1 Samuel 12:1–13:23, James 2:19–26, Psalm 119:81–96
Yesterday’s message at our church was about the faith of Abraham. Broadly, his faith could be described as trusting God to keep His promises. One of the three points in the sermon was that faith means waiting, not scheming.
Scheming is a decidedly human (and sinful) action. If God is not doing what we think He should be doing, we start making decisions and taking actions based on our own ideas. This is scheming. It happened in Israel when Samuel was their prophet. The people wanted a king like all the nations around them. Saul was selected and he started fairly well, but before long, the people realized that their king was God not a man, thus their scheme was sinful.
“And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.’ And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.’” (1 Samuel 12:19–25)
Samuel’s words apply also to me. I know the danger of empty things that come along to fill those spaces remaining when I am not serving the Lord with all my heart. That is, if all my heart fails to be fully engaged then what is not given to God will wind up finding something useless and empty to serve.
The other part of what Samuel says has always been an encouraging word for me. No matter what else God wants me to do, I’m always to pray for His people. Samuel considered a lack of prayer would be a sin, and I agree. If my mind is free, it can find all sorts of empty things to think about, but far better to pray. If that is my default mode, then like Samuel, I will be in a position to instruct or at least encourage others “in the good and right way.”
In NT times, James encouraged prayer. He was also known for giving good instruction to those who proclaimed faith but their lives did not show it. Perhaps those people didn’t pray, but whatever was missing, this is still a common problem. “Oh sure, I believe in Jesus” is not accompanied by a life that shows it. For this, James’ instruction remains important . . .
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ —and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:19–24)
Some think James is saying a person is saved by works, but that is a contradiction to the rest of Scripture and to the Gospel. Actually, James is saying that if a person has faith, it is verified by their life. He would never condone any claim to be a Christian that was not accompanied by a changed life, one that loves and obeys God and shows that love by actions. Genuine faith is proved by a godly and active life of service.
Many years before James, the psalmist said much the same thing as he hinted at his own need for God to give the grace needed to both believe and to live out his faith in action. He said, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth . . . . I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” (Psalm 119:88, 93)
Walking by faith can be described as doing what God says, confessing my sin when I fail to obey, and matching my faith and life by both verbal confession and visible action.
But this is never as easy as it sounds.