Get Real part 2:
Real Faith
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
October 1, 2006

 

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

 

[Play Song – 1969 Coke commercial – It’s the Real Thing – http://www.cokeworld.it/coke7.htm]

That’s a Coke commercial from 1969. Coke is the Real Thing. And since that time, they’ve claimed you can’t beat the Real Thing. And with a 51% world-wide soft-drink market share, almost 700 million drinks sold each day, and an annual sales rate of about 20 Billion dollars, I’d say people like the Real Thing.

But I think that’s true in every area of life. We like the real thing. Do you prefer hamburgers or tofu burgers? Last night on TV there was a show about celebrity impersonators. Would you like to meet an impersonator, or would you rather meet the Real Thing? Ladies, allergies and sensitivities aside, would you prefer to get fake flowers or the Real Thing?

I think everyone in most circumstances would prefer the Real Thing. That’s what we desire. We want things to be real, we want them to be authentic, we want them to be genuine.

This is the second week in our series called “Get Real”. And we’re talking about getting real in a variety of areas of life. Last week we talked about Real Love: Experiencing real love and expressing real love. Next week, we’ll be talking about Real Life. We’ll talk about how real life is a series of ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and heartaches… and we’re going to see that through it all there can be an ultimate meaning and purpose. That’s next week.

But today, I want to talk with you about Real Faith. In particular, I want to talk to you about what James said about faith in the passage that Sandra read for us earlier. I mean, there are a lot of people who cling to a phoney religion -- people who claim they are Christians, but perhaps really aren’t. Because in this passage in James chapter 2, James talks about the difference between real and counterfeit Christians, authentic believers and fake believers. He talks about how you have a Real Faith.

How can I know if I have a Real Faith? What is Real Faith, anyway?

 

What Is Real Faith?

Well, that’s a good question. And to answer it, I need to first explain what it is not. You can use your notes provided in your Sunrise Update to follow along and fill in the blanks. Number one…

1. Real Faith is not just something you say.

Real faith is not just something you say… it’s not just something you talk about. You can see that clearly in James chapter 2 verse 14…

James 2:14 (NIV)
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

I think a keyword here is the word “claims”. Underline that word. What if he “claims” to have faith? It doesn’t say he actually has faith, he just claims to have it. He talks about it. He knows all the right phrases. He knows the lingo. And I gotta say, there are a lot of people attending churches all across North America that would fit that category. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians and say all the right things. But is their Faith real?

According to the last national census taken here in Canada back in 2001, 72% of the population claim to be Christian. That’s about 22 million people. Problem is, for many of them, you don’t see any change in their lifestyle.

Today we tend to label people as Christians if they make the slightest sound of being a believer. How many actors and musicians thank God when they win an award, but continue to work on projects that reject Godly values?

Real Faith involves more than just talk. Jesus expressed this Himself. He said…

Matthew 7:21 (NLT)
“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”

Not everybody with a Christian bumper sticker is a believer. Not everybody who is a professor of Christianity is a possessor of Christianity. James asked, “Can such faith save him?” No, it can’t. What value is there in this kind of faith? None. Talk is cheap.

Remember when Larry Flint said he was born again? He’s the publisher of Hustler, and back in 1977 he claimed to have converted to Christianity and vowed to “hustle for God.” But you never saw any real change in his life. He continued to produce pornography. No difference. No change. In fact, he later renounced Christianity and even disowned his daughter who has herself become a Christian and now campaigns against pornography.

Do you know anybody that claims to be a Christian but you don’t see any evidence in their life? That’s a phoney faith.

Real Faith is not just something you say. Secondly…

 

2. Real Faith is not just something you feel.

It’s more than an emotional experience. But for some, that’s all they’re looking for. They confuse emotions and sentiment with Real Faith.

I’ve known people who would go to church on Sunday, they’d wave their hands during the music, they’d cry at the altar, they’d experience the all emotions, and then they’d go about their lives as if nothing ever happened.

