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JULY 5 2015

Living Faith vs Mechanical Faith

 

I wish to speak to you this morning on one aspect of the dynamic faith that all true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ possess. In particular, how this aspect of our faith expresses itself. The reason I will speak this morning on this topic is because I fear that many, if not most of us, are neglecting this expression of faith to our peril.

 

At first I considered entitling this message Authentic Faith vs. Empty Faith. The word authentic appealed to me because when we read the books of the New Testament we are exposed to a picture of real faith and how it was lived out by those early saints. It was authentic and we know it to have been so because it was circumscribed by the apostles who wrote what we call the New Testament. The word empty also appealed to me because so much of what passes for Christian living today is devoid of important acts that were commonplace among the first disciples.

 

However, the word authentic, and its antonym empty, implies that some faith may be genuine while another kind of faith may be false altogether, even if directed towards Jesus Christ. This is a fact. There is such a thing as genuine faith that is able to save and there is a false faith that is not able to save. And there are multitudes of people who possess a false faith that cannot save them. This is not only the teaching of Christ and his apostles, but it is a revelation that is likewise found in the Old Testament such as in Proverbs:       There is a way that seems right to a man,

                        but its end is the way to death.

(Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

 

Although all this is true, it is not what I intended to communicate. I do not wish to contrast true and false faiths. I wish to contrast an obedient faith and a faith that merely goes through the motions even though it may be real. So, I am entitling this message Living Faith vs. Mechanical Faith.

 

Our Scripture reading this morning is John 7:37-39. READ. PRAY.

 

Verse 37 begins, “On the last day of the feast…” This would have been the Feast of Booths, also called the Feast of Tabernacles. It is called the Feast of Booths because the people lived in makeshift shelters during the feast to remember God’s faithfulness to Israel during her wandering in the wilderness. It took place in the fall of the year when the harvests were brought in. It was a time of celebration, feasting, and drinking, giving thanks to God for his provision and his protection. It lasted eight days. It was a respite from all their hard work. It was an eight-day rest. It was a vacation!

 

The first day consisted of a day of worship then they feasted for seven days after that. Israel labored for the whole year until they harvested the corn and wine. They received everything by the labor of their hands. Finally, their labor was over, and all that was left for them to do was to come together and enjoy their harvest for seven days. The seventh day was their biggest day, yet it was the end. The last day was the day that they were all dismissed. While the people were being dismissed on the last day of the feast, the Lord stood up and cried, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink” (7:37). The people were not satisfied. The things that they were enjoying during the past seven days had failed to quench their thirst. If they would come and drink of Christ, they would have rivers of living water flowing out from within their innermost being.

 

The last day signifies the ending of all the enjoyment of any success in human life. Regardless of the kind of success you have, there will be a last day. There will be a last day for an article of clothing that you value; there will be a last day for your marriage. Everything has its last day. There is a last day for:

 

  • your riches,
  • a last day to your health,
  • a last day with your dear wife or husband,
  • a last day with your parents,
  • a last day with your children,
  • a last day with all of your circumstances
  • —in short, a last day!

 

On that last day where is your enjoyment centered? If it is centered on anything else other than Christ then that last day will bring with it sorrow and emptiness – a thirst. Christ, the Living Christ, gives living water and this living water is the Spirit!

 

Every person who trusts in Christ receives this water, but one must drink of it. Drinking of it produces the flow. When you stop drinking the flow ceases.

 

The living water produces a living faith. Without the living water we may still have a real faith but it becomes mechanical. We may continue to do the same things we did at one time but there is no life and no power.

 

I said at the beginning that I wished to focus on one way that a living faith expresses itself. That expression is found in more than one place in the NT. One of those places is in the book of James.         Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

           

(James 5:13-16 ESV)

 

There are some rich things to be found here. We could talk about prayer bringing relief to suffering. God answers prayer! We could see that praising him in song is the rightful expression of cheer. And some of us have experienced the power that is released when elders pray over us. We could even come to understand that there is some kind of link, although it may be mysterious, between physical healing and the forgiveness of our sins.

 

However, this morning I wish to consider only the first half of verse 16: “Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another…”

 

Oh! We have neglected this command!

