I am sure it has not escaped your attention that this is the 500 anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany in 1517, that in effect started the Reformation - a schismin the Catholic Church which profoundly changed Europe. The reformation in short created other churches that were not Roman Catholic; now this was not Luther’s intent but it was the outcome. Now the main piece of scripture that that started Luther of was Eph 2:8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Now if you think about this and our reading for today you may think that this is the Bible contradicting itself. If you do think that, I would encourage you to join one of our midweek Bible study groups we have five running spread across the week. I used to believe what a lot of people said that the bible contradicted itself, until I went to a midweek group were you can ask questions and were the Bible is explained in greater detail than is possible on a Sunday morning.
So let’s look at this, in short Martin Luther was referring to the fact that the Catholic Church in his time and for a long time was in a large part encouraging people that they could by works, pilgrimage or with money given to the church buy their way into heaven, into God’s saving grace.
Luther had his light bulb moment when he realised that what the Apostle Paul really meant was that it is by grace that we have been saved, through faith in Jesus Christ, faith in Jesus coming to save us, all we have to do is believe and fellow Jesus. A free gift no strings attached. So remembering that lets read Eph 2:8-10 again: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So with this in mind let’s look at what the Apostle James the brother of Jesus is saying. And I want to start by going to the last verse in our reading verse 26 I think this is key to what James is talking about here verse 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. Or to put it another way faith without the spirit is dead. There is no contradiction here. Paul said “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. And James is also saying “the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, and the Bible calls the Holy Spirit:
- The Author of Scripture: (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16)
- The Comforter / The Counsellor / Our Advocate: (Isaiah 11:2; John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7)
- The Convictor of Sin: (John 16:7-11). If you’re blessed like me God will have given the Holy Spirit and you extra help in this respect - in my case my wife Chris who on every journey we make reminds me when I have gone over the speed limit or not slowed down when I should have, and this is a comfort when you are doing 1200 miles in two days, through three countries. It certainly helps you realise that you really do love this person.
- The Holy Spirit is Our Guide: (John 16:13)
- Our Intercessor: (Romans 8:26) One of the most encouraging and comforting aspects of the Holy Spirit is His ministry of intercession on behalf of all believers.
- The Revealer / The Spirit of Truth: (John 14:17; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16)
- The Spirit of God / the Lord / Christ:(Matthew 3:16; 2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Peter 1:11) These names remind us that the Spirit of God is indeed part of the triune godhead and that He is just as much God as the Father and the Son. He is first revealed to us at the creation, when He was “hovering over the waters,” denoting His part in creation, along with that of Jesus who “made all things” (John 1:1-3). We see this same Trinity of God again at Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit descends on Jesus and the voice of the Father is heard.
- Spirit of Life: (Romans 8:2) The phrase “Spirit of life” means the Holy Spirit is the one who produces or gives life, not that He initiates salvation, but rather that He imparts newness of life. When we receive eternal life through Jesus, the Spirit provides the spiritual food that is the sustenance of the spiritual life. Here again, we see the triune God at work. We are saved by the Father through the work of the Son, and that salvation is sustained by the Holy Spirit.
- The Teacher: (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13)
- The Witness: (Romans 8:16; Hebrews 2:4; 10:15)
- The Deposit / The Seal / The Earnest: (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14) The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on His people, His claim on us as His very own. The gift of the Spirit to believers is a down payment on our heavenly inheritance, which Jesus has promised us and secured for us at the cross. It is because the Spirit has sealed us that we are assured of our salvation. No one can break the seal of God.
- The In dweller of Believers: (Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Corinthians 6:19) The Holy Spirit resides in the hearts of God’s people, and that indwelling is the distinguishing characteristic of the regenerated person. From within believers, He directs, guides, comforts, and influences us, as well as producing in us the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He provides the intimate connection between God and His children. All true believers in Christ have the Spirit residing in their hearts.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:11: “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, - slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Ephesians 4:6 adds: “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” All are included—all belong to Christ;
But note this next part - but not yet all know it and believe it and therefore do not experience and live out their new life in him.
