Don’t Be a Clampett Christian – Sermon on James 2:14-26
“Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed. The poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed. And then one day he was shooting at some food when up through the ground came a bubbling crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea. Well the first thing you know ole’ Jed’s a millionaire. The kinfolks said Jed move away from there. They said California is the place you ought to be. So he loaded up the truck and he moved to Beverly, Hills that is, swimming pools, movie stars.”
In the early 1960’s there was a television show that hit the airwaves that the critics thought would never make past the first season. But you and I know that the Beverly Hillbillies not only made it past the first season, the show has become apart of the American landscape, with reruns being shown everyday all over the Country. The show was a big hit with the American audience and has been for the past forty years.
What made the show a great success was the formula. Take a family that is uneducated in the modern way of life and instantly make them millionaires, with all of the benefits and resources that go alone with having 40 million dollars. The gimmick of the show was trying to have the Clampetts adjust to a new position that they were totally unfamiliar with.
This premise became all too evident in one episode of the Beverly Hillbillies when Granny chose not to live in the family’s grand mansion and opted for living in her former little log cabin in the backyard of the mansion. The humor in the show was that the family continually rejected to live according to their newfound position. And while this formula guaranteed success for viewing audiences in the Clampett’s family saga, the Apostle James tells us that not living according to or position in the Christian life is tragic.
What we will see in this morning’s text, James 2:14-26, is that James is concerned about Christians who are not living according to their faith in Christ. In essence, James is writing about folks who are born of the Spirit of God and are saved from the penalty of sin but are for all intents and purposes are walking around with a useless faith. This is because their faith is not a working faith.
These Christians are not living up to their positional expectations and what James is telling us is don’t be a bunch of Clampett Christians. If we are going to live up to God’s expectations for our lives as believers in Christ then James demonstrates in our passage that we must know our faith (v.14-17), that we must show our faith (v.18-25) and that we must grow in faith (v.26).
Look at what James says beginning in verse 14. “What use is it my brethren if a man says that he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” This verse of Scripture has caused many debates in Church history because it appears to contradict the Christian doctrine of justification by faith alone. As a matter of fact, the great reformer Martin Luther called the book of James and “epistle of straw” because initially, Luther could not reconcile James’ teachings with that of the Apostle Paul. Paul taught that if you add anything to faith you can not be saved. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone. On the other hand James seems to say that if you don’t have works with your faith you aren’t saved. How do we reconcile these two views by these two men writing in the same holy book? We reconcile this verse with one little word.
Look at the question once more. What use is it, who? The answer is my “brethren.” That is, James is writing to folks who are already saved from the penalty of sin. What is James is talking about is being saved from the power of sin in the believer’s life that prevents Christians from being the very best they can be for God. How do we know this?
We know that this is the intended context for James’ discourse because 19 times in the book he will refer to his intended audience as brethren or beloved brethren. You see, Paul speaks about how a person is justified before God. James talks about how a Christian is justified before men. Paul’s theology teaches how one goes from earth to heaven. James talks about how the Christian can experience heaven while he is still on the earth. We reconcile this verse with Pauline theology because James and Paul are not talking about the same thing. As a matter of fact, the term saved or “sozo” in the Greek, is never mentioned in James’ epistle to mean saved from the penalty of sin. The context for “saved” is in reference to being saved from the temporal consequences of the believers experience with sin that prevents them from doing good works that holds future consequences at the bema. This is what you and I must know about our faith. Faith is an action but it can also be a noun. When it is used as a noun, as James uses it here, then faith can mean a system of doctrine or worldview that comprises the sum of one’s beliefs about God.
What James wants to know is that with what you believe about God, what are you doing? Look at his example in verses 15-17. James gives a short three verse sermon regarding the Christian’s moral duty to act based upon what he knows about God.
In theses verses, James gives his audience a vivid illustration of a person who has faith but does not act on that faith by means of works through ministering to a brother or sister in Christ. And James concludes that this type of faith is useless. That is, this type of faith does not allow the believer the opportunity to share in the ministry of the Christian life and grow spiritually through the experience of helping others in need. His premise is that for a believer to have a vibrant Christian life then one’s faith or beliefs about God must be married to works in order to produce the offspring of spiritual growth and maturity. As Christians, we must know the formula about our faith. And we must act upon it. This brings us to James’ second point. We must know our faith but we also have a responsibility to show our faith. Look at how James addresses this issue in the use of a diatribe in verses 18-21.
James realizes that some in the church may have objections to what he had stated in verses 14-17 so he writes a hypothetical objector into the passage to raise and answer the issue of the necessity of works and faith. The point of this objector’s argument is that there is no necessary correlation between what a person believes and what a person does as a result of what they believe.
Speaking as the objector in verse 18 and I will be paraphrasing for the sake of simplicity, “James you pick a doctrine and then demonstrate a work by what you believe. And if you can do that, then I will show you a work and prove that it does not necessarily have to attach itself to what I believe about a doctrine.” The objector then gives an example of what he means. To paraphrase James he says, “James, you believe in the unity of God and the demons believe in the unity of God. You both believe in God’s unity and as a result, James, you do good works. However, the demons only tremble. This proves that works and faith do not have to correspond together to in order to produce a growing Christian life.” I can see the objector now. He is probably pretty pleased with his philosophical argument that was common in this Hellenistic, Greek, culture. Do you think James is impressed with the argument? Look at how he responds in verse 20.
