A Vital Faith on Display
AN EXPOSITION OF JAMES 2:14-17
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
One of the most colorful and exciting personalities of the Uniteds States was Theodore Roosevelt.
Following the assassination of Republican president William McKinley on September 14, 1901, Roosevelt was catapulted into the presidency where he served as the 26th Chief Executive from 1901 to 1908.
Having promised to serve only one term of his own, Roosevelt turned the reign of government over to William Howard Taft, whom he helped to elect, and went big game hunting in Africa. When Roosevelt returned to the States, feeling betrayed by the polices of Taft, Roosevelt again ran for the presidency on the National Progressive Party better known as the Bull Moose Party. However, Teddy lost this renewed bid for the White House to a Democrat named Woodrow Wilson. (1913-1921).
Roosevelt once commented that the presidency was a “bully pulpit”. He meant that the intense attention given to that office allowed a person to help shape the morals and manners of society. Any president, or former president, has a “bully pulpit” from which to speak, and Theodore Roosevelt knew how to use it.
Giving an interview in the Ladies Home Journal in 1917, Roosevelt took advantage of his national status to comment about the importance of going to church. He listed ten reasons why a person should make religion a vital part of life.
In summary, Roosevelt argued that a person who is religious is a better citizen. A person who fears God, and loves his neighbor, will live a law abiding life, while helping others. Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, American society has changed in many ways. Life moves at a faster pace now. People are living longer. Health care is better. Until the 2016 presidential election, nationalism had given way to globalism. The information highway is demanding that the next generation be able to operate computers. Twelve men have walked on the moon. And yet, for all of the advances in science, technology, and communication, there is one thing that has not changed since the turn of the century, and that is the need to be a vital Christian. With that in mind, let me suggest six characteristics of what it means to be a good Christian.
First, a good Christian is someone who is serious about religion. In the final analysis, the state of the soul is the most important issue, for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul? Religion is very serious.
Many years ago, I received a letter from a prisoner named cook. He was in an Indiana jail. He wanted me to consider the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He made several statements and asked for a personal reply. Part of my answer was this: “Dear Mr. Cook, you are a serious student of the Bible in as far as you study it from the perspective of the Jehovah Witnesses. It is good that you are serious. Now, here is the final position. If I am wrong in my theology, and you are correct, the only thing that will happen to me is that I will suffer annihilation. But if you are wrong, and I am right, then your immortal soul is at stake, and you will lose it.”
I say the same thing to all people who are living carelessly, and without God consciousness. If you are right, and life is ultimately meaningless, then eat, drink, and be merry for soon you will die. But, if there is a goal to life, if the chief end of man is to know God, and to enjoy Him forever, then beware. You have played with your soul, and tossed it away recklessly.
The story is told of a famous juggler who was on board a boat crossing the Atlantic. One day to amuse the passengers, and to keep in practice he began to juggle. The items were small at first and the man was gifted. The people applauded. To impress them with his skills and confidence the juggler took out a large diamond that represented the totality of his wealth. He tossed the large stone into the air and caught it with ease. He tossed it higher and higher, still catching it each time. “I shall throw it as high as I can,” said the juggler.
The people begged him not to, but he was determined. So the diamond was cast into the air. It went out of sight and came back into view. Just as the juggler was reaching to grab it, the ship suddenly lunged downward into a swell. The hands of the juggler missed the stone and it dropped into the waters, lost forever. Many people are just as foolish as that juggler, with something far more valuable. A good Christian is much more serious with their soul. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Second, a good Christian understands the value of simplicity. There is something very calming about Christ, and the Christian way of life. The Lord takes everything and makes it very simple in the sense that the important things in life are finally understood: be kind, love one another, do good, worship God, and serve others. This is the essence of life.
When the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was almost hearing the stomping of the Gestapo boots to take him away and execute him, he gave some final thoughts as to what kind of people the church was going to need most when the last bomb had exploded, and the last solider had been killed to end World War II.
Bonhoeffer wrote down his thoughts that have been preserved. “What the church will need, what our century will need, are not people of genius, not brilliant tacticians, or strategist, but simple, straightforward, honest men and women.” Bonhoeffer was right. The church needs Christians who will be simple once more.
Simple in speech, to say what is meant, and to mean what is said. Simple in character, genuinely caring without hidden agendas. Simple in understanding, salvation is by grace through faith alone.
One of the practical problems that crept into the early church, is that people wanted to make Christianity complicated. To the church at Corinth, Paul had to write, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor. 11:3)
Then third, a good Christian is one who has submitted to the sovereignty of God. In practical terms, this means that God has a right to rule His universe as He see fit. For His own good reason, God has been pleased to allow sin, sickness, disease, and death, to be part of the creative order. One day, all of these things shall be reverse. One day, the ravages of sin will be halted, but until that day comes, man shall labor by the sweat of his brow, women shall travail in childbirth, thorns and thistles shall grow together, and the lion will eat the lamb.Until then, the good Christian, will submit to the Sovereign will of God, realizing that sorrow and sunshine are part of the Christian experience, and there is no turning back.
By submitting to the will of God, many difficult situations can be endured for Christ’s sake. So “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever.” Amen. (2 Pet. 3:18).
A fourth characteristic of a good Christian, is that of being truly born again. Salvation and church membership are not the same. Many a person has come into the visible church by being baptized as a baby. Others simply fill out the membership card and they are received, with no questions asked. But there is no knowledge of personal salvation. The language of heaven has been learned in the head, but has never been experienced by the heart.
There is no assurance of salvation, for the gospel has never touched the inner person. But a good Christian, a true Christian, can say,
“I’ve been to Calvary, I have seen the Lord!”
“I’ve been to Calvary, by the witness of the Word”.
“I’ve been to Calvary, and all my sins have been laid upon Christ.”
“I’ve been to Calvary, for burdens are lifted at Calvary”.
Just before he died, John Newton (1725-1807) said,
“I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”
A fifth characteristic of a good Christian, is that of being committed to the Scriptures. In the early church the focal point of the worship service was upon the reading of the Bible. Time passed, and the mass was substituted for the Word. Then came the Reformation, and the glory of the Bible was honored again, as indeed it should be.
St. Ambrose once wrote, “As in paradise, God walks in the Holy Scriptures, seeking man” (c. 340-397).
Anthony of Egypt said, “Be astounded that God should have written to us” (c. 251-356).
A sixth characteristic of a good Christian, is that of finding a place of spiritual service. God has not saved people to keep them silent and unoccupied. There is a sphere of service in the King’s court. No one can do everything, but each person can do something for the Savior, and the Lord will reveal what He wants done as the heart is surrendered to him.
When William Carey began thinking of going to India as a pioneer missionary, his father pointed out to him that he possessed no academic qualifications that would fit him for such a task. But Carey answered, “I can plod.”
How true it is that God accomplishes mighty things for His kingdom through those who are willing to persevere, who are willing to plod faithfully through one difficulty after another in the power of the Spirit. When serious attention is given to the soul, when simplicity of life is sought, when divine Sovereignty is submitted to, when salvation is found in Christ the Saviour, when the Scriptures are studied, when spiritual service is engaged in, then being a Christian will be a delight, and not a duty, and the heart will say…
“I love to step inside a church,
To rest and think, and pray;
The quiet, calm and holy place
Can drive all cares away.
David W. Foley