James: Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ | James 1:1
Brian Hedges | May 20, 2018
[This morning we're beginning a new series of messages from the letter of James called "Practical Christianity." One reason for this series is that I’m always trying to provide a balanced diet from God’s word for our congregation. So, in recent months,] we’ve been in the gospels, we’ve been in the gospel of John, we’re coming back to John chapter 6 here in a few months; we’ve been in the gospel of Matthew, Matthew 26-28, leading up to Easter. Last summer we were in the Psalms together, in the fall we went through the letter to the Galatians. As I was thinking about what was missing — (we just did narrative, Old Testament narrative in Genesis) — as I was thinking about what was missing, I was thinking wisdom literature. We really haven’t done wisdom literature in awhile, or Old Testament prophets, and James really is wisdom literature.
So I was thinking, “Okay, should we do Proverbs or James?” and I’ve done Proverbs more recently than James. It’s actually been about 12 years since we’ve gone through the letter of James. That was on Sunday nights in 2006. I’m just curious; how many of you were here for that series on Sunday nights in 2006? That’s what I thought; maybe about ten people. So most of you have not heard from the letter of James in any depth, and none of us have in about a decade.
So, I think it’s important for us to pay attention to this kind of literature, and James is the one author of the New Testament who gives us wisdom literature. It’s very different than Paul. So what we’re going to discover is not so much a long and sustained argument that works paragraph by paragraph. There is some organization to the book, but James writes in a proverbial style. Sometimes it’s very bite-sized chunks of wisdom, maybe a verse or just a few verses, but there are themes that are scattered through this book. They’re like nuggets of gold that are scattered through this book of James, this letter of James, and what we’re going to do in this series is try to gather those various themes together and hit about a dozen sermons altogether, including this one, and do that over the course of the summer months.
One of the things that means is that each one of these sermons is going to feel somewhat like a stand-alone message, because we’re looking at a specific theme. So if you miss because of vacation or travel, that’s fine; you should be able to keep up just fine as we look at this letter and try to learn wisdom for practical Christianity, just putting our faith into practice. I think that’s something we need right now, it’s something we need more of. We do a lot of doctrine in our church, we do a lot of thinking about the great doctrines of the faith, like the person and the work of Christ, justification by faith alone; we’ve done that recently. But sometimes we just need to put shoe leather on our faith and discuss what does it mean to live as real, authentic Christians.
That really is the focus of James. He’s concerned with authenticity. He’s concerned with reality. He wants our faith to be real faith, and that’s the focus of this letter.
Now, we’re actually going to begin working through the text in two weeks, alright? Next week is Memorial Day, and I’ll be out of town next week, so in two weeks we’re going to start working through the text. This morning we’re just going to look at the first half of the first verse, because I want to introduce you to the author of this letter, who is James.
So let’s look at the text, James 1:1, and let me read it to you, and then let’s start trying to get to know the author of this book. Here’s what the text says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ - ” stop right there.
Who is this James?
That’s the first question we have to ask: who is this James? There were several people in the New Testament named James. There was James the disciple of Jesus, who was also the brother of John, the son of Zebedee. We do not believe that this James was the author of this epistle, because this James was martyred very early in the Christian church. You have it in Acts chapter 12, where he was beheaded by King Herod. So we don’t think it was that James.
There was another disciple named James, James the son of Alphaeus, also known as James the Less or James the Lesser, James the Minor. This James is actually named four time in the New Testament, every time in one of the lists of disciples. We know nothing else about him, and we don’t really think he was the author of this letter.
So the other candidate, and I think the best candidate for the author of this letter, was James the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just. There are good reasons to think that James the brother of Jesus was the author of this letter, because this James became one of the foundational leaders of the Jerusalem church following the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. He shows up several times in the book of Acts, and in fact, there are some literary correlations between James’s speech in Acts chapter 15 and the letter of James. Some of the things that James the leader of the Jerusalem church, James the brother of Jesus seem to have a really strong commitment to in the book of Acts seem to show up here in this letter. So this is the James that we believe is writing.
What’s, I think, very interesting is how James describes himself in this opening verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I think that actually could be worded a little bit differently, so here’s an alternative translation: it could be read like this, “James, a slave of God,” or, “A slave of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”
The grammatical construction there is somewhat interesting. There is not a definite article before either “God” or “Lord,” so it’s very possible that God and Lord are both descriptions of Jesus Christ, and it’s very significant that James calls himself the doulos (δουλος); that’s the word, the dulos, the slave. It’s not just a servant; it’s a slave. He calls himself a slave of God and Lord Jesus Christ. It is an amazing recognition of the deity and the lordship of Jesus Christ, and these two words, doulos and the word Lord, kurios (κυριος), those two words form an important pair in the New Testament.
