Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 5
A Faith that Works
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 3, 2008


Main Passage: James 2:14-26 (NLT)

VIDEO – “Good Enough” from

How good are you? Are you good enough? What is your standard of goodness? Karen just read a passage for us about our goodness. It talked about the role of good deeds in the Christian life.

There’s a song I used to sing when I was growing up. It’s an old Sunday School song that was a lot of fun to sing, and I think some of you might know it too. It’s been used in recent years in TV commercials, although they’ve taken the word “saved”… which means that you’ve experienced the forgiveness of God and you received eternal life from Him… they’ve taken that word “saved” and replaced it with the word “happy.” But the way I learned it was with the word “saved” and it goes like this…

If you're saved and you know it, clap your hands.
If you're saved and you know it, clap your hands.
If you're saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it.
If you're saved and you know it clap your hands.
(If you're saved and you know it, stomp your feet...
If you're saved and you know it, say, “Amen”...
If you're saved and you know it, do all three…)

Seems like a simple children's chorus, doesn't it? Seems like one of those songs that’s a whole lot of fun to sing but really doesn't have much meaning. But there is a very profound statement found in the words of that song. Take a look…

“If you're saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it.”

It’s an action song that says that your faith, if it’s real, will be shown through your actions… the things you do, the places you go, the words you say. Your faith will be expressed through your deeds.

Over the past month we’ve been working our way through the New Testament book of James. And this entire book… all five chapters… is about having a practical faith. It's about how to express our faith in our everyday lives through our actions. It’s about a faith that gets its hands dirty. It’s about a faith that’s not afraid to get involved in the messiness of life. And James really hammers this home in the passage we’re looking at this morning. Karen read that for us earlier. So here’s the key verse… read it with me…

James 2:17 (NLT)
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, one of the things that we emphasize again and again here at Sunrise is that our works can’t save us. No matter how good we are, no matter how many good deeds we do, we just can’t earn our way into Heaven. We can’t earn forgiveness. We can’t earn salvation.

But at first glance, this verse seems to be saying the opposite, doesn’t it? It seems to be elevating good deeds over faith. How do you reconcile this? What is the relationship between faith and good deeds?

Well, this morning I’m going to give you four facts to explain the relationship between the two. And you can use your notes to follow along and fill in the blanks. The first fact reiterates what we’ve been saying here at Sunrise since day one…

Four Facts About Faith And Good Deeds

1.    Our good deeds cannot save us.

Our good deeds cannot earn us forgiveness for the wrong things we’ve done. Our good deeds cannot guarantee us a place in Heaven. Our good deeds cannot save us.

Now, I know a lot of people who have lived pretty moral lives. They've always supported good causes, they've been kind to the children in their neighbourhood, they've given good tips to their paper boy, they don't drink, they don't smoke, they don't gamble, they give to the church, they attend worship services, they seem to do everything right, but they do not have a relationship with Jesus. And as a result, no matter how many good things they do, they simply are not going to spend eternity with Jesus. They are still on course for a Godless eternity in Hell. Yes, I believe Hell is a reality. We’ve talked about that before. And apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ, that’s where we’re all headed.

But that seems pretty cruel, doesn’t it? I mean, how can a loving God send a person who has done all kinds of good deeds to Hell? Why would He do that? How can that kind of a God be described as loving?

Well, a couple things. First of all, God’s not sending us there… that’s the trajectory we’re already on. We are on course for Hell by our own choosing, not God’s. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve. They chose to disregard God and go their own way. They chose to rebel against Him. They chose to separate themselves from God, which is the very definition of Hell… eternal separation from God.

That rebellion in the Garden of Eden is what we call original sin. And ever since, every person has been born with this original sin as part of their make-up. We’ve inherited it. As a race, we chose to rebel against God. And no matter how many good deeds we do we can’t make up for that choice. We simply can’t live up to God’s standard of perfection if there’s even a trace of sin in our lives.

Romans 3:23 (NLT)
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Did you know that the word “sin” uses there in that verse is an archery term? It means you miss the mark. It means you’ve got your bow and arrow, and you aim at a target, but your arrow falls short. The Bible tells us we’ve all fallen short… we’ve all missed the target. Sure, some have fallen short farther away than others, but we’ve all fallen short. And that’s by our own choosing, so as a result we’ve chosen an eternity separated from God.

Now, on the flip side, God Himself has done everything He could possibly do to make up for our sinfulness. To the point of entering into His own creation as a man and subjecting Himself to death by torture on a cross. That’s what He did for you and for me.