 

In this passage we are commanded to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another. We see that, if we do that, our sins will be forgiven and, if we are sick, we will be healed. What James is saying is that it is good to have the elders pray over you, but you don’t have to wait for the elders. Pray for one another! Confess your sins to one another!

 

[I.] We must come together and pray for one another because we need forgiveness. One of the practices we see the NT saints engaged in when we read the book of Acts is that they met “from house to house.” The more intimate setting of people’s homes is the right venue to meet together in small groups to confess our sins to one another and to support one another in prayer.

 

Without confession there is no forgiveness. Of course, we must confess our sins to God the Father. David said:     I acknowledged my sin to you,

                        and I did not cover my iniquity;

            I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

                        and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

(Psalm 32:5 ESV)

 

Unless we do confess our sins to the Lord there is no forgiveness.

 

The apostle John wrote:       If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(1 John 1:9 ESV) Although this passage does not specify to whom we confess, whether to one another or to God, it is commonly understood as confession to God.

 

If we confess our sins to God and we are promised forgiveness then why must we confess our sins to one another? Isn’t confessing to God enough?

 

[A.] We must confess our sins to each other because we sometimes sin against each other. We ought to confess our sins to those whom we sinned against.

 

A lady in the north of England said that every time she got down before God to pray, five bottles of wine came up before her mind. She had taken them wrongfully one time when she was a housekeeper, and had not been able to pray since. She was advised to make restitution.

"But the person is dead," she said. 
"Are not some of the heirs living?" 
"Yes, a son." 
"Then go to that son and pay him back."

"Well," she said, "I want to see the face of God, but I could not think of doing a thing like that. My reputation is at stake." She went away, and came back the next day to ask if it would not do just as well to put that money in the treasury of the Lord. "No," she was told, "God doesn't want any stolen money. The only thing is to make restitution." She carried that burden for several days, but finally went into the country, saw that son, made a full confession and offered him a five-pound note. He said he didn't want the money, but she finally persuaded him to take it, and came back with a joy and peace that made her face radiant. She became a magnificent worker for souls, and led many into the light. Dwight L Moody in commenting upon this woman’s experience said, “My dear friends, get these stumbling stones out of the way. God does not want a man to shout "Hallelujah" who doesn't pay his debts. Many of our prayer meetings are killed by men trying to pray who cannot pray because their lives are not right. Sin builds up a great wall between us and God.”

 

I had an experience quite similar to this. I became a Christian when I was 20 years of age during my second year in the Air Force. After two more years I received my discharge and went home to live with my mother. When I got home and went into the basement I joyfully gazed upon all the weightlifting equipment that I had left behind. I had begun training with weights at 11 years of age and had built up quite a collection that I used religiously until I joined the service. During my four years away I continued my training,. Among the many hundreds of pounds of barbell plates in the basement were two 50 lb. plates that I had forgotten about. They were stolen out of a neighbor’s garage at my instigation by a local boy from whom I then purchased them when I was 15 or 16 years old. My conscience afflicted me. I put them in a wagon, walked over to that neighbor’s house a few doors down, and knocked on the door. When they came to the door I introduced myself and told them what I had done. I asked for their forgiveness as I was returning the plates and I also attempted to give them money for having had those plates for about six years. The couple was simply dumbfounded. They explained that they were not sure they had even been missed. They did not want the plates back and they refused to take any money for them. However, I insisted. They were impressed that someone would fess up to such an old transgression and If I would put them to good use I should keep them. I thanked them for their forgiveness. I felt like a great burden had been lifted from me. My conscience was relieved!

 

We need to confess our sins to those we have sinned against for our own conscience’s sake. It releases us to labor for the Lord in power and joy.

 

[B.] We must confess our sins to one another because accountability inhibits further sin. Does anyone here like telling other people how wrong you’ve been or how you have done some despicable thing? I didn’t think so. No one likes to do that.

 

Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, "Our people come to us and pour out their hears, confess certain sins and needs. Let's do the same. Confession is good for the soul." In due time all agreed. One confessed that he hardly prayed at all. He studied quite a bit and would speak to the lost about their need of a Savior, but he seldom prayed. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars and expressed concern that if members of his congregation found out they would think less of him. The third one confessed to speaking harshly to his wife. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn't confess anything. The others pressed him saying, "Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?" Finally he answered, "Ok. I really have a problem with gossip.”