Let me give you one quote. This is the only scholarly quote in this whole sermon; let me give it you, just so you understand what this word, doulos, means. This comes from Murray Harris in his great monograph, called Slave of Christ. Murray Harris says, “When believers sing or recite the confession ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we are affirming his absolute supremacy, not only over the physical and moral universe and not only over human history, not only over all human beings, whether living or dead; not only over the church, but also over our own lives as his willing slaves. The simple but crucial point is that the two words ‘lord’ and ‘slave,’ kurios and doulos, are correlatives. That is, they form a matching pair, comparable to lightning and thunder.”
These two words go together. To call Jesus as lord, to call him Lord, is to recognize ourselves as his slaves, as his servants. It means that he has absolute lordship over us.
Now, how many of you have brothers? Let me see your hand. Okay, I have two brothers, and listen, I love my brothers, Jason and Andy, I love them a lot, but not in a million years would I say, “I’m your slave.” I mean, I cannot imagine a possible world where something would happen where I would say, “I’m going to worship my brother.” I mean, can you imagine? Can you imagine what it took for James, who grew up with Jesus, he was the brother of Jesus; can you imagine what it would take for James to recognize Jesus as his Lord?
I think that’s a really important question. In fact, I think that is the key question for this message. What happened to James that caused him to view his older brother as the Lord of glory? He calls Jesus “the Lord of glory” in James 2:1. What happened to James that caused him to view his older brother as the Lord of glory and himself as Jesus’s bondservant or slave?
That’s the question I want to ask and try to answer, and this is how I want to do it. I want us to just do something like a little biography of James, and let’s gather together the various things the New Testament tells us about James, and I have five of them: five things we learn about James from the New Testament. And then let’s ask, what does this mean for us? What are some of the takeaways for us this morning? So, five things about James, and then some questions for us to reflect on as we apply this to our own hearts and lives. Who was James?
There are five things we learn about him.
I. James, the Brother of Jesus
Number one, James was the brother of Jesus. He was the brother of Jesus. Paul calls James the Lord’s brother in Galatians 1:18-19. Paul says, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him 15 days, but I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”
So right there we learn that James, who was a leader in the Jerusalem church, he’s also called by Paul an apostle, that James was the Lord’s brother. And indeed, he’s listed among the brothers of Jesus in both of the gospels according to Matthew and Mark. I’ll just give you one of those texts, in Mark 6, and this is an important text, I think, for understanding what it was like, Jesus’s own earthly ministry, okay, and the way people responded to him, especially from his hometown.
Look at this passage, Mark 6:1. It says, “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him,” that means they stumbled over him. “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
So, right here we’re getting a glimpse of several things about Jesus in his earthly ministry. It shows us that Jesus grew up in a normal Jewish family with lots of children, right. He has four brothers and sisters as well. So Jesus grew up in a large family. It counters, doesn’t it, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the mother of our Lord. Mary went on to have a normal marital relationship with her husband, Joseph, and she had many children, as is obvious from this text. And it is an indication that, prior to Jesus’s earthly ministry, his life, though it was of course characterized by the purest holiness, his life was not characterized by the miraculous.
You know, there are all kinds of apocryphal stories about the boy Jesus and the kinds of miracles that people suppose he did. These are late in origin; none of them are canonical, none of them have made it into our New Testament, for good reason. But there are stories about Jesus making sparrows out of clay and then turning them into real birds so that they would fly, or miraculously lengthening a board in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop, and things like that.
None of those stories are in the New Testament, and in fact, in John 2:11 we learn that Jesus’s miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee was the first of his signs. It was the beginning of his signs. That was the first miracle. So it’s not that Jesus grew up with all these superpowers, alright? He was very ordinary. He was holy, he was pure, he was undefiled in every way; he was the perfect child, but he was an ordinary human, and that meant that his brothers, his relatives, his family really stumbled over his claims to be the Son of God.
In fact, in John chapter 7 we hear very clearly that his brothers were not believers during his earthly ministry. John 7:2-5, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.” So they were not believers. It seems like they were saying this as a challenge; they were kind of challenging him, but they didn’t really believe in him. They didn’t trust in him, they didn’t know him as Lord. In fact, they were opposed to him.
