HOW TO HAVE POWERFUL PRAYERS Did you know that there was a disciple named…
12. Nothing Wasted
29. Know Your Enemy
35. Is My Faith Real?
Recently, we talked about the idea of religion being pure. If we aren’t careful, we can make our faith more about ourselves rather than demonstrating to God how we love and trust him. The conversation was driven by a man named James. There are a few different men named James in the Bible. The one that we will be studying is not the disciple of Jesus named James, but it’s actually the brother of Jesus.
Interestingly, some people grew up with Jesus, seeing him as fully God and fully human, and then wrote us a letter about what religion and faith should look like. This series is titled James, Jesus’s savage little brother because what you will learn as you study James is this dude don’t play. He is a cutthroat guy. He says it like it is.
James 2:14-16 (NLT)
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
Is my faith real?
James tells us that what you say does not make your faith alive. You may be in a place where you need to see a breakthrough. Or you may get the sense that you’re called to more and wonder how to unlock that. The answer is always faith. There’s never been a miracle that wasn’t preceded by faith. Faith always launches a miracle, and it always leads to a breakthrough. If you’re looking for some real power in your life, the question is, where’s that faith going to come from? How do you know if it’s real? James is going to give us the recipe.
Faith is not proven by what we say.
James straight out tells us, You can’t look at somebody in need and say, “Hey, you don’t have a jacket. I’ll be praying for you.” Faith is not proven by what we say. It doesn’t matter how well you can articulate what you believe. What matters is if you’re able to do what you say you believe. Anything other than that is fake faith.
I do competitive jujitsu as a hobby. This last year, I had to get a new gi which is like a karate uniform. It’s made out of a special fabric that doesn’t rip. So I went on eBay to buy a new one because it was expensive. When I received the one I had ordered, it ripped on the first day I wore it. I have an authentic version of this same gi, so I compared the real version to the one I got on eBay. And guess what I got? I got a fake gi. It turns out the eBay seller is just some guy in his basement slapping patches on and selling counterfeit uniforms. I reached out to the seller and told him that the gi he sent me was fake. It’s not real. He returns my money and says, “Yeah, that’s what I do. I make fake things for a living and sell them like they’re real.” It’s only when you actually wear it and put it into action that you find out if it’s real or fake. You can say things that make you look like you have real faith. But it’s not until you test your faith that you know if it’s real or not.
You can say the right things, and your faith still be fake.
James 2:19 (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.
James is being sarcastic again. He says that just because you believe the right things doesn’t mean your faith is real. You can say and believe the right things yet have fake faith. You can say that you believe in God, but that’s no different from demons. Even the demons believe in Jesus, but you will not see any demons in heaven. Believing is not what makes your faith real. Trusting God with what you believe about him makes your faith real.
Faith gets real when trust requires action.
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.
The worst thing that could happen is if I accidentally made it sound like what you do, is what makes you saved. James is not saying that you can earn salvation or earn God’s love. He’s saying that when your faith is in action, it proves it is real. That’s why that last line is, “his faith and actions worked together.” They go hand in hand. You cannot do anything to make God love you or mad at you.
James picks Abraham as an example of faith in action. Abraham was wealthy and successful, owned a lot of real estate, and was from a big family. God called him away from all that to a land he didn’t know, on a journey he could never have imagined. God took Abraham from what was comfortable and made him a father of our faith. He started a whole tribe of people out of Abraham’s life, which was later known as the Jews. There’s this real moment where God asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham and his wife Sarah couldn’t have kids. They had prayed and prayed for a son, and then God did a miracle that they could conceive at an old age. Then in Genesis chapter 22, God asks Abraham to take his miracle son and sacrifice him on an altar.
If you’re new to the Bible and get to Genesis 22, you will probably ask yourself, “What the heck am I reading? What kind of God would ask somebody to sacrifice their son?” But then, when you read it, you realize how insane, amazing, and unbelievable the story is. What you don’t realize when reading the Bible is that as much as we think it’s written to us, it’s actually written for us. The Bible is written to certain people at certain historical times under certain conditions. Sometimes we read stuff in the Bible, and we’re like, why would he say that or ask people to do that? At that moment in history, he wrote to people living in the desert who didn’t understand diseases. So God had to give them specific rules to follow to protect them.
