David Boudia just won the gold medal in the 10 meter diving competition in the London Olympics. In 2008 he also participated in the Olympics, and afterwards he went to college at Purdue. He immediately immersed himself in the party scene there, and did everything he could to pursue pleasure, and his own personal glory. But like a lot of people who are doing that very thing at college right now, he found that it all proved to be hollow. And when it did, his diving coach was there to lead him to faith in Jesus as His Lord & Savior. Boudia was different at the London games. After he won the gold medal in London, he was interviewed by NBC’s Al Michaels, in which he summarized the priorities of his life in just a few brief words: “My faith is the most important thing in my life, and this is what’s brought me through this (sic) 2012 Games.”
James does a very similar thing here in the very first verse of his book: he tells us a lot about himself and his priorities in just a few brief words:
“James, a bondservant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.”
As is typical in New Testament letters, James begins by identifying himself, and those to whom he is writing.
He says he is writing to “The 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad.” The “12 tribes” he is referring to are the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. This letter of James is the earliest New Testament book. Scholars believe it was written between 40 & 50 A.D. If it was written at 40 A.D., then it was written perhaps less than 10 years after Jesus’ death & resurrection! So most of the Christians James was addressing here Jews, who were saved in Jerusalem, but had been scattered to different countries by the persecution described in Acts.
But I believe there is also a sense in which James was speaking figuratively. There were no “12 tribes of Israel” in the first century. The 10 northern tribes had been scattered by war and captivity and intermarriage, and had not been identifiable for centuries. So in a real sense James was speaking to the “new Israel”, the people of God who are followers of Jesus. In Chapter 2 he writes: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ …” – so he was not writing this book to “Jews” per se, but to Christians, to those who had faith in Jesus. The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are the true “Israel of God.” Galatians 3:7 says “Therefore be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham.” People talk about Israel as being “God’s chosen people”, but the truth is that today, if you are a follower of Jesus, then YOU are one of “God’s chosen people”! So just as surely as James was writing to the scattered Jewish church in 40-50 A.D., he was writing for us today as well.
He wrote that the church was “dispersed abroad.” As I mentioned a moment ago, the church at Jerusalem had been scattered all over the world due to persecution. Now, when you are in a strange place, it can be hard to hold on to your convictions; it is easy to compromise with the culture around you. So James was writing to these scattered Christians, to encourage them NOT to compromise their faith while they were in these foreign countries.
That applies to us today, as well. All of us who are followers of Christ are “aliens” in a hostile world. Even America, which has a rich, Christian heritage, is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. And even apart from “official” persecution, the whole world system of values and conduct would lure us away from our godly standards every day! So the Book of James seeks to admonish us NOT to compromise our faith! He says, if you are a Christian, then this is what your “real faith will look like” when you are an alien living in a hostile country!
– James could have been writing these words to some of you students who are moving into to an unfamiliar high school for the first time. You are entering new “territory” as it were, and it is easy to compromise your faith in the face of peer pressure to “fit in.”
– He could have been writing to some of you who are heading off to college, and who are going to be tempted to cast aside your Christian upbringing for the “party scene” you see almost everyone else indulging in at school.
– He could have been writing to some of you adults who are starting a new job, and who are going to be tempted to do whatever it takes “climb the ladder of success” on the job.
James was reminding the Jewish Christians of the first century – and us today – to hold on to the standards of our faith wherever we have been “scattered.” He says, remember: this is “What Real Faith Looks Like.”
So that’s who he was writing TO – to them and to us! But I want us to focus now on the way that James describes HIMSELF in verse 1: “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That introduction is more than just a mere “formality.” What he said about himself tells us a LOT about what saving faith looks like:
I. The God of Saving Faith
He calls himself “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” First of all, it is significant that James mentions “God” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” together. Some might take this as meaning that they were “separate” entities, or of uneven worth, but this is not the case at all! The fact that they are mentioned together is of great significance; James’ allegiance to Jesus is equal to his allegiance to God! It is just as Paul said in Philippians 2:6, Jesus is “equal with God.” In fact, in Greek it is possible to translate this “God, even our Lord Jesus Christ” – emphasizing the Deity of Jesus. During the Arian controversy in the early church, in which some claimed that Jesus was not fully God, this verse was one of the ones that was quoted to prove that in fact, Jesus WAS fully God!
So James says, I am a bondservant of God – and not just any God, but God as revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a HUGE statement. There were all kinds of “gods” worshipped in James’ day, as there are in our society today, but he says, I am a bondservant of the true God as revealed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Secondly, James describes this One he followed with 3 significant terms: “Lord”, “Jesus” and “Christ.”
– “Jesus” is the name of the man he knew and followed. James was the earthly half brother of Jesus. Jesus was the son of the Holy Spirit and Mary, and James was the natural son of Mary & Joseph. I know that the tradition of some churches teaches that Mary never had any children, but we do not follow tradition, but the Bible, and the Bible is very clear. Matthew 13:55 says: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” So James was the earthly half-brother of Jesus. Jesus was the One he grew up with in his home.
It is so significant that James, and Mary, and the other family members ended up following Jesus, and believing in His Deity. They grew up with Him! They knew everything He did in their home. You know how it is: it is one thing to put on your best “religious face” at church; it is another to live it out at home. I have to tell you that over the years I have seen many children of church families rebel because what they saw from their parents in their home did not match up to the false front they put on at church, and the kids didn’t want any part of that hypocrisy. Your family members know better than anyone else what YOUR faith “really looks like”! And so it is a very weighty witness for the truthfulness of the claims of Jesus that HIS OWN FAMILY – especially His own brother, who grew up with Him at home – could point at Him and say, “This is not just a man; this is God!”
– But James did not just call Him “Jesus”, as you might expect him to call his brother. He called Him “the LORD Jesus Christ.” This word “Lord” is significant, especially for someone with a Jewish background, because the Greek word “kurios” was the word that Jews used to translate the Hebrew word “Yahweh” – the personal name of God, from the Hebrew scriptures. So James, who grew up with Jesus, called him “Lord” and God!
– Finally, James call Him the “Lord Jesus CHRIST.” Now, we often think of “Christ” as being Jesus’ last name, as if His name were “Jesus Christ.” But as we touched on in brief last week, our English word “Christ” comes from the Greek word “christos”, which translates the Hebrew word “meshihah”, or Messiah. So really, when we say “Jesus Christ”, we are saying, “Jesus the Messiah.” Now this word “Messiah” has a background. The Hebrew word “Meshihah” literally means “anointed one”. The coming “Anointed One” was the whole focus of the Old Testament.
We saw last week how in the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve chose to rebel against God and sin, and how each of us since has followed in their footsteps. When God confronted Adam & Eve in the Garden with their sin, He announced the punishments He was giving them. But He also made a promise: that there would come One who would crush the head of the serpent. That verse, Genesis 3:15, is called by theologians the “protevangelium”, or the “first gospel”; the very first promise of God in the Bible that He would send Someone to save Man from his sin. The whole Old Testament from that point on is the story of how God was preparing a chosen people, from whom would come this Savior. Throughout the Old Testament, we learn different things about Him:
– In Deuteronomy 18, God promised Moses and the people of Israel that there would come “a prophet like … you” who would bring them His word.
– In Psalm 110, David prophesied that there would come a son after him, whom he would call “Lord”, and who would sit at the very right hand of God.
– Isaiah 53 predicted that He would come as a Suffering Servant, upon whom the Lord would lay all of our iniquities.
– and Isaiah 61:1, speaking of this Promised Servant says: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because He has ANOINTED me to bring good news to the afflicted …”. It is this Hebrew word “anointed” which is “meshihah”, from which we get our word “Messiah”, or “Christ.” So when the New Testament calls Jesus, “Christ”, they are saying that HE is the One that the Old Testament was pointing to all those years, who would come to save us from our sins.
