9/3/2000, P12, Year B
will know we are Christians by our...
ow do you describe someone when asked to do so? Usually the first characteristic mentioned is occupation, and that tells a lot. Someone who has finished medical school has a lot of determination, and hopefully a sense of calling to the healing arts. If a young person is President of his/her class, this conveys the idea of leadership. Perhaps you would touch upon one's family, or hometown in your depiction. Or you might say something like, "She is attractive! " Or, you could allude to his athletic history. Hopefully, you would mention the person's religion; but, how would you describe one's faith? You could say, "Well, he's a Methodist." But, does that nail it? You could say, "She never misses worship!" And, a bit more revealing, "She even attends on Sunday Night!"
Let's ask, more specifically, "How would you hope to be described?" Even closer to home, "How would you imagine that a friend would describe your Christian faith?"
Maybe the old camp song that we used to sing might help us here: "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know that we are Christians by our love!" This is what Jesus said was the defining characteristic: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).
James' epistle helps in our effort to define Christian Faith by adding that another, more measurable, factor that naturally develops our inward and spiritual relationship with God in Christ is, works. We always have to preface a discussion of "works" with the disclaimer that we are, of course as everybody ought to know, not actually saved "by" our works; or, best efforts-- But that the experience of salvation is by faith alone. Having firmly established that point, we can then go on to underline that works are supposed to naturally flow out of one's salvation. In other words, the love that we sang about around the campfire, is a byproduct of our receiving the marvelous gospel of Jesus Christ. It's not achieved; but rather, finds its way out of our living in the world, through visible deeds and actions.
For example, Asa Candler built this gothic cathedral in which we worship today, because, as a "Sanctified Methodist" he loved his church. When his brother, Bishop Warren Candler, initiated a movement to relocate to our present site, "in the suburbs," as our church history relates the events, Asa, the owner of Coca-Cola, disagreed with his brother and argued that Methodism needed a presence in the center of downtown. Little did he know that 97 years later this, our fourth Sanctuary, would be in the center of a massive metropolis. Losing the argument, Asa bought our third building, tore it down, and built Atlanta's first "skyscraper," the Candler building, as the world headquarters of the rapidly expanding Coca-Cola empire. At the same time, this beautiful edifice was constructed out of the Candler's good works, or we might say "brotherly love disagreement." Also, Emory University and The Candler School of Theology are stone reminders of the inward and spiritual faith of Asa and Warren Candler.
Yet, giving even massive sums of money to a worthy cause is not in itself the absolute proof of one's faith. Ted Turner recently gave away a billion dollars, but makes clear his disdain for the Christian faith that he once cherished. About fifteen years ago his pastor referred to Ted as, "The greatest man to live since Jesus Christ!" However, the exaggerated avowal was made on the basis of outward observation. Ted donated major gifts and claimed great faith with words, but his inward heart was far from God, as he now admits.
James works out this insight into faith evaluation by combining the inward hearing of the gospel with the outward expression of good works; "...prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers..." (1:22).
One cannot quote this verse without also underlining the point further developed in chapter two where James says, "(14) What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."
We must see all of this as not separate parts, but a working together as one process designed to save our souls and fulfill our need for spiritual development. If you have only given lip service to Jesus Christ, you need to allow Him to take you to the next level of putting your actions where your mouth is. Likewise, if you have been running yourself ragged trying to work your way into the Kingdom, but have no testimony of Grace active in your heart, you need to allow the Living Christ to fill you with the assurance of your personal salvation; and then, your good works will flow out of a heart "Strangely Warmed."
Mr. Wesley is a vivid example of one who had tried to construct his own salvation without inward grace. He was "Sometime Professor" of New Testament at Oxford University. John Wesley had, along with his brother Charles, founded the "Holy Club, also called, "Bible Moths, or the worst name of derision, "Methodists." He had tried hard to methodically find Grace, but had failed. Although he had done much as a teacher, clergyman, and missionary to Georgia, he had no inward faith. Finally, the Holy Spirit implanted His word in Wesley's heart as he attended a German Moravian prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. After this his heart was full, which in turn set in motion a heightened life of accomplishment and works. His crowning contribution was the Methodist branch of Christendom which has endeavored to amalgamate faith and works in building up believers into the kind of disciples that God created us with the potential of becoming.
As for me, I can think of no greater compliment than for someone to think that I deserve to be called, "A true son of Wesley."
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor