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Friday, August 31, 2012

If the Son Sets You Free, You Will be Free Indeed

If the Son Sets You Free, You Will be Free Indeed
John 8:36
The Bible tells us that when we know or believe the truth that we will be made free.  “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) And the Bible also says that “truth” is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is the “Truth”.    Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  (John 14:6)   Scripture says that God has made provisions for Christians - you and me to be alive and free in Christ.  But if this is true, then why are so many Christians living in bondage to fear, depression, and sinful habits they think they can’t break? 
Many Christians aren’t living the “good life” that God prepared for them in Christ.  They aren’t living in the freedom that is theirs. They may not have been taught that that freedom in Christ is really for them, or how to appropriate it. 
A woman can have a million dollars in the bank, but if she doesn’t believe she has it or she doesn’t invest it or spend it, it won’t do her any good.  And the same with us.  Our heavenly Father has given us many promises in the Bible and when we find a promise in the Bible we need to claim it.  When we find a truth in the Bible we need to believe it. And when we find a commandment we need to obey it. Don’t sit around and be neutral! Repent and believe and claim the truth that will set you free.
Our enemy Satan does not want us to be free.  He wants us to be in bondage to sin and fear.  He will try to lie to us about our freedom in Christ.  And whisper negative thoughts and doubts into our minds.  Satan is a deceiver who works undercover and his strategy is to lie.  But the truth of God’s Word exposes his lies.  That is why it is so important to study God’s Word.  Satan’s power is in the lie, and when his lie is exposed by the truth, his plans are foiled.  So we need to believe the truth in the Bible and resist Satan’s lies.  Scripture says:  “Submit yourself to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7)
Is this passage saying that Satan can not drag us into his darkness if we submit to God and resist his tempting?  And what does “submit to God” mean?  Satan’s first lie to Adam and Eve in the garden was telling them that they could be like God.  They didn’t need to obey or submit to God, they needed to run their own lives themselves.  And Satan continues to deceive all of us with that same old lie.  To submit ourselves to God means to deny self rule and invite God to take the throne of our lives- to occupy what is rightfully His.  We were not designed to function independently of God. Denying ourselves (repenting of our sins) and coming under Gods’ rule is essential to spiritual freedom.
Jesus said: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it: but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it…” (Matthew 16:24-25)  To deny ourselves is to do our best to turn our backs on the sins we hang onto.  It’s letting go and letting God.  Dying to self –to our ego- is the major battle of our lives.  The world has a self-centered perspective and Christ is asking us to reject that materialistic worldview and give our lives to Him.  If we “save” our lives by living for things and for self we will eventually lose out.  But if we lose our lives for Christ we will live the good life now and afterwards we will live eternally with Him.    
While we are on this earth, if we are Christians we will be involved in a spiritual war.  The kingdom of God is a major theme in the Bible but it has to be understood in contrast to the kingdom of darkness.  There is no need for the Christian to defeat the devil.  Jesus Christ has already accomplished that by His death and He has you and I covered.  But you may be asking why then do we have to be in a struggle since our position in Christ is secure and He has already defeated Satan.  Even though Christ has won the victory and our salvation is secure, we still need to do our part and be His witnesses in this world.  If we don’t try to live the Christian life we don’t lose our salvation but our fellowship with Him is damaged.  
The Bible teaches that believers in Christ have two natures. The Bible says that the nature we are born with is a “sin” nature.  Just as a kitten is born to meow, and a horse is born to run, we humans are born to sin. But the moment a person believes in Christ, he gains a new nature (in addition to the old one) by spiritual birth. (John 3:6-7 and 2 Pet. 1:4)  The new nature cannot sin and loves God. But the old sin nature is still there when a person gains the new nature in Christ.
And that is where the problems come in! These two natures inside the Christian are focused in opposite directions so it’s a perfect setup for a battle.  (Gal.5:17) (Rom.7) Scripture says that we will have our old sin nature until we die.  Only after we die will we not sin.    
So when we become a Christian we have a choice.  Which of our two natures are we going to take care of – the old or the new one?  Christ calls us to “make no provision” for the old nature (Romans 13:14) and deny and resist and flee temptations. (Titus2:12 James 4:7 and Timothy 2:22)  Christ tells us to “crucify” the old nature.(Gal.5:24)   
And what do we do to take care of the spiritual nature we received when we believed in Jesus?   The Bible tells us to submit our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) and be led by the Spirit (Gal.5:18) and yield ourselves to God. (Romans 6:13 and 19)
 You see even though Christ has washed us and we are clean – as long as we live on this earth we will still get our feet dirty as we walk about.  So we will still have to keep on putting down that old sin nature till we die. And live into the new nature that has made us children of God.
But when we choose to submit to God and try to turn from sin, the Bible tells us that we gain freedom from sin.  (Romans 6:14-15, Romans 8:2)  And we gain freedom to choose. (Romans 6:16 and 2 Peter 2:19) We receive the power to change. (Romans 6:16 and Phil.2:13)
And the promises in Scripture that are for us continue on if we believe in Christ.  We are free from condemnation. (Rom.8:1-2)  Free to find grace and mercy in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)  We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6)  God is always with us and will take care of us. (Isaiah 41:10) We may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Eph.3:12)  We cannot be separated from the love of God. (Rom.8:31-34)  We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. ((2Tim.1:7) We are the salt and light of the earth. (Matthew 5:13)  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13)  We are free to be God’s coworker. (2 Cor.6:1)   Free! Free! Free!!! The Bible promises for us go on and on.  There are so many and they are all so amazing!  And all we have to do is believe them – claim them- live in them! We’re living the good life!  Since Christ, the Son of God has made us free, we are free indeed!  (John 8:36)
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Neil Anderson’s book, The Bondage Breaker.     