So James’ faith was in the “Lord Jesus Christ.” The man Jesus, who was more than just a man, but God Himself, who came to earth in fulfillment of His promise to redeem us from our sins. His faith was NOT in Jesus just as a good teacher or philosopher, but in Him as Savior and GOD.
And if you are going to have real, saving faith, your faith must be in the “LORD Jesus Christ” as your Savior and God. It is not enough to believe that there was a man named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago. It is not enough to believe that He was a good teacher.
In His classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
James did not leave that open to us either. His faith was in “the Lord Jesus Christ” as His Savior – and if you are going to be saved, your faith must be in Jesus as YOUR LORD & GOD. And because He is Lord & God, He demands your total commitment and obedience …
II. The Commitment of Saving Faith
We have spoken before about how virtually everyone in Southwest Louisiana claims to have faith in Jesus. But James models “What Real Faith Looks Like” in his own personal commitment to Jesus. He showed us that saving faith is faith in Jesus as Savior & God. But he also shows us by the way he describes himself in this first verse, the commitment that is involved in real, saving faith.
A. The Personal Nature of the Commitment.
He just calls himself “James”, but he is being very modest. He is not just “some guy” named James. As we saw a moment ago, this James is the earthly brother of Jesus, NOT James the brother of John. Acts 12:2 tell us that James the brother of John was executed by Herod in the first days of the church. The James who wrote this book was the half brother of Jesus. He was widely recognized as the leader of the church at Jerusalem. When Paul & Barnabas come back to Jerusalem amidst controversy, James was the leader of the church they reported to. Everyone in the first century church knew James. Some modern scholars may question who this “James” was, but not the original readers of this letter! They all knew exactly who he was: the brother of the Lord, and the leader of the church at Jerusalem.
But James did not describe himself here as “the brother of Jesus”, or “the bishop of the church at Jerusalem”, or anything like that. He called himself, “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He didn’t try to “drop names” and say, “I am the earthly brother of Jesus.” His authority did not come from the fact that he grew up with Jesus, but that he was now a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This teaches us something. It reminds us that it doesn’t matter what “connections” you have, or who you are related to; you will be saved & lost, by YOUR OWN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP to Jesus: are YOU personally His slave? That is what it means to have saving faith.
Last Friday we had a number of men attend the Point Man conference with Steve Farrar. To get in, you had to have one of those orange wristbands that Bro. Ray modeled for us the other day. It is that way with a lot of concerts and events these days. You have to have one of those wristbands to get in. It didn’t matter if you were related to someone who had one, or knew someone who had one; YOU personally have to have one to get in.
It is that same way with heaven. It doesn’t matter how long you have gone to church, or who you are related to, YOU must personally have a commitment to Jesus as YOUR Lord to be saved. Your wife’s faith, husband, will not get you in. Too many men say, “My wife takes care of the religion for our family.” Gentlemen, your wife’s faith can nly take care of your wife! YOU must personally have a commitment to Jesus! Your parents faith will not get you in. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “My grandpa was a deacon at your church.” That’s great for historical trivia, but I hope that YOU are not banking anything on your grandparents’ faith, because their faith won’t save you! You must have your own personal commitment to Jesus as your Savior & Lord in order to be saved.
B. It is also vital to see the DEPTH of his commitment. James does not call himself the “head of the church at Jerusalem”, but “a bondservant” of the Lord Jesus Christ. A lot of our translations read “servant” or something similar, but this is the Greek word, “doulos”, which means “slave.” This word is actually translated “slave” throughout the rest of the New Testament, and should be here. James is saying: “I am a SLAVE of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James models for us here what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is not a person who “likes” Jesus. This is a concept we really need to grasp a hold of here in America. A lot of people consider themselves to be “Christians” because they “like” Jesus. They think of Christianity as being like Facebook, where you can “like” a page, or “like” a business, or “like” someone’s comment. So they see Jesus, and think “He’s pretty cool”, so they “like” Him and call themselves Christians. But you’ve got to understand that “liking Jesus” is NOT saving faith!
