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Abraham: Faith That Holds Nothing Back

June 14, 2020 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Examples of Faith According to James

Passage: Genesis 22:1–19, James 2:21–24

How do you know someone really means what they say? You know someone means what they say because they do it. They act on it. They follow through.

We’ve all had people in our lives who told us over and over again that they would do something and never did it. They never acted on what they said. They never followed through. We realized that they were all “talk”. Their words were empty and meaningless because they were never accompanied by action.

Perhaps you’ve been that person to someone. You told another person you’d do something and then didn’t do it. You didn’t act on what you said. You didn’t follow through. They decided you were all “talk” and no action. And you found it very difficult to convince them otherwise.

We went through the letter written by James in the month of May using our worship at home guides and I really enjoyed it. But I’m not quite ready to leave it. I don’t feel like we’re done with it yet. I feel we have more we can get out of it. There’s more juice to be squeezed out. Perhaps I just want to have the chance to preach some of it.

You may have noticed along the way that James used four characters from the Old Testament as examples: Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah. So we are going to do a series looking at each of those characters from the perspective of James. What does James see in them? We are going to look at the story about their life in the Old Testament that James brings up and use what James says about them to learn from it.

We are going to see common themes in all of their lives from James 1. In all of their lives, we will see people who are faced with trials that test their faith which produce steadfast endurance leading to maturity. Or in other words, they are becoming people of godly wisdom, not double-mindedness. They are not like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. They are friends with God - wholeheartedly committed to him. They are not trying to claim they are loyal to God when they are actually friends with the world. They’ve let go of the world - the things of the world and the opinions of the world - and they’ve committed themselves to God. And you see it by their actions. They have faith in him. They trust in him. They are loyal to him. They have surrendered themselves to him. And we see that their faith is real by what they go through. Their faith is tested through difficult circumstances where they have to make hard choices. They have to ask themselves: “Do I really believe this stuff? Do I really trust God? Do I really trust him to come through for me? Do I actually believe what I say I believe about him? Or is it all just talk?”

That’s the question for all of us: Does my faith change how I live? Does my life look any different because of what I say I believe? When I say what I believe about God, do I really mean it? Does it change what I do? Do I act on it? Do I follow through on it? Or is it all just “talk”?

We heard the passage in James read earlier from chapter 2 verses 14 through 26. James is arguing that faith apart from works is dead. He says that a faith without works isn’t a faith that can save someone. James is talking to people who are reducing faith down to belief statements like “I believe in God.” Faith for them is agreeing that something is a fact or that something is true mentally. His readers are also Jewish, so they were in the habit of rehearsing what was called the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6 at various times throughout the day: “The LORD our God, the Lord is one.” Faith for some of them had been reduced down to this ritual where they mentally and verbally re-affirmed truths about God that they believed to be true

But James argues that this is dead faith if it doesn’t have actions with it. It’s all talk. Just verbally saying you believe something is true isn’t enough to save you. Just mentally agreeing with something isn’t enough to save you. Even the demons believe in God and can say the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6 and perform religious rituals. And they might even do it with more reverence than we do because they shudder when they do it!

We are all in danger of reducing faith down to belief statements. It isn’t enough to say we believe something is true. It’s just “talk” if we don’t do something or act on it. We are also in danger of reducing faith to rituals. We can make faith about rituals where we say certain things before we eat or before we go to bed or we go do something on Sundays where we listen to things and sing things to reaffirm what we say we believe, but if we never actually do anything different because of those beliefs, it’s all just talk. James says faith by itself without works is dead. It’s useless.

In verse 26, James says, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” If you remove the spirit from the body, you just have a lifeless, rotting corpse lying on the ground doing nothing. In the same way, if you remove works from faith, you just have dead faith lying on the ground doing nothing. James isn’t arguing that our works save us. He’s arguing that the kind of faith that saves us always has works with it. Faith and works are inseparable. Because faith without works is like a body that has had its spirit removed from it: it’s a dead, useless corpse lying on the ground. Faith without works is just talk. It’s worthless. It’s saying “I believe that” but without any action attached to it.

So why is James a fan of Abraham? In verse 21, he brings up a specific story from Abraham’s life. Let’s read that verse:

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (James 2:21)

This is a key moment in Abraham’s life. Abraham was 75 years old when God first came into his life. God promised to bless Abraham, make Abraham into a great nation, and bless the world through Abraham’s family. But at that point, Abraham had no kids, he was old, and his wife couldn’t get pregnant. He wasn’t exactly prime material for the start of a great nation through which to bless the world. And God made Abraham and his wife, Sarah, wait a long time before God gave them their first kid to get their family started. They waited 25 years before God gave them their first son. So at the age of 100, Abraham finally had the son he had always waited for: Isaac.

That’s what makes this story so significant. When Isaac was still a boy, God tested Abraham’s faith. This story is found in Genesis 22. Let’s reenact it.

One day, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
Abraham said: “Here I am.”
God said: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two servants and Isaac with him. He cut wood for a burnt offering and went to the place. After three days, Abraham saw the place from a distance.

Then he said to the servants: “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go worship and come back to you.”

And Abraham took the wood and laid it on Isaac. And he took in his hand fire and a knife. And they went up the mountain together.

Then Isaac said to Abraham: “My father!”

