May 29, 2011

Sermon for Rogation Sunday, Fifth Sunday after Easter

Doing and Hearing
James 1:22
Rogation Sunday
May 29, 2011

James 1:22 expresses the point of the book of James; "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."  This point is stated in other ways in other parts of the book, but the essential message is the same, and its repetition marks it as a point worth noting.  The point is simply this; faith that does not result in godliness of life is no faith at all.  Thus James writes "faith, if it hath not works, is dead," "shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works," and "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"  (Jas. 2:17-20).

Why would James take the trouble to write this epistle and state this truth several times in several ways?  Isn't it because we forget it so easily?  Isn't it because we have a tendency to emphasise the promises of the Gospel and ignore its obligations?  Isn't it because we emphasise the Gospel's call to believe in Christ and go to Heaven, and neglect the Gospel's call to holiness and Godliness of life?  People often tell me they have been baptized and confirmed and they believe Jesus died for their sins, so they are saved regardless of the life they now live.  They use this line of reasoning to justify forsaking the Church, neglecting the Scriptures, remaining in churches that have denied the Bible, and indulging in activities and lifestyles that are blatantly unbiblical.  It is so easy to be like those in Isaiah 29:13 who honour God with their lips, but remove their hearts far from Him.  In other words, they give lip service to God, but won't give their hearts to Him.

It is not necessary to indulge in the "Big Sins" to be like those in Isaiah.  Such people may be outwardly moral and good, who do their jobs, pay their taxes, love their families, and help their communities.  The point is that their hearts belong to themselves, not God.  Therefore, their works actions, and even their faith are done for themselves, not God.  They take God on their own terms, not His.  The point James is making here is twofold.  First real faith consists of a genuine belief and trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour.  It is to know and believe the Biblical teachings that He died for your sins, and that, in Him your sins are forgiven completely and forever, and you are going to Heaven because He has washed away your sins and dressed you in His righteousness so that now you are acceptable to God and worthy of Heaven.  Second, genuine, Biblical faith consists of accepting Christ as your Lord, your God, to whom you give your life and your soul.  It is to subjugate your own will to His in such a radical and complete way that the Bible calls it crucifying yourself to live for God.  We are naturally self-centered, but in Christ we become God-centered.  We are naturally self-indulgent, but in Christ we become self-disciplined.  We are naturally oriented toward things and money, but in Christ our treasures are in Heaven, and in God Himself.  But this does not happen overnight, and it does not happen without hard work and discomfort.  That's why most people, even those who call themselves Christians, never do it.  We are called to take up our cross, not our couch, that's why most people won't do it.  We are called to choose God's will over our will, that's why most people won't do it.  Paul, having suffered much for the cause of Christ, wrote from a Roman prison, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."  But of Demas he wrote, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (1 Tim. 4:7 & 10).  Demas only followed Christ as long as he was able to remain in his "comfort zone."  When he reached the end of his comfort zone, he also reached the end of his faith.  Traveling with the Apostle Paul, Demas learned all the doctrines, but his heart belonged to Demas, not God.  Many today are like Demas.  They love Jesus as long as they are in their comfort zone, but when the real test of faith comes, they find their heart really belongs to them, not Christ. They really love themselves above God.

So how can you know if you really love God?  Or, as James states it, how can you know if you really have Biblical "faith?"  Let me share some things that are not proof of faith.

Knowledge is not proof of faith.  I have already referred to Demas and his knowledge of doctrine he would have gained from Paul.  Yet, when the test came, when forced to choose between himself and God, Demas choose self.  He may have had great knowledge, but he had no faith.  Religious experiences are not proof of faith.  We read of times and places in which people have had profound religious experiences, only to deny the faith at a later date.  I am not talking about the obviously spurious experiences, such as "holy barking" where people crawl on their hands and knees and bark like dogs, saying the Holy Spirit leads them to do it.  I am talking about people who have gone to church and been emotionally moved by a sermon or a song which gave them a feeling euphoria and spirituality, but did not change their hearts.  I believe the vast majority of people in American churches this very day are such people, and their allegiance is to the experiences they get on Sunday mornings, not to Jesus Christ. Religious activities are not proof of faith.  We all know people who never miss a Sunday, never fail to give an offering, never fail in their religious activities, yet whose lives and conduct show beyond any doubt that their hearts do not belong to God.

This is the proof that you have real faith according to the Bible.  It is, first, that you trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour, as I spoke of a few minutes ago.  It is to believe He died for your sins and has given you an inheritance in Heaven forever as His free gift.  It is not only to believe this in your mind, as historical and theological fact.  It is to believe it in your heart in a way that leads you to trust in Him alone as your righteousness and acceptance before God.  Second, the proof of real Biblical faith is second that you trust in Christ as your Lord and God.  This means to have the kind of faith that moves you to love Christ above all things, even your own life.  It is to have the kind of faith that gives you a desire to live for Him and overcome sin and do righteousness that is so overwhelming it leads you to fight the good fight in your own life day and night, morning and evening for the rest of your life.  It is the presence of both of these dimensions of the faith that makes your faith real faith.  In short, real faith makes us become doers of the word, not hearers only.

"O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good. and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."
                                                                  ~ Collect for Rogation Sunday

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