Creeds and Deeds
Heavenly Father, You have done so much for me in providing for my earthly needs and for redeeming my soul through the work of Jesus. There is no way that I can repay You for all of Your gifts, but help me to show appreciation for what You have given. Instruct me in what is pleasing to You, motivate me to work diligently for You, and enable me to resist temptation so that all that I do will glorify You. Work in me a living and fruit producing faith. Amen.
Abraham’s faith led him to follow God’s will by leaving his homeland even when he didn’t know where he was going. Abraham lived and moved according to the Lord’s direction. Wherever Abraham went he erected an altar to the living God so that He might worship, give thanks, and praise Him. Faith that is alive listens to God’s word, follows His will, and serves Him.
The Christians in Ephesus were outwardly doing everything well, but their faith was in danger because they had lost their first love. They were doing everything that their faith had once moved them to do, but now they were doing it mechanically, not remembering the love of Christ that had moved them in the first place. Faith without love for Christ and for one another is not really faith, it is dying or dead altogether.
Text: James 2:1-18
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
In Christ Jesus who inspires us and moves us to bear the fruits of faith—good works in our lives, dear fellow-redeemed:
There is an age old question among Christians of varying denominations. One, people would say, is a church of creeds. Another, people would say, is a church of deeds.
The historical Lutheran church would, in that categorization, fall under the category of being a church of creeds. “Creed” is from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.” A creed is simply a statement of what you believe and everyone has creeds because everyone believes certain things about different situations.
A church that is known as a “creed church” would be a church that is very definite in expressing what it believes. We have the Apostolic Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as the broad expression of what we believe in the Christian faith. We also have other confessional documents which likewise declare what we believe but in more detailed form about specific doctrines and sections of Scripture.
The other side, a church that would seek to be a “deed church” might even scoff at the idea of creeds. The criticism being that “you say you believe this, but it doesn’t always seem that way. I’m going to live my life and show my faith by how I live and my deeds. I don’t need creeds.” In this way the “deed church” becomes a type of backlash against the clearly defined teaching of the “creed church”.
The reality is that a Christian’s faith and the expression of it, involves creeds and deeds. Actually, it is the creed that must come first. What we do grows out of what we believe to be true. This is true in every part of our lives. For example, our day to day activities are guided by what we believe to be true about what I need to do and what the circumstances of that particular day bring.
This morning, using the words of James as our guide, we seek to consider CREEDS ANDDEEDS, both being vital parts of our Christian faith. I. A “Gospel” that is partial is not God’s Gospel II. A “Law” that is selective is not God’s Law III. A “Believer” who is fruitless is not God’s Believer.
James begins in our text by saying, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality”[v.1] Then James continues by giving an example of a rich man coming into the assembly of believers with fine rings and fine apparel, and a poor man also coming into the assembly, filthy and tattered. How would they react to these two different individuals? Would they esteem the rich man saying, “Sit here in a place of honor,” and then say, “Oh, yes, you poor man, I suppose you can sit over there if you must.”? Or would they be treated equally.
It is not surprising that James needed to address the concerns of partiality because Jesus also needed to deal with partiality in His ministry. The Pharisees were very partial in their faith and practice. You may recall just how much partiality they showed because they really wanted nothing to do with the tax collectors and with those who had been known to be open sinners in the city. Jesus was ministering to those whom the Pharisees rejected. He ministered to the poor, He went to the rejected, and ate dinner with those with whom the Pharisees would never associate. For this reason, the Pharisees also rejected Jesus and shunned Him. The Pharisees had the Scriptures, but showed partiality in their sharing it with those who needed it most.
James instructs us to not show partiality between the rich and the poor, between the healthy and the sick, between the young and the old. Because he says, “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” [vv.5-7] The irony of partiality toward the rich in James’ day was that the rich were largely the ones who were the people who were hauling them into court, mocking their faith, and scorning them; but somehow there was the potential that all of that could be pushed into the background when someone important and with influence came into their assembly. James cautions them, “Be careful! Do not show partiality. The faith and Gospel you hold, the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, is not a faith or Gospel of partiality.”