Abraham answered: “Here I am, my son.”

Isaac said: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham said: “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

So they continued up the mountain. When they came to where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood on it, tied Isaac up, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then he took the knife out to sacrifice his son.

But before he could, the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said: “Abraham, Abraham!”

Abraham said: “Here I am.”

The angel said: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”

Then Abraham looked and there was a ram caught in a thicket. God had provided a sacrifice for the burnt offering. So Abraham offered it as a burnt offering and Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide.”

Then the angel said: “Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and will give you a family with more people than the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore. In your family all people will be blessed because you have obeyed my voice.” Then Abraham went home with his son.

How does James see this story?

There’s a whole lot about this story in Genesis 22 that we could talk about but we aren’t going to get into it. We are going to focus on what James wants us to see. What is James’ perspective on this story? How is he interpreting it? We are going to read all of what James has to say about this story in James chapter 2, but there are two key details to notice that are relevant.

First, we are told at the beginning of the story that God tested Abraham. Remember, that James said in chapter 1 that we should count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Are you in any trials where you are facing difficult and even painful choices? Have you ever been in a position where you had the choice between losing a relationship and following God? That’s a test much like what Abraham had. This was a trial for him where his faith was tested. He had to decide whether he really believed God. Did he really mean it when he said he trusted God?

Second, the commendation by God to Abraham at the end was, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” In our trials when our faith is being tested, what does James tell us to pray for in chapter 1? He says if anyone lacks wisdom, they should ask God who gives it generously. And what’s the beginning of wisdom? The fear of the LORD. Abraham proves to be a man of wisdom here. Abraham had walked with God for a long time. He’d learned to say “yes” to God in everything. Abraham had learned to trust God in everything and with anything. God was number one in Abraham’s life. Abraham had a proper perspective on life. He was wise and God saw that.

Let’s read James’ perspective on this in James chapter 2, starting in verse 21:

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (James 2:21)

In other words: wasn’t Abraham shown to be righteous by his works? Verse 22:

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (James 2:22)

Faith and works are inseparable. Abraham didn’t offer up Isaac apart from faith. He didn’t offer up Isaac for the fun of it just to do it. He did it because of his faith in God. He trusted God. Faith was active along with his works. Faith and works were “working together” simultaneously. The works wouldn’t be there without the faith. And faith was completed by his works. His faith in God was completed by works that showed he really believed God. Which explains verses 23 and 24:

23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” - and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:23-24)

Early in his relationship with God, Abraham was struggling with the fact that he remained childless. Abraham talked to God about it. And God told him to go outside and look up at the stars and God asked Abraham if he was able to number them. Then he told Abraham, “That’s how big your family will be.” And we are told that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

The story of sacrificing Isaac on the altar happens over 25 years later. James’ point is that Abraham’s life shows that he had a living faith. When Abraham said, “I believe you God,” that wasn’t just talk for Abraham. Those weren’t empty words. Abraham really meant it. And you can see it by his works. You can see it by how he lived. His belief in God made a difference in his life. He really trusted God and walked with him. He had a steadfast endurance through the many trials he faced. That’s why he was called a friend of God.

Jesus once said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus called for wholehearted commitment that required letting go of anything else that stood in the way, even beloved family members. And that’s what Abraham was asked to do. Abraham had many trials in his life that tested his faith. He had learned not to hold onto anything but to believe God. Faith in action looks like letting go and not holding on - leaving behind what God asks us to. Isaac was the ultimate test for him. The son he had waited for his whole life. The son God had promised. His faith in God was shown to wholehearted and unwavering that day.

We need to ask ourselves: Does my faith change how I live? Does my life look any different because of what I say I believe? Go down the list of what you say you believe. If you say you believe God is all powerful, has that made any difference to the way you live your life? If it hasn’t, then you probably don’t really believe it.

We have all kinds of things that we say we believe but that we don’t actually let change how we live. When we tell God that we believe he is loving or merciful or powerful or gracious or forgiving, do our actions show that we really mean it? The Bible tells us that we would live differently if we really believed God loves us. We’d live differently if we really believed God has shown us mercy. We’d act differently’ if we truly believe God is powerful and works through prayer. We’d be transformed if we believed deep down that God is gracious and treats us way better than we deserve.

I find the 4Gs super helpful because they tell us right in them what would change if we really believed this is true.

  • God is great, so I don’t have to be in control.
  • God is glorious, so I don’t have to fear others.
  • God is good, so I don’t have to look for satisfaction elsewhere.
  • God is gracious, so I don’t have to prove myself.

I prayed through all four of these this morning because I had a lot of fear about buying this speaker system for our church. I talked with Katie a lot about how I felt. I agonized over whether it was the right decision. I was scared I was spending too much money. I was scared about what you would think of it. I had to work through whether I believed God is great and in control, whether he’s glorious so I don’t have to fear people, whether he’s good so I can be satisfied in him, and whether he’s gracious so I don’t have to prove myself by what I buy.

I’d encourage you to think through these four beliefs for yourself this week.

More in Examples of Faith According to James

July 5, 2020

Elijah: Faith That Looks to God

June 28, 2020

Job: Faith That Doesn't Let Go of God

June 21, 2020

Rahab: Faith That Puts Life in God's Hands