That’s a loving God. Not only is He not sending us to Hell, He’s doing everything He can possibly do to rescue us from Hell. And then He tells us that taking advantage of what He’s done for us is as simple as placing our faith in Him.

But yet many people still depend on their good deeds to save them. It’s as if we were drowning in the middle of the ocean and Jesus threw us a life preserver and we decide, “No, that’s okay. I’ll make it to land on my own.” We can’t make it without Him, but we’re going to try anyway.

That’s what it’s like for the person who depends on their own good deeds to save them. They’re ignoring the solution that’s right there in front of them and deciding to do it on their own. But the fact is, they can’t. Our good deeds cannot save us.

Jesus Himself gave this example…

Matthew 7:22-23 (NLT)
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’

Sounds like they're doing everything right, doesn't it? Sounds like some pretty good deeds. But listen to what Jesus said next…

But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

Okay? So again, these people were doing some pretty incredible things. They were prophesying, they were casting out demons, they were performing miracles… But they ignored the life preserver right in front of them. They never placed their faith in a relationship with Jesus.

Our good deeds cannot save us. That’s the first fact.

2.    We are saved by the grace of God responding to our faith.

That’s summed up in the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

So again, our good deeds cannot save us. Instead, it the grace of God responding to our faith… responding to our belief in Him.

There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life except trust in Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Put our faith in Jesus. Eternal life is a gift offered to us to be received by faith alone, and not as payment for the good deeds we do.

One of the keywords used in that verse is the word “gift”. What is a gift?

Well, if I were to give you a gift, then you’d have to do a few things for me, first. You’d have to wash my car, fold my laundry, and do my dishes. Then I would give you the gift, right? No, if that were the case, it wouldn't be a gift. It would be payment for the work you do. So what you would have to do get this gift would be to become a contestant on Jeopardy and be a five-day champion. Okay? No, wait. That doesn't sound right, either. If that were the case, then this would be a reward or a prize, not a gift.

Paul tells us in this verse that the salvation that God offers to us through His grace is a gift. There's nothing we can do to earn it, there's nothing we can do to win it. It's a gift. And what do we do with a gift? We reach out in faith, believing and trusting that the gift is really being given, and we receive it. That’s it. That’s what makes a gift a gift.

Wesley Duewel is former missionary, a former president of the OMS International missions organization (formerly Oriental Missionary Society), he’s an author, and he is a great man of God. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a conference a number of years ago and I was completely impressed with the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Here's what Wesley Duewel has to say about the gift of salvation…

“Salvation is always a gift of God's grace. Nothing we could ever do could merit or earn salvation. Salvation does not come through our righteous acts.”
~ Wesley Duewel

So here’s somebody who has done lots of good things. Lot’s of things that you might think would earn God’s favour. The kinds of things that might make him a hero in the Church. But Wesley Duewel understands that the good works we do have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not we are saved. Our good deeds cannot save us, we are saved by the grace of God responding to our faith.

Well then, that must mean that our good deeds are unimportant, right? They just don’t matter. Well, that's not quite true, either. Because while we are saved because of God responding to our faith, our works of service for Him should be a natural outflow from our faith. That’s fact number three…

3.    Good deeds should be the natural outflow of faith.

We looked earlier at Ephesians 2:8-9…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

So the emphasis there is for us to believe… to place our faith in Jesus. But now listen to the next verse…

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

So Paul is saying that we are saved when we place our faith in Jesus and we believe in Him. But once we do that, it should be only natural that good deeds will follow. God saved us by His grace in response to our faith, so that we could then do the good deeds He planned for us to do.

Once we experience God's gift of forgiveness and life, and once we have tasted His love, there should be such a joy and gratitude and love welling up within us that we want demonstrate God's love to those around us.

Now, it seems to me that all too often we make living for Jesus sound like it's a life of duty and responsibility. We make it sound like we have to do this and we have to do that. And that sounds like it’s pretty restricting, doesn’t it? But what has helped me understand my relationship with Jesus and my service for Him has been comparing that relationship with a marriage relationship. Because within a marriage there are all kinds of things that a good husband does for his wife, and a good wife does for her husband. Taking out the garbage, getting up early and making breakfast, running to the store to pick up some milk… Those are some of the simple things. And there are lots of more demanding things that husband and wives do for each other, too.

But why? Why do they do those things? Is it because they have to? Is it because they’re forced to? No, it's because they love their spouse and that love motivates them to do good things for each other.

