JAMES 2:14–17 ESV
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
We’re almost done with our emphasis on the life and ministry of John Wesley. Today we look at sanctification, which is the work of grace that sets us apart for God and aside for ministry. God is making us holy and it is holiness that allows God to use our faith to bring hope to others.
Our text from James this morning is clear in its definition of what genuine faith looks like. To be blunt, if works do not accompany faith, then faith is dead. I’ve always said it like this, works are a natural consequence of faith.
Friday night, my daughters and I hosted eight people over night in our home, all while Ashley was away on the Walk to Emmaus retreat (I’m crazy,I know). Rev. Larry Vinson, his wife Heather, and their 6 children were coming from vacation and headed back to Indiana. Larry and I are in the same doctoral program through Wesley Seminary.
Larry and Heather and I sat up after the kids went to bed and talked ministry into the late hours of the night. When I told him what I was preaching on, Larry provided great insight into James 2. He said this:
“When I was overseas, we were trained to know our job so well that we became unconsciously competent. Unconsciously competent meaning that we should know our job well enough that we could do it without thinking, even in our sleep if we had too. We should become unconsciously competent when it comes to our faith. In other words, our works that demonstrate our faith should be as natural as breathing.“
Ministry for Christians should be as natural as breathing. I love that. If we truly trust in Jesus Christ, then there is a genuine change that has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen in our lives. Grace is transformative by nature. So where we once tended only to ourselves, so now we tend to the things of God, which are personal devotion and outward ministry. Works are natural.
The James text testifies that there are those who think their faith is only a matter of believing in a truth. There are others who believe that they just simply need to do good things. But for those who have welcomed Jesus into their hearts and fully trust in His grace, they have a welling up within them that can’t wait to get out. In fact, you could say that the works they do for Christ Jesus are a kind of eruption that takes place.
God’s desire is to put a love within us that is divine. For a divine love to move into a human space means that change is inevitable. When we look back at what John Wesley was trying to achieve in the early parts of his spiritual life, we see that he had a mere intellectual faith. He was ascribing to a truth. He founded his life on that truth, but he had yet to let that seed of truth drop from the branches of his belief and down into the soil of his soul.
Once Wesley began to trust in God for all things, there was an eruption of power and presence in both his personal devotion and his social witness. John’s personal devotion drew him closer to God. John’s social ministry began to bear fruit. Now Wesley had an authentic faith that led to an authentic witness. The power within moved outward. It has no other place to go. And as the power and love of God erupted outward, it created a firm foundation of faith for others to stand on.
I want to use an image this morning. My girls are in a phase where they are fascinated by lava (don’t ask). Check this out…
Now, lava stirs beneath the surface, building up heat and energy, and once it reaches a certain point it explodes and erupts out, above the surface, and flows outward. That lava makes its ways into places that are low and need to be filled and as it stops and fills and cools, it becomes hard. This is how much of the land we walk on was formed.
Look at how genuine faith spills out because of all that is stored up within. We have the life-changing, soul-shaping grace that is ours through faith and trust, and it can’t wait to get out. And so it gathers and builds up like a powerful fire and spews forth grace into the world. Through the faith of God’s children, we make land for others to stand on; we give them hope and a place to call home amidst the chaos of life.
The lava can’t help but flow. This is what it does. We can’t help but have compassion; we can’t help but show mercy; and walking humbly with our God is natural and right (Micah 6:8). Faith without works is no faith at all. Because for Christians, our works are as natural as breathing. And that naturalness is what John Wesley referred to as Christian Perfection, meaning, that God is perfecting His love within you, making it so that it is Jesus who is living in you and loving through you, for the redemption of the world.
And so we worship, drawing closer to God, and experiencing the fire of His love inside of us. And we work, not with our own efforts, but out of the overflow of transforming grace, bringing others to faith in Christ Jesus.
So, let Jesus build up within your heart. Let the fire of His love change and transform you. Then let the grace of God that has given you life erupt into the lives around you. Let it flow, like a river of mercy, for the whole world to see. Amen.