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Following Christ into Places We are Unwilling to Go

Following Christ into the Places We are Unwilling to Go

Thoughts about the Bible story in John 21:1-19





Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time following His resurrection on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It is an encounter filled with symbolism that ultimately defines Jesus’ call to us. 


When Jesus appears, the disciples are busy fishing, an indication that they may not fully understand or are not fully committed to sharing what they have experienced through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  They have returned to the only trade they know, commercial fishing, but they are not having a successful day.  Until Jesus arrives, they have been unable to catch anything.  But when Jesus appears, He instructs them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat and their nets are filled.  It’s similarity to their initial call from Christ in the Gospels cannot be ignored, and it is in this moment that they realize that the risen Christ is in their midst.


Peter rushes to the shore to greet Jesus who is seated around a fire cooking fish and warming loaves of bread.  This setting serves as a reminder of when Jesus fed the five thousand.


This is an uncomfortable place for Peter and it becomes more uncomfortable when Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him three times.  Traditionally, it is believed that He asks Peter three times to absolve Peter’s denial.  However, in his blog, John Petty points out that, in the first two instances, Jesus uses the word agapes-unconditional love.  The last time, Jesus uses the word phileis-brotherly love.  Each time, Peter responds that he does love Jesus, but with a phileis love, not an agape one.  “In other words, Peter’s “love” is not at the same level as the “love” in Jesus’ question.


Peter does not fully understand what is happening in this exchange- just as he did not fully understand the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Nevertheless, in spite of Peter’s disappointing performance in this dialog, Jesus calls him to care for His sheep, and to follow Him even if it results in his death.


The fact of the matter is Peter may never have fully understood the significance of Jesus Christ.  He may never have loved Christ in the way Christ desired.  He may never have been fully committed to the work of a disciple.  If anything, Peter often appears to be an unwilling participant.  And yet, in spite of all of this, Jesus still asks Peter to follow Him and tend to the needs of other believers.  Jesus entrusts Peter, as unwilling as he might be, with the care of the Christian community – the Church.


And Jesus does the same with us.  Jesus does not expect us to have a comprehensive understanding of theological significance of the Gospel.  Jesus does not expect us to be fully committed to the work of discipleship.  Jesus does not even expect us to love Him as much as He loves us.  The truth of the matter is, Jesus expects a certain amount of ignorance, disbelief, and reluctance from us.  And yet, time and time again, Jesus calls us to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ-to follow Him even into the places we are reluctant or unwilling to go.  The question is, will we?


This devotional is written by the Reverend Bryan Bellamy who is the Associate Pastor of  Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Those Strange Prophecy Books

Those Strange Prophecy Books

A friend of ours was recently complaining about the problem he has understanding the Old Testament.  But more than anything our friend doesn’t like reading the books written by those strange confusing Old Testament prophets.  He has gotten discouraged and just doesn’t read those old prophecy books anymore.   Aren’t they outdated? And anyway they don’t make sense, he says.

There are seventeen books of prophecy in the Bible, not counting Daniel and our friend is correct.  They are all confusing and strange. The books of prophecy are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentation, Ezekiel, (Daniel – not counted as a prophecy book in the Jewish Bible), Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Revelation.  Even though we most likely can never fully understand them, they are part of Gods’ Holy Word.  Surely if we prayerfully read them our eyes will be opened to seeing our world from a different perspective, a different level of reality.   

