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Check Your Symptoms
The book of James
Have you ever been faked out? There are phonies and fakes everywhere. And within every church, within this group, and perhaps within your circle of friends there are phony and fake Christians as well. It is fascinating and frightening that the Word of God says that there will be both real Christians and fake ones, many who at first glance look real or genuine. In fact the real and the phony will look so similar that you cannot tell them apart–both appear real.
In Matthew 13, the Bible says that there will be true Christians, called wheat, growing up with phony Christians, called tares. And what is scary is that they look so much alike that only God can tell them apart. In fact the lesson of the parable is that the real believer and the phony believer will only be separated at the final judgment, which in the parable is the harvest. There are some who know they are phony, and what is scary is that there are others who do not know they are fake.
One of the most frightening portions of Scripture is Matthew chapter 7, where some who stand before Jesus Christ say, “But Jesus, we did all this stuff in your name,” but the Judge of all mankind will say, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.”
I’ve worked with students for over 14 years, I have personally known and observed over 1,600 junior, senior and college-age students. And over 50% of those who say they know Jesus and say they are true Christians walk away from God, never to return after they graduate from high school. How can that be? Simple–the Word of God teaches that there is one true way to be right with God, and the Bible tells us that there are many false beliefs that the enemy has created that make you think you are right with God, but are not.
So how do you know that you are really saved? If there is true faith and phony faith, how do you know that you have the real stuff? Is God trying some practical joke on us? Does He want to fake us out? Have you ever been faked out? Ever had a good practical joke played on you?
But is God trying to trick us? Does God want us to think we are going to heaven, yet end up in hell? The answer is, no way. But, if there is only one true way and many false ways that make people think that they have the real thing, then how can you know for sure that you have the real thing?
The Bible is very clear–the very first New Testament book ever written answers the question of how to know for certain. The answer to see if you are phony or genuine is to pass the tests found in the book of James. See if your life is described in the book of James.
Open to chapter one–the book of James has been a puzzle for many who don’t understand what James is saying. He is as direct and clear as the Proverbs of the Old Testament, but in his argument (why he wrote) and his outline, many are confused, and I would like to show you what the book is all about.
I know you’re out of school, but I want you to take a test with me. This test is not for a grade, but it will mean the difference between heaven and hell. See how you do with each test. If these tests do not describe you, then you may be one of the phonies. These are the tests of true faith.
#1 The test of trials
Look at verse 2, “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 trials attack you. The picture here is of a variety of muggings. When life pushes you down and beats you up, what’s your response?
Do you lay there and feel sorry for yourself?
Do you cry and complain that life is unfair and throw a tantrum?
Do you question God’s wisdom, and say, “Okay God, what are you doing?”
Or do you get back up and keep going?
Do you remember Eric Liddle of Chariots of Fire? I’ll never forget an early race when he was pushed down–he could have . . .
Laid there, given up and felt sorry for himself
Complained to the official, but no . . .
He kept going. Do you? Do those you know, who claim to be Christians, also keep going?
I know of a man in N.Y. City who had a big lunch, got on a crowded and very hot subway car, could only face the window at 35 mph, and when the doors opened he threw up. Two men were waiting to get on right where the doors opened, and only one of them got it. He looked at the untouched man and said, “Why me?” What do you do when life throws up on you?
The phony Christian will not stand up when things heat up. The true Christian will trust that God is in control–not perfectly, but progressively. How have you been so far this week? Do you pass the test?
#2 The test of responsibility
Look at chapter one verses 13 to 14, “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 any one. But 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 faults and mistakes?
The phony Christian does not want to accept responsibility for sin. He/she likes to blame everyone else. We learn this from our brothers and sisters. 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.” Then Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent said, “BbBbBbBbBb.”
A True Christian accepts the responsibility for sin. He says, “I did it–I confess.”
Today it’s fashionable to say that your bad behavior is due to your parents, environment, color, race, upbringing, family history, background, or to psychological abuse. Everybody blames someone else today. In college I went to Sunset Blvd. to interview people. I remember some homosexuals said, “I was born gay.” “Yeah, and I was born a buffalo.” You choose a lifestyle every time you sin–it is your choice.
If you are a true Christian, when you first got saved you confessed your sin (which means that you agreed with God that you were wrong, that you were responsible). And if you are real, not fake, you will continue to confess your sin and take responsibility for it and not make excuses and not blame others.
Men, when your team is losing it is no excuse for a mood
Women, your kids do not make you crazy
Traffic is no excuse for anger
Your history and upbringing are never an excuse for sin
Do you pass the test?
#3 The test of impartial love
Look at 2:13–after talking about impartiality for 12 verses God says, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” What is He saying? If you show no mercy to others, God will show no mercy to you. (And without mercy you will end up in hell.) With God there are no classes of people–there are no deserving and undeserving.
A couple whose son was serving in Vietnam called home to see if he could bring a friend with one arm, one leg and one eye. His mom said, “Sure, for a while.” Later they received a message that their son had committed suicide–it was he who had only one arm, one leg and one eye.
How you treat others shows whether you really know and love God
How you treat others will show if you are genuine or phony
God says if you don’t love others, you do not love Me
Are you open and loving, or are you exclusive and cliquish?
Do you make fun of people who are different than you?
Do you love, really love in action?
A lot of you do things for God, are busy with a class or group, but you don’t love others. In fact we can be very cruel when we cut people off, when we tune others out, when we pass gossip on. Remember . . . the number one sign of a true Christian is their love for each other. How have you been this week towards others–those outside of your group, those different? Have you shown a heart of love?
