James (Part 8) Degrees of Faith
By Ben Fronczek
Our Text: James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” NIV
Before we continue with this lesson I would also like you to read Matthew 14:25-31
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
The word translated faith is found translated one way or another some 422 time in the NIV. In Hebrews 11, the NLT describes faith as “the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Simply put it’s what we believe.
And as I thought about the topic of faith this week I came to the realization that we definitely see different degrees of faith in different people throughout scripture. And because of these different degrees, or levels of faith, we observe different responses from people depending upon how much faith they had, and in whom they had faith in. Some are described as having ‘no faith’. Signifying a total lack of believe.
Here in this story above, Jesus told Peter he had ‘little faith’ because even though he started out good and began walking on the water, he allowed himself to get distracted from Jesus and he allowed his own fear to get the best of him. He changed his focus, and so he began to sink.
Others are said to have had, ‘great faith,’ like those we read about in Hebrews chapter 11. It’s the kind of faith James talks about here in James 2. It is seen when someone reaches that degree, when an individual believes enough to do something, even if that something is seen as an inconvenience, a danger, or even a sacrifice for the glory of God
And even though many of us may not rank with those listed in Hebrews 11, like Noah, Joseph, Moses and David, James makes this concept of faith practical for each of his readers including us.
As I thought about James teaching here in light of this series of lesson where we have been looking at what James had to write coming from the perspective of how he grew up in the same household as Jesus, I wondered what kind faith, or what degree of faith did James experience in his home as he was growing up.
And the only conclusion I came to was that it must have been a household of faith. Not perfect faith, but one with a lot of faith. Even before the birth of Jesus I believe that God knew that Mary and Joseph were individuals with a strong belief and faith in Him. God knew the road that lay ahead of these two would not be an easy one, so He chose a couple that would remain strong and faithful and would depend on His guidance.
We see that later when we read that after Jesus was born they heard the word of the Lord and fled Israel to protect their son and from those who sought to do them harm. When they returned we read about Mary and Joseph faithfully making a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
Over and over Mary and Joseph heard and saw things that strengthened their faith. They saw and heard angels. They heard prophets declare amazing things about their son Jesus. And they even saw Jesus amaze those at the Temple when He was 12 years old.
Do you think that Mary and Joseph believed that God would take care of them? You bet! Do you think that Mary and Joseph were going around worrying and fretting about this, that, and all kinds of things? I don’t think so. I think they believed and had faith that God would take care of them. Do you think that this would have any effect on their children’s faith? Of course it did!
Even though Mary and Joseph may have only had a low income household, I believe they were rich when it came to what was really important.
In the first part of James 2, he wrote,
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”
I think James was writing from his own experience, growing up poor, yet rich.
When it come to real faith James cuts right to the point in our section today when he writes,
“15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
I can just imagine James saying, “You’ve got people around you in great need and you have the means to help them, but don’t, and you call yourself a believer, a Christians? Come on now!” He goes on to say that faith like that is a dead faith. Loving God, and loving Jesus also includes loving and treating others like you would want them to treat you.
Words of faith without any kind of action or related deeds, is a dead faith. James then gives two examples, Abraham and Rahab who because they had faith and believed God enough, did something that could have cost them dearly. (Abraham his son and Rahab her life for being a traitor to Jericho)
How much faith do you have? There is faith and believing that God is, but James says that even the demons believe that much. I find it interesting that even the demons believe and have more faith in the fact that God is than some of our college professors..
If you believe as the demons do that God exists that’s one degree of faith. If you believe that the Son of God, Jesus was born to virgin and died for your sins on Calvary, and if you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, that’s another degree of faith. If you humbly trusted Him enough to actually repent and turn from your sin, and allowed Jesus remove your sin in the waters of Baptism to mend your relationship with God, that’s another degree of faith. In this your belief and faith have moved you to do some things that God asks us to do. If you humbly choose to regularly talk to Father in prayer and worship Him daily, including worshipping Him with other Christians on the first day of the week, that’s another degree of faith. But James lets us know it doesn’t stop there. If you have the faith to start ministering to other’s in God’s name in a sacrificial way, that’s another degree. A higher degree of faith is reflected in how we treat others, especially those in need.
