Will the Real Phony Please Stand Out!
The book of James overview–The Tests of True Faith/A Faith that Works
The happy young couple were holding hands when they entered Kentucky Fried Chicken to get their chicken picnic box for lunchtime. They paid cash and went to a secluded park nearby to enjoy their lunch. But when they opened their food box, instead of potatoes, gravy, a roll and two Kentucky Fried chicken chests, they found a box containing an organized stack of cash. They laughed, they celebrated, and counted over ten thousand dollars.
Then just as suddenly, they both sobered up, looked at each other with serious glances, then put every last dollar back inside the box, got up and returned to the restaurant. When they walked in the door, the manager was elated. For years they had taken yesterday’s take and stored it in one of the lunch boxes to take to the bank. But this is the first time they had accidently given it away. He couldn’t believe they brought the money back. The manager kept saying, “No one does that, thank you so much.”
The manager insisted on giving them a reward, which they refused. The manager asked to take a picture for the local paper, which horrified them. Finally, the manager asked why? The man leaned over and in a quiet voice said, “The woman I am with is not my wife.” You see, the only reason they returned the money is they didn’t want to get caught violating their marriage vows. Their motivation was not righteousness, but guilt. They were not heroes or people of integrity—they were just two guilty sinners covering up their sin.
Phonies are everywhere. It’s fascinating that the Word of God says in every church, there will be both real Christians and fake ones–many who at first glance look genuine. The Bible teaches the real and phony will look so much the same, you can’t tell them apart. In Matthew 13, the Bible says there will be true Christians, called wheat, growing up with the phony Christians, called tares in the same field. But what is scary is they look so much the same, only God can tell them apart. In fact, the lesson of the parable is the real believer and the phony believer will only be separated at the final judgment, called the harvest in the parable.
Since the birth of the Church in Acts 2, 2,000 years ago, there have always been tares among the wheat–rocky, shallow, thorny soils that produce no spiritual fruit. Those who draw near to God with their words, while their hearts are far from Him, those who are hearers of the Word but not doers of it. Those whose faith is dead, useless, fake. What is so frightening is, most of the phony have no idea they are fake. Matthew chapter 7 scares me. There are some who stand before Christ and say, “But Jesus, we did all this ministry in your name.” Yet the Judge of all mankind will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
I worked with students for fourteen years. During that time, I personally knew over 1,600, junior, senior and college age students. I watched them move to adulthood. Somewhere between 40 and 50% of those who professed Christ walked away, demonstrating they never knew Christ in salvation. Later, some of them repented–most did not. How can that be? Simple. The Word of God teaches there is one true way to be right with God, and the Bible also tells us there are many false beliefs the enemy has created that make you think you are right with God, yet are not.
Students think, “My family is saved, I am saved.” Or, “I go to church, I gotta be saved. I don’t drink or smoke or chew, or go with girls who do–of course I am a believer. I felt bad about my sin and prayed a prayer once, I must be a Christian.” Adults think, “I serve, I give, I attend, I live moral, I believe in God, I don’t believe in evolution, in more than two genders, I hate abortion, I love America, I am a Republican and I believe Jesus is the Son of God who died on a cross for sins–I must be born again.” Yet Jesus will say to MANY, “I never knew you.”
So how do you know you have genuine faith–a faith that saves? You need to read the book of James, the very first New Testament book ever written answers the question of how to know you have saving faith. The half-brother of Jesus writes to churches mainly filled with Christians who had come out of Judaism. But like today, many had come with religious baggage, false ideas about salvation which resulted in many having a false faith.
To help people avoid being deceived, James is as direct as the Old Testament proverbs. His letter is made up of a series of tests, which expose the fake and clarify the genuine. James makes it clear what is sham faith and what is saving faith . . .
Chapter 1 True saving faith is marked by its proper response to trials, temptations, and obedience to the Word of God
Chapter 2 True saving faith is seen in its response to people from various social classes and its ongoing, overt manifestation of righteous works
Chapter 3 True saving faith is demonstrated by proper speech, living by wisdom
Chapter 4 True saving faith is proven by not being a friend of the world, and by dependent humility, and submission to God’s will in all things
Chapter 5 True saving faith is distinguished by a proper view of money, a patient response when suffering, a dependence in prayer, and by truthful living
When faith is genuine, it is found in a heart that has been transformed to believed–meaning the saved person has a heart that wants to respond positively to the tests of James, even when they fail or fall short, they still desire to demonstrate saving faith. I was at a party once where the candy was actually chocolate-covered soap. It looked tasty. It looked like See’s nuts ‘n chews. It smelled great, but was fake. James is writing church attenders who look like Christians, smell like believers, talk like they’re genuine, but they are fake.
As we wrap up our study of this great epistle, allow me to review most of the book and expose you to most of the tests, so that you can determine if you are real or phony–if your faith is one that works or your faith is one that is dead faith.
#1 The test of TRIALS
Look at verse 2 of James chapter one, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Literally James says here, it’s a fact–choose joy whenever different and multiple designer pressures attack you. Know God is in control. Know God has a plan in your pain. The picture James paints here is of a variety of ongoing muggings. Life is hard. And when life pushes you down and beats you up, what is your response? Genuine faith responds with joy.
You remember missionary, Olympic athlete Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire. In an early race, he was literally pushed down to the ground by another runner. He could have . . . 1) laid there, given up and felt sorry for himself, said, “Why me?” or better, blamed others. 2) complained to the official and said “This is unfair,” even had a Christian tantrum. 3) questioned God’s wisdom and control—“Can I really trust you if you allow this in my life?” Or He could have done what I would have done, 4) cut across the track, caught up to the pushy runner and pushed him down, then aerated his bum with my cleats. But Liddell was a genuinely godly man, responding biblically to his trial. He got up, kept going and completed his race–and the amazing part, he won his race.
Do you respond with joy, trust, knowing your difficult pressures and trials of life are personally designed by your all-wise, all-powerful, loving God just for you–trusting He has a great purpose for these trials for your good and His glory? How are you when circumstances and life in general are unfair? The phony Christian will not stand up when things heat up. The true Christian will trust God is in control (not perfectly, but progressively. Do you pass the test of genuine faith?
#2 The test of RESPONSIBILITY
Look at chapter one verses 13 to 14 (I am reading the summary verses of each main paragraph). “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
When life gets tough or circumstances don’t go your way and you fail, who do you blame? James says, don’t blame God when you fail. Don’t blame God when you fall. Who do you blame for your sins, faults and mistakes? The phony Christian will not accept responsibility for their own sin. They love blaming others. In verse 13, they are blaming God. But with us, it can be anyone other than you. We learn this from our brothers and sisters growing up. Later we blame our parents, then our spouses, and finally we move to anyone and everyone–just not our own hearts.
This is not new. This can be traced back to the fall of mankind. In Genesis 3, who did Adam blame for his sin–do you recall? Adam blamed God and Eve when he said, “The woman You gave me.” Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent blamed by saying, “BbBbBbBbBb.” A genuine Christian actually lives under the truth that they themselves are the worst sinner they know–because you know if it isn’t your actions that are sinful, then it’s your thoughts. And if it isn’t your thoughts, then it’s your motives. All genuinely redeemed believers wish to be delivered from this body of sin.
That is why a true Christian accepts the responsibility for sin. When you first got saved you confessed your sin, (which means you agreed with God your sin was wrong and that you were responsible–it was your fault, you don’t blame others). And if you are real and not fake, you will continue to confess your sin and take responsibility for your sin and not make excuses, nor blame others. The moment Adam and Eve sinned, they hid and blamed. And ever since that day, we love to hide from our responsibility and blame others. Today it’s an art.
How do we do it? “My day was rough” excuses a bad mood. “The traffic was bad” excuses our anger. “The kids make me crazy” excuses our binging. “My parents say no” excuses our rebellion. “My history . . . my race . . . my upbringing . . . my income . . . my schooling . . . my IQ” never excuses sin. Do you pass the test of taking responsibility?
#3 The test of IMPARTIAL LOVE
Look at chapter 2 verse 1. After teaching impartiality for 13 verses, God says, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” What is He saying? Simple–if you show no mercy to others, God will show no mercy to you. Without mercy, you and I will end up in Hell. With God, there are no classes of people. There are no deserving and no undeserving. Without Christ, we often look at externals and treat people with partiality. But in Christ, we are to look at the heart and treat people impartially.
You remember the son who called his folks from Viet Nam, wondering if he could bring his friend home–a friend who was severely wounded. He had only one leg, one arm and one eye. The parents, hesitant to be burdened with such a man, replied, “Well sure, son—for awhile.” Later, they got the news their boy had died. But when the body came home, they discovered it was their own son who had one leg, one arm and one eye. He had called to test their love—was it impartial? Finding it lacking, he never recovered.
How you treat others will show if you are genuine or phony. How you accept others shows whether you really know and love God. God says if you don’t love others, then you do not love me. Biblical love is giving, action, sharing, accepting, trusting. I know many of you have been burned badly by others, and some still experience it. Yet biblical love believes all things, trusts, sacrifices–regardless.
