I've just come from a delightful international conversation about death and fear.
When one considers the words "death" and "fear" together, the word "delightful" doesn't typically make it into the sentence, does it! But this was a conversation that followed a worship service. Though based in the UK, it was also attended by folk from the USA and Canada; and our preacher for the morning was sitting in the Galilee.
Our Gospel reading this morning was the passage about Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, and also the healing of the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood. Both fear-filled situations, to be sure. There's a finality of death and a hopelessness that accompanies a long and debilitating illness. But there is a solution, and that solution is a LIVING faith.
As Deacon Aaron Eime observed this morning as he was preaching, FAITH is a verb. It encompassed action and expression, and so impacts the lives of those who possess it and those whom it touches. Aaron said, "We are told to WALK by faith, not SIT by faith." Eden, one of the folk attending this morning, asked about the impact of works on our faith, raising the (at least) 500 year old question of faith versus works.
The gist of the reply to his quandary was profoundly simple. James is not speaking of "faith versus works" in his letter (see James 2 for context), but he is actually speaking about the difference between a LIVING faith and a dead one. How can you tell the difference? How can you know if your faith is of the sort that will be able to "save" you? James essentially says, "Faith works."
If I come to buy the automobile you have for sale, I'll naturally see the beautiful paint job and the well-kept interior. Those are nice trimmings, to be sure. But that is not why one buys a car. My most important question will be, "Does it work?" This is the critical factor. If the engine is strong and well-maintained I'm likely to be more willing to overlook some interior blemish or ding in the bumper. But if the engine is inoperable, I don't care if the radio works.
It is our FEAR that holds us back from the things that God has called us to. It is specifically our FEAR OF DEATH that enslaves us. In the book of Hebrews, we read that Jesus Christ that came to earth in the flesh so that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
He died, and then He was raised to life again. He OVERCAME death, so that we who believe in Him, might have a hope that frees us from the fear of death, and can be set free. By His death He has utterly destroyed the one who currently holds the power of death; and thereby He has set us free.
God says to us through the prophet Isaiah, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, teaches us that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
And so, IN CHRIST, our faith finds life. In that life it finds external expression, because a living faith and a living love will both show.
If you can look at your life and SEE EXPRESSIONS of your faith in your actions, then you may be strong and courageous; and do not be afraid. For if your faith is being expressed in love and good works then you most certainly have a LIVING FAITH.
If, however, you cannot see your FAITH expressed in ACTIONS, then your faith may not be alive. James warns us that such a faith CANNOT save us. A dead faith can never bring life to a dead spirit. "Belief" alone is not sufficient for salvation, because we know that even the demons believe that Jesus is the Lord of the universe; but they have not acted upon that belief, and so they remain condemned.
IS YOUR FAITH ALIVE?? Is it sufficient to save you for all eternity?? You know best. Can you see that your FAITH is at work in your life? Is your faith ACTIVELY EXPRESSED in your day to day living?
If so, then have no fear.
If not, then you have a decision to make.
For I have set before you life and death. Therefore - CHOOSE LIFE.