“But are you willing to recognize you foolish fellow that faith without works is useless?” James is obviously not impressed with this objector’s argument and he will refute this objector’s line of thinking with two Biblical figures, a patriarch and a prostitute. James uses Abraham and Rahab in his illustration to demonstrate at least two points regarding the correlation between faith and works. This also helps to shed light on the long standing riddle of this passage.
First, both Abraham and Rahab were justified before God when they were each tested in offering up Isaac atop Mount Moriah (Gen. 22) and in Jericho, sending the spies out in another direction (Joshua 6). Both were already saved from the penalty of sin when they completed these good works based upon their faith in God. The following verses in James’ argument discussing Abraham and Rahab’s provide the context for who James is writing about in this passage.
He is not talking about those who are mere professors of faith but don’t really have faith, which is the commonly understood interpretation of this passage. James is talking about how one who has faith grows in their faith. It is by demonstrating works based upon one’s preexisting faith in God. This is the second nuance.
By demonstrating faith in God through good works, one’s faith moves up to the next spiritual level as it did for both Abraham and Rahab. However, someone may ask, “What about this justification issue in verse 24? Does not James say that man is justified by works?” It is true that James says that man is justified by works but the context of being justified is before other men, not God. This is because God already knows man’s heart because of His omniscience. Good works demonstrates to other people the fruitfulness of our faith. This is so much so, that James says, because of Abraham’s works of faith, he was called God’s friend. The question is who called Abraham God’s friend? The answer is other people. James’ point is clear. If you want to have a strong Christian faith, then it must be based upon Christian works that let other people know you have power with God because you have a relationship with God based upon your works, sown as a result of your faith. Additionally, not only must you know your faith and show your faith. James concludes our text this morning by telling us that you must also continue to grow in faith. Look at verse 26.
“For just without the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” James is making an allusion to a dead body. How many of you this morning have ever been to a funeral?
What you see at a funeral is a corpse in a casket. If you want the corpse that was once alive to get up and start moving around, then you must put the spirit back in it. This is because the spirit is what keeps the physical body functioning. Similarly, James says that if you want your dead faith to be alive again through experiencing the transforming power of God in your life, then you must put works back in your faith. You must live according to your spiritual position. This is what Paul alludes to in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (reason) for good works…that we would walk in them.” If you are a Christian this morning and you want to experience the reality of a vibrant Christian faith, then let me suggest to you three principles that can be drawn from the points in our text this morning in knowing your faith, showing your faith and growing in faith.
The first principle is to study the Scripture and learn biblical doctrine. When it comes to knowing your faith James is silent throughout the book as far as teaching theological doctrine. This is because he assumes that his hearers have been believers for a long time, at least fifteen to twenty years. Fortunately for us, we have many Christian resources available to us through the internet, the local church and Christian book stores so that we too can learn the doctrine of Scripture as well as James’ audience. And this is paramount for experiencing spiritual growth through our works because without knowledge, one can not do what one does not know. And God expects that we should all have a comprehensive understanding of His Word so that we can apply His precepts and commands. This is the first principle that we may draw from James’ message.
The next principle of application we may take from James’ message is to plan activities and events that encourage Christian service. We have at least fifty ministries available right here in our own church. There is everything from ministering to seniors, teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick, working as an usher or working in the nursery. Whatever you think you may enjoy, we have a service or ministry that we can plug you into. You have the faith. Like James, I would say show me your faith by becoming involved in the lives of other people. That is how God is going to grow you and that is our last principle. We must grow in faith.
To grow in faith, we must develop an attitude of fortitude. James tells us in chapter one that we are to consider or count it as total joy when we encounter or fall into trials. This is because God uses trials to help develop our faith and character. If we endure the trial, with a view to passing the test and not just auditing God’s class, then we develop a spiritual maturity that increases our faith and Christ likeness. What is the point? The point is that when you and I are showing our faith through works God will allow His pop quizzes and major exams to come into our lives to show us where we are spiritually weak. If we endure the testing, then we are promoted to the next level and the weakness is replaced by spiritual strength. By having an attitude of fortitude, God will see you through the test and make you more like Christ. And that dear friends is the goal of the Christian life. Some of you may be asking yourselves, “So where do we begin this morning?”
In closing, let me offer you an opportunity for developing your faith. Pick someone in this service that you don’t really know that well. Look around and see that Sunday school class member that you have wanted to meet but as of yet, have not found the time to do because you have been too busy. Take some time after the service and go up and talk to them. Invite them to go to lunch. It may sound simple. It may sound easy. But building into each others lives is exactly what James is talking about. Ministering to brothers and sisters in Christ is easy. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing to obey God and do it?” Remember folks, James told us that go in peace is not enough.
I opened this morning by talking about the Beverly Hillbilles and how Granny, though she lived in a mansion, many times, desired to live in a shack and reject her position. I know that some of you feel like you are living in a spiritual shack this morning. God wants you to get out of that shack and come back inside the mansion and live according to your position. Do you want to do that? If so, then start right now. Put your faith with your works and you will find that you will be be back inside that grand estate in no time. Let us pray.