Stop looking outside–James says don’t treat the wealthy better. Don’t treat people partially. Learn to forgive when they do. You say, “Chris, I can’t do it.” And you are right, you can’t. But Christ can through you. Do you pass the test?
#4 The test of GOOD DEEDS
Read James chapter 2, verses 15 to 17, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” If your belief in Christ does not show itself in good deeds, it is the wrong belief.
You see, to know for certain you have true saving faith–to know for sure that you are a genuine Christian and not a phony, all you have to do is look at your life and see if you have 1) righteous deeds, 2) fruit, 3) godly behavior, or 4) a heart that burns for God. Faith without action is dead. Faith without service is useless. Faith without works is not saving faith. Practically, don’t ask God to guide your footsteps, if you are unwilling to move your feet.
John 15:8 says a true Christian is known by his fruit (you will bear much fruit). Matthew 3:8 says Christians are to bring forth fruit in keeping with their repentance. Ephesians 2:10 says genuine believers are created for good works. If you’re a real Christian, it will make a radical difference in the way you live. If your Christianity makes very little difference in how you live, then you do not have saving faith. Sadly, there are thousands of church attenders thinking they’re headed to Heaven, but are actually on their way to Hell.
Let me be clear–believing the Bible brings salvation. But obeying the Bible proves salvation–not perfectly, but progressively. The new, internal, born again heart will always show itself externally in your behavior. You will see it in sacrifice, service, worship, giving, caring, but most of all in obeying. It is the direction of your life, not the perfection of your life. A false faith claims to have salvation and may even embrace sound doctrine. But false faith doesn’t submit, doesn’t repent, doesn’t change and is not faithful to serve.
The believing soldier after WWII was driving his Jeep through a village, when he saw a starving boy with his face pressed up against the window of the bakery. Moved with compassion, he stopped the Jeep, walked up to the boy and said, “Son, would you like some of those?” Shocked, the thin kid nodded yes. The believer went in, bought a half dozen, walked out and with a smile, handed the boy the bag. The kid started eating immediately. But just before the soldier drove off, the boy ran up to him and in broken English asked, “Mr., are you God?”
We are never more like God than when we give. “God so loved the world, that He gave.” A true Christian does good deeds. Believers are doers of the Word. The greatest among us are the servants. “Faith without works is dead.” Do you pass?
#5 The Test of SPEECH
Read James chapter 3 verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” What God says here is, “Say ahh!” My mom used to look in my mouth to discern whether I was healthy or sick. What does God see when He looks in your mouth at your words? Does He see the heart of a believer or the heart of a make-believer?
Jesus said in Matthew 12:34b, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Ugly speech comes from an ugly heart. Bitter words come from a bitter heart. Dirty words come from a dirty heart. Angry words come from an angry heart. What you say when you are mad, what you talk about with your friends, what you text to others in secret exposes the real condition of your heart. James says your speech tells you who you really are.
A church attending non-believer can’t and won’t control their tongue from complaint or criticism or gossip, but a born again believer is going to take steps to guard their talk. Psalm 39:1, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.” The biggest lie you repeated as a kid was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Bones can heal stronger, but words can crush and remain as open wounds for life. What do your words tell you about the condition of your heart? Do you have real faith or phony? Do you pass the test?
#6 The test of SEPARATION
Read James chapter 4 verse 4, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God.” Are you one who doesn’t sin in a big way, but you want to in your heart? In your heart, are you envious of the sin of your unsaved friends in the world? You don’t commit sexual sin, but do you lust? You don’t kill, but do you hate? You don’t gamble, but do you cheat? You don’t go to nude bars, but do you watch it all on your phone, computer or flat screen? Is your goal to see how close you can get to the world without sinning, or is your goal to remain as close to Christ and as far from sin as possible?
Larry Flint, publisher of Hustler magazine, on trial to determine whether his obscene magazine should be allowed in society, said this while on the witness stand. “If Jesus Christ were alive today, He would read Hustler magazine.” He made one call, then was shot, paralyzed, no longer able to walk again. You would never say what he said, but do you live as close to the world as possible? Are there evil things of the world you watch, cling to, and in your own way say, “Jesus is okay with this–I am under grace. It’s no problem to compromise with this.”?
James says all genuine Christians will want to be separate from the world in their heart, out of a love for Christ and a hatred for the sin which Christ died for. They seek to live in the world, but not be of the world. To be in the boat on the water, but not have the water of the world in the boat. Do you pass the test? “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God.”