Our friend thinks that maybe those old prophets are outdated.  But the same problems those ancient prophets railed against thousands of years ago are still with us today. Injustice, war, suffering, the rich getting richer and the poor disenfranchised, natural disasters, depravity, and it seemed that through it all God remained silent!   The prophet Habakkuk wrote: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  And why do you tolerate wrong?”   (Habakkuk 1:2)

To the prophets (and to us) sometimes it seems as if God is far removed from it all!  During the time that God spoke through the prophets, powerful godless nations surrounded Israel and were threatening to destroy the nation and take the Israelites captive.  And where was God?

 But some things never change. We have the same fears and problems that the prophets wrote about.  And we are asking the same questions today that those prophets asked back then. Why does a powerful and loving God put up with such a screwed up world?  Why are evil nations allowed to prosper?  Where are all of the miracles?  The signs and wonders?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? 

When evil seemed to be taking over and pushing out all the good, the prophets would beg God to come down and wipe out the bad folks.  Why didn’t God just arrive in power and perform miracles like He had back in the days of Moses?  God had jumped in and taken care of things back then?  And you would think that the Israelites would have followed Him when they could see Him there with them in power and might.  It would be easy to obey God when He was performing miracle after miracle for them. But Scripture says that amazingly Israel had responded to God’s power and miracles with stubborn rebellion. So now God was doing a new thing.  He was not performing as many miracles as before but He was calling His people to follow Him through the word of the prophets.  God was choosing to use the power of His word to change His people.  And we today grow and change when we read His Word.        

Many people today are interested in reading Biblical prophecy for just one reason -to predict what will happen in the future.  But one of the best reasons for studying the prophecy books is to get to know God.  Phillip Yancey in his book, The Bible Jesus Reads on p. 175-176 writes: “Imagine a biographer stumbling across seventeen long letters from Abraham Lincoln addressed to his wife, his generals, and his secretary of state, revealing his innermost thoughts during the crisis times of the Civil War.  Some of the letters would cover the same ground, of course, but using different words and tone depending on when he wrote them and to whom.  Historians would dissect every fragment for insight into the inner workings of President Abraham Lincoln.  Why did he make this decision and not that one, act here and not there?” 

Like a historian could teach us a lot about the personality of Mr. Lincoln by studying his many letters, the ancient prophets offer such a window into the mind of God, since God has opened up and shared His feelings with them. They record God’s reactions to His beloved humans when we love Him as well as when we reject Him. These seventeen prophecy books reveal so much of God’s personality. 

In the prophets, God talks back.  And when we read the prophecy books in the Bible we encounter a passionate God with deep feelings. He feels frustration and anger, heartbreak, delight and love. He moans and weeps with disappointment and grief and is shocked with the behavior of human beings.  But the main message we take away from the prophets is that God loves human beings.  He passionately desires us.  We matter to God.  He is personally and intimately involved with His people.

 That is why He can get so angry with us.  Philip Yancey writes on p.177: “Abraham Heschel, one of the best Jewish interpreters of the prophets says, ‘It is staggering and hardly compatible with any rational approach to the understanding of God, that the Creator of heaven and earth should care about how an obscure individual man behaves toward poor widows and orphans.’  Yet God does, and the prophets bear out that concern.”

God had blessed Israel and given them the desires of their hearts.  But most of the Israelites had turned from God to worshiping and sacrificing to idols.  The Jewish nation had stopped taking care of the poor and sick within their gates.  God was angry and brokenhearted at the same time since He loved these people so much.  He asked the prophet Hosea to act out a drama.  Maybe when the Israelites could see Hosea playing out the role of the jilted lover, then maybe they would finally understand just how bad God felt about the way they had treated Him!

God asks Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer.  Hosea obeys God and marries Gomer and they have three children.  But then Gomer leaves Hosea for another man.  And after that she works as a prostitute along with having sex with anyone she can seduce. God speaks to Hosea again and tells him this:  “Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods….”    Here in the book of Hosea we find that God cares so much about His people that when they throw Him away and give themselves to another, He is brokenhearted and goes after them anyway hoping to bring them back.  We discover that we worship a God who loves us crazily and unconditionally.

