We are continuing to talk about faith in God this morning. Let’s remember together the three parts of faith:
1. A word from God to stand on. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “the faith,” what we believe; God’s promise and will.
2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you. The Greek word here is simply translated as “faith.”
3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “faithfulness”
And this last part is what we are focused on today. In the title, “The completion of faith: Our action” I’m using language that comes from James 2:22 when he says that Abraham’s faith “was completed by his works” or actions. And in the same way our faith, our trust in God’s word to us is completed by our actions of faith.
Now what these actions are depends entirely on what the promise is and what the situation is. To use the example of the man of faith:
- God promised Abraham the land of Canaan. And the proper response was to leave his home and family and go there, and he did.
- He waited for a son by his wife Sarah, and didn’t try to make it happen on his own – (apart from that Ishmael episode). And waiting can be the hardest action, not trying to do things in our own way, but letting God work in his own time and way.
- When God told him to, he offered up Isaac, the promised child, as a sacrifice to die, believing that God could give him back.
What the action is depends on the situation, but there always has to be action connected to our faith, which leads me to the first of my two points today.
Without action, you don’t have faith
If you don’t have part #3, deeds of faith, then what you are calling “faith” isn’t, biblically considered, faith.
So for instance, believing in “the faith” (part #1) without action isn’t enough. That is, just knowing what God’s truth and promise is, without acting on it.
Think about a most basic tenet of our faith, that there is only one God. Believing this is true doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s a broader part of you putting your trust in this truth and acting on this truth – by surrendering your life to serve the one true God.
James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19. His point is that believing in this truth of God doesn’t help the demons. Why? Because you have to respond to God’s truth with trust and (our emphasis here is on) appropriate action.
Also, simply trusting in God (part #2) without action isn’t enough. That’s because when we truly trust God and God’s word to us it will show up in our actions. How do I know this? Because Jesus said a “tree is known by its own fruit” – Luke 6:44. There is an unbreakable link between what is inside us, in our hearts, and what comes out of us, the fruit of our lives; our deeds. So, what is within, in our heart, whether faith our doubt is made known in our outward actions.
Now, the necessity of action with regard to faith is put quite simply by James. He says,
- “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” – James 2:17
- “Faith apart from works is dead” – James 2:26
Rather, we show our faith by our actions, as he says in James 2:18.
[James seems to be focused mostly on the first part of faith – a word, or truth from God in these verses. But his statement applies to claiming trust in God without works. Any conception of faith without works is dead.]
However you want to put it, your actions show what you really believe. You can say what you want about what you believe or how much you trust, or have feelings of trust. But you don’t have real faith until you act on your belief and trust.
A famous tight-rope walker
Let me give you an illustration. This is a well-known story, perhaps you’ve heard it before. In 1859 a circus performer from France known as “the Great Blondin” strung up a tight rope and walked across the gorge just below Niagara Falls.
He was quite amazing. At different times he crossed blindfolded, on a bicycle, on stilts and with a man on his back. He also once pushed a wheel barrow across and he put a stove in it. When he got to the middle he cooked an omelet on the stove and ate it.
As you might imagine, he always gathered large crowds who wanted to see him perform. The story is told that one day he asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can go across this rope? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Do you believe that I can do it with a person in the wheel barrow? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Which of you will be first?” But no one responded.
The point is that, it isn’t until you actually get in the wheel barrow that you show what you really believe. Everything else is talk. There has to be some action on our part.
If we boil all this down to a question it would be how do you know what you truly believe The answer is, you believe exactly what you do; what shows up in the fruit of your life; your deeds. So take a look at your life – a good, honest, sober look. Do you see the fruit of faith in your actions?
And just a reminder here, this is exactly how God will judge you on the final day, looking for the fruit of faith in your actions (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Matthew 7:21).
Even a “small” amount of faith, if acted on, is enough
Action is what completes our belief and trust and thus what makes us able to receive from God.
But sometimes we think that we have to be super-spiritual. You know, we have to have great faith to receive from God. We think there can’t be struggle or hesitation on our part. This is a misconception that can trip us up.
Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20. A mustard seed is a proverbial expression for something really small. Jesus is saying no matter how small your faith is, as long as it is real faith (it has belief, trust and action) God will come through for you.
So don’t sit back and just wait for faith to suddenly and mysteriously arrive, so that it is effortless or easy, before you act. Instead of holding back for something that might never come, simply put into action the faith you have, however small. This is all you need. And this is, in fact, how your faith will grow. It can become easier and easier.
My parachute adventure
Here’s an illustration. Stacey and I, when we lived in Boston in the late 80’s, watched a TV show that featured the characters parachuting out of the back of a plane. We thought, “Wow that looks like great fun.” And so we decided we should go parachuting.
So we found a place in New Hampshire that trained people and let us jump by ourselves – all in one day. The training was hard and lasted for about six hours. They tied the packs on us so tight that I had bruises on my shoulders the next day.
Finally, the time came and we went up in a small plane. Contrary to the image we had in our minds of running out the back of a plane, in this setup you had to climb out onto the wing of the plane and then let go.
So we are up in the plane and the young man who was set to jump first got to the door of the plane. And his face went white. You could see that he was afraid. And not everyone in our group ended up actually parachuting. I won’t mention any names, but I am talking about my wife.
When it was my turn, I got to the side door of the plane and put my hand out to grab onto the wing – and the wind knocked my hand back it was rushing by so quickly. I grabbed again and pulled myself out onto the wing. I held on for a few seconds, and then let go.
Now, my point in all of this is that I didn’t have great faith. Not at all! It was actually terrifying. I had very small faith. But I acted on what little faith I had, and that was all I needed. You can still be afraid, white faced, sweating or nauseous, but if you act on your trust and belief – it is still faith. And with God that is all that you need. Now you can certainly grow in your faith so that after 100 jumps, almost all of your fear is gone. But even a mustard seed is enough.
To boil this all down, we can simply ask, how much faith do you need? The answer is just enough to make you cross that threshold from belief and trust – to action. It doesn’t matter if you are trembling in your boots. What matters is that you are putting your belief and trust into action; what matters is that you have complete faith.