#7 The test of DEPENDENCE
Read James 4 verses 13 to 15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’”
Who is in control of your life? Do you live life believing God is sovereign? Does it show? Do you complain? Do you allow addictions in your life? Do you treat possessions like idols? Anything you own that you can’t give away–you don’t own it, it owns you. Anything that controls you and you don’t control it–you are enslaved to it. Do you genuinely live life believing, only if the Lord wills? Are you truly dependent upon the Lord, trusting only in Him for everything, every circumstance and each relationship?
What are the idols you depend upon more than Christ? Children for moms, careers for dads, your reputation, your ministry, your position, your addiction to chocolate, coffee, mac & cheese, ice cream, pizza, popcorn, Fresca, affection, music, friends, sports, movies, Disneyland, the zoo, clothing, jewelry, cars, computers, video games, phones, apps, books, travel, and more. When something controls you, it is giving evidence that the Spirit is not in you. We are to live dependent upon the Lord, His Word, seeking His will by His Spirit, and nothing else.
Listen to this rewritten Psalm, written by a 23-year-old gal who died from her addiction. It doesn’t have to be drugs (like she is talking about)–it could be anything that controls you. “King Heroin is my shepherd [coffee, friends, music, video games], I shall always want. He maketh me to lie down in the gutters. He leadeth me beside the troubled waters. He destroyeth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of wickedness.
“Yes, I shall walk through the valley of poverty and will fear no evil for thou, Heroin, art with me. Thy Needle and Capsule comfort me. Thou strippest the table of groceries in the presence of my family. Thou robbest my head of reason. My cup of sorrow runneth over. Surely heroin addiction shall stalk me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the House of the Damned forever.”
Also found in the car with the dead woman was this written message. “Jail didn’t cure me. Nor did hospitalization help me for long. The doctor told my family it would have been better, and indeed kinder, if the person who got me hooked on dope had taken a gun and blown my brains out. And I wish to God he had. My God, how I wish it.” Is something controlling your life? Are you in charge? Or are you living dependent upon the sovereign control of God, following His perfect will? Do you pass the test?
There are many more tests in James. There is the test of obedience–is Jesus your #1 priority, or what He should be, first in every priority? The test of honesty, the test of prayer, and the test of riches. The entire book of James is just one test after another. But the conclusion of the book is the shocker. Read chapter 5:19 to 20, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Look at it phrase by phrase. “Strays from the truth”–this is non-saving faith. It is one that touches the truth, but does not own it, embrace it, or live it out. “Turns him back”–is the 180 degree turn from sin to Christ. “Error of his ways”–is the delusion of false faith. “Save his soul from death”–not physical death, but to save him/her from Hell. What God is telling you is this–if you do not pass the tests of the book of James, then you need to turn from your sin and follow Christ as Master.
You need to lose your life and find Christ’s. You need to 1 Thessalonians 1:9, “Turn to God from idols.” Stop telling yourself you are saved when nothing in your life proves it. It doesn’t matter if you walked an aisle, signed a card, prayed a prayer, made a decision, had an emotional moment, felt bad over your sin, or believe right doctrine. You need to be born again converted. And when that happens, a true Christian will be known by their works, fruit, good deeds, changed life, and transformation.
If you have a new nature it will show. Just like a non-Christian, fallen nature shows in the lifestyle, so a born again, new nature shows in the lifestyle. You are not saved by being good–but once you are saved, you will be good. Listen, my special family, there are two ways to go to Hell. 1) is to have sex, do drugs, live for yourself, cuss, cheat, hurt and blame others. 2) is to look like a Christian, but not follow Christ as your actual Master. If you don’t pass the tests of James, then only two things can be true. First, you are disobedient, awaiting God’s loving discipline, so you need to repent. Or second, you are deceived, awaiting God’s damnation, so you need to turn to Christ.
I know of the parents of one special child. They prayed for her, and once they had her, they were really overprotective. After a year, they finally left her with a sitter as they went to a restaurant close by. Sadly, one fire truck drove by, then another, and at the third they stood up and rushed home to see their fears realized. Their house was on fire. They saw the sitter and she screamed, “I couldn’t get to her.”
Pushing past the firemen, the dad ran into the flames, got to her room, reached into the crib, felt around in the smoke and scooped up the daughter, barely making it outside before the house collapsed. As he looked down at her, his heart died, for he had not grabbed his daughter, but her life-size babydoll.
My fear for you today is that a few of you are clutching onto a false faith, and you will wake up one day to find that it was a phony faith as God sends you to Hell. Respond to the book of James and surrender your entire life to Christ today. Pray today as you turn to Christ, repent of sin, thank the Lord for a new heart, ask the Lord to help you grow in one area.