Yancey p. 178 writes:  “God uses these examples and many others, all told with striking candor, to express His sense of betrayal over the broken covenant with Israel and all humanity.  How does God really feel?  Listen to His own words in Isaiah 42:”  “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”

Perhaps one of the reasons that the prophecy books are confusing to us is because they offer a glimpse into how God views history.  The prophets are allowed to see things that the rest of us cannot see.  The words in their books are written from God’s perspective and God lives outside the constraints of time. 

Phillip Yancey in his book, The Bible Jesus Read, p. 182 writes that often the prophets insights are roughly divided into three categories:  1) Now: prophecies that relate primarily to the prophet’s own day.  (Assyria will invade Moab, Egypt will help Israel, etc)   2) Later:  predictions of future events well removed from the prophet’s own time but later fulfilled in history (Jesus coming as Messiah) and 3) Much Later: prophecies that will come at the end of the age – (future mass conversion of the Jews, worldwide tribulation, Jesus coming again)   Many of the prophecies apply to not just one time frame but several.  Remember God lives outside of time. 

Yancey writes on p185: “The prophets project forward in time to a period when God will break His silence.  In that day, they tell us, God will move in forcefully to recreate heaven and earth.  He will swallow up death and dry all tears.  There will be no more poverty, or hunger, or violence.  A banquet feast will be spread and we will know God face to face, and all earth will serve Him.  …The prophets told of a recreated heaven and earth in order to demonstrate that history would be determined by the future- God’s future- and not by the present reality of suffering, chaos, and political upheaval.”

Yancey asks:  “Do I trust in a loving, powerful God even in our chaotic century?  Can I cling to God’s vision of peace and justice even when the Church is often identified with war and oppression?  Do we believe that God reigns, even though this world shows little evidence of it?  Like a bell tolling from another world, the prophets proclaim that no matter how things now appear, there is no future in evil, only in good.” Can we be encouraged to struggle on in this present troubled time by looking forward to the bright eternal and sinless future that God promises?  Does the shining hope of the future strengthen our faith now in the present?

When you and I live, time-bound in a world like ours, it takes faith to believe God’s view of history as presented by the prophets.  Can we do it?   The prophets call us beyond the fears and grim reality of present history to the view of all eternity, to a time when God’s reign will fill the earth with truth and light.  The end is settled.  All that remains is whether we will live believing it.

Many of these ideas were taken from Phillip Yancey’s book  The Bible Jesus Read.   




Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why Do We Need Jesus ?

Why Do We Need Jesus?

Being a Christian is about being in a relationship!  A relationship with God!  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind and soul.  And the second commandment is to love others as we love ourselves.  Let’s listen:  “Jesus said: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matthew 22:37-39)  

It’s hard to love God if we don’t know Him.  So in order to love God with all our heart, mind and soul we need to be in a relationship with Him.  Scripture says that we were created to be in a relationship with God, so we may feel that something is missing in our lives-an emptiness deep inside- until we find that relationship.

But Jesus is the only One who can satisfy our spiritual hunger because He breaks down the barrier (our sin) between us and God and makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God.   Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) and “I (Jesus) am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No person comes to the Father (God) but by Me.”  (John 14:6)  

Jesus, being the bread of life, satisfies our hunger for a life after death.  We all want to live beyond death.  And only in Jesus Christ do we find eternal life.  Scripture says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  Our relationship with God (through Jesus) starts now and survives death and goes on into eternity. 

Jesus, being the bread of life, satisfies our hunger for forgiveness.  Even though we may not think that we need forgiveness, the Bible tells us that we do.  It tells us that everyone in the world has sinned.    “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)   And the Bible also tells us that sin brings about death.  “The wages of sin is death,…” (Romans 6:23)   It all sounds pretty grim since we all have sinned and sin leads to death.

 But wait, - the rest of that verse “The wages of sin is death,” goes on to say, “but the Gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)     Even though sin causes death, God intervened and sent Jesus to give us a gift – through His death the amazing gift of eternal life.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

How do we know that Christianity is true?  Well, we can test the claims of Christianity because it is a historical faith and it is based on six thousand years of firm historical evidence. Christianity has spread around the world because it is like a fire – it is alive and driven by the Holy Spirit.  When a person asks Jesus to be his/her Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live in that person and comfort and teach her/him and give a new freedom.  The new believer isn’t left to try to be a good Christian on his own!

And who is Jesus Christ?  Christians believe in the mystery of the Trinity – the three in one – there is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit.   So Jesus is part of the Godhead as the Son of God.   

