Saturday, March 21

What should we do? Part II

At Quest, we have been looking at the question of "what should we do?" If we are really going to be followers of Jesus, what should we be doing? As we have looked at this question, we have noticed that there are two different aspects to the answer. There is a spiritual response to following Jesus that is largely internal and that affects the development of our character and our relationship with God. There is also an aspect of the answer that relates to the world around us. This is largely an external response that will affect our relationship with others and the actions we take in our life. We've started looking at these answers to the question "what should we do?" by looking at the book of James. Recently at Quest, we looked at James chapter 2. Here is some of what we talked about:

  • In some ways, James 2 is a very easy chapter. It is very straightforward, which means that it doesn't really invite much discussion. What James is saying is very clear. The hard part about James 2 (and much of the book of James, really) is the challenge of putting into practice. It is easy to internally respond with "yeah, but..." The key is to actually put it into practice.
  • One of the two major topics of the chapter is sin. Sin comes down to one of two things: either doing things that we shouldn't or not doing things that we should. A message that comes through loud and clear is that God doesn't rank sins. People have the tendency to say that some things are worse than others. Murder is considered a "worse" sin than lying. Some sins seem to even become acceptable in churches. Gossip is a good example of this. While most Christians would tell you that gossip is wrong, it is still prevalent in the church because "it's not that bad." But while sins like these are tolerated, other sins are not. Some sins are considered to be so bad that someone who committed that sin would not be welcome in the church. James tells us that this type of thinking is flawed. James 2:10 makes it clear that a sin is a sin. Whoever breaks only one part of God's law is guilty of breaking every part of God's law. God sees every sin is the same. To him gossip is the same as lying, and they are both the same as murder.
  • James also address the sin of partiality. In the first part of the chapter, James addresses an issue that had become a problem for his readers. They were treating some people who came to their gatherings as better than others. They were showing special favoritism to the rich and important people who came, and they were treating newcomers who were poor badly. While the specific issue was one of treating the rich better than the poor, the general rule James lays down applies in any situation where there are different types of people. James tells us that when we show partiality towards people, we are violating the command to "love our neighbor as our self," and when we do that, we sin. (James 2:8-9). If we treat one group of people better than another group, we are not demonstrating to the group we are treating poorly. We are not loving them as we love ourselves.
  • What we see is that one of our responses to having a relationship with Jesus is that we will love our neighbors as ourselves. When you think about it, most of the things that the Bible talks about as sins are violations of love toward God or people. In other words, the things that are sinful are the things where we demonstrate that we love ourselves more than God or more than others. If I am showing love toward someone, I won't kill them or steal their things. If I am demonstrating love toward Cheryl, I won't commit adultery. If we can get to the point where we are consistently showing love to everyone, the problem with sin should take care of itself. We won't be committing sin because we won't be violating the love we have toward people and God.
  • The second major topic in this chapter is the balance between faith and works. James addresses the question of whether or not it is possible to have faith without works. This can be a tricky subject. Too much emphasis on works, or the things we do, leads to the place where we start thinking that we earn our relationship with God. This doesn't match what we see in the Bible about our relationship coming through grace, which is a gift that can't be earned. So the extreme response against the idea of a works-based relationship with God is to rely solely on faith, with no works at all. But James tells us that this kind of faith without works is dead. He says that the way show that we have faith is by the works that we do, or the actions we take.
  • Faith and belief in God should result in action. We should live out the principles that we learn from Jesus. If we live them out, it should have an effect on the actions we take as we go around in the world we live in. We should be working to make the principles that Jesus taught come to life in the people and the situations around us. If we do that, we will demonstrate to others that our faith is alive, and that should help them to see Jesus.
That sould give you a feel for what we talked about in our discussion of James 2. In the next part of "What should we do?" we will take a look at James 3.

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