Title: How to Have a Deeper Relationship with God
Introduction: The book of James is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is a very practical book on Christian living. Every chapter, every verse contains rich truth which we desperately need to apply to our lives. If today, you come here and you want to grow in your relationship with God, this is the passage for you. We are going to look at three things that are vital if we want to have a deep relationship with God.
- Admit You are Not a Good Person(10-11)
- First we have to ask what law is referred to here in verse 10. This law is the same law mentioned in verse 8, which is referred to as the royal law according to Scripture.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is a summary of that law. Jesus said the same in Matthew 22:40. So verse 10 means this, “For whoever keeps the whole Old Testament law given by God and yet breaks even one command of it, he is guilty of breaking all of it.” What does it mean that if you stumble in one point, you are guilty of breaking the whole law? At first glance that doesn’t sound very fair. We might automatically think about courts of law in China or other nations. A thief would not be convicted and punished of murder. So how can we understand the key point that James is telling us? Illustration: Imagine that Caleb is playing and breaks a vase. I find him next to the vase with a baseball. He looks up. I say, “Caleb! What did you do. You broke the vase! That was expensive.” Caleb says, “Don’t worry Dad. I didn’t break the whole I just broke part of it.” Well, we know it doesn’t work that. If you break one part of a vase the vase is now broken. Some breaks might be worse than others, but it can never be unbroken. God’s law is like that. If we break even one part of it, we are then a lawbreaker. One important step to having a correct relationship with God is to understand that we are sinners, to realize we are guilty before a holy God.
- It seems that the people James was writing to were feeling pretty good about themselves . Perhaps they were comparing themselves to other people and thinking, “Hey, I am not so bad. I’m not a an adulterer. I don’t kidnap and sell children. I’m not cruel to animals. I feel pretty good about myself.” But is this true? Are they good because they don’t do those things? That is the question James is looking at. In the last passage you learned about the sin of partiality. Imagine I was to give you an assignment. I ask each of you to spend the next five minutes writing a list of the worst 25 sins. How many people would write partiality on it? Perhaps now you would since we are discussing it! But if I asked you two weeks ago, I bet not one single person would have partiality in the top 25, probably not even in the top 50 or 100. Thus someone committing partiality may easily compare himself to others and think he is pretty good. “Sure, I treat rich people a little better than poorer people, but I don’t murder those poor people. I’m a good person.” But James will not allow them to continue thinking like this. This mindset would allow them to excuse their own sin. The root problem in this way of thinking is that those who compare themselves to others have the wrong standard.
- We too often make the same mistake. Sometimes we think we are pretty good because we compare ourselves to those around us. When sharing the gospel I first read Romans 3:23 and then ask people, “Do you have sin?” Most people answer “yes.” Then I ask them, “Is your sin serious?” Over 90 percent of people answer “no” to that question. They will admit that they are sinners, but do not think their sin is serious. That is because in their mind they are comparing themselves to others. We do the same things. We might compare ourselves to other believers and think that we go to church more faithfully, memorize more Scripture, or serve God more. James’ message to us today is clear. “STOP!” We need to stop comparing ourselves to others. We need to stop setting low or incorrect standards for ourselves. My standard is not what others do.
- See Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In this verse we can see there are many kinds of sins. Though many sins are listed , this is not an exhaustive list. There are many others not mentioned here. Laziness. Complaining. Selfishness. And so on. James wants us to understand that sin is sin. Guilt is guilt. Tolerating or excusing these or others sins is a dangerous thing. We must not minimize our sin by thinking it is smaller than it is. James wants us to recognize these sins and the danger of excusing them.
- In this passage we seethe first step in a correct relationship with God is to recognize our sin for what it is. We need to see things as God sees them. We need to stop making excuses for our sins and minimizing them by saying, “my sin is not too bad.” So what is our ultimate standard? See 1 Peter 1:14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are to be holy. Any sin, no matter how small we think it is, must not be tolerated. The danger of tolerating sins is very real.
