In the movie classic Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Clause utters a definition of faith: Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” In other words, faith is irrational, contrary to experience, logic, and knowledge. It’s believing in a feeling apart from any objective reality. I think that pretty well sums up the common definition of faith today.
When Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary, first went to China, it was on a sailing ship. As they made their way through the straits and shoals of the China Sea, the ship became immobilized by a lack of wind. Now for sailing people such events occur regularly with no need for alarm. But this time there was a problem with that strategy. The ship was drifting slowly toward an island of cannibals. In fact, in the distance the captain could see the fires already burning.
So, as a last resort, the nervous captain came to Taylor and asked him to pray for help. “I will,” said Taylor, “provided you set your sails to catch the breeze.” The captain declined. “I’m not going to make a laughingstock of myself by unfurling in a dead calm.” “Very well,” said Taylor, “then I will not undertake to pray for this vessel.”
Within minutes the sails were unfurled and Taylor took to praying. After about fifteen minutes, while engaged in prayer, there came a knock at his cabin door. “Who’s there?” shouted Taylor. “It’s the captain,” the voice responded. “Are you still praying for wind?” “Yes,” said Taylor. “Well, you’d better stop. We have more wind than we can manage.” Now let me ask you, was Taylor rational or not?
For the past eight weeks we’ve been studying the letter of James written to those he dearly loves. And everything he has to say to them involves faith. As we have seen, James has little time for religious doctrine that does not translate into the way we live.
For James the issue is the result of one’s faith. For James, if faith is only a matter of thought patterns and emotions of the believer, and does not exhibit itself in altered behavior; it’s moribund, dead, no faith at all.
Throughout chapters one and two James describes what a living faith looks like. He describes what a life will look like when one looks into the mirror of the perfect law – the finished work of Jesus Christ. Looking in the mirror not only reveals who you are in your own strength and ability, it will also show you who you are presently, and forever, in Christ.
In James 2:14-26, James takes special pains to labor the practical results of a genuine, saving faith. He says, “Faith without works is dead.”
Now that statement and his surrounding teaching have caused gallons of ink to flow over the last 500 years. More than that, those words have been the club that’s used by religious practitioners to underscore an apparent inconsistency in Scripture. Scores have argued that what Paul says about faith in Romans 4 and what James says here are mutually exclusive. A cursory reading of both texts gives you such an impression. But, as you dig a little deeper into the word, the contexts, and the historical realities of Romans 4 and James 2, all apparent contradictions evaporate. Indeed, a good look into the mirror of the perfect law (James 1:23) brings consistency, cogency, and godly challenge. We are shooting for all three this Sunday in a message entitled, “Living in Faith”.
In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
- Read Romans 3:21-25(a) and 4:1-5
- Do you see any inconsistency in what Paul and James are saying?
- What resolution can you offer?
- What light does Acts 15 shed on the apparent controversy between Paul and James?
- What’s the definition of the word “justification”?
- Is the faith James cites in verse 14 saving faith?
- What does verse 19 tell us about genuine faith?
- How does verses 15-18 show us proof of genuine faith?
- How does verse 23 show us a second proof of saving faith?
- How does the mirror promote both proofs?