Authentic Faith (September 2, 2018)
I hear from time to time, people worrying about their faith. “I’m not sure if I have enough faith.” “I’m worried my faith is weak.” “How do I strengthen my faith.” Often they start questioning themselves when they see how someone else has taken a difficulty right in stride, or another person is just so active in the church and passionate about what they do. They look at these other people and then see themselves. Am I not doing enough? Am I not faithful enough? How do I grow in my faith? How do I have a deep, authentic faith? And as we worry about our faith, it becomes very natural to worry about how that faith displays itself and how others might perceive our faith. What can I do to show that my faith is authentic? What can I do to grow my faith?
But I think before we discuss what it takes to have authentic faith, we have to look at something else first. We have to learn from our authentic Savior. John chapter 6 really marked a turning point for Jesus. Of course, Jesus always had the same mission, same intention, same march to the cross, but John 6 marks the moment when he had to deny his own popularity, his honor, and the glory that he could have so easily had here on earth. Yes, he gave up heavenly glory already when he became man, but this is the point in his ministry where people started to turn away from him and actively spoke against him to be rid of him. Jesus remained true to his mission. True to the plan of salvation. Jesus was not running for office; he was heading for the cross to pay for the sins of all. He was not raising an army; he was inviting people to repent and believe in him. The people were expecting all of those great things. He could have easily done them, reaped the benefits, and spared himself a lot of torment, but that’s not why he came. An earthly ruler was not why God came. An earthly ruler would simply bear the appearance of deliverance, but in reality, would do nothing for those he came to save.
As Christ was an authentic Savior, doing what had to be done, so he calls you and I to be authentic followers. God calls for the same humble obedience from us. Not to put up a front. Not that we listen to the word, go through the motions, and appear very religious, without letting the word penetrate deep down to the heart. God says, “look intently into the perfect law.” Study it. Examine it. Listen to it and learn from it. When we keep the law just for the sake of keeping the law, it shows that we don’t really understand the law. And, we become like the Pharisees who kept the law not to give God honor and glory, but to honor and glorify themselves. In fact, they even became like the law police – not only upholding God’s law, but adding many of their own, even elevating those laws above God’s laws. The things we do don’t earn us any kind of righteousness, or status before God. And most importantly, we don’t grow in faith because of our actions. Actions do not precede faith. Jesus calls out such inauthentic faith when he says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Mk 7:6-7).
The fact is, if you were to look into the law and place your name behind each of God’s commands, saying that you have kept it perfectly… well, we wouldn’t look so good. We can’t uphold God’s law. We don’t love him perfectly above all things. We don’t love others more than ourselves. We bicker, we argue, we complain and do so much more. In fact, when I look intently into the law I find a very ugly picture of myself. I realize that I have not been able to keep even one command. The law condemns not only sinful actions, but also sinful thoughts. Disobedience comes not from the lips or the hands but it starts in the heart. In the law, when I look for myself, I see only moral filth and evil that is so prevalent.
So forget yourselves! If you are concerned about strong or weak faith, or growing in your faith, forget yourselves. Don’t look intently into the law to find yourself or your faith. Your name is never going to be signed under any of the commands in God’s law because you and I cannot keep his commands. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus can keep the law of God. Only he proved faithful. He loved God above all else, not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Php 2:6). He loved you and everyone else above himself – not coming to be served as a king, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). He’s the only one who did this perfectly. The only one about whom God can say, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).
Do you know why it’s called the perfect law here? Perfected would actually be a little better. The Greek wording actually says, “whoever stoops down to examine the completed law that gives freedom… they will be blessed what they do” (Ja 1:25). It’s the same Greek word that is used when Jesus cried out on the cross “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Jesus kept God’s law perfectly, completed and fulfilled the law at every point. He kept it in your place all the way to his death so that you could have freedom through this “perfected” or “completed” law. Now, looking intently into the “completed” law – the law that was upheld by Jesus – see his name in place of yours after every one of God’s commands. See a beautiful reflection of your Savior. Forget yourself and see his name signed at each and every point of the law. If I want to see anything good in the law I must not see myself. I must see Jesus. In the law completed by Jesus I have freedom from inauthentic actions. I have the freedom to serve God with a true heart.
Actions always follow faith. Not the other way around. Actions that flow from an empty heart are really not pleasing actions at all. James paints a picture of what that might look like. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (Ja 1:26). It’s a person who worships regularly, hearing God’s Word and singing praises to him, yet soon after is right back to letting his tongue run loose. It’s someone who is so passionate about their own ideas that they don’t take the time to listen to others. It’s someone whose patience is running thin and quickly snaps back without a hint of grace or kindness. It happens after church, in meetings when we are quick to speak against someone who’s opinion is not our own. It’s as if we look deeply into a picture of the love and kindness God has showered upon us, but it doesn’t sink in so that we forget to show that same love when we step out of worship. In that case we become like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a large debt by his master, but then didn’t go and do likewise when he found a fellow servant owing him money.
God says, “look intently into the perfect law.” See the reflection of Jesus in it. Study it. Examine it. Listen to it and learn from it. “Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas 1:20). Because of Jesus taking my place under the law. Because he was patient with me – quick to listen to my prayer of repentance, slow to speak a word of judgment and slow to become angry with me, I am reborn. I am reborn through water and the word of truth so that I can be a firstfruit offering to him! Since he was patient with me, I can be patient to others. Since he was merciful to me, I can be merciful and compassionate toward others. That’s the evidence of a deep faith. These are actions that follow an authentic faith. It’s a faith that reflects Christ in every action.
That’s finally why James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Ja 1:17). A true faith is nothing more than a channel for God’s gifts. It is his good and perfect gift of faithfulness to you that carries you through the ups and downs of life. It is his good and perfect gift of loving kindness that flows through you and allows you to be loving and kind to others. And he never changes. He is always the same. That’s why you have authentic faith when it’s rooted in him. Realize this, faith didn’t die for you. Faith didn’t take away your sins or come to be your savior. Faith did nothing but connect you to God’s blessings. It’s Jesus who died for you. He took away your sins and came to be your Savior. The object of your faith is what matters. And the object of your faith, your God and Savior is faithful.