Follow Through Do the Math

This message deals with the relationship of faith, good works and salvation. Some in history have taught that James and Paul had a different view on the subject, but close examination finds them to be in agreement! The correct formula when it comes to faith, works and salvation is: Fatih = Salvation = Works. An explanation of this is found in the details of this sermon. We are saved by grace not by works, but when we are truly saved, our lives begin to change and it is shown by our new attitudes and actions.

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. What are some of the issues a person will face if they believe their salvation is based on the good works they do?

2. On the other hand, if a person claims to have great faith and a great relationship with God, but their life shows no evidence of such a relationship, and things don't add up, what would be the concern? 

Titus 1:16They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

3. Why is Faith + Works = Salvation an incorrect formula?

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

4. Why is Faith=Salvation=Works a good formula?

Ephesians 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Do the Math

Full Sermon Notes

“I will kneel in the dust at the foot of the cross where mercy paid for me
where the wrath I deserve it is gone, it is past
your blood has hidden me!”
Matt Readman

Folks, the message we're going to hear today in no way invalidates these amazing words. While our text today comes from the book of James, I want to share with you a verse that you've probably heard me quote fifty or more times.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

But this verse does not say works do not matter! It's just that works don't save us, but saved people do things! They do works. We're going to talk about follow through in a very practical and mathematical way today. Let's pray and ask God to teach us, especially those of us who are mathematically challenged when it comes to the relationship of faith and works!! Let's pray...

Father God, You are amazing! You are so full of love, grace, mercy, acceptance, deliverance, peace, strength, and every thing else we need to live lives that do things!! We don't want to just accept Your gracious gift of salvation and then just sit back and wait for heaven! We want our faith to make a difference in our world. We want our faith to touch lives. We want our faith to matter now! We are so grateful for the promise of heaven, the sweet by and by, but we are also grateful for the promise that Your presence is for the hear and now! God I pray that a revival of spiritual awareness and awakening will begin with us. Even today!
Sometimes as adults we get so smug in our ability to figure things out and reason things, and question things that we somehow discount and even disown the childlike faith that we once lived by. The childlike faith that once allowed us to really live, and dream, and sing and dance even in the midst of all of our questions.
Some of us have become paralyzed by the questions and the faith that once caused us to seek to live for you and to do things that would change our world, has atrophied. Waken within us a renewed desire to do works that will build Your kingdom. So I pray today that Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus Name I believe with child-like faith, Amen!!!

Ready for a little "faith math?" Our text found in James 2:14-26. Let's read the first few verses…

James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Some Things Don't Add Up!

What is James saying here? He is saying that there's a problem when a person says they have faith, but there's no evidence of that faith. It just doesn't add up when a person claims to have great faith, but it makes no difference in the way they live their life! The Pharisees and Sadducees claimed to be very religious people, but Jesus said this about them…

Matthew 7:15-17 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

By their fruit you will know them! Good trees bear good fruit and people who have a genuine relationship with God through faith, bear good fruit! Again I must remind you that we are not saved by how good we are and by how much fruit we bear. We are saved because we've been grafted into the vine of life which is Jesus Christ. It is through that personal connection we have life!! And the life that flows through the vine to the branches causes us to bear fruit. Jesus talked about this to His disciples...

John 15:1-5 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Now I want to share with you something so practical it will surprise you! Some of you are thinking, "I want to do good things and have good works in my life, but it's just so hard!" Did you notice when Jesus talked about the vine and the branches and fruit, He didn't say the branches make fruit, He said the branches bear fruit! There's a big difference!! How many of you have ever been to an apple orchard, a blueberry farm or a grape vineyard? When you walked by the tree, the bush or the vines, did you hear the moaning and groaning of the branches working and sweating to make the fruit? No you didn't! Why?

The gardener prepares the soil, keeps out the weeds, makes sure water is provided! Then the roots, the trunk, and the leaves work together with the sunshine to make the fruit. The branches bear the fruit that has been made by those processes! That's the way it is with a true follower of Jesus. God is the gardner and Jesus is the Vine. As long as we are connected to the true vine we will bear fruit, much fruit!! The branch that bears no fruit is dead! James said, faith without works, deeds, fruit, that faith is dead!
So do the math! If a person claims to have a great faith and relationship with God, is there any evidence. Do things add up?

Now I'm not telling you to become judgmental, but if great claims are being made, some fruit inspection may be in order. Especially if the person we're talking about is asking you to follow their leadership!
Ok, ready for some more faith math?
Some people use the wrong formula when it comes to faith and works. James 2:18

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

When you really read this sentence and its structure it is puzzling. It has been debated down through the ages what James meant. If someone says "You have faith; I have deeds," you would think James would have responded by talking about his faith and their deeds. But he says…"Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." Confusing, I know!

But what James was trying to do here was to point out the error of these kinds of formulas when it comes to faith math! The problem with this kind of math was they were starting with wrong formulas!!
Let me show you some examples and I think you will understand what James was saying.

The Wrong Formula!

Works = Salvation (Faith doesn't matter)

This is the formula the Jews had adopted because of their legalistic understanding of the law. Many of them, while very religious had come to believe that personal faith didn't really matter as long as you did the right things legally. Just follow the letter of the law in religious things and you would be fine. Jesus talked about this with the religious leaders of His day...

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

You see the Jewish people of Christ's day were doing the outward, viewable, religious activities, but there was a problem. The faith relationship with God, the source of true religion was missing and as a result important things like justice, mercy and faithfulness were also missing! But the religious elite were using good works to say faith didn't matter.

