James, the oldest half-brother of Jesus, was telling us here we should demonstrate our inward faith by outward actions. So it’s basically the difference between having living faith or lifeless faith. Between just giving lip-service to the needs we see around us or actually jumping in to help others. A few verses later James adds to this, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) So in the life of a Believer, faith and deeds must go hand in hand…there is not one without the other…and so in this lies the big difference between living and lifeless faith.
Christianity isn’t a one and done experience. For in this verse we see Jesus didn’t address just the crowd but His disciples also…men that had been following Him for years…men that had witnessed first hand miracles, teaching, and preaching on a daily basis. Men that should have had this concept down pat…but obviously didn’t. Our journey as a Believer is ongoing and lifelong. It’s a daily conscious decision of our Will to give up our self and in obedience conform to the example we have before us…Jesus Christ. It’s a long and winding road of faith and life we need to daily direct our feet to follow.
Throughout the Book of James we see him arguing the difference between faith and active faith. Just believing in God, he says, isn’t enough…for even the demons believe in God. (James 2:19) What the Lord demands from us is to demonstrate our inward trust in Him by outward actions. In other words, to not only hear His Word, but put it into practice. For faith without works is considered dead and accomplishes nothing for the Kingdom of God.
This story about the boy and the evil spirit was important enough to be in three of the four New Testament accounts by the disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke all give slightly different takes on this event, but the main thought rang true throughout all three…the disciples couldn’t heal the boy on their own. But instead of admitting defeat, giving up, or walking away, they came to Jesus searching for answers. In Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied to their inquiry by telling them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt…” Doubt is being double-minded or having a divided mind. So when we doubt, we sway back and forth between faith and fear…never achieving full confidence and trust in what God can do. But just like the disciples, if we will go to Jesus admitting our shortcomings, He will speak truth in order to dispel our doubt. And if, like the boy’s father we ask Jesus to, ” Help me overcome my unbelief!” He will show us the way.
Our Heavenly Father is both benevolent and altruistic when it comes to blessing us. But we usually take that graciousness and turn it into prideful thinking. “Look what gifts the Lord has given me!” I Peter 4: 10-11 reminds us that we are to use those gifts to serve others, not flaunt them in front of people as trophies. The Apostle Paul warns us here that’s it’s all about our state of mind when regarding our giftings… it’s all about gratitude, not attitude and humility, not vanity.
There was a great famine in the land due to a drought. The prophet Elijah had been instructed by the Lord to find a certain widow in Zarephath who would supply him with food. But when Elijah found her and asked for bread, she told him she had only enough flour and oil to feed herself and her son for the very last time. Elijah then said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But make a small cake of bread for me first.” In other words, “Before you feed your loved ones, I want you to trust God and feed me first.” Elijah was asking the widow to stretch her faith farther than it had ever been stretched before. He was challenging her to put her faith in God for the family’s provisions…no matter how long the famine lasted. He reassured her that by trusting God the jar of flour and jug of oil wouldn’t run dry…and they miraculously didn’t. Oh, to have the faith of that widow! Her eyes only saw a handful of flour and a dribble of oil left…but yet she bravely stepped out in faith, trusting God to provide for her family.
The gist of this Scripture is repeated in Habakkuk 2:3-4 where it says, ” But the righteous will live by faith. And if they shrink back, I will not be pleased with them.” We all claim to have faith and trust in God…but do we really? Shrinking back is hesitation and self-doubt that we can really do what God is calling us to. Sure, we can believe for great miracles in someone else’s life…but when it comes down to trusting God in our own, we falter. Self-doubt can effectively stop any Kingdom work the Lord has for you…for when you hesitate, you’re essentially telling God you don’t trust Him. We are to live by faith, believing that if God calls us to something, He will equip us also.
The only way you can become really good at something is to practice…whether it’s a sport, a musical instrument, or a newly discovered talent, without practice, it’s just wishful thinking. Today, this Scripture wants us to take a new and different attitude when faced with the trials in our lives. It wants us to consider trials as practice. Every time we’re put to the test, we need to realized it’s a God-ordained crucible in which we are being purified. In other words, trials equal refining…trials equal developing patience…trials equal suffering in the faith…trials are a chance to practice what we preach.
I encourage you to read the entire 11th Chapter of Hebrews, for in it you will read of many kinds and shades of faith. Faith is an ongoing lifetime journey of trusting God. It’s a way of life, not just a one time action done at conversion. Our faith grows as we grow in Christ…confidence in Him is forged and built every time we make the decision to trust Him. But as you read through Chapter 11 you’ll see the different nuances of faith shown… there’s expanding and growing faith, there’s beyond logic and reasoning faith, there’s sacrificial, persecuted, and impossible faith. Our life of faith begins with an internal response, which leads to faith-filled action. From there, it’s a life based on God’s promises…not on circumstances. Though, when you get to the end of this chapter you’ll read, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” Every person you read about here in Chapter 11 was praised for their faith, yet not one saw their promise fulfilled in their lifetime. Instead, they all persevered under pressure, never giving up, and always putting their confidence in their Lord.
You’ve all heard, bad things happen to good people…and it’s not “if” but “when” trouble will come your way. And just because you call yourself a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll somehow be insulated from the evil in this world. For in your lifetime you will have sickness, setbacks, and loss…there’s no getting around it…for we all live in a very broken world. But it’s how you react and face each trouble that will make all the difference. With God you have the ability to stand your ground when evil comes your way. II Corinthians 6:7 tells us, “…in the power of God; with weapons in the right hand and in the left.” You can stand and face down anything the world throws at you with God’s Word… His truth in one hand, and His promises in the other. We don’t have to live in fear of tomorrow. For we have weapons to extinguish all those fiery darts thrown our way. We can then stand firm in the power of God…faithful not fearful, confident not cowering, trusting not trembling.