But I would dare to say it doesn’t even stop there. A higher degree of faith and belief in God will be seen in how we conduct our self in other ways, - How we talk… what we actually say when we do speak. – It will be seen in how willing and ready we are to forgive others. – It should also reflect in how positive and hopeful we are, or if we are negative, critical, and argumentative we will show something else. - It will also reflect in how generous you are at church and outside church. - It will also reflect in how we handle life, whether we are happy, at peace or worried, angry or just plain miserable.
In the Sermon on the Mt, in Matthew 6:25-34 read Jesus instructs His disciples not to worry about their life, what they will eat or drink; not to worry about our body, or what you will wear.
Starting in verse 28 He says,
“ 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”
(Talking about those who worry about such things.)
Ben are you saying that worrying about things all the time is an indication that I lack faith in God to provide? I didn’t say it, Jesus did.
When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink it was because he allowed his surrounding circumstances to get to him, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”
I declare to you today that the more you trust God, the more that you believe that He loves you and is watching over you, the more faith you have that He is in control and will work out things for your ultimate good, the more peace you will have in your life and the happier you will be. But the more you doubt, the more you will worry, and the more unhappy, the more miserable and critical you’re gonna be.
Either you are going to believe in God and how much He loves you, and believe in what He can do, or you not! The degree of faith you have in God will be reflected in your life. It will reflect in your attitude and actions.
I believe that James is telling us here, ‘May your faith be more than just a bunch of hollow words. Rather let your life and actions reflect a genuine faith and believe in God and His promises.’
Maybe as you consider this today, you are beginning to realize that you, like Peter, are beginning to sink because of a lack of faith. One thing that Peter did right in this story was he cried out to Jesus for help. If you feel like you are sinking He is the one to turn to for help.
After the Hebrew writer listed all those champions of faith in Hebrews 11, he encourages us all by writing this in the first part of chapter 12,
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2]fixing our eyes on Jesus, theauthor and perfecter of faith”
The first thing he tells us to do if we want to become like those great men and women of faith is to lay aside, avoid, or get rid of anything that encumbers, slows us down, or causes us to stumble… especially those sins that so easily entangle us. Maybe you are exposed to certain people, situations that drag you down; avoid them if all possible. Maybe you are doing something that you know is not right, something you would not do in front of God Himself. Maybe you are envious of others. Maybe you have a problem with lust. Maybe you are an unforgiving fault finder. Maybe you’re a busybody or gossip. Maybe you are a grumbling whiner. Maybe you don’t treat your husband or wife like you know God wants you to. You know what your sin is. He said if you want to grow in faith stop it, throw it off.
The second thing he tells us we need to do is to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Easy to Read Version say it this way, “we should run the race that is before us and never quit.”
In others words, don’t give up, never, ever give up. Why because Jesus never gave up on us.
Then the 3rd thing he goes on to say is that after we set aside those things that hold us down or tangle us up, and then run full steam ahead, he then tells us if that we want that kind of victorious faith, we need to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”
He has not only planted the seed of faith in us. He is the Author. He will help it grow and will perfect our faith, that is if we just keep our eyes and lives focused on Him.
Do you remember, that’s when Peter began to sink, when he took his eyes off Jesus. If you want your faith to grow to the point where it pleases God and is obvious to all, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and trust in His love for us like never before. Let that trust fill your life until it is overflowing.
And I would dare to say that the only way you can do that is to spend some quality time with Him in prayer, in reading His Word, and meditating on who He is and how much He loves and cares for you as you press forward in this life. And if you do this and grow closer to Him and learn to trust Him more amd more, you will find that peace that surpasses all understanding.
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