A gospel that is partial is not God’s Gospel. The Gospel at its very root is Jesus dying for everysinner. There is no partiality among people where sin is concerned. We are all sinners whether we have high status in this life or low it doesn’t matter, in the eyes of God it is one blanket of sin. You are sinful as I am as is everyone. God showed no partiality when He sent Jesus. He sent Jesus to die for the world of sinners. There is no partiality in that message. As we heard last week in our Mission Festival, we are to take that Gospel everywhere—to the world. We are not supposed to stop with one neighborhood and not another, or one corner of the world and not another, but to the world! There is no partiality in the Gospel and thus there should be no partiality in our ministering of the Gospel regardless of any division or any characteristic differences we might have in this life.
When we start to think in terms of how we share the Gospel and how we speak of the Gospel and share our Savior with others, we might find that it can be quite easy to show partiality. The difficulty is that we are by nature primarily looking out for ourselves. If a rich man came into the congregation and we treated him differently than a poor man, the reason might be because we are looking at “what’s in it for me?” That poor man could really do nothing to help us with our deficit. That poor man who is dirty and smells funny isn’t really going to be a good “front door person” to be the first impression and meet the visitors. That poor man who maybe doesn’t have all the mental faculties of a high intelligence and cannot speak fluently with us, may not seem like such a good spokesman for my Savior. But over here…there is someone with a big checkbook who can help with a deficit. Over here is someone who really looks sharp in a designer suit, and here is someone who is incredibly fluent and well spoken. We too can be tempted to show partiality if we focus on “what’s in it for us?” and are less concerned about the soul than about other things.
We may show partiality if someone doesn’t quite fit the pattern of what we like. Maybe someone’s sense of style is a little “off” and I decide I’d rather not associate with that person. Regardless of the clothes and style, that person is a sinner and his soul needs salvation. Perhaps someone’s interests aren’t mine so we won’t be going out and hunting and fishing together or whatever it is we like to do, but those differences ought not translate into partiality in dealing with one another spiritually.
Imagine a playground filled with children and a group of popular children who are viewed as the “great friends” and the group to hang out with. Where does that friendship really meet a test? It is not when they are associating with their friends and buddies who all think they are the greatest friends anyone could ever have. Their friendship quality meets its test when they meet that lonely classmate sitting alone under the swings all by herself because no one “likes her.”
Our use of the Gospel, our spreading of the Gospel, is tested when it’s not easy. Do we focus on neighborhoods and people who are like ourselves, or do we reach out to the people who aren’t like us—a lower class, or a higher class, or who think differently. James encourages us to not show partiality with the Gospel. A creed that is built on the Gospel truth, the faith of Jesus, the Lord of Glory, who came to die for the sins of all the world, does not show partiality. It is a creed that stands on the Gospel for all and willingly, eagerly takes it to many and shares it with everyone we meet.
James continues to also instruct us that a law that is selective is not God’s Law. He says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” [vv.8-11]
The Law is the whole of God’s commandments. God gave them all. His law is not deli of rules where one can go and pick and choose what he feels like and leave the rest behind. If we were to rally against a certain sin, “Down with adultery! We need to clean up society!” but at the same time are nurturing greed and coveting, and pretending that these sins are not as offensive, then we have been selective in the use of God’s Law.
God who gave the Law gave the whole Law. James points out that if we sin against just one part, we are really guilty of breaking it all. So we can’t find comfort in saying, “Well, I haven’t sinned to badly. I’ve never done the gross outward sins, I’ve never murdered anyone, I’ve never had an affair, I’ve never stolen anything—coveted maybe a little, but never stolen anything. I have lived a good outward life.” That’s what the Pharisees said and it is easy to say that for many, but if you once had an evil thought, if you once grew angry, if you once tried to hurt someone to get even, if you once spoke out of hatred or displeasure instead of love, you have broken the Law and are guilty of breaking the whole Law. The most guilty murderer on death row has the same guilt as you as far as God’s judgment.