You can be emotionally moved and never act on it. You can go to church and get that quiver in your liver… those Godly goose bumps… that emotional exhilaration… but it never makes any difference. Look at this verse… James is talking about faith, and then he says…

James 2:15-16 (NIV)
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Underline the words “does nothing”. You see the person who’s down on their luck… they have no clothes to wear… no food to eat… and you feel sorry for them. You even wish them well. But you don’t actually do anything to remedy the situation. James says that’s not Real Faith, because faith is more than something you feel.

There’s an old Peanuts comic strip that shows Charlie Brown and Linus, and they’re inside all bundled up. They look outside and they see Snoopy out there in the cold, and he’s shivering in front of an empty dog food bowl. Charlie Brown and Linus start to talk about it, and they comment on how hungry and cold Snoopy must be. And so they decide to do something about it. So they walk outside and say to Snoopy, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” And then they walk away.

Do you know where Charles Schultz got that idea? From this verse here in James. What good is it if you see someone in need and you say, “I feel for you!” or “Cheer up” or “I wish you well”? It’s not any good at all. James is saying, “It’s more than just words, and it’s more than just feelings.”

Or say you go outside to your car after our Worship Celebration here this morning. Say you’re getting into you car and you happen to slam eight fingers in your car door. I have no idea how you’d do that, but say you did. And you’re standing there in agony with blood on your fingers, and I walk up to you and say, “I really feel for you!” – and then I get in my car and drive away! Is that any help?

Real faith is more than just sympathy and feeling and emotion. You do something about it. You act on it. You give assistance. Real faith takes the initiative. A real believer has real faith and it’s a practical faith. It gets involved with people.

And if you want to get more specific, James is talking about other Christians here. Suppose a brother or a sister is without food or clothing. He’s talking about brothers and sisters in the faith. When you become a part of God’s family you have some family responsibilities. A real believer will care about other believers.

You don’t just feel sympathy, you act on it. Real faith is generous. It wants to give. Who can count on you in a crisis? How many Christians have the freedom to call you up in the middle of the night if they are in an emergency? It’s not just talking the talk. It’s not just feeling for people. It’s acting in love. That’s what Real Faith requires of you.

But you know, sometimes I think we are a lot better at verbalizing our faith than practicing it. Maybe we see all the needs around us and we figure, “I can’t meet every need and so I’ll do nothing.” But you know what? I can’t meet everybody’s needs, but I can meet somebody’s. Even Jesus couldn’t meet everybody’s needs during those three years He travelled from place to place. But James is saying that if my faith doesn’t lead me to share with others it’s wrong… it’s a dead faith. James went on to say that in verse 17…

James 2:17 (NLT)
Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all--it is dead and useless.

Even if I feel for other Christians when they need help, if I don’t actually do it, then I don’t have a sick faith; I have a dead faith. James is laying it right out there. He says, “Do you want Real Faith? It’s more than just something you say and it’s more than just something you feel.” Thirdly…

 

3. Real Faith is not just something you think.

For some people, faith is an intellectual trip – it’s something to be studied, debated, talked over and discussed. They want to stimulate their intellect, and so that’s all they do with faith. They analyse it.

The apostle Paul encountered people like that, particularly in Greece… the land of philosophers. Let me show you what happened while Paul was in Athens waiting for his travelling companions to join him…

Acts 17:16-21, 32-34 (NLT)
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “This babbler has picked up some strange ideas.” Others said, “He’s pushing some foreign religion.”
Then they took him to the Council of Philosophers. “Come and tell us more about this new religion,” they said. “You are saying some rather startling things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)…
When they heard Paul speak of the resurrection of a person who had been dead, some laughed, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Council, a woman named Damaris, and others.

This was a city of intellectuals who would debate issues of faith ad nauseam. Now don’t misunderstand me here; it’s not wrong to think about your faith. Just like it’s not wrong to express your faith in words or have an emotional experience. The problem is when that’s all it is. And for most of these intellectuals – not all of them, but most them – that’s all they were interested in doing: Debating it. They had no plans to do anything about it, they just wanted to talk about it.