Application: Are there any sins you are tolerating in your life? Are there any habits which you know are not right, but you are excusing or minimizing? See 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Quote: Think of the guilt of sin, that you may be humbled. Think of the power of sin, that you may seek strength against it. (John Owen) John Owen was exactly right. This passage is meant to humble us and turn to God to give us strength. To have a right relationship with God, you must admit these sins to God, and ask His forgiveness so that you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Be Motivated by Mercy(12-13)
- To fully understand what James is saying in verse 12, it is helpful to break down this verse phrase by phrase. We will start from the end of the verse and work our way back.
- The law of liberty – What is the law of liberty? It is not the same law mentioned in verse 8 and verse 10. That was the Old Testament law. The Old Testament law acted like a mirror to show people their sins. But we are not under it any more. Romans 7:6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”If you try to deserve salvation by obeying every law, you will make yourself a slave of it and can never fulfill all of it. You may have a great fear of failure. You will feel that it is a great burden to keep all of God’s commands. When I have shared the gospel some people tell me that they don’t want to believe because they will give up their freedom and have to obey God. To them this is a burden. But 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” If we love God His commands should not be burdensome to us. But the New Covenant is the law of liberty. It sets us free from the law and encourages us to serve the Lord with our whole hearts. God’s commands are no longer seen as painful restrictions to freedom, but rather a means to the most joyous freedom. Our entire motivation changes. We don’t server God because of fear of punishment or a desire to earn salvation. Instead it is a response to what God has already done for us.
This contrast can perhaps be understood clearly by the story of the prodigal son and his brother. The brother obeyed his father, but he did so resentfully. All of his father’s commands were a burden to him and he had his own motivations. But when the younger brother came back, the father forgave him. The father loved him. We don’t know the rest of the story. But I believe this love and forgiveness would have motivated the younger son to serve his father cheerfully and happily.
- As those who are to be judged – This judgment likely refers to the judgment of rewards for believers and not the Great White Throne judgment where unbeliever’s eternal destiny is decided. The premise is quite simple. How do you respond to God’s love for you? Jesus commanded us to love one another as He has loved us and to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. He is watching to see if you do this.
- So speak and so act – In verse 11 we learn that we are sinners. We are all guilty in God’s sight. But there is hope. There is light. We do not have to live in the guilt and shame of our sin. God offers us forgiveness. He pours out His grace upon us.
Illustration: A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.
Imagine you are the one in this story who had been shown great mercy which you did not deserve. What would you do? Would you be grateful? Would you tell others about the mercy you had received? Would you show mercy to others? Or would you walk away and live your life exactly the same way as before?
Well, now we have a chance to find out. You have been shown even more mercy than that lady. .Imagine that same story, but the king decides to die for that young man. That is what Jesus has done for us. How will you respond? God’s mercy should motivate us to serve God in our words and our actions.
What if you don’t? Unfortunately not everyone responds to God’s mercy by being merciful to others. Remember the story of the servant who was forgiven a great debt by the king? He went out and choked a fellow slave to demand repayment of a FAR smaller debt. That servant paid the price for his lack of mercy. This is the same lesson can we learn in verse 13. The lesson is simple. God has been merciful to us and He wants us to show that same mercy to others.
Biblical example: God’s mercy should motivate us to show the same mercy and grace to those around us. Recently in a Bible study we have been studying the life of David. For much of his life he was a fugitive from Saul. Saul relentlessly chased him and tried to kill him though David had only been loyal to Saul. On multiple occasions David had the opportunity to kill Saul and pay him back, but he didn’t. What was most impressive to me was David’s reaction when Saul finally was killed in battle by the Philistines. Many people in his position would have celebrated. Many would then begin to talk about all the horrible things Saul had done. But David didn’t do that. He wrote and led the people in singing a lament about Saul. In this lament he described Saul as “mighty,” “beloved,” “swifter than eagles,” and “stronger than lions.” David did not say one negative thing about Saul. He said only positive things. This was quite difficult since there was very little positive to say. The point is this. David focused on the good in Saul. He showed mercy by praising Saul rather than criticizing him. David’s merciful attitude pleased God and pleased the people. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
So let’s bring this principle into our own lives. When you face a choice, to show mercy or to judge others, which do you choose? God has chosen to show us mercy which should motivate us to choose to show others’ mercy. Our everyday lives give us many opportunities to show mercy, grace, tolerance, and long-suffering to the people around us. If you have a deeper relationship with God, you will understand and experience his mercy toward you in a personal way. Here are a few examples how to apply this passage by showing the same mercy and compassion toward those around you:
- Do not complain about others behind their backs.
