September 16, 2018

Rev. Bernt P. Tweit



Old Testament Lesson; Isaiah 50:4-10

Gospel Lesson; Mark 8:27-35                              

Sermon Text; James 2:1-5

                       James 2:8-10

                       James 2:14-18


Last week Pastor Bartels had us look at James, chapter one.  Today we are looking at James, chapter two.  Last week, Pastor Bartels reminded us what God's Word said in James, chapter one.  We should be hearers, and doers.  We should hear what God's Word tells us, and then we should put it into practice.

James continues the wonderful essay he wrote, or the wonderful epistle he wrote.  Really, he is talking about the way a Christian lives their lives.  And so, we come to a question that lies before us.  Are we saved by faith, or are we saved by works, because James is going to be focusing a lot on works today? 

So, are we saved by faith, or are we saved by works?  We know what Scripture says.  We know that scripture says, in Romans, chapter three,

“We maintain that a man

(we maintain that a person)

is justified by faith,

apart from observing the Law.”  

We know that scripture says, in Ephesians, chapter two,

“For it is by grace that you been saved,

through faith. 

It is not of yourselves. 

It is a gift of God, not by works,

so that no one can boast.”

You might be saying to yourselves, “Well, Pastor Tweit, in the first two minutes of your sermon you have already answered the question.  You can say, “Amen”, and we can go home.” 

Well, I have a lot more to say.  Are we saved by faith, as the Apostle Paul says, or are we saved by works, which is what James is alluding to?  You see, right after our text for today it is the Apostle James who makes this statement.  It comes up in verse twenty four, of chapter two. 

“You see that a person is shown to be righteous by works

and not by faith alone.”  

So, who is right?  Is the Apostle Paul right, that we are saved by faith?  Or, is James right, that we are shown to be righteous by works, and not by faith alone?

Continue to stay with me here, ok?

Muhammad Ali was a world famous boxer.  He grew up a Southern Baptist.  He turned to the Islam faith, and became a Muslim in life.  And so, he was no longer Cassius Clay, but he was Muhammad Ali.  He is known to have many famous quotes.  But, one of the quotes that Muhammad Ali said was this.  (You tell me what you think about this quote.)  “One day we are all going to die.  God is going to judge us, our good deeds, and our bad deeds.  If the bad deeds outweigh the good deeds, you are going to go to Hell.  But, if the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, you are going to go to Heaven.”

What do you think of that quote?  That is a terrible quote.  It is a terrible thing to live by, because how unfortunate it would be, or how terrifying it would be to live with the uncertainty, “Have I done enough good deeds to counteract my bad deeds?”

That is the way he lived his life.  When he woke every morning, and when he went to bed every night, “Have my good deeds outweighed my bad deeds?”  It would be terrible to live with that uncertainty.

Just recently I was visiting with a man whose grandson had died in a car accident.  He was pretty shook up about it.  I wanted to bring comfort to him, and I wanted to find out about his grandson's spiritual life.  And so, he told me about his grandson being baptized.  He told me about his grandson being confirmed.  Then he said, “My grandson has not been to church in forever. I don't know what his faith life was, when he died.”

I looked at him, and wanted to bring comfort to him, so I was thinking about a passage in scripture, because he talked about the room in Heaven.  I went to John 14, and said,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 

Trust in God. 

Trust also me.” 

Jesus said,

“I go to prepare a place for you. 

If I go and prepare a place for you,

I will come back

and take you to be with me.” 

Then, Jesus said,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. 

No one comes to the Father except through me.”

His grandfather looked at me, and said, “So you are telling me that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.”

I said, “Yes, Jesus is the only way to Heaven.”
Then, he looked at me, and said, “So, I suppose you are going to tell me my brother who is an atheist is in real trouble?”

And, I answered him, “Yes, your brother who is an atheist is in real trouble, because he doesn't believe in Jesus as his Savior.”

It appears as though there are two conflicting things that are happening in our text today.  Paul says we are saved by faith.  It appears as if James is saying we are saved by works.  So, is one right, and the other wrong?  Is somebody lying in scripture here?  Neither of them are lying.  But, here is what we need to do.  We need to let scripture interpret scripture, to see what Paul is saying is true, and to see what James is saying is true, as well.

Here is how we remedy this.  When Paul says

“We maintain a man is justified by faith.” 

“A person is justified by faith”, he is talking about our vertical relationship with God.  In our vertical relationship with God, we are justified by faith.  We are judged by faith.  We are saved by faith.  The Holy Spirit has brought you to faith to believe in Jesus, as your Savior. 

But, what James is talking about is our relationship with other people.  He is talking about the relationship we have with our neighbor.  He is talking about the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters.  They cannot see your heart.  They can't see your faith.  And so, they judge you, or they justify you by your life.  They justify you by the works you do in this life. 