I have those types of intellectual, philosophical discussions with people even today. And I know these discussion are important because sometimes people have questions that need to be answered before they can respond in faith to Jesus. I realize that. But there are also times when I wonder – even if I were able to answer every question that they ever posed – would that be enough? Would they respond then? Or would they just continue to look for new questions to stimulate their intellect and to philosophize about, without ever actually making a decision?

Well, Paul warned us about people like that, because he didn’t just run into them in Athens. He encountered them all over. And so he warned the Colossians… and I’m going to read this from a paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, because I like how it puts this… Paul wrote…

Colossians 2:7-10 (The Message)
You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything… But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him.

So Paul warns us about people who are only looking to argue and debate without actually going anywhere. James issued a similar warning when he said…

James 2:18 (NLT)
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.”

James is saying that there some people who will intellectualize their faith and that’s all there is to it, and then they’ll try to defend themselves and argue that faith is different for everyone… for some, faith is expressed in good deeds. For others, it’s more cerebral. It’s intellectual… it’s something you think… and it may never be expressed in good deeds.

But Real Faith is not just something you think; It’s much more than that. Fourth…

 

4. Real Faith is not just something you believe.

James 2:19 NLT)
Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror!

There are a lot of people who have strong beliefs about God, the Bible, and Jesus. They can recite creeds to you and catechisms and talk about Christian doctrines like the Trinity, quote Bible verses to you. They believe what we say they need to believe. But James says, “Big deal! Just saying you believe in God is not enough to get you into Heaven. Even the Devil believes in God.”

The Bible says in Proverbs, “The fool has said in his heart there is not God.” It’s foolish to be an atheist, and the Devil is no fool. The Devil believes in God! In fact, the Devil is a great theologian. He knows a lot more about the Bible than you do. He’s been around a whole lot longer. He knows Christian belief backwards and forwards. He believes. His demons believe, too, and they shudder. They tremble in fear.

In fact, The Greek word used in this verse is literally “to bristle” – that means their hair stands up on end. It’s the kind of word you’d use reading a Steven King novel. Why? Because the Devil and his demons understand the majesty and awesomeness of God. They believe in God, and they tremble.

For some people, having faith in God simply means that they believe in God. And believing in God means that they consent intellectually to the existence of God. But that’s as far as it goes. But Real Faith… real belief… means “to trust in God, to cling to Him, to rely on Him, to commit yourself to Him completely.”

I believe in Hitler but I’m not a Nazi. I believe in Jesus, and I am a Christian. What’s the difference? With Hitler, I have a head knowledge. I have information about who he was. But with Jesus, it goes way beyond just a head knowledge… in includes a complete commitment that impacts the way I live.

You know, we’ve said this before, but a lot of people are going to miss heaven by 18 inches. They’ve got it in their head but not their heart. They say “I believe in God.” And James says, “Big deal.” Almost everybody believes in God. Something like 90% of the population believes in God. Some surveys put that number even higher. Most people believe God exists. But that’s not enough. Real faith is not just saying “I believe”.

I told you earlier that about 72% of Canadians claim that they are Christians. What are they saying? They’re saying they believe that God exists. They offer an intellectual consent to that concept. And there’s so much of this “easy beliefism” across Canada. But when asked if they attend church regularly, only 21% said they did. But that’s if you take their word for it. Other studies have shown that only about 10% of Canadians actually attend church on a regular, weekly basis. There are signs that’s turning around, but that’s where we are right now.

So if most of that 72% of Canadians who claim to be Christians are not even doing the basics of worshipping God and participating in the Body of Christ, then what are the chances they’re showing their Faith in any other ways? They’d say, “Sure, I’m a believer. I’m a Christian.” Well, do you attend church? “No.” “Do you donate your time?” “No.” “Do you tithe?” “No.” Do you serve others as an expression of God’s love? “No.”

Well, James would say that’s a phony belief. You’re just conning yourself. And a lot of people are doing that. They have an “easy beliefism”, but it’s not being translated into a real, practical faith.


Real Faith…
It’s not just something you believe.
It’s not just something you think.
It’s not just something you feel.
It’s not just something you say.

