Good deeds that, for some, arise out of the goodness of their hearts. This question of good works without faith in something is a dichotomy that often sends my brain running in circles. A dichotomy is the division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory sets of information; for me the dichotomy is that many good things done by people who are irreligious or antireligious are significantly more generous and effective than those done by people who are religious. How can that be? James gives some insight into that. Doing a good deed is always a good thing whether you attribute that motivation to do-good to the Universe, the Force, the Intelligent Designer, or even random chance. It is noteworthy to realize that the motivation for this kind of charity always arises from within the self; it is self-centered and – even though it purports to be done in the service of social justice – it is always self-serving. It is at all times a better thing to serve social justice as an effect of love, and because all good things come from and through God (Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father who made the heavenly lights, in whom there is no inconsistency or shifting shadow. ISV: James 1:17) it is just plain silly to take credit for something you didn’t – and couldn’t – do without Grace from God – even if you don’t acknowledge him in any way whatsoever!

Is there any goodness in the World? It comes to us in and through God by the love of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Is there truth in any religion other than Christianity, or the Abrahamic Faiths? Whatever truth can be found in any religion or self-made “belief system” comes to us in and through God by the love of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As we approach the Lenten Season, I want to continue this discussion about how and why we are stewards of God’s gifts, gifts that cannot be denied, cannot be manufactured by us earthlings, and – in the end – glorify God because they begin and end in him. In fact, everything – including you and me – begins and ends in God when we acknowledge HE is indeed GOD.

James’ point is this: You can have good works without faith – any fool can do that. BUT you cannot profess to have Faith and refuse or avoid doing good works. That’s not faith; it’s just an air-head’s blather. It’s like having an isolated cogwheel with nothing to engage it.

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Share-A-Prayer                ||

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† For baby Cheyanne, just a few weeks old, she had some serious difficulties with her heart, rallied for a while, and then experienced cascading organ failures. Pray for a miraculous recovery and for mom to be able to accept God’s leading whatever the outcome.

† GW, SC, MG, RM, MJ, MT, JC, CB, EL, FO, CW and many others dealing with cancer or other tumors we commit their lives to the care of the Lord first, to the care of their families second, and the care of their medical professionals and everyone else who can help bring them back to wholeness.

† Continued prayers for GW (a different one from that above) for a full recovery from infections and damage caused by a dog bite.

† Continued prayers for all religious leaders of all faiths to promote peace rather than violence, thanksgiving rather than terror, and generosity rather than oppression.

† Continued prayers for individuals and their loved-ones who are entering or continuing their recovery form substance abuse. Pray they will see that step 2 – a Power greater than oneself and outside of oneself – is a wiser choice than trying to find the strength within oneself.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved.

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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