Understanding the Biblical context for Abraham is that he lived in a world with many false gods. At that time, sacrifices were customary. That was the way people thought back then. They thought God wouldn’t be angry at me if I sacrificed what I loved most. It’s the same throughout all humankind, through every era in history, all people groups, and all religions: the gods are up there, and we’re down here. If they’re mad at us, our life sucks. If they’re happy with us, our life is blessed. God tells Abraham to take his son and sacrifice him. Abraham thinks, of course, all Gods require a sacrifice. He must’ve thought, “If I sacrifice to this God, then He’ll bless me.” As he’s about to sacrifice his son, an angel stops him and reveals that a ram is in the bushes. The angel says, “Don’t sacrifice your son. God has provided a sacrifice for you.” Then the son is now replaced with the ram.
The big point of the story is that our God is different than any of these other false gods. Our God is not demanding a sacrifice but instead is providing a sacrifice. Don’t get it wrong; God still needed a sacrifice. Somebody has to answer for all the terrible things. God knows you would never be good enough to atone for your sin. Instead, He provided the perfect sacrifice for us. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. God showed Abraham that He was different than all other gods.
So it’s not that your faith doesn’t require sacrifice. It’s that your sacrifice for salvation has already been provided for you. But your faith requires obedience to be real.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
By grace, you have been saved through faith to do good works. You can never think that what you do saves you. The moment you believe that you’re no longer a believer. Faith is when we trust God and understand that we are saved only through Jesus. When you live a life through faith, it’s for a purpose to do good works. God has a bigger and better plan than you could ever make for yourself.
What you do is a response to what you believe or what you say you believe. What we do is crucial. James says faith without works is dead because you are stuck if you do not have action from your faith. We get to this posture where we come to church, and it’s about what we can learn. But don’t you know, learning more about God is not what changes your life. Obeying what God’s already told you to do, is what changes your life. We’ve got to apply God’s word to our life, not just learn more about Him.
Faith gets real when we trust God with what we love.
The thing that I’ve loved most of my life, more than anything, is Maria Coleman. We’ve been married for 17 years. I love her more than anything. She met me right when I started to follow Jesus in Bible college. She was friends with me as I transitioned from an awful lifestyle. Then when we began dating, I fell in love hard. I was like, “I want to marry you!” The thing was, I had an apartment, and instead of Netflix and chill, it was called VH1 and chill. We were 22 years old, dating, and in love. I had invited Maria to come over and watch TV with me. But then, I realized I did not have the strength to overcome the temptation of being in love with a woman and wanting to sleep with her. I love Maria. It’s one thing when it’s lust. It’s a whole other thing when you’re in love. It’s hard enough to overcome the lust of the flesh. But when you really love someone, you want to make love with somebody. What I wanted most was to jump the gun and have sex with my girlfriend, but that’s not God’s way. God created sex for a man and woman in a covenant relationship with him for one person and one person only. When you do things God’s way, you will never regret it.
The world would love for you to believe that sex is just a physical thing. But all of you who’ve had sex know it’s spiritual. God knew what He was doing when he created a spiritual bond between a husband and a wife, giving them sex. Some people make the mistake of thinking sex is just for having kids. No, sex is for pleasure. It’s the glue that holds a man and a woman together. That’s where my faith got real. Because if I were to have sex with Maria and deliberately disobey God, I’d be living a life of rebellion. I’d deliberately be sinning against God and demonstrating that my faith was fake. I’m happy to say that we did not have sex until our wedding day.
You may have believed the lies of the world that the Bible is old-fashioned or that if you’re in love, it’s okay to have sex. I’m telling you, God has created sex for a man and woman in a covenant relationship for marriage. He invented marriage, and he invented sex. When we jump the gun, even if we’re in love or when we do it some other way, it’s called sin.
Do I love God more than I love my girlfriend?
Do I love God more than I love my boyfriend?
Do I love God more than sex?
Do I love God more than money?
Do you know if your faith is real?
I don’t want you to have fake faith. I want you to have a real living faith. God doesn’t need you to prove it to him because he already knows your heart. But friend, if your faith is feeling dead, maybe it’s because you need to prove to yourself that you love God as much as you say. If you need to give your life to Jesus, the Lord would tell you that he provides a way for you to know Him. You have the opportunity to be forgiven for everything that you’ve done and to enter into a new life with Him. His provision is the God who left heaven and came to Earth for you. So he could be a perfect sacrifice for you. You give him your sin in exchange, and He gives you his Son, spirit, and a new life. If that’s you, all you need to do is say yes to Jesus. He loves you and has an amazing plan in store for you.