Jesus is the Son of God and He came to earth with great power and with signs and wonders. He healed the sick and raised the dead along with teaching and loving people.  Thousands followed Him back then, not only because He healed the sick but also because they believed that He was the Messiah that they had been waiting for.  The Old Testament prophets had prophesied that a Messiah would come and would save the people from their sins and Jesus was the Messiah that had been promised. 

Jesus said that the reason that He was born was to die for us.  Scripture says that He came “to give His life as a ransom for many.”  The word “ransom” comes from the slave market.  A kind person might buy a slave and set him free- but first the ransom price had to be paid.  Jesus paid the ransom price to set us free with His blood on the cross.  (Mark 10:45)  He died for us.  The word “for” means “instead of”.  Jesus took the penalty in our place so that we could be totally forgiven and free from any guilt.  And Jesus rose from the dead and left His spirit with us. 

And Jesus also came to free us from the fear of death.  Scripture says: “by his (Jesus’) death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15)  We need no longer fear death because death is not the end for those whom Jesus has set free.  Instead death is the gateway to heaven, where we will never sin again.

And not only did Jesus’ death give believers freedom from these bad things –(guilt, fear and slavery to sin) but His death gave us freedom for good things.  Jesus’ free gift of salvation given because of His death gives us the freedom to know God.  The things which we do wrong cause a barrier between us and God: “your iniquities have separated you from your God.”  (Isaiah 59:2).  Jesus’ death removed the barrier that existed between us and God.  Now we can have a relationship with God and we become the sons and daughters of God. 

Jesus’ death gives us the freedom to love.  “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  As we look at the cross we understand that Jesus loved us enough to die for us.  And when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us we experience that love.  And we receive a new love for God and for other people.  We are set free through the Spirit to live a life of love.  

The Bible makes it clear that we have to do something to accept the free gift that God offers through Jesus Christ.  Scripture says:  “If we confess our sins He (Jesus) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1John 1:9)  Believing involves an act of faith, based on all that we know about Jesus.  It is putting our trust in a Person. 

The way people take this step of faith varies, but one way in which you can take this step of faith can be summarized by just three words and these are the words: -  1) “Sorry”  2) “Thank-you” and 3) “Please.”

1)    “Sorry” You have to ask God to forgive you for all the things you have done wrong and try to turn from everything you know is wrong in your life.  This is what the Bible means by “repentance.”

2)    “Thank-you” We believe that Jesus died for us on the cross.  You need to thank Him for dying for you and for the offer of His free gift of forgiveness, freedom, and His Spirit. 

3)    “Please” God never forces His way into our lives.  You need to accept His gift and invite Him to come and live within you by His Spirit.

If you would like to have a relationship with God and you are ready to say these three things, then here is a simple prayer which you can pray and which will be the start of that relationship. 

Lord Jesus Christ,

I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. (Take a moment to ask forgiveness for anything that is on your conscience.)  Please forgive me. 

Thank you that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free.  Thank you that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit.  I now receive that gift.

Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.

Thank you Lord Jesus.  Amen. 

If you pray that prayer, Scripture says that you become a Christian.  If you prayed that prayer and meant it you opened the door of your heart to Jesus and He came into your life.  Scripture says that you have been “born again” into the kingdom of God. Congratulations!

What do you do now?  First of all tell someone.  Write to me and let me share your joy. Next read the Bible.  Once we have received Jesus and put our trust in Him we become children of God.  He is our heavenly Father.  And like any father He wants us to have a close relationship with Him.  We develop this relationship as we listen to Him (many times through the Bible) and as we speak to Him in prayer.  The Bible is the Word of God and you might find it helpful to begin by reading a few verses of John every day.  Then speak to God each day through prayer.  And ask God to lead you to a Christian church.  It’s important to be a part of a group of Christians who get together to worship God.   

(The ideas from this blog are taken from “Why Jesus?” an Alpha book by Nicky Gumbel)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Walk the Walk as well as Talk the Talk

Walk the Walk as well as Talk the Talk

Lessons from the Book of James

The short book of James in the New Testament is practical and down to earth.  No messing around.  It emphasizes that just saying that we believe in Jesus isn’t enough if we don’t try to obey Him too.  James hammers away at people who try to talk their way to heaven instead of walking (obeying God, right actions) their way there.  It is possible to have grand accomplishments and orthodox Christian beliefs but still lead a loveless life.

 This book in the Bible was written by James, who tradition has it was the brother of Christ.  James became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem early on. (A.D. 44-62) (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21:21:18: Gal.1:19:2:9, 12)  And the historian Josephus records that James was stoned to death for his Christian faith in the year A.D.62. 