A law that is selective—picking and choosing—is not God’s Law. That Law will not convict and condemn everyone, and God’s true law does. James’ point to his readers was that they may have felt they were keeping the whole law, but if they showed partiality they were not keeping the law of loving their neighbor as themselves and thus were guilty of breaking it all.
Our creed—our body of belief, our faith—also needs that law. We need the clear law because we need to know that we are sinners. We need to know that we need the Gospel of salvation and we need to be able to show everyone that they need it too by exposing their sins with the law.
We have Law and Gospel at the core of what we believe. We believe that God has every right to declare His law. We believe that God has given His Law clearly in Scripture, and we believe that God’s Law shows that we are all sinners in thought, word, and deed. We also believe that Jesus died for those sins. This is our creed.
This creed then leads to deeds. A believer in this creed, in Scripture’s truth, is not going to be a fruitless believer. James writes, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” [vv.14-18]
Again, James uses a picture to illustrate his point. This time, picture yourself in a warm room, a closet filled with clothes, and a table full of more food than you could ever eat. A man comes into the room who is cold, naked, and hungry. If you wish the man well and send him on his way without really helping him even when you have the means to do so, your words for well wishes ring pretty empty. In this way James demonstrates that if we have received Christ’s forgiveness and are holding the Gospel with partiality, or have accepted God’s Word but are picking and choosing, or we have heard and received the goodness of our Lord but are not putting that into action in our lives, then our words and deeds are pretty hollow and our faith pretty empty.
Deeds have to come out of creeds, there is no other way. What we say and do grows out of what is in the heart. In Galatians, Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit and also the fruits of the flesh. A heart that is locked in the flesh and living for itself has a creed of sin and produces fruit such as “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21). A heart that is filled with the Spirit also produces fruit, but the fruit growing out of a heart where Christ rules brings forth, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
James does not suggest that we are saved by the fruits of faith. e are not saved by the works we do. Rather, we are saved by the redeeming work of Christ which we receive through faith in Him. But when the Gospel has taken root in our hearts and in our lives, something will grow up out of that and if our lives are empty and devoid of good works and fruits of faith, then it calls into question our faith itself. It has been said, “We are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone.”
A good work is certainly something that follows God’s Law, but it is also only those things that come out of faith in Jesus. An unbeliever could do the exact same act of kindness or work of service as a believer does and only the work by the believer is a good work in God’s eyes. Only through faith in Christ are all our sins washed away so that there is no spot or stain of sin on what we do that is pleasing to God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
A believer is going to be fruitful. He will show faith by how he lives. His faith will be evident in the kinds of things he talks about, the places he goes, the ways he finds entertainment, the use of his earthly gifts, the course he sets for his life. The world will see this.
There is a danger in having only deeds and not having a basis from which those deeds can grow. The Ephesians in our New Testament reading had the deeds, but they had forgotten their first love and the creeds from which those deeds had originally sprung. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that if he spoke with the most magnificent and eloquent speech, if he did the most miraculous things but didn’t have love, all that he said or did would be like a banging cymbal. No matter what we do, if its not built upon the truth of Scripture and flowing out of love of Christ it is just an empty husk. It takes the creed of God’s love and love for Him to make the deeds worth anything.
On the other hand, no matter what we say or how great we can confess the truths of Scripture, no matter how sound our creeds are, no matter how often or boldly we confess our creeds, if they never produce the effects in our lives, they too are empty and a husk.
Our deeds grow out of what we believe. We believe that Jesus died for our sins. There is no better way to live, than actively putting into action what we believe and serving the Savior for whom and by whom we live. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt