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Communion (1995 Series)

The Friend of God

Scheduled for September 28

One of the most common concepts in Protestant Christianity is Martin Luther’s sola fide -- faith alone.  It is the doctrine that we are not saved by what we do (“works”) but rather by whom we believe (“faith”).  A “proof text” often used to bolster this view is quoted from the Letter of James:

(James 2:23 NIV)  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.

 

The argument is fairly simple:  Abraham believed God;   God credited him with righteousness.  So often we then conclude that what we do has nothing to do with our belief.  But back up a couple of verses.  What was Abraham doing here, about which James said he “believed?”

(James 2:21-22 NIV)  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? {22} You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

 

Even though we often hear James 2:23 quoted as supporting the idea that “works” are of no consequence, the passage is actually an explanation of James more famous quotation:

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

The King James has it in more familiar language:  “Faith, without works, is dead.”

 

The sad thing is that we have redefined the word “faith.”  To James and the others of his time, the idea that you could have faith without acting on it was absurd -- as indeed this is the point of the second chapter of his letter.  He considered it foolish.  We, on the other hand, have redefined faith to mean “intellectual agreement.”  I have faith that the earth goes around the sun.  I have faith in my wife.  One of those two I act on -- and so the word “faith” in those two sentences has two different meanings.  Christian faith is the kind of faith you act on -- or it is not the faith at all.

 

As you take Communion, you are stating your faith.  You proclaim to all who observe that you believe.  The loaf and the cup, you are saying, are symbolically the body and blood of Jesus Christ, broken and shed for our sins.  In a communication too powerful for words, you proclaim his death as sacrifice for us.  Before we do this, each of us is commanded to “examine himself.”  So I ask you to examine this:  am I making an empty proclamation at Communion?  Is my faith lacking in works?  Or does my faith overflow in good works to the praise of God?

 

Use the mirror of your mind;  see if your faith is alive -- or dead.

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