James calls us to have a faith that is alive with right actions.  Let’s listen:  “What good is it my brothers, if a person claims to have faith but has no good deeds?  Can such a faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.” But you do nothing to help him out, what good is it?  In the same way, faith without good deeds is dead.”  (James 1:14-17)  

Someone must have argued with James on this issue.  They must have said that saying that you believe in God was good enough.  No need to change ones’ lifestyle. So here he answers: “You believe there is one God?  Well good for you!  Even the demons believe that – and tremble.”  (James 1:19)  (In other words, your faith better be more than that of  the demons!)

There are two kinds of faith –the fake and the real.  Fake faith may repeat pious words but it won’t change our hearts. But real faith will make us want to do the right thing- the loving thing.  Good deeds just naturally grow up out of real faith - like plants grow out of seeds planted in the soil.  A real faith is where the action is!

James has condemnations for the rich who defraud the poor farm laborer.  Let’s listen: “You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury: you have fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter.”  (James 5:3a-5)

He continues on about the rich stating that some Christian brothers are showing favoritism to those arriving at their church meetings by giving the rich people wearing the fine clothes the better seats and asking the poor people to crouch in the dirt. He insists that God is not partial to the rich and His children shouldn’t be either.   

Next James teaches that as believers we need to bridle our tongue and develop the discipline of keeping our speech under close control. (James 3)  Nothing can cause more damage than the tongue, he says. “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…”  (James 3:6)  James is teaching here that criticism, slander, backbiting, and gossip are sins that we need to stay away from.  As believers we are to be humble and try to keep the peace!  Do we do it? 

The Lord is speaking through James in this little book and He doesn’t use flowery language.  Let’s listen:  “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”  (James 1:26)   Oops!  That’s heavy duty, don’t you think?  God wants our tongues – He expects us to keep our conversations free of self centeredness and lies and gossip and malice. 

James tells us that there are two kinds of wisdom – one that is “worldly” and unspiritual and one that comes from heaven and is spiritual. The definition of “worldly” wisdom here is pride, selfish ambition, envy and bitterness.  James says that selfish ambition and bitterness and envy are not from God and can lead to “every evil practice.” (James 3:15)  

As believers God expects us to run away from selfish ambition, envy and bitterness.  We must refuse unnecessary arguments and do our best to keep the peace. 

 But the wisdom that comes from heaven (the Holy Spirit gives us this wisdom) is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”  (James 3:17)  James encourages us to choose the wisdom from God that is peace loving and humble.  And he adds:”God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  (James 4:6)

God is speaking to believers through James to show us that we just have two choices.  We are either for Him or against Him.  James writes: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  (James 4:4b-5)  Pretty strong words!  And we can’t be double minded and have it both ways either! (James 1:8)

Some of my favorite Bible verses are in the book of James.  Here is one of them. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7b)  There have been times when I couldn’t seem to stop unkind thoughts from taking over my mind.  But once I stopped what I was doing and actually resisted an attack of hateful thoughts that was filling my mind.  I stood my ground and ordered these angry thoughts out in the Name of Jesus.  And would you believe, I could feel those dark ideas leaving or “fleeing” from me.  When you draw a line in the sand and resist the devil in the strong Name of Jesus, the temptation will have to go.   Christ is stronger and greater than all of the dark forces on this earth and He will fight for us if we ask Him.  Scripture says:  “Greater is He (Jesus) that is in you than he (the devil) that is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4)

Another of my favorite scriptures out of James is: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)  I like this verse because it is so simple.  We never have to feel like God is far away.  It is humbling to know that we can do something about our relationship with God.  If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. 

Some Christians (Martin Luther was one of them) have been upset with this little book of James since it stresses the doing of good deeds.   And since we don’t get to heaven by our good deeds, they argue that we should only be concerned with faith and truth.  Jesus paid the whole price of our salvation with His blood.  We can’t add to that.  It is cruel bondage when we believe that we have to earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds.  And we are turning our backs on the grace that we have been given through Christ’s’ death when  we believe we must pay money to make it to heaven or to receive a “merit”!  Our salvation is done.  Jesus did it all. We can’t add anything to it. Not by works.  (Ephesians 2:8-9) We are free-completely free in Jesus.  No strings attached.  Hallelujah! All we need to do is to have faith.

Yes, all of that is true.  But the grace that saves us isn’t “cheap” grace.  Our salvation was bought with His blood.  And because of that, our faith shouldn’t be “cheap” faith either.  I think James was trying to say that.  He was encouraging us as believers to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”.