Here’s the most amazing thing we learn about the brothers of Jesus in his earthly ministry. In Mark chapter 3, after Jesus calls his disciples, after he calls the 12 and he names them his disciples, his apostles, his family is ready to lock him up. They think he’s absolutely crazy. Look at this, in Mark 3:20-21. It says, “Then he [that’s Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
Now, that’s exactly what I would think if one of my brothers was claiming to be the Messiah, the Lord of the world; I’d think, “He’s out his mind. Lock him up! He’s crazy!” That’s what they thought! That’s what James thought. He thought Jesus was off his rocker. He thought he was crazy. He did not see, he did not understand who Jesus was. He was totally lacking in faith, he was totally lacking in spiritual perception.
I came across a great illustration of this this week, and probably 90 per cent of you did as well. How many of you were watching the silly little video, “Yanny or Laurel”? Alright, a lot of you, if you were on Facebook. It’s like, you know, 40-something per cent, when they heard this word, they heard “Yanny,” and 50-something per cent heard “Laurel.” How many of you - let me just, for fun, how many of you heard “Yanny”? Let me see your hands. Alright; how many of you heard “Laurel”? Let me see your hands. Alright, fewer. How many of you heard both? Alright; we are the favored few. I can hear both words.
I think it’s a great illustration of spiritual perception as well. I mean, it’s really, this whole phenomenon - if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just go Google it and you’ll be up to speed by the end of the afternoon - this whole phenomenon has to do with auditory perception, how do you hear certain frequencies, and how do those frequencies transmit to your brain? Some people hear “Yanny,” some people hear the word “Laurel.” And some people, just for perceptual reasons, don’t hear the same word. I think it’s a great illustration of spiritual perception.
Listen to what the apostle Paul says about this in 1 Corinthians 2:14; he says, “The natural person does not accept,” or receive, or welcome, “the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” There are some people that, when they saw Jesus in his earthly ministry, they only saw Jesus the man, they didn’t see Jesus the Son of God. There are some people that they saw Jesus, they saw his glory, they perceived that he was the Son of God; they had spiritual discernment. And James was not one of them. James didn’t believe. He didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God. He thought he was crazy, he was opposed to him, he didn’t believe in him.
II. James, a Witness of the Resurrection
So the question is, what happened to this man, the brother of Jesus Christ, that caused him to believe? We find the answer in the second thing we learn about James, and that is this: that James was a witness to the resurrection. He was an eyewitness to the resurrection of Christ.
Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I just preached from this passage a few weeks ago. It’s a wonderful passage, giving us the essence of the gospel, but it’s also giving us Paul’s apologetic, his defense, for the resurrection. Part of his defense are the many eyewitnesses who saw the risen Christ, and look at the list, okay? 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered to you, as of first importance, what I also received; that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” There’s the essence of the gospel. “...and that he appeared to Cephas,” that’s Peter, “and then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles.”
What happened to James? He saw his brother, who had been crucified, alive, raised from the dead. It was a personal meeting, and we know nothing about it, except that he appeared personally to James, this private encounter between Jesus and his little brother.
Can you imagine, can you just try to imagine what that must have been? Can you imagine the joy bursting in James’s heart when he saw that is brother, who had been crucified, was alive? Can you imagine the brokenness and this moment of devastating humility when he suddenly realized, for the first time, “He’s more than a man. He is who he said he was. He actually is the Son of God!” Can you imagine what love he felt from Jesus, who, I’m sure, tenderly dealt with his brother who had not believed? Jesus, who was crucified for his younger brother.
And can you imagine the absolute devotion and surrender, submission and obedience, that would then mark James’s life, when he recognizes that Jesus is the Lord of glory!? We get other indications of how people responded when they saw the risen Christ. You remember when Saul of Tarsus, who was the enemy of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus sees the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and he falls to his face, and he says, “Lord, will will you have me to do?” That’s the only right response to the resurrection of Christ: “Lord, I’m yours. What do you want me to do?”
Do you remember when doubting Thomas finally saw Jesus for himself? He saw the wounds, he saw the nail prints in his hands, he saw the wound in his side, and in John chapter 20 he falls down and he says, “My Lord and my God!” That was his response to the risen Christ.
