Saving Faith

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.