There were a lot of people in the Bible who “liked” Jesus but who were not saved.
– the Rich Young Ruler “liked” Jesus but Jesus sent him away because he would not leave his possessions to follow Him.
– Nicodemus “liked” Jesus. He said: “we know that You have come from God as a teacher” – but Jesus told him: “You must be born again.” It wasn’t enough to “like” Jesus as a teacher. He had to be born again into a brand new life, in which Jesus would be MORE than just “a teacher” he liked, but His Lord & Savior.
Real, saving faith is when you have the kind of commitment to Jesus that James did, and become a SLAVE of the Lord Jesus. The disciples modeled saving faith for us when they left everything when Jesus called them: they left their family, their nets (their business), their future plans – they left everything to follow Him wherever He led them. This is the same call Jesus gives to us. He says in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny Himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
When you are a slave of Jesus Christ, it means that every area of your life is under His control. This is what we find described in the rest of this Book of James; he shows us what it looks like when you live as a slave of Jesus Christ. And what it shows us is that when you are His slave, every area of your life is controlled by your commitment to Jesus:
– what you say
– how you spend your money
– how you treat people
– what you watch on television, the music you listen to, the movies you see – EVERYTHING in your life is controlled by Jesus, because you are His slave! It means there is “No other person, no other possession, no other priority” greater to you than Him. To have saving faith means that you are Jesus Christ’s slave.
Now, I do not mean by this that only people who are perfect in every area of their lives have real faith. We all fall short of obeying Jesus in many ways – and I am foremost in that, I can assure you! But what I am saying is that a person who has genuine faith has a real commitment, with God’s help, to bring every area of his life under the Lordship of Christ. There is no area of your life that is “exempt”.
– It is not that you will follow Jesus in everything except your business practices.
– It is not that you will follow Jesus in everything except your sexuality.
– It is not that you will follow Jesus in everything except your money.
If you are a REAL Christian, it means that in every area of your life, without exception, you are Jesus Christ’s slave, and you are committed to obey Him. It means that you cannot continue in blatant, unrepentant sin, and be happy with it. If you are living with sin in an area of your life, and you are happy and content with it, you need to seriously examine whether you are a Christian at all, because you cannot be a slave of Jesus Christ, Who is a Holy God, who suffered excruciatingly and died for sin, and be happy living in sin. He won’t let you be happy like that, if you are His slave. And you won’t BE happy living like that, if you are His slave. Because to really be a Christian means that you are a “slave” of Jesus Christ, and that He is the single most important priority in your life.
During that interview with Al Michaels after winning the gold medal at the London Olympics, David Boudia said: “My faith is the most important thing in my life.”
That is just what James is saying here, when he called himself “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” He was saying that nothing in his life was more important than Jesus Christ. THAT is the commitment required for saving faith. Being saved doesn’t mean that you “like” Jesus. It means that nothing else in your life is more important to you than He is.
Can you really say that about yourself? Can you say: “I am a bondservant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ?” The truth is, a lot of people SAY it; the real question is, do you MEAN it? Is YOUR commitment to Jesus “What Real Faith Looks Like”?
– Some of you here today are genuinely committed to Jesus as your Savior & Lord, but you would admit that you are disobeying Him in some areas of your life. Today, He is calling you to obey Him in that area; whatever the cost.
– Some of you know, deep down in your heart, that Jesus is NOT your Lord & Savior. You have never really had the kind of commitment that James tells us about here. Why don’t you commit your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior today? Not just saying that you just “like” Jesus, but that He is the Savior who died for your sins, and that from this day on, you will be Jesus Christ’s slave.