God says don’t worship me unless you are right with others. Are you up-to-date? Does anyone have anything against you that you’re aware of? Love forgives. Have you shown true religion? Have you ministered to the widow, orphan, and prisoner? Do you pass the test?
#4 The test of good deeds
James 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.’” How would that sound today? “See ya later–you take care of yourself. You’d better get a bite to eat.”
If you say that, and yet do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” If your belief in God does not show itself in good deeds, it is the wrong belief. You see to know for sure that you have true saving faith, to know for sure you are a genuine Christian and not a phony, all you have to do is to look at your life and see if you have
1) righteous deeds
3) godly behavior
4) a heart that burns for God
John 15:8 says that a true Christian is known by his fruit (or good deeds).
Matthew 3:8 says that Christians are to bring forth fruit in keeping with their repentance
Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created for good works
If you are 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 true faith. That is why there are millions of people (some here tonight) thinking they are going to heaven, but actually on their way to hell. Now understand, let me clarify and be clear–believing the Bible brings salvation, and obeying the Bible proves salvation.
We are not talking about perfection, but progression. None of the tests are about perfection, but progression. It is a heart intent that shows itself somehow in lifestyle. It is the direction of your life, not the perfection of your life.
A true Christian does good deeds. When was the last time you did a good deed? Are you a doer of the Word, or do you forget to live out the Word? Are you a servant? Do you like to serve or be served? Do you have true faith or phony?
#5 The test of speech
Look at 3:2, “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 at your words and your mouth? What was the biggest lie I learned as a kid? Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. That’s a lie from the pit.
Remember that 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 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
James 4:4, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God.” Are you one who doesn’t sin the big stuff, but you want to in your heart? In your heart, are you envious of the fun and 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 flesh in movies and on TV?
Is it your goal to see how close you can get to the world without sinning?
Larry Flint, publisher of Hustler magazine said, “If Jesus Christ were alive today, He would read Hustler Magazine.” He made one call, was shot and paralyzed from the waist down. He is now no longer capable of doing what his magazine proposes–God still judges today.
God calls all Christians to be separate (not legalistically, but out of love for God and hatred for sin). You can’t mix pornography with Jesus. You can’t mix lust, and lies with Jesus. You can’t mix love for things, sex, drugs, popularity, pleasure, and pride with a love for God. Are you truly separate from the world? Do you pass the test?
#7 The test of dependence
James 4:13 to 15 says, “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.’ Yet 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. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’”
Who is in control of your life? Anything that controls you and you don’t control it, you are enslaved to–you are chained to it. It is just like slavery–you say, “Yas, Massa.”
Can you really say, “If the Lord wills,” or is something else in control? (alcohol, Russian Roulette–1 out of 8, sex, friends, music, sports, pleasure, media, pride or even drugs)
Listen to this rewritten Psalm by a 23-year-old gal which was found after she killed herself. You can apply this to sex, music, food, or anything addictive.
“Addiction is my shepherd, 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, Addictions, 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 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.”
Do you live life under the sovereign control of God? Are you in charge, or is something or someone else running your life? God made you to follow His perfect loving will. If you are not controlled by God, then you are controlled by something else and the Bible calls that sin. It is slavery. The mark of a true Christian is a lifestyle of dependency on God. Do you pass the test? There are so many more tests . . .
The Test of Obedience (is Jesus the #1 priority or first in every priority?)
The Test of Wisdom and Right Thoughts
The Test of Trust or Panic
The test of Honesty
The Test of Prayer (which is like breathing)
The Test of Riches (your checkbook and your possessions–do you want them clean for God or worn out for the Kingdom?)
The entire Book of James is just one test after another. But the conclusion of the book is a real surprise and shocker. Look at James 5:19 to 20, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let 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 this closely–strays from the truth is non-saving faith. It is one who touches the truth but does not own it. So to turn him back is the 180 degree turn from sin to God. The error of his ways is the delusion of false faith. And to save his soul from death is not physical death but to save him or her from hell. What God is telling you is this–if you don’t pass the tests of the book of James, then you need to turn from your sin and follow Christ as Master. You need to get right with God. You need to get saved.
As 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “Turn to God from idols.” You must stop telling yourself that 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
Felt bad over your sin
Someone keeps telling you you’re saved
A true Christian is known by their fruit, good deeds, changed life–a transformation should have occurred. You will want to obey. If you have a new nature it will show. Just like we know that a non-Christian will show their nature, a true Christian will show theirs. You are not right with God by being good, but once you are saved you will be good and have fruit.
Listen, men and women, there are two ways to go to hell:
#1 is to party, sex, drugs, live for yourself, etc.
#2 is to look like a Christian but not follow Jesus Christ as Master
Do you pass the tests? If not it means one of two things . . .
#1 You are disobedient and need to repent
#2 You are not saved and need a Savior
Are you realty saved?
Are you a true Christian?
Does your family think so, your husband? your wife? your children? fellow employees? classmates? teacher?
I know of the parents of a special child. They prayed for her, and once they had her they were very overprotective. Finally they left her with a sitter and went to a restaurant. While there a fire truck went by, then another one and she began to panic–soon he did too.
Finally they left and returned to the house, only to find it on fire. The sitter was outside to their relief, thinking their daughter was safe. But then she said she couldn’t reach the child. So the dad fought his way inside, reached into the crib, felt around, scooped up the daughter, clutched her closely to him, and barely made it outside when the house collapsed, only to find that he had scooped up not his baby daughter, but her life-sized baby doll.
My fear for you is that many of you are clutching to a false faith and will wake up one day to find that it was a phony faith as God sends you to hell.
About Chris Mueller
Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.