It’s not just any of those… it’s all of them. Plus…

 

5. Real Faith is something you do.

What did James say? He said…

James 2:18 (NLT)
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Circle the words “show me”. How do you show faith? I mean, faith is odorless, weightless, invisible… So anybody can claim to have faith… how do you know for sure?

James says, “Show me.” He says, “If you claim to be a Christian, then I have a right to ask you to prove it to me. It should show in the way you live.” Somebody said…

“Faith is like calories. You can’t see them but you can sure see the results.”
~ Anonymous

You can’t see faith but you can see the results. So in that sense, Real faith is visible. It becomes visible through your life. You can see it. It’s apparent.

If you say “I know it!” Then show it! How do you know you’re a believer? You’ll see some changes in your life. Real faith always produces change. Real faith is not just something you say. It’s not just something you feel. It’s not just something you think. It’s not just something you believe. It’s something you do. You show it.

And James illustrates this in the last few verses of chapter 2. He uses two examples to show us that Real Faith is something you do. Real Faith is active. It’s not passive. It’s a commitment that translates into action.

Two illustrations of two very different people -- Abraham and Rahab -- exact opposite extremes. Abraham is a man. Rahab is a woman. Abraham is Jewish. Rahab is a Gentile. Abraham is a patriarch. Rahab is a prostitute. Abraham is a somebody. Rahab is a nobody. Abraham is a major character in the Bible. Rahab is a minor character.

And James uses these two people to show us, it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you’ve got the important thing. And what was the important thing? Well, they only had one thing in common -- their faith in God. And for them, their faith in God led them to action. Let’s take a look at it…

James 2:20-22 (NLT)
Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did--by his actions.

Maybe you already know the story. It’s the ultimate test where God asked Abraham to give up his own son. Why? Well, this has nothing to do with salvation. Abraham was already a believer. That had been settled some twenty-five years earlier. Abraham was already a believer, so what’s this all about? This was about Abraham showing how much he believed. It’s about him acting on his faith, even if it might cost him.

Abraham obeyed God, and he did it immediately. He did what God asked. He took his son, he cut the wood, he built an altar, and he was all ready to sacrifice his own son. In fact, Abraham had his son laying on the altar and had the knife ready to strike and sacrifice his son when God stopped him and said, “I was just testing you to see what’s most important in your life. I wanted to see that your faith is real.” Abraham’s faith led to action. His works proved his faith. He held nothing back from God.

And then there’s Rahab. Her story is in the Old Testament book of Joshua chapter 2. It’s the story of how a prostitute helped a couple of Israeli spies when they were in the city of Jericho. The Israelites had been freed from their captivity in Egypt and had spent 40 years travelling through the desert, and they were just about to enter the land that God had promised to them. And so they sent these spies into the land to scope it out. And the first stop? Jericho.

But the officials in Jericho caught wind that the spies may be there, and they tried to track them down. But Rahab hid them and saved their lives. And because of that act of faith, Rahab ended up being in the family line of Jesus. She risked her life to save the spies. She believed in God… she had faith in Him… and she proved it by what she did.

Now understand this: Our faith is not determined by what we do. It’s not. Our salvation is not based on our good works. It’s not determined by what we do, but it is demonstrated by what we do.

 

About 150 years ago (1859-1960) there was a famous tightrope walker named Charles Blondin who, for a publicity stunt, decided he would walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And so he had a tightrope stretched from one side of Niagara Falls to the other. And on the appointed day, thousands of people showed up to see this unbelievable feat. They lined both the Canadian and American sides. And then the time came… Blondin walked up to the edge of the tightrope, put one foot on the tightrope and put another foot out and began to walk across -- inch-by-inch, step-by-step. Until he got out in the middle where he stopped, lowered a rope all the way down to the boat, the Maid of the Mist, and then pulled up a bottle. Then he sat down and had a drink while he rested. And then he got up and kept going. Everybody knew that if he made one mistake in balance he’d fall off the rope and into the Falls and plunge to his death. But then suddenly, he did a back somersault. And then he kept going… a step at a time… until he reach the other side. And when he arrived there, the crowd went wild, shouting and cheering.