I think James’s response must have been similar. He must have said, “My Lord and my God.” All of a sudden he has spiritual perception. All of a sudden it’s not just Jesus of Nazareth, it is Jesus the Christ, it is Jesus the Word made flesh, it is Jesus the Son of God, it is Jesus, God manifest in the flesh; it is Jesus, the Lord of glory; and it utterly changed James.
This evidently happened during those weeks following the resurrection, before the ascension of Christ, because in Acts chapter 1, after Jesus has ascended into heaven, we find the disciples are meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem, and among them are the brothers of Jesus. You see it in Acts 1:14; I’ll just read the last verse there. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.” So, presumably, Jesus brought to faith, whether through private appearance or through testimony, all of his brothers. In fact, another one of Jesus’s brothers was Judas, or Jude, who also gave us a New Testament letter.
III. James, a Pillar of the Church
So James was not only a brother of Jesus, he was an eyewitness to the resurrection, and then, number three, in subsequent years he became a pillar of the church. He became a pillar of the church.
I’m using the language of Paul here. This means he became a key leader in the Christian community. I’ve already mentioned his influence in the church in Jerusalem. He was a foundational member. Look at Galatians chapter 2 and Paul’s language there. Paul is talking about how he had received his gospel directly from Christ, and then after the fact, and only after receiving the gospel, did he confer with the Jerusalem apostles. He’s talking about this in Galatians 2, picking up in verse 7, “On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised,” verse 9, “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
So here we see that James was a pillar of the church, that James perceived the grace that had been given to Paul, gaining a spiritual perception now; that James is supportive of the Gentile mission. There is no fundamental conflict between James and Paul, even though on the surface, as we’re going to see in studying this letter, they word things in very different ways, and they have different concerns, but there was fundamental agreement on the gospel. And we see James’s very practical concern in verse 10 to “remember the poor.” That corresponds with the many things that James will say in this letter about the poor.
So, James is a pillar in the church. He’s a foundational member of the church, a leader of the church, and this is pretty obvious in the book of Acts, where James shows up in three different places. I’m not going to read all of these, but you can see it in Acts chapter 12. This is after Peter is miraculously released from prison, and word is sent to James that Peter has been set free.
Then in Acts chapter 15 you have the story of the Jerusalem council. This is where the church was trying to determine the Gentile question: should Gentiles be circumcised in order to be part of the church? Must they be circumcised to be saved? And Paul and Barnabas and Peter and James and the elders of Jerusalem are all meeting together, and James agrees with Paul. This is where this issue is settled once and for all, that justification is by faith alone and that circumcision is not necessary for the Gentiles.
And then you have James appear again in Acts chapter 21. I will read this one, verses 17-19: “When we had come to Jerusalem,” this is Paul and Luke and this missionary band of brothers, “When we had come to Jerusalem the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” So again, you see James as the leader, something like the lead pastor, the senior pastor of the Jerusalem church, a church which Paul spent a lot of effort trying to raise money for so that he could bring relief to the poverty-stricken saints in Jerusalem.
IV. James, a Preacher of Righteousness
So, James was a brother of Jesus, he was an eyewitness of the resurrection, he was a pillar of the church; now, number four, James was a preacher of righteousness. A preacher of righteousness.
This is where I’ll give just a brief introduction to the letter itself, the themes of this letter, the letter of James. I’ve already mentioned [that] James is giving us wisdom literature. It is practical Christianity. He is concerned with reality, with authenticity; in fact, some of you may remember that that sermon series in 2006 was called “Get Real.” “Get Real,” because that’s what his whole letter is about; it’s about getting real in your faith, it’s about authenticity. James is concerned with righteousness. Perhaps that’s why he was known as James the Just, James the righteous.
You can see this in his letter. Let me just read these two verses, James 1:26-27, because in some ways these verses summarize the three main themes in the body of this letter. Okay? The letter begins with a call to patience and prayer, it ends with a call to patience and prayer; you have that in chapter 1 and chapter 5. But the body of the letter, chapters 2 through 4 or the first six verses of chapter 5, you have three themes, and they’re all summarized right here in James 1:26-27. Let me read it.
He says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
He says three things are essential to true religion, and by religion he’s not using it in the pejorative sense the way he do; he doesn’t mean religion in terms of formal, external religion only, without the heart; he means devotion, he means godliness, he means true Christianity. That’s the way James is using this word, which we’ve translated to English “religion.” He says three things are necessary, and these three things correspond to the main sections of the main body of the letter.
These three things are a controlled tongue, number one; care for the needy, number two; personal purity of life, number three.
