Pentecost 16 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 9, 2018
Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-10, 14-18, Mark 7:24-37
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A golfer tees off on a par 4 and hits a nice shot just off the fairway about 150 yards from the green. He walks up to the ball and then he has a decision to make. Which club should he use? It could be anywhere from a 3 iron to a 7 iron, maybe even a wedge or a hybrid based on the golfer’s ability, wind conditions, how deep and thick is the rough. For a golfer like me who plays every couple of years it probably doesn’t matter too much I can hit it 10 feet with almost any club, but for a good golfer, the proper club selection can make all the difference.
In many pursuits, the proper tool for the job makes a big difference. Two screwdrivers may look very much alike, but a Philips head and a slot screw driver work best on the proper type of screws. You need to know which tool is right for the job. The same way with the Bible there are different tools for different jobs.
We have Ephesians 2 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We also have James 2 (ESV) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Two different passages for two different purposes.
C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the first president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I have a picture of him on the wall of my study drawn by Joe Nagle, an inmate in prison. In 1878, Walther gave a series of lectures to seminarians which have been preserved and recorded in the book, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.” It is broken down into 25 theses. This is an excellent book for Lutherans to read and study. Theses VIII is helpful for us this morning, “You are not rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel in the Word of God if you preach the Law to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who are living securely in their sins.
Law and Gospel. Two different situations. Two different approaches. James 2 is more law. Ephesians 2 is more Gospel.
Suppose a man who regularly attends worship one day packs his bags and moves out of his house leaving behind his wife and children. He has a new woman that he met at work and has been dating on the side and he is moving in with her because he says she understands him better and he’s happier with her. The man’s pastor goes to visit him to warn him about his sin. The man says, “Pastor, don’t worry about me. I still have faith. I still believe in Jesus. Everything is fine. You don’t need to question my spirituality.”
Which passage should the pastor share with this man? Ephesians 2 or James 2? He needs to hear James.
Or suppose a young woman comes into church to talk to the pastor and she is heartsick over things that she has done. She hasn’t been to worship for a long time and she has gotten deeper and deeper into a lifestyle of drinking and casual intimacy. At one point she got pregnant and her frightened boyfriend talked her into getting an abortion. Now she is haunted by her past and is deeply troubled by what she has done. Whenever she sees babies and small children she starts to cry. She says to the pastor, “I’ve messed everything up and I can’t make it right. I can’t do enough to make up for what I’ve done. There is no way God can forgive me. I am lost forever.” Which verse does the pastor use for this young lady? Ephesians 2 or James 2? Ephesians, of course.
Ephesians 2 is for people who are trouble because of their sin and need assurance that salvation is not based on what they have done, but is based solely on what Christ has done for them.
James 2 is for people that are secure in their sin and think that as long as they say they have faith it doesn’t matter what they do. Both verses are the Word of God, but are used for different purposes. One comforts the troubled, and one troubles the comfortable.
You need to hear both James 2 and Ephesians 2 at various times of your life. When you are feeling comfortable in your sin and you are loving yourself more than loving those around you, you need to hear James 2. Likewise when you say you have faith, but your works are from the devil, hear James 2, James 2:19 (ESV) 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Simply believing God exists is not saving faith. The devil believes God exists. Saving faith believes that Jesus died for you on the cross and rose from the dead for you to pay for all your sins. This kind of faith changes you; it makes you behave differently than those who have no faith. As a Christian, Jesus’ love flows from God–through you–to the world. God loves you in Christ; you love God and love your neighbor. Saving faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit and makes you a saint; righteous, holy, innocent. Unfortunately, at the same time, until the day you die, you will still battle your natural sinful nature that stubbornly clings to you. It is a strange paradox of your life as a Christian … you are, at the same time, a saint and a sinner. It can be a frustrating and difficult paradox and the devil will try to use it against you.
The devil will try to convince you that since you believe in Jesus and in His forgiveness then you are free to sin. This makes great sense. You think, “I like to sin. Jesus likes to forgive sins. What a great deal!” You can fall into the trap of confessing Jesus with your lips, but then living life like an unbeliever. There is an extreme example of this near the end of the first Godfather movie. Michael Corleone is godfather to his sister Connie’s child and they are at church for the child’s baptism. Michael is at the baptismal font renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways at the same time his men are engaged in a massacre of the family’s enemies at Michael’s order. Michael says he has faith in God and is against the devil, but he is embracing the devil’s ways of murder and violence. Michael Corleone needs to hear James 2.
Another strategy of the devil is to convince you that since you still are by nature sinful that faith in Jesus is of no use because your sin is too great. The devil whispers to you, “If you really had faith in Jesus you wouldn’t still be having those awful, twisted thoughts and desires. You wouldn’t give in to temptation, if you were really a Christian. If you were really a Christian you would do more to please God.” At these times you need to hear some Ephesians 2.
A different twist on this is when people use guilt as a motivator in order to get you do whatever they want you to do. Pastors and church leaders can fall into using this because it works. Guilt is a very powerful tool to manipulate, “If you really had faith you would give more money; volunteer for more things; read the Bible more, come to worship more, do more of what I want you to do.” Here you need Ephesians 2
The devil can also use this frustrating paradox of saint and sinner against you by turning your works into the source of your salvation. This can be a great danger for pastors and others in church work. The devil will tell you, “You do enough good things. You’ve dedicated your life to the church. You may not be perfect, but you are so much better than those other people.” The devil will try to get you to rely on your own righteousness instead of knowing you need Jesus; instead of knowing we all come before God equally needy. Here Ephesians 2 and James 2 are both useful.
The whole reading today from James 2 reminds us that we are all the same before God; there is no place for favoritism. When we gather together for worship there are not the good seats and the cheap seats because every one of us comes before God with the exact same need and status. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. We all need the same thing and Jesus gives you each the same thing. Rich or poor, black, brown, white, it doesn’t matter; Jesus’ gifts are the same. And, as forgiven sinners washed in the waters of baptism you are all called to the same thing; love God and love your neighbor. Love and care for others; not just in words, but in deeds. Love and serve and forgive others as Christ loves, serves and forgives you. It is the fruit of salvation.
There are different tools for different jobs. There is Ephesians 2 and there is James 2. You live in the difficult tension of being saint and sinner. As a baptized child of God bought with the blood of Jesus you need them both. Live, love, serve and forgive in the tension of this paradox each day of your life knowing who you are in Christ.