 

The reason that we do not like to confess to others is not that we think they will tell our weaknesses, although maybe some do have that fear. But, we do not wish anyone at all to know that we fail in certain areas. Yet, this is what we are encouraged to do by the apostle and, in doing it, we will find that the mere practice of confession helps us in avoiding a sin and overcoming it.

 

Further, if we would confess our small sins it will be conducive to keeping one from more serious sins. Every practitioner of more dangerous sins began by committing lesser sins and not addressing them.

 

We must confess our sins to one another because accountability inhibits further sin.

 

[C.] We must confess our sins because the prayers of our fellow disciples will bring the power of God and victory over sin. The second half of verse 16 reads:         The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

            (James 5:16 ESV)

 

Why does James write that? Clearly, he is implying that the power to overcome sin is available when a righteous person prays for us!

 

Verses 17 and 18:     Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

 

We have had a lot of rain here in Missouri these past two weeks. So much rain that many people have suffered, including our farmers who have lost much. It is beyond our power to stop the rain. Yet, Elijah prayed and the rain stopped. It is beyond our power to overcome some sins that afflict us. Sometimes, because of our sins, many people have suffered, including our family members who are most affected. But the prayers of righteous brothers and sisters avail much. They can pray and power comes. The reign of sin stops! Praise God!

 

[Summary of point I.] We must come together and pray for one another because we need forgiveness and victory.

  • We must confess our sins to each other because we sometimes sin against each other. When we confess, forgiveness is effected.
  • We must confess our sins to one another because accountability inhibits further sin. The mere practice of confession helps us not to sin! It is human nature.
  • We must confess our sins because the prayers of our fellow disciples will bring the power of God and victory over sin.

 

[II.] We must also come together and pray for one another because we need healing. Look again at the first half of verse 16:

 

James writes explicitly that when we confess and pray for one another we will be healed. What is the link between our personal sin and our physical health? It is mysterious. But we do know this: when there is sin in our lives then it may lead to illness. That truth is illustrated in I Corinthians 11. Once our sin is forgiven and we are empowered through the prayers of our fellow believers to forsake it then, if our illness was due to that sin, we are at the same time healed.

 

I will state it simply. Some of us are sick because we have unconfessed sin in our lives.

 

We must come together and pray for one another because we need healing.

 

[III.] Finally, we must come together and pray for one another because we need fellowship. We were made for relationships. We have our family relationships which we should continue to nurture. But we also need spiritual relations. We need brothers and sisters in the Lord and we need them at a personal level. Yes, there is the fellowship of the local church as a whole – when we meet together on Sunday morning as we are doing now. This is good and we should not miss these times. However, these larger meeting are somewhat impersonal. It is limited. We need fellowship at a personal level and this can only be realized in personal experiences: meeting in one another’s homes, sharing our lives, and praying for one another.

 

  • It is healthy.
  • It is right.
  • It is satisfying to the soul.

 

We must come together and pray for one another because we need fellowship.

 

[Conclusion] I perceive that many of us have become mechanical in the exercise of our faith. We may read our Bibles and we may attend church on Sunday mornings. We may think this is enough. Of course, it is good to read our Bibles and attend church! But we need a dynamic faith that is alive! The living faith that we see portrayed in the pages of the New Testament includes coming together in small groups, confessing our sins, and praying for one another.

Put another way, a living faith, one that is dynamic because the living water is flowing within that person, has an expression. One of those expressions is confessing our sins and praying for one another.

 

  • We must come together and pray for one another because we need forgiveness.
  • We must come together and pray for one another because we need healing.
  • We must come together and pray for one another because we need fellowship.

 

How may I get you to do this? I have already observed that many of the truths that I have taught are ignored or, at least, not practiced. (Maybe upon first hearing a message there is a desire to do what the Lord commands us to do, but then good intentions fall by the wayside as seed along the side of the road.)

 

I do not know. It is hard enough to get children to do what you ask. With adults it is nearly impossible. But, I think this may help. [Pass out commitment papers.]