(1) The controlled tongue, okay, verse 26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Let me ask you, Christian, do you have control of your tongue, or are your words characterized by cursing, slander, gossip, backbiting, complaining? I mean, James is hard-hitting on this. He is hard-hitting on this. We’ll see it in chapter three and scattered in various places through the letter: James says if you can’t control your tongue you don’t control yourself! He says your religion is worthless, it’s a house of cards, if you don’t have control of your tongue. It invites self-examination, doesn’t it?
(2) Secondly, James says there must be care for the needy. Look at verse 27a, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” The burden of chapter 2 is faith that expresses itself in deeds, particularly the kinds of deeds that meet the needs of other people. James says a lot about rich and poor, and he’s pretty harsh with the rich and pretty encouraging to the poor. No doubt it was because he was living in Jerusalem, a city that had been besieged with famine and all kinds of poverty; he’s ministering to these poverty-stricken saints and he sees the abuse of the rich to the poor, so he’s confronting that. He’s telling believers that if their religion is authentic, if their faith is real, it will express itself in deeds. “Faith without works is dead.”
(3) And then, the third thing is personal purity of life. We see this in the second half of verse 27, “...to keep oneself unstained from the world.” “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: ...to keep oneself unstained from the world,” and James will some of the harshest things about worldliness that we ever find anywhere in the New Testament, in James chapter 4, where he says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. To be a lover of the world is to be an adulterer, a spiritual adulterer, is to be unfaithful to God. We’ll have to wait until we get to that passage to see exactly what he means by that, but again, these are challenging things that challenges the authenticity of our faith.
Real religion, real faith, genuine faith, expresses itself in these three ways: a controlled tongue, care for the needy, personal purity of life. James is very practical. Practical Christianity; it doesn’t get more practical than this. James is a preacher of righteousness, he’s a teacher of wisdom and a preacher of righteousness, and that’s the thrust and the burden of this letter.
V. James, a Martyr for the Faith
And then there’s one more thing we learn about James, and I’ll conclude with some application questions. The last thing we learn about James we learn from church history, not from the Bible but from tradition and the history of the church following, and that’s this, that James was a martyr for the faith. Recorded by both Josephus and Eusebius, James was martyred.
It seems, when you piece the stories together, that he was martyred by being thrown from the temple and then stoned after that; they threw him off the temple and then they came and they stoned him, and at least one record says that someone took a club and beat him in the head until he finally died, and that as he died he was praying words similar to those of the Lord Jesus when he died, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” words very similar to that. So he was a martyr for the faith.
Again, it just begs the question, doesn’t it: how in the world did this person, who was the brother of Jesus, become a martyr for Jesus, a martyr of the faith? The answer is because of this transforming grace in James’s life as he saw, personally, the resurrected Christ.
Three Takeaway Questions
Now, this has all been pretty much biography, a little bit of history for us, to orient us to this letter, but let’s end with some takeaway questions. I want to ask you three.
(1) Here’s the first: has your familiarity with Jesus kept you from a personal trust in Jesus as Savior? This was James’s problem, wasn’t it? He knew Jesus. “I grew up with Jesus! You know, Jesus is my brother; he’s my older brother.” He was personally familiar with Jesus, while being blind to the glory of Jesus. He was personally familiar with Jesus without trusting in Jesus.
In a similar way, although there are differences, I understand this, there are differences, but I think this can be true of a lot of people in the church, and especially you kids, okay? Kids and young people in the church. You grow up going to church, right? You grow up hearing about Jesus all the time. Your parents are Christians, you go to Sunday school, you can’t remember when you were not in church; and it would be easy for you to assume that because you’ve always been in church and because your family believes in Jesus, and because you think you’ve always believed in Jesus, that you actually trust in Jesus, and you may not! I don’t want you to assume that you’re a Christian and to assume that you’re saved just because you’re familiar with Jesus.
The question is, do you trust in Jesus? Have you confessed your sins to Jesus? Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus’s sufficient, atoning work on the cross for you, and have you made a profession of faith? Have you said before the body of Christ through believer’s baptism that “I recognize that I’m a sinner and that I’m lost and I’m undone and I have no hope save Jesus and his righteousness, and I am now pledging myself to surrender my life to him, to obey him, and to follow him.”