So Blondin said, “I’m going to do it again.” And he did. Several times he did it during the summers of 1859 and 1860. And he liked to mix it up a little bit… he crossed blindfolded, on stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow, in a sack… one time he even took a small stove with him and stopped in the middle to cook an omelette. And everytime, the crowd went crazy.

But one time when he finished crossing, he had an announcement to make. He announced that the next time he crossed he would carry his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. I don’t really know how excited Colcord was about that idea, but he did it. And it was a nightmare for him. Apparently, while they were out in the section without any guy ropes to use to steady themselves, the pair or them began to sway violently. Blondin was fighting for both of their lives. In fact, as they made their way across, he broke into a desperate run to reach the first guy rope. But when he reached it to steady himself, it broke! Somehow, he managed to keep going, and they finally made it to the other side.

Can you imagine how much faith Colcord must have had in Blondin? Can you imagine how much faith it would have taken to ride on his back as he crossed the Falls? Well, in a very real sense that’s what God says to you… “Get on.” Talk is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is. You say, “I believe in Jesus!” Prove it. Our faith is demonstrated by our actions. Actions speak louder than words. Our behavior shows what we really believe.

2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves.

Test it. Check it out. See if you’re really a believer or not. Ask yourself:

Am I really a Christian after all? In the light of what James says, am I really a Christian?

What changes can I point to in my life? Is my lifestyle any different at all from unbelievers? Many people think it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe. But James says that’s not true. He’s not saying you work your way to heaven. He’s not saying works determine your salvation. He’s saying they demonstrate it. He’s saying, “If your faith doesn’t work, what good is it?”

How do you know for sure? Maybe some of you have had doubts whether you’re really a believer or not. You’re a good person, you go to church, you know about Christ, you read the Bible, you have “religion” and you’ve gone to all the classes. But are you sure that if you died tonight you’d go to heaven? Because the fact is, you can be sure. You don’t have to leave here this morning and have the shadow of a doubt. You can settle it right here.

Maybe some of you here this morning have been struggling with doubts about whether your faith is real or not. You say, “I’ve believed about Jesus, but I’ve never believed in Jesus. And I want to settle that today.” If you’ve got those doubts, then why not settle it this morning. In fact, just silently where you are, you can pray something like this… let’s pray…

“Lord, I want to have a real faith, not a phoney faith. I want to have a belief in you that goes way beyond a simple head knowledge. I want my belief to be a complete, total surrender to You and Your ways. And I don’t want to just believe in you, I want to live for You. I don’t want to just know about You, I want to know You. So I give every area of my life to you as best as I know how. I give You my past, all the things that have happened… the good and bad… the achievements, the faults, the sins, the mistakes. I ask You to take it all. I admit that I’ve gone my own way many times. I’ve made my own decisions without talking to you about them. And so I ask You to forgive me.
And Lord, I not only give You my past, I want to give You my future. I don’t know what it holds but I know You know it. I want to follow You as best as I know how, from this moment on. I want to be a real believer.
And Jesus, I want to give You my present, right now. Take my life and make me the person You want me to be. Help me to grow. Please give me the assurance that I am a Christian, and help me to show it in my life by obeying Your Word and demonstrating Your love. Thank You for loving me.”


If you prayed that prayer this morning and meant it, then I believe God heard you. The Bible tells us, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He says, “You do your part and I’ll do my part.” And so if you prayed that prayer, then He has done that for you this morning.

Let me pray again for all of us…

Father, I want to thank You for those who’ve made this decision this morning in their hearts. Today they’re settling it. I pray that Your Holy Spirit will put a confirmation in their heart that today they’re giving themselves to You. I know this isn’t a promise to be perfect but it is a promise to let You take control. You have said that You will come into our lives and make us new people. So thank You for wiping away all the things we’ve done wrong in the past and gives us a new start in life. Thank You that we can become new people when we come and give our lives to You in faith. And thank You for showing us that Real Faith is not just something we say or feel or think or believe, but it is something we do. We commit ourselves to you today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

[This message was adapted primarily from "How to Have Real Faith" by Rick Warren]

 

 

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