- Do not pick out and focus on other people’s faults.
- Dwell on the good characteristics of those around you (including your spouse, children, parents, boss, roommates, colleagues, etc.)
- Compliment the good you see in others.
- Forgive others quickly as Christ has forgiven you.
- Care for, pray for, and minister to the outcasts, the low, the poor, the sinners around you.
- Are you like a Pharisee, quick to judge? Or are you like Jesus, quick to compassion?
- Put Your Faith into Action (14-17)
- The question: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? This is a question that is still coming up almost 2000 years after James first wrote it.
- A seven year old boy prays the sinner’s prayer and decides to trust in Christ. Over the next decades his life path is the same as his classmates. He finds he is not really different than others who never “prayed the prayer.” He wonders, “Am I really saved?”
- You share the gospel at a university. A student believes. You try to follow up and disciple this student, but he says he doesn’t have time to read the Bible, go to church, or join study. He says, “I believe in my heart.” Is he saved?
- You have believed for years. You go to church, sometimes. You know a lot of the Bible. But you also know that much of what you know, you don’t do. You ask, “Am I really saved?”
- I do not mention these questions because I intend to solve them for you. I do not. God is the judge, not me. I am merely going to share James’ teaching on this question. We have already learned that mercy triumphs over judgment. So the purpose is not that you will begin to judge other believers saying, “He is saved. She is not.” When we are going over this passage I want you to think about the questions, “Is my faith real? Is my faith alive?”
- The answer – James answers his question with an illustration. A needy brother or sister comes to you for help. He lacks even the most basic human needs, clothing and food. Perhaps you feel genuinely sorry for this person. You really hope that someone else will help him. You even pronounce a blessing. “Go in peace, be warmed and well fed.” Then you send them on their way and perhaps even say “I will be praying for you.” Wow! You are so spiritual! Your words sound so holy! But you did not help this person. James asks another question, “What use is that?” I ask you too, what use is that? Of course the answer is none. It is no use at all. The words are empty. Your blessing may as well be a curse for all it helps the person. The person who treats his brother or sister like this is a hypocrite. He pretends care. He may even trick himself into thinking he truly cares for this person. But actions speak louder than words. His lack of action proves his lack of real love for this person.
- The conclusion: James’ conclusion is simple. Faith, without works, is dead. Faith is not just a feeling.
- Illustration: Let me give another illustration. As you know, I am married. My wife’s name is Christy. When I marry Christy, I tell her, “I will love you until I die.” But I don’t stop there, every morning when I wake up, I turn to Christy, “I love you!” But there is no action. Christy asks me to help watch the boys, “I am busy.” Christy asks me to help with the dishes, “I am tired.” Christy wants to spend time with me, “I am watching TV.” Christy is discouraged and wants to talk about it, “Don’t be so emotional.” I get home from work, “Where’s my dinner.” I eat dinner, “Why is it cold?” Christy asks how is my day, “fine.” Finally it is time to sleep. Me: “I love you!” How does Christy feel? Does she feel that my love is real? Of course not. If I acted like that, I’m pretty sure that every time I say, “I love you” she would just feel annoyed. This love is dead. I may saythat I love her, but in reality I don’t.
- Returning to James’ question, if we look at it closely we will see that the person who states he has faith, but no works is operating under a false assumption. He saysthat he has faith. But in fact, he does not. His lack of works proves that his faith is dead, empty, a lie.
- Let’s look at the relationship between faith and works. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. Show the progression. On this topic William Booth (who founded the Salvation Army) said this, “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works and then faith again, and then works again–until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.” Faith and works are connected.