Have you done that? If you’ve not done that, you need to do that. You need to make a profession of faith, and you need to do it following a genuine trust of your heart in Jesus Christ. I would urge you to do that. It may be that you’re a kid or teenager, a young person, raised in church, never done that; and it may be that you’ve been in the church for years. You might be baptized, even, okay? You may be baptized and a church member, and you’ve been in the church for years, but you’re disengaged and you’re not growing in your faith, you’re not feeding on the word, you’re not really following Christ. You’re familiar with Jesus, you assume you’re a Christian, and you may not be. You may not be.
This letter will tell you, if you have a heart open to receive it. This letter invites self-examination, and what it’s looking for is a genuine faith. I ask you this morning, is your faith genuine? Do you really believe? Do you live like you believe? Do you trust Christ? Have you surrendered to Christ? Have you repented of your sins? Is Jesus the Lord of glory in your life? He is the Lord, but is he the Lord in your life? That’s the question.
(2) Here’s the second: have you considered the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and responded in surrender to him as Lord? Here I have in mind not the person who’s been to church all their life, but the skeptical person. This is the person who just is skeptical of the claims of Christianity.
I think the starting place in examining the claims of the Christian faith is just this: it is the record of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection. There has to be an explanation for how the brother of Jesus came to worship him as Lord and how the enemy of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus, came to worship him as Lord. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that they really saw him raised from the dead, and if they did, then it means Jesus is Lord and it means that every one of us are accountable to him.
So, there’s a response to be made. You can’t just sit idly by and be passive; you either reject Jesus or you bow the knee. It’s one or the other. So I just ask, have you considered the evidence? If you don’t believe in the resurrection, how do you explain it? If you don’t believe the resurrection is true, then what about James? How would you explain this, that James, the brother of Jesus, worshipped him as Lord?
(3) And then finally, number three, and I’ve already pretty much said this, haven’t I, but here’s the third question: is your Christianity practical? Is your faith changing the way you live? Are you pursuing righteousness?
Just think about those three categories we’ve already considered. Is that reflected in your words? Is it reflected in your compassion for needy people? And is it reflected in your personal pursuit of holiness, purity of life? Is your Christianity changing you? Is it changing the way you live?
Now, the good news of the gospel is that, wherever you are this morning, there is mercy and there is grace for you. If you’re not a believer, there is mercy and grace to believe. You can turn to Jesus in faith this morning. You may be a nominal Christian, in name only, and you recognize that for the first time, and there’s grace for you, too; there’s forgiveness for the hypocrisy, there’s forgiveness for the apathy, and there is real transformation.
You may just be a backslidden Christian this morning, where you believe and you know you believe and your life has been marked at times by real pursuit of Christ, but you’re convicted that that’s not reflected in words and in deeds, and if so, there is grace for all who repent and believe, and I invite us and encourage us to do that today.
Let’s bow in prayer as we prepare for the Lord’s table.
Father in heaven, we come to you this morning and we humble our hearts before you. As James himself says later in this letter, if we will draw near to you, God, you will draw near to us, and if we will humble ourselves you will raise us up. So we do that right now.
Lord, we confess that our faith is not everything it should be. I think all of us, if we’re honest, could see that there are things in our lives that need repentance or that need adjustment, and we pray that you would help us, we pray that you would forgive us, we pray that you would change us. And Father, I pray that you would use this series of studies over the next three months to really help us flesh out our faith in practical ways. Father, I think that sometimes with all of the good things that I can see in our church there’s still too much apathy, that sometimes we’re not fully devoted.
Lord, wherever that’s the case, would you bring genuine conviction of that sin, bring repentance to us today? Would you give us a zeal for the lost, faithfulness in evangelism? Would you give us love for the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy? Would you open our hands and our hearts to make us generous people? Would you give us a heart for prayer, so that we will pray fervently, regularly, consistently? May we be described as people who are constant in prayer.
Would you control our tongues, so we’ll put a bridle on our mouths and not sin with our lips by complaining and gossiping and saying things we should not say? Would you help us honor you in all that we say and all that we do? We need your grace for it; this isn’t something we work up, it’s just a matter of laying ourselves before you and opening ourselves to your grace and asking you to give us repentance and give us faith and give us real transformation in every place that it’s needed.
As we come to the table this morning, we ask you to prepare our hearts, give us true repentance and true faith? We don’t come as perfect people, but may we come as humble and broken people who are taking refuge in Christ and are doing so with a genuine desire to follow Jesus. So search us, know us, try our hearts this morning, help us to examine ourselves, and meet with us, in a very real way, by your Spirit as we come to the table. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.