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Sabbath School Insights
2014 Quarter 4: Oct - Dec
Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Faith That Works”
For the week of November 8, 2014
A Pastor received an invitation to interview for a job in a prominent church in a large city, which he accepted. The interview process consisted of him preaching a sermon, joining the church for lunch and afterward, participating in a Q&A session with the congregation. Wanting to get a feeling for the church while avoiding the preferential treatment that is sometimes a part of visiting a church as a Pastor, he decided to disguise himself. So, dressed in raggedy, disheveled clothes, unshaven and without a shower for several days, the Pastor went to church. Looking homeless, he entered the lobby, whereupon he was coolly greeted. There was low murmuring as he walked toward the sanctuary. Once inside, the Pastor chose a seat close to where others were seated. Some looked back with a forced smile, while others subtly tried to hold their noses so they wouldn’t smell the stench. But eventually, each person stood up and found somewhere else to sit. Within a few minutes, the pastor was sitting by himself.
Eventually, the Pastor stood up and left the church. He went to his hotel room to clean up, shave, and put on a nice suit and cologne. An hour later, he drove back to the church. This time people smiled at him as he entered the building. They even engaged in small talk. Fortunately, the brethren didn’t recognize him. He then walked in the sanctuary itself and, just as before, sat close to where the people were seated. This time everyone looked and smiled, and, some even said welcome and offered to shake his hand.
Soon enough, the Pastor stood up to preach. His sermon came from the book of James, showing how works demonstrate faith. Naturally, everyone said Amen. However, the pastor twisted things around for them when he said that works of faith are works of love. He said that those sheep at the right of Jesus in Matthew 25 were people who lived by faith. He explained if they pleased Jesus they had faith (Hebrews 11:6). And since, they had faith, they were just (Hebrews 10:38); and seeing as they were just, they were also doers of the Law (Romans 2:13). Moreover, that love is the fulfillment of the moral law (Romans 13:10). The church members were now squirming in their seats. Many folded their arms and frowned sternly. Then the death blow came. The Pastor said to them, “I noticed how you treated the homeless man that came earlier.” A collective gasp was heard. Then there were whispers asking each other how the Pastor could know this. One dared to ask the Pastor directly. The pastor solemnly replied, “I was that homeless man.” Another asked the pastor, “Did you deceive us?” The pastor answered, “I have to apologize for the deception. I wanted to get a feel for this church before I agreed to be your Pastor. Right now you may be feeling like terrible sinners. But, I have a word for you. It is sinners whom Jesus came to save.”
The story demonstrates how our actions reveal what is in our hearts. These actions, James calls works, are an outgrowth and evidence of what lies beneath the surface. Jesus said that the mouth speaks what abounds in the heart (Matthew 12:34). You may not see the cause, but you can see the effects. We see this in nature. Let’s consider the wind. No one can see it, but we can feel it and see its effects. This is why Christ used the wind as an example of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). No one can see the Spirit, but we will sense the effects of His presence in our lives or the lives of others. How do we know the Spirit is present? We see the effects. The works of the Spirit are the outworking and evidence of His presence.
Faith also works in the same manner. No one can see faith, but we can sense and see its effects. Works of faith are, as well, the outworking and evidence of faith. Just like the symptoms of an illness, for example, are the outworking and evidence of the illness. Christ told his disciples that a little faith can accomplish great things. We read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." A man of faith will be able to do what he is typically powerless to do -- namely, have his character changed. Christ established that the change caused by our faith will be evident to others. James’ famous discourse on faith and works is often quoted on this subject:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18).
The question then can be asked: what works are the proof of faith? Fortunately, if we let the Bible be its own expositor – as Ellen White says – it will give us the answer, which begins in the first couple of verses of James chapter one. Verse 3 tells us faith that is tried produces patience or endurance. Verse 5 tells us that faith also produces wisdom and assurance. Verses 8 and 9 say that faith exalts those of lesser degree, which is then expounded in James chapter 2. While many say works are the proof of faith, Paul says we are not saved by works. This is evident in Christ’s teaching. In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples the following:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith. However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of love or agape. Christ tells the disciples in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
So, it seems to be that the way in which we measure someone's faith is by Christ’s self-emptying, self-sacrificial (agape) love dwelling in them directed toward others for their salvation. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and love. By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5:5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love and whom we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and we in Him)…” How do we know when this love is in us? When 1 John 3:16 is true of us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The faith the Bible speaks of is revealed by willingly and lovingly living for others. It is really the indwelling Spirit of God – who sheds abroad the love of God in us - loving through us (Romans 5: 5). Consequently, those who have the faith of Jesus possess His love, and by it are purified.