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Faith and Fruit (Lesson 3)
Counterweights | James 2:19
"Do you believe in God? That's great, but even the demons believe that, and they still shake with fear."
Paul and James work together to help prevent us from making mistakes when it comes to faith.
They serve as counterweights to common errors in the church.
The first error to correct is the modernistic, Enlightenment approach to faith as primarily an assent to propositional truth, where deeds are not nearly as important as doctrine. To this James asks, “Do you believe God is one? Good, even the demons believe that, and shudder.”
Paul addresses the second error, which is the postmodern approach to faith as primarily demonstrational rather than doctrinal. In this worldview, the substance of faith is not nearly as important as the showing of love.
You can see how we need both Paul and James, the priority of faith and the proof of faith, doctrine and demonstration, truth and love.
We do well to remember that genuine, saving faith has a root that produces fruit. It is the root that saves, not the fruit. The fruit is evidence of life in the roots.
The person who denies this is called “foolish” in verse 20, where the Greek word kene is translated as foolish. In other biblical texts, kene is translated as empty or hollow. The idea is that, like a fruitless tree, a fruitless faith is empty, hollow, useless, and worthless.
The implication is stated in James 2:25-26,
25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
The unavoidable implication is that there are many professing Christians who lack external evidence of saving faith. There is just not much visible fruit on the tree. There is very little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, or self-control. There is very little repentance and strong resistance when it comes to forgiving others. And when it comes to sharing possessions and giving financially to the kingdom, they give as little as they can rather than as much as they can.
If you find yourself convicted, there is a question to consider. Not, how can I show more fruit, but how can my faith live?
To focus on fruit is to put the cart before the horse. It is to put sanctification before justification.
If there is a lack of fruit, the problem is with the root.
What will make faith live?
Not focusing on my works, but by coming alive to the wonder of God’s works! By beholding the glory and beauty of the cross!
Remember what faith is. Faith always has an object. Where is your trust when you are rappelling down a 100-foot rock face? It's in the tree to which the ropes are attached.
This is not a theoretical faith, is it? It is actual faith. Not just intellectual assent; but personal trust.
Just like a rappeler trusts in a rope that is held secure by a tree, the sinner trusts that Jesus was nailed to a tree in our place.
Jesus was condemned and rejected for our fruitlessness so that we, through faith, could be justified and accepted, filled with his Holy Spirit unto fruitfulness.
James is concerned that without deeds, our words will ring empty and hollow, misrepresenting the Savior, whom we see throughout his ministry expressing practical love, not only in word but also in deed—especially in the deed of his sacrificial love expressed in the cross.
In a very real sense, we can say that we are saved by works, just not our own. We are saved by the works of Jesus — the Jesus who didn’t just say, “Be warm and filled.”
He has clothed us in his own righteousness and filled us with his own Spirit.
Robert Murray McCheyne, the 19th-century Scottish preacher said, “For every look at ourselves we must take ten looks at Jesus!”
So, look to Jesus now!
Trust in his life lived for you. Trust in his wounds for you.
Abide in him as the one who clothes you in perfect righteousness and fills you with his Spirit, and he will begin producing his fruit in you — his love, his joy, his peace, his patience, his kindness, his gentleness, his self-control, his generosity, his courage — in and through you. Yes, for your good and joy and blessing of your marriage and home. But ultimately, all this fruit is for the praise of God, who receives all the glory as our Justifier and our Sanctifier.
What does it mean to "put your faith" in Jesus'?
What does McCheyne mean when he says, "for every look at ourselves, we must take ten looks at Jesus"?
How do Paul and James work together to help us from misunderstanding how faith works?
How can we stay on the right track when it comes to faith and works?
A Suggested Prayer
Thank you for your everlasting love and grace. Help us to trust in you and abide in your love. Give us the strength and courage to live out our faith and to act upon it. May we also remember that it is your works that save us and not our own. May we always turn to you and put our faith in you.
In your name, Amen.