"I attended worship, I wrote a check, I even volunteered in the nursery, and by the way, I didn't kill anybody or do any of the big sins, so I'm fine, I don't need faith!"
But they weren't fine! They were spiritually sick and dying! It wasn't that the things they were doing were bad, but their motivation wasn't good! They wanted to be recognized for their good. And their good was the problem! Why? No human being could ever be good enough to deserve God's love, and no human being could ever do enough to earn God's love! Why? Because God is perfect and in order for us to be worthy of a relationship with a perfect God we would have to be perfect and there's no perfect human beings. The Word of God says...

Romans 3:22b-23... There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But the old Jewish formula of
works = salvation was not the only wrong formula. People in the church had developed their own bad formulas!!

Faith = Salvation minus works (Because works don't matter)

The first part of that formula is correct! Faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross is what saves us! Faith in the perfect life Jesus lived and the perfect sacrifice He made does equal salvation. But there were people who had basically come up with the insane and very un-Christlike philosophy that once you accepted salvation by faith, it no longer mattered how you lived your life. Because salvation was by grace and not by works, these people were saying you could live any lifestyle you wanted no matter how sinful because of God's mercy. This was known as Gnosticism. They thought they had figured out a way to use God for salvation and then to live out their sinful desires. James had a problem with this and he was not the only one!

Paul had a problem with this as well! Some people in history think Paul and James were polar opposites in their theology, but they were not. They were dealing with different problems when they wrote and they emphasized different things to get their points across, but they weren't in disagreement! Remember what James said in verse 17...

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Now listen to what Paul said in Romans 6:1-7...

Romans 6:1-7 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that,  
just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now, Paul didn't say that a person who has accepted the mercy and grace of God never makes mistakes or ever sins again. What he does say is they don't live in it! In other words, a person who has a relationship with Jesus still struggles with things from time to time, but they don't just give up and live in the sin. They seek to crucify the old self and live the new life. We are no longer slaves to sin!

This is the perfect segue to another wrong formula…

Faith + Works = Salvation

This formula is wrong because salvation is not faith in what Jesus did on the cross plus your good works! The correct formula would be this:
Faith = Salvation = Works

Faith = Salvation = Works

Faith in Jesus equals salvation. God's word puts it this way...

Romans 10:8-10 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

So faith = salvation, but when you accept God's amazing forgiveness and mercy and discover salvation, you will be changed from the inside out! What will begin to happen is your life will be changed. You will begin to march to the tune of a different drummer. You will begin to live for a different motivation and for a higher calling. Faith = Salvation and Salvation = Works! Paul put it this way...

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

You see, Paul and James were not opposite in their interpretation of God's Word. They were both spot on! Now I'm going to shock some of you! Faith without works does exist! But not in a follower of Christ. Faith without works exist in the demonic world. Listen to what James said...

James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.

You see, even demons know there's a God! They believe in God, and even tremble, but it is not a saving faith because they refuse to allow God to change their hearts and their demonic activities. People who say they believe in Christ but who continue to live lives without any evidence of the presence or power of Christ need to check their hearts!

What James was really saying is this: When you have faith and you exercise that faith by trusting Jesus with your very life, you will experience something in faith math I call completing the equation!

Completing the Equation!

Does anybody in here know anything about the Quadratic equation? According to ...

"Some quadratics are fairly simple to solve because they are of the form 'something-with-x squared equals some number', and then you take the square root of both sides. For your average everyday quadratic, you first have to use the technique of "completing the square" to rearrange the quadratic into the neat "(squared part) equals (a number)" format...”

Now I have no idea what I just said! I just know that in some mathematic equations something has to be done to complete the equation.
Now what I'm about to read to you from James may seem like a contradiction to everything I've already said, but it's not, just hear me out. James continued his diatribe on this subject in verse 20 of chapter 2...

James 2:20-21 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

(By the way, God provided another sacrifice and did not let Abraham go through with this sacrifice because God did not want people literally sacrificing their children. This was a test of Abraham's trust in God. He passed with flying colors. Let's continue...)

James 2:22-24 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

Wait a minute? What is James saying here if he is not saying we are saved by our works? Let me give you a practical example to explain. Let me stand up for this one! See that stool I was just sitting on? I believe it will hold me up, but at the present time it is not holding me up. Why? I'm not sitting on it! No matter how much I believe that stool will hold me up and give me rest, it will not do either of these until I sit on it! I have to take action. I have to follow through on my belief, my faith. I have to exercise my faith. If I don't then that chair will never hold me up. It is the same with faith in God. I have to place my trust in Him, I have to accept His love and forgiveness. I have to receive His gift!

Romans 10:11-13 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile —the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

James gave one more example of the connection between faith and works.

James 2:25-26 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Rahab had decided to trust God and was willing to put her life in His hands, which she did when she helped the Jewish spies! You may not know this, but she ended up marring Salmon, one of the two spies and ended up in the lineage of Jesus as the Mother of Boaz, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered King David, through whose line Jesus was born! Faith = Salvation = Works

Here's the bottom line…
There's no way a human being could come into contact with the Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe and the great Savior of our soul and walk away unchanged! If you have a personal relationship with God through faith, there will be evidence in your life! That evidence completes the faith equation.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

So we don't follow through with good works in order to work for our salvation, but to work out our salvation into every aspect of our lives, for as Paul says, and I believe James would agree...

Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Let's pray!!