So yes the Holy Spirit is in all people, but when we accept Jesus as our Lord and saviour, when we accept Jesus into our lives, the Holy Spirit is in effect set free by our recognising Jesus as our saviour.
Can we suppress the Holy Spirit? I think Paul answers this very well in Romans 8 11-17 addressing believers; He is warning disobedient believers who are refusing to submit to the Holy Spirit in their lives. In effect, he is saying, “You say that the Spirit of God is in you, however, your life should be reflecting the presence of the Spirit of Christ.” As Paul says in verse 12, “We have an obligation to reflect the spirit of Jesus into the world.
Do we have faith because we come to church every Sunday, is that faith or is that being a member of a club, is the Holy Spirit part of God working in us, or do we believe because we are good and nice people.
Where is the Holy Spirit working in us, are we the next George Verwer, or like many friends of mine who give most of their free time to helping homeless, or those who are addicted to one thing or another. I have friends who are missionary’s, I know people who work at the food banks, people who do Sunday school, or serve in other ways at church, who tell their neighbours about Jesus and go out of their way to help others and spread the Gospel of Christ, what is the Holy Spirit calling you to do.
James is asking are you alive in Christ or are you just a shell with faith on the outside?
I have seen the Holy Spirit change lives of people who have faith, I know a person who would not go out of their way to help people not because they did not think that they deserved help, but because they themselves were people with very low self-esteem, now they minster to clients with Christians against poverty, and sometime go on to estates on their own to help others, they lead groups of other believers, all because they believed what the Holy Spirit was saying, and trusted the Holy Spirit.
I myself, always thought that if you were homeless it was your own fault and you needed to get of your back side and sort yourself out, until a Christian friend of mine asked me to help out one Christmas with giving out sleeping bags and clothes and food to those on the street and I got talking to them and listing to there story’s, yes some possible could have stopped the fall to homelessness, others, only if they had known someone to help them, someone like the people from christens against poverty, or a neighbour who cared and showed them the love of God and brought them to church.
God has changed me in ten short years from I am all right Jack, in your face sort of person, to the person I am today and I know one thing I would rather have a coffee or a drink with me today than the one ten years ago.
All these that are led by the Spirit live lives to the full, with so much more joy than they had before.
And let’s not forget the fruits of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22-23 “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”
Are we showing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives? If you are believer in God but with no fruit, James has some words for you in verse 19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
So James is saying so what faith alone without deeds the proof means nothing.
So our reading from James is not a contradiction to what Paul and Luther and Calvin taught but it is an extension we are saved by faith alone, but where is the evidence of that, there are many people who do good works without faith, what is the Holy Spirit saying to you.
I was asked many times how do you know if it is the Holy Spirit prompting you, a good question. My answer is it a good thing is it helping others, is it uplifting others, will the act glorify God, is another voice telling you not to do it, that other voice is the enemy, do the good thing, bring God glory, instead of sitting back and letting others do Gods work become part of His team.
Are you listing to the Holy Spirit or to that other person who does not want you to get out of your pit, who is happy that the world is a mess and people on the whole do not care, there are all sorts of jobs in Gods kingdom, from the little one that may seem insufficient to the big ones like making my coffee after church on Sundays.
As we finish I just want to read our reading again and while I do ask the Holy Spirit what you should be doing for Gods Kingdom here on earth, hear in Havering in your neighbourhood, in the Church. And remember that deeds are the work of God in us the work of the Holy Spirit.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ [e]and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
So my message to us all today is don’t sit there alone in your faith, open yourselves up to the Holy Spirit, show the fruit of the Holy Spirit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and get stick in to Gods work in Gods Kingdom and live life to the full, God loves you are you showing your love of God back, Jesus died for us, what are we doing for Jesus. A question was asked recently Jesus how can I be more like you, the answer is be open to the Holy Spirit, God will never give you more than you can do or put you in danger.
I would like to finish in prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love of us for filling us with yourself with the Holy Spirit, thank you that you Father Son and Holy Spirit are always with us, help us to follow your promptings by the Holy Spirit and to do your will, in our Church, in our neighbour, in our bough in our world. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.