So, before looking at our text for today, I just want to say this one last thing.  Good works don't save us. 

Good works don't save us,

but saved people

do good works.

Let's look at what James says about, “Are we justified by faith?”  Or, “Are we justified by works?”  Let's look at the examples he gives us in our text for today.  And, let's look at selected verses from James, chapter two.

God's Word says:

My brothers, have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without showing favoritism.  For example, suppose a man enters your worship assembly wearing gold rings and fine clothing, and a poor man also enters wearing filthy clothing.  If you look with favor on the man wearing fine clothing and say, “Sit here in this good place,” but you tell the poor man, “Stand over there” or “Sit down here at my feet,” have you not made a distinction among yourselves and become judges with evil opinions?  Listen, my dear brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the Kingdom, which He promised to those who love Him?

However, if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, since you are convicted by this law as transgressors.

In fact, whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of breaking all of it.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but has no works?  Such “faith” cannot save him, can it?  If a brother or sister needs clothes and lacks daily food and one of you tells them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but does not give them what their body needs, what good is it?  So also, such “faith,” if it is alone and has no works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”  Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



So, the first example James gives us in our text for today is favoritism.  Don't show favoritism.  We are saved by faith.  That is our vertical relationship.  But, now, as we live out our life, don't show favoritism in the way you interact with other people.  So, suppose this.  Suppose two people come to church.  One is wearing a Green Bay Packers' jersey, and the other is wearing a MN Viking jersey...I was just seeing if you were paying attention.  Suppose someone comes to your house of worship, and they are rich.  They are wearing fine clothing, and expensive jewelry.  And, somebody else comes to your house of worship, and they are poor.  How are you going to interact with them? 

You know, our sinful human nature likes to get things out of people.  “You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours.”  “What's in it for me?”  “If you do this for me, then I will do something for you.” 

But, James says don't live that way.  Don't show favoritism.  Now, if you are coming to a Lutheran Church, and you want to give somebody a prominent place to sit, where is it going to be? (jokingly) Last pew, right?  Give them a prominent place to sit.  But, now with somebody who is poor and filthy, if you tell them to stand in a corner, or tell them to sit at your feet, James says, “Don't show favoritism”.

Back to the quote I gave you just a little bit ago.  The man who said if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you are in good shape.  But, if your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds, you are in terrible shape. 

That is not what James says, here.  James says, don't show favoritism.  Then, he goes on to say this. 

“But if you show favoritism,

you are committing a sin...”  

We can all think about our hearts, look into our hearts, and we can all admit we have shown favoritism, therefore we have committed a sin.  But, he goes on to say this. 

“In fact, whoever keeps the whole law,

but stumbles in one point

has become guilty of breaking all of it.” 

If we have shown favoritism to somebody just one time, as James says, we have committed a sin.  And that one sin is enough to condemn us for all eternity.

So, we can't boast in our works.  We can't, in God's eyes.  And so, the book of Romans says this. 

“Where then is boasting? 

It is excluded. 

On what principle? 

On that of observing the law? 

No, but on the observation of faith.”

We can't boast in our works before God.  We can only have Him look at our life of faith.  Even the prophet Samuel was thinking about these two things, when Saul was king in Israel, and God told him to anoint a new king.  God told him to go to Jesse's house.  The prophet Samuel went to Jesse's house, and when he arrived, the first son presented himself.  Samuel thought to himself, “That is the king, right there.” 

But God said, “Samuel, that is not the one you are going to anoint.”

Then Samuel saw Jesse's second son, and he was like, “He has to be it.  He looks the part of a king.”
God told the prophet Samuel, “That is not the one, either.”

He went down through all of Jesse's sons, and God said, “You are not to anoint any of them.”
Samuel asked, “Is that all of the sons you have?”
Jesse said, “I have one more.  He is out watching the sheep, right now.  I will go get him.”

That boy's name was David.  God told Samuel, “Rise up, and anoint him king.” 

This is what God told Samuel,

“Man looks at the outward appearance...” 

Man looks at the works we do. 

“Man looks at the outward appearance,

but it is God who looks at the heart.”  

It is God who looks at our life of faith. 

Which gets us to the very first line of our text for today.  There are only two places in the whole book of James that he mentions the name Jesus.  This is one of those places.  (Remember, this James we are talking about is the half brother of Jesus.  During Jesus' life, he did not believe his half brother was the Messiah.  After Jesus rose from the dead, James did believe that.  James did become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.)

And so, here is one of two times in his Epistle where he says this. 

“...have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ...” 

Have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, because remember what it is that Jesus has done for you.  Here is what Jesus has done for you. 

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Though He was rich,

yet for your sake He became poor

so that you, through His poverty, might become rich.” 

