“Exercising Our Faith”

James 2:14-18

{Prayer}

            Exercise … it’s one of those things that you either enjoy doing or it’s something you would rather not do at all.  I enjoy exercising, but just haven’t been able to have the time to do it.  I sometimes joke with Jessica that I even in my busyness, I do manage to do a sit-up and arm curls.  I get up in the morning, that’s the first half of my sit-up.  I lay down at night, that’s the other half.  I do arm curls as I sit down to eat and raise the food to my mouth.  She doesn’t seem to think that is enough though.

            With exercise comes having a healthy and balanced diet.  You can’t eat right and not exercise just as you can’t exercise and then eat whatever it is you want.  Right now, I like to think of myself as this guy in this Cheerios commercial from a few years ago. {Video}

            We know that if we don’t exercise and eat right, our bodies are going to suffer.  We grow wider, get heavier, slow down, can’t fight off illnesses as well, recover slower, and spend more money on doctors.  It takes a lot of hard work to be and stay healthy and strong.

            In our four-week mini-sermon series on James, we see that it’s no different when it comes to our faith.  Our faith is a gift, a free gift from God … but like anything else, it requires work and attention if it is going to grow.  We need to exercise our faith.  Just like if we don’t exercise our bodies, our faith is going to become weak.  When we become weak physically and spiritually … we can’t fight off attacks or illnesses like we can when we are stronger and healthier.

            This why things like Bible Class, Sunday School, Confirmation, Youth Group are so important.  Next Sunday is Rally Day, the official kick off to a new Christian Education year.  Sure, we will be giving Bibles to the third graders and catechisms to our seventh graders, but Christian Education isn’t just for our youth.  Growing in one’s faith is something which each and every one of us need to continue to do work on in every aspect of our lives.

You know, as we exercise our bodies, it’s easier to do things and we’re able to take on more things.  The same thing applies to our faith.  As our faith grows, James says that our good works should also grow.  Now let’s be clear, our works don’t count toward our salvation.  As we heard last week in Romans 10, “if you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9).  So we are saved only by Christ and what it is he did for us through is life, death, and resurrection.

            But the question is, how do we live out our faith?  How is it that others know the faith which is within us?  Is it only by coming here on Sunday mornings for worship or by dropping kids off for Sunday School?  Is it only Sunday evenings as kids are dropped off for youth group and Confirmation class?  Or does faith show through when you “do” church activities?

            Here’s the deal … many people, us included, we’re very good at compartmentalizing our lives.  We live one way at work, another way when they are with friends, and then another way at church.  Many people want the church and its perspectives when births, marriages, and death occurs.  Some parents send their kids to church because they want them to have some sort of moral value.  The rest of the time … people say they have faith in God … but the actions of their lives don’t show it.

            This is exactly what James is getting at when he says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17).  Faith and works, faith and action go hand in hand with one another.  It’s like how a healthy diet and exercise go hand in hand with each other.  Yes, works do not count for salvation, but they are the action, the result which flows from faith.

             You know … there are two sinful outcomes of a Christian’s life when they disregard doing good works simply because they can’t save you.  One either does whatever they want because God’s grace is going to be there for them to pick them back up or … or we do absolutely nothing because works count for nothing.  This really cheapens God’s grace.  Instead though, it’s important to understand that what we do or do not do does matter.  We confessed that earlier when we were confessing our sins.  Our actions, they’re connected to our faith, not so that we can be saved, but because we are saved.

            James was dealing with this issue as he wrote this letter.  Notice that James started out our reading with, “My brothers.”  He’s not writing to those who have no faith, he’s writing to fellow believers, to people like you and me who have this precious gift.  James is confronting a problem within the church.  There’s this great disconnect between the faith people were professing and how they lived out that faith in relation to each other.  The same caution James gave then is the same one he is giving today.

            James says, “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?” (2:14).  No, no it can’t.  It would be like saying that I know I need to work out, but then just sit at home on the couch with a bag of potato chips watching other people work out.  In order to actually lose the weight, you need to something.  When it comes to faith, if you want your faith to grow, you have to do something.  You can’t sit back and expect it to grow on its own.

            So is James saying that we need to do better?  Are we to do better in living out our faith so that other people can see that you or I am a Christian?  Are we to do better so that God knows that you and I are serious about him?

            If this is what James is saying … then why don’t we do better?  Why don’t we try harder?  Why don’t we do everything God says?  After all, God said to do it, so we should be like the Nike slogan and just do it.

            But we don’t!  We don’t!  We don’t just do it.  We don’t do it perfectly because we can’t.  If all James is saying to you and me this morning regarding how we should exercise the faith given to us by God by doing good works is to do it better … then he’s doing what he’s condemning in verses 15 and 16.  “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?

            On our own … we can’t “do better.”  We can’t exercise our faith towards others because our sinful nature always has its own sinful agenda.  Our sinful nature always looks out for me, not my neighbor who is in need.

            So what do we do?  What is James really trying to get us to do?  There’s a phrase he uses which just seems to be a passing comment in the middle of his encouragement to do good which holds the answer.  He refers to the “name of him to whom you belong” (2:7).  That little phrase has the answer for us this morning in how it is that we can exercise our faith through good works.  That little phrase suggests that there is an action which has been done before ours.  That action is the action of the one to whom you belong.

            God has called each and every one of you into a relationship with him and one another.  It’s all about the order of things.  It all begins with God’s action toward you and then it continues on as you live out his action toward one another.

            Your faith is a gift from God and that faith is worked out in good works which God has given you to do in advance.  Thankfully our works are not what save us.  If they were … how would know that we have ever done enough?  Our faith is in a work, just not our own.  Our faith is in the work accomplished for us on a cross and it shines forth from the empty tomb of Jesus.  Our faith, without Christ in our lives, is truly dead.  Our life begins, continues on, and ends with Christ.

            But if I fall off?  What if I screw up and my works are again focused back on myself?  When that happens, we naturally blame ourselves and we try to make ourselves do better.  We leave ourselves to find our own inner strength.

            But our faith isn’t in ourselves.  Our faith is in Christ and in his work.  If everything begins with Christ, then he is where we go when we fail.  When we fail, we are sent back to Christ.  We are sent to this rail to receive from him the strengthening of our faith so that we may live to his glory and honor.  We are sent back to the one true God, who has given us the gift of faith which we eagerly exercise with good works which shine forth in every aspect of our lives, not just one or two of them.  As a healthy diet and exercise routine are needed in our daily lives, so it is with the living out of your faith.  May we live our faith in our actions so that those around us can see the love of God which is for all people.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.

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