Theology Virtue #1: Faith. It Defines Us.

given on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Scripture base: James 2:14-20, NLT

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[n] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Reflection:

Welcome home! Labor Day weekend brings families back together for one last summer blowout. Locally a fair has dominated this holiday weekend for 68 years. The wild time in the small town (this year’s theme) is representative of the history for the families and friends of the community.

The weekend is a showcase for the talents and gifts of the many generations that grew up on the farms around this little town. The school lets out early. The arena is busy with horse shows, queen contests and feature events. There is laughter, storytelling, friendly greetings, and kids squealing with excitement.

Home is where we learn who we are. We try out various behaviors during our school years, along the streets and country roads of the community. We develop our personality, our practices, and our habits.

The close knit community shapes our lives in a range of ways, and the churches typically are an integral part of that heritage. The social world has changed, but the values and the practices many families develop traditionally include the church.

The New Testament book of James reads like a textbook for Christian living. The focus in the first two chapters is faith, but continuing with the reading, two other qualities are identified: hope and love.

Faith, hope and love are virtues that separate Christians from non-Christians. Using the lectionary commentary, virtue is a Greek term meaning “habit” or “a lasting attitude that defines a person.” Faith, hope and love are defined as “theological virtues.” These virtues are the foundations of a Christian lifestyle.

In the reading from James, faith is connected to good deeds. Yet, good deeds come second or as a result of faith. Explaining faith is tough because it is one of those intangible concepts. There is no visible way to prove or disprove the very source of one’s faith.

Faith is trust in or knowledge about God even though we do not have concrete evidence. Faith in God is like knowing that there is a sun that will shine each and every day regardless of whether there are clear skies or cloudy ones.

Faith is a habit the opens the relationship between God and us. Faith begins with a conscious awareness that there is a God and we are his children. Faith supports our understanding of the scriptures that tell the story of relationships between God and his children over and over again.

James moves the fundamental relationship between God and us and shows us how to demonstrate that faith in our own lives. He emphasizes the good deeds we do is evidence of our faith. The relationship we have with God leads us to do good deeds. James writes:

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James was Jesus’ brother. Understandably, James and Jesus had a brotherly relationship, but even that relationship had to expand as James witnessed the ministry of Jesus. A brotherly relationship had to develop into a personal relationship with God.

The letter James writes takes the words Jesus’ teachings and develops them into action—good deeds. A relationship that is a verbal statement is not a relationship with meaning. God teaches us that we are to demonstrate that relationship with God through good deeds.

Going back to the Old Testament stories, James supports the argument that good deeds puts faith into action. He points out the absolute trust that Abraham places in God when he takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed. That faith in God took Abraham to the very last moment of sacrificing his son—the altar built, the child secured, and the knife in hand.

He then adds the story of the prostitute Rahab whose faith in God was secure enough to protect the spies as they tried to reclaim Jerico, a city of Israelites, from its captors. Her good deeds saved her and her family from the city’s destruction.

Do we have stories of faith now that continue to show how faith works? Certainly. In our own lifetimes, we have studied history and know that faith in God has saved many from death. We see friends and family members live out their faith by the good deeds they do.

Faith in God creates a trusting relationship that deepens with each good deed.   As young people watch parents and adults, they begin to develop the faith they witness. Going to church and saying one is Christian may be outward signs that a person is in a relationship with God, but true faith is seen in the good deeds that person does day in and day out.

Maintaining a relationship with God is faith. Living that faith is done with good deeds. Reading James, we can learn how to live our faith openly. We do not have to tell everybody that we have faith in God because the good deeds will prove our relationship with God is real.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the words of James.

What a gift his letter is for us still today.

Let us take the words and put them into action.

Guide us in learning to do good for one another

In a challenging world that holds us captive.

Help us hear the cries of your children in need

So that we can show how much you love them

Through the good deeds we can do.

Thank you, too, for all your children in our community

Who demonstrate faith daily with good deeds.

May we continue to develop our own faith

Living it out loud by the good deeds we do, too.

Amen.

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