I remember when I was growing up, I liked to do things to surprise and please my family. I loved my family, and I wanted to do things for them. For example, one December I remember getting up in the middle of the night, going downstairs to the main level of our house and setting up our Christmas tree. Just to do something for the family I loved. In retrospect, I’m suppose I’m lucky they didn’t hear me rummaging around downstairs, think I was a burglar, and call the cops on me.

I remember another time when I decided I would make some cookies. I was probably 13 or 14 at the time. I had never made cookies before, but how hard could it be, right? So I got all the ingredients together and I started up the mixer, and I remember the dough making its way up the things that spin around and right up inside the mixer. And then I started to smell smoke, and then it quit on me.

Oh, and then there was another time… my mother just reminded me of this… I’d guess I was eight or nine… when I decided I’d do some cleaning. And I started with my parent’s room. Because right at that particular time, there were stacks of paper everywhere in there. So I proceeded to clean up those piles and I threw a lot of stuff out and put everything else together into the same pile. Of course, I didn’t understand tax season at the time… I didn’t know all those receipts had been painstakingly sorted…

So perhaps I didn’t choose the best things to do. And in my own defense, there are lots of times I hit homeruns in what I did, too. But each time, it was just and expression of a child’s love for his family.

It wasn’t because I had to, it was because I wanted to.

And that’s the way it’s meant to be with our faith and our good deeds. When we’ve place our faith in Jesus and we’ve experience all He has to offer, our gratitude and our love should motivate us to do things for Him.

“Your faith in and love for God ought to motivate you to love others—actively and in practical ways. It's that kind of faith that speaks loudest.”
~ S. Rickly Christian

Our good deeds should become a natural outflow of our faith.

4.    Faith that is not followed by good deeds is useless.

In this passage in James chapter two, James alludes to the example of a corpse to describe a faith without good deeds. Now, what does a corpse do? It just lies there. It's useless. There's no life in it. It's not doing anything, it's not accomplishing anything, it’s dead.

Read this aloud with me…

James 2:26 (NLT)
Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Now some people would argue with that. A lot of people insist that faith is a private matter and it doesn’t have to make any difference in how you live. It doesn’t have to influence your decisions. It doesn’t have to impact your relationships. You should just keep it to yourself.

But could I suggest that while your faith is deeply personal, it should never be private. Because a real faith is one that motivates you to action. It moves you to stand for what is right. It inspires you to help those in need. It prompts you to put feet to your faith by expressing it through good deeds.

You know, a lot of people have a faith that's all up here (in their head). They know all the right words, they've studied doctrine and theology, they have a head knowledge of who God is, but it has no effect on their lives. And James describes that kind of a faith as a dead faith. It’s useless.

Paul Cedar is a Bible commentator, and has written a commentary on this particular passage in James. He wrote…

“To believe in God and to not obey Him is the very essence of sin... Our faith must show itself in action.”
~ Paul A. Cedar

But suppose someone says, “I believe the Bible, I can recite the Ten Commandments, and I believe in God, I go to church every Sunday” but suppose they never involve themselves with others, they never help someone who's hurting, they never give to those in need. How does James respond to a person like that? He says…

James 2:19-20 (NLT)
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

You know, over the centuries this has been a major issue between different denominations and different branches of the Christian Church. Because we tend to swing to extremes. Either we put all the emphasis on the good deeds we do and start to look at them as if they are what earn us salvation. Or we swing the other way and we insist that all that matters is our faith. We’re saved because of our faith, and our works don’t come into play at all.

But the truth is, there’s a balance. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. In His grace, God saves us in response to our faith. But then He expects that good deeds will follow. It’s the difference between becoming a Christian, and living as a Christian. It’s the balance between legalism and permissiveness. Legalism says you’ve got to complete this checklist of requirements; permissiveness says it doesn’t matter what you do. James says both your faith and your actions are important. He says your faith will be expressed through your deeds.

So let me ask you, are you doing anything for God? Is your faith leading you to perform works of service and works of worship for God? Are you motivated by your love for God? Does your faith find real and practical expression through the good deeds you do?

What do your actions say about your faith? Do they say that your faith isn't really all that important to you? Do they say that your faith is actually useless, meaningless, and dead? Or do they say that your joy and your love and gratitude for God are so great that you are willing to completely abandon yourself to serving Him and others as an expression of what He means to you? Do you have a faith that works?

If you’re saved and you know, then your life will surely show it.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008