- Why do some people claim to have faith but do not have works? They want the comfort of belief without the responsibility. They want the good gifts from God as seen back in James 1:17. But they don’t want to commit themselves to obeying God.
- Satan has brainwashed many at that time and still today (because his methods are still effective) to accept the false premise that one can have faith without a changed life to show for it. That is seen in the idea that “Belief is good. Just don’t be too extreme.” Many young Christians these days hear this idea from their parents. Their parents tell them it’s good to have a faith. Having a belief can comfort you and help you to feel good. Believe it in your mind. Just don’t do anythingabout it. Don’t waste time going to church or study or joining in Christian activities. Don’t spend too much time or energy or resources on it. Many people in China think it is good to have a belief because a belief can provide psychological comfort. If you have a belief maybe you won’t feel so sad when a loved one dies. If you have a belief, then maybe you can be happy even when facing a difficulty. If you have a belief, you may lead a peaceful life. Why do they say things like that? Because they don’t have real faith! Let me emphasize that again. They do not really believe. Those who are of this mindset do not believe in the truth of the Bible. They do not believe in the truth of God. If they had real faith, they would realize that serving God and spending time for God is the most valuable thing you can do. See Matthew 13:44-46, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Jesus is using this parable to teach us the surpassing value of knowing Christ. If you really believe in God, you will make Him the priority. He is the Creator so our lives belong to Him. He is the judge so we are accountable to Him. One cannot truly believe in God without it effecting how they live. Belief effects how we live.
- We get on a bus because we believe the driver will take us to the destination safely.
- We sit in a chair because we believe it is strong enough to hold us.
- We take medicine because we believe the doctors’ advice.
- We do not respond to an email promising millions of dollars in reward because we do not believe the story.
The list can go on and on. The assumption that it is enough to say “I believe, but I don’t need works” is a fallacy that is not taught in Scritpure. Scripture teaches us that faith alone saves us and those who genuinely believe in God will want to serve Him through action. Charles Spurgeon said that, “The word of God is always most precious to the man who most lives upon it.” If we love God, if we believe in God, we will want to serve Him.
Matthew 7:21, “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Conclusion: In this passage we have learned three things:
- Admit you are not a good person– We may compare ourselves to others and think we are pretty good. We may make excuses for our sins. We may minimize it and think that the sins we commit are not that bad. Look at things from God’s perspective. We have broken his laws, not only once, but many times. We do not live up to His standards. We are guilty
Application: Have you humbled yourself before God? Do you openly confess your sin to Him and others? Or do you minimize it? What do you need to do take responsibility and call the sin in your life what it is: sin?
- Be Motivated by Mercy – Although we are guilty in God’s sight, He doesn’t condemn us. He showed us mercy. We should be motivated to love and serve God not primarily because of a fear of God, but because of the mercy and grace He has shown us. He wants us to show this same mercy to others.
Application: Are you like a Pharisee judging those around you and looking down on them? Or are you like Christ, showing compassion even to those who don’t deserve it? Take 30 seconds to think about a person in your life you have not been merciful to… That is the person you need to begin to show Christlike mercy to. What will you do for him/her?
- Put Your Faith Into Action – Faith is not just a feeling. Saying the words “I believe” is not enough. True faith must show itself in a changed life, in a life lived for God.
Application: Has your faith in Christ changed your life? Does it soak into every area of your life? Do you view God’s kingdom as a priceless pearl? Brothers and sisters, if the answer to any of those questions is “no” then now is the time to confess. Now is the time to come to God and ask for forgiveness. Remember that faith and works is like a person walking. We cannot separate them. It is not enough to think “I will try harder.” You need to deepen your faith in God and ask Him for the strength and grace to serve Him in EVERY area of your life.
I would like each person to take a card and write down their personal application on it. Ask a brother or sister to keep you accountable to do it.
What are some sins you do which you may be tempted to think are not serious?
Why is the new covenant the law of liberty?
What does it mean that mercy triumphs over judgment?
Which area of your life do you need to put your faith into action?
How can we have more faith in God?