God doesn't play favorites.  We see that carried out in the way He sent His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior.  Think about this.  Think about who Jesus was born to.  He was born to poor people.  He was born to poor parents.  How do we know that?  Well, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to make a sacrifice, they brought a poor person's sacrifice.  The Old Testament scriptures said what sacrifice you should bring, when a son is born.  If you are rich, you bring 'this sacrifice', and if you are poor, you bring 'this sacrifice'. 

-They brought a poor sacrifice. 

Where was Jesus born? 

-He was born in a barn.  He was born in a place that was poor.  He was born in a place that was lowly.  How many of you were born in a barn?  None of us, but Jesus was. 

-During His earthly ministry, Jesus didn't even have His own bed to sleep in. 

-And when Jesus died on the cross, the only thing He had in life were His very own clothes, which were stripped away from Him.

Talk about somebody who was poor.

And yet, God doesn't show favoritism.  He was thinking about you.  He was thinking about me.  And, in love He sent His Son to be our Savior.  Through Jesus' life, through His death, and through His glorious resurrection, our sins are forgiven.  Eternal life in Heaven is ours.  And, the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith to believe in Jesus, as our Savior.

So, how now is that going to display itself?  How are we going to take what Jesus has done for us, and our vertical relationship with God, that we are saved by faith?  Now let it play itself out in the way we live our lives.  There is an example James gives us in our text for today.  It is the second half of our text, when he says, “Suppose you have a brother, or a sister who needs clothes, and lacks daily food and one of you tells them, 'Go in peace, be warm, and eat well,' but does not give them what their body needs, what good is it?”

I remember a long time ago, seeing a comic strip in which Charles Schultz, who wrote the comic strip Peanuts, carried this very point James is making here.  There are four comic boxes.  Here is what is taking place.  Snoopy is shivering cold.  It is snowing, and you can see him shivering.  Charlie Brown, and one of his friends are walking by.  Charlie Brown says, “Snoopy looks kinda cold, doesn't he?”  

In the second box his friend says, “I will say he does.  Maybe we ought to go over, and comfort him.”  

And then, they start walking over to Snoopy.  In the third box, Charlie Brown looks at Snoopy, and says, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” 

The friend says, “Yes, be of good cheer, Snoopy.” 

In the fourth box, Charlie Brown, and his friend are walking away, Snoopy is still shivering in the freezing cold, and it is still snowing.   There is a dialog box above Snoopy's head, and it just has a question mark.  “What was that?  What was that?  I am shivering.”  Charlie Brown knew the needs Snoopy had, spoke some words, but continued on his way.

What James is talking about here is not a stranger off of the street, not a bum, but he is talking about a brother, or a sister.  He is talking about somebody you know.  You know somebody who has a need, and James says you even know what that need is.  Here, the need is somebody is hungry, and they are cold.  So, you know the person, you know their needs, and you just speak words to them.  “Go in peace.  Be warm.  Be well fed.”, and then you just walk away from them.  It is like there is a dialog box above their head, with a  question mark.  “What is that?” 

You see, what God's Word wants us to do is it wants us to bring together faith, and works.  What God has done for us is our vertical relationship with God.  Look at what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith to believe in Jesus, as our Savior.  We are justified.  We are judged.  We are saved by faith.

But, how does that play itself out in the way we live our lives?  One other example, which is right after our text.  It is that of Abraham.  The example is Genesis chapter fifteen.  God called Abraham.  The Bible says, “Abraham believed God.  It was credited to him as righteousness.  He believed by faith.” 

But, in Genesis twenty two it played itself out, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac.  What did Abraham do?  Well, Abraham believed God.  He knew what God had done for him.  Now he trusted God would take care of the situation.  He was getting ready to sacrifice his one, and only son, Isaac.  Abraham believed God, and he was ready to carry that out, in the way he acted with other people.

So, dear Christian friends, are we saved by faith, or are we saved by works?  We are saved by faith in our vertical relationship with God.  He has done everything necessary for our salvation.  But, in the eyes of our neighbors, and the eyes of others, they judge us based on our works. 

Yesterday Katie and I were in Bloomington, MN.  Some of you asked me, before we left, “Are you going to The Mall of America?”  We didn't go to The Mall of America.  We went to a cross country race.  We parked in a church parking lot, right next door to the golf course where Ben had his cross country race.  As we were getting ready to leave, there was a sign at the edge of the parking lot.  Here is what the sign was.  When you came in it said,


Come to worship. 

We would love to have you worship with us.” 

As you left, on the backside of that Welcome Sign, it said,

“Worship ends. 

Service begins.” 

Worship ends, and service begins.  I really like that. As we gathered together today, we have been reminded of the central truth in scripture. 

We are saved by faith, alone. 

In a moment, we are going to get in to our cars, and we are going to leave worship.  We are then going to go out into the world.  Worship ends.  Service will begin.  So, as we leave church today, let's go out into the world, and show our faith in Jesus, as our Savior!