What Real Faith Looks Like: Trusting A Benevolent God

One of my favorite scenes from the movie world is from the Christmas classic: “A Christmas Story”, when little Ralphie discovers the BB gun which his father had bought him for Christmas. The dad watches with delight as Ralphie opens the box, and follows his son’s every move as he pours the bb’s into the gun. It is a touching picture of a father who delights in giving to his child.

The Bible says that our Heavenly Father is like that. Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” The God of the Bible is a GOOD God, who loves to give His children what is good. Psalm 119:68 says of God: “You ARE good, and DO good.” His giving nature is preeminently seen in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ to purchase our salvation: “For God so loved the world that He GAVE …”. People have a lot of different ideas about the kind of God that He is, but in James 1:17-18, the Bible teaches us that “Real Faith” puts its trust in a good, giving God.

I. A Benevolent God: He IS Good, and GIVES Good
:17 “Every good thing bestowed, and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This verse teaches us some important things about God, and about the blessings that He gives:

A. God is the Source of all good.
:17 “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above”.

We just saw in the previous section here in our study of James 1 that God does not tempt us with evil. On the contrary, James says here, God gives us everything good. “Above” of course means “heaven.” Everything good that we have comes from God in heaven. Notice the two-fold emphasis, and the sweeping nature of this statement: “every” good thing bestowed; “every” perfect gift. EVERY good thing we receive comes from God. There is no good thing we receive which we should not credit to God. HE is the source of all that is good. Even when a good thing comes through some other intermediate agency — a person, institution or other source — we need to realize that God is the ultimate source of it.

We sometimes like to think of our ourselves as “self-made men” who provide for ourselves, something like the farmer Jimmy Stewart plays in the movie, “Shenandoah”, whose dinner prayer went like this:

“Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it and harvested it.
We cooked the harvest, it wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.
We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you
Just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat.

But what the farmer in that movie, and all who have that “self-sufficient” attitude fail to understand, is that GOD is the ultimate source of everything good that we have.

Jesus said in John 3:27 “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” In other words, whatever you have – whatever you possess, and whatever you are able to do — has been granted to you from heaven. God has decreed for you to have it. Even the skills and abilities we possess, which we often think we are using to be “self -made men” come from God. In Exodus 31:6, God said, “In the hearts of all who are skillful, I have put skill.” Whatever talent you have, whatever skill you possess, whatever you are able to do, GOD has given you that ability, and you should give thanks to Him for it, for if He had not decreed it, you would have nothing at all!

This is a very humbling doctrine, but it is the truth. We need to be humbled; we need to recognize how dependent upon God’s grace that we are. King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this lesson the hard way. Daniel 4:29-30 says that one day “he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’” And the next verse says while the words were still in his mouth, God made him like a beast of the field, and robbed him of his senses, to show that it is God who rules over mankind, and gives it to whomever He wishes.

God used this painful lesson to show Nebuchadnezzar there is no such thing as a “self-made man.” If we are wise, we will realize the same thing. If you have anything, it is because God has given it to you. He gave you the life; He gave you the strength; He gave you the means to attain it. Everything good that we have comes from God. And so our lives should be marked by continual thanksgiving to Him for everything good that He has given us.

B. God Himself is Always Good
:17 “coming down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Here James emphasizes that not only does God GIVE what is good, He IS good. He calls Him here “The Father of lights” — emphasizing His goodness. The goodness of God is one of the basic lessons of scripture:
— Psalm 100:5 famously says, “For the Lord is good …”
— In Mark 10:18 Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone.”

We are often fond of saying things like, “He’s a good man”, or “she’s a good person” – but the truth is, none of us really are. Romans 3 says, “There is none good, not even one.” Only God is “good” – and He is absolutely, totally, and perfectly good.
Psalm 119:68 sums it up by saying: “You are good, and do good.” That is just “Basic Theology 101” about God: He is good.

And this verse teaches us that God never changes in His goodness: “there is no variation” in it. He is always good and perfect, and always gives what is good, and He never changes in that.

James gives us an illustration in this verse, when he says there is “no shifting shadow” in God’s goodness. The sun is one of God’s best gifts to us, and is the source of many of our other blessings: light, heat, vitamins, life to plants that feed us, etc. The sun was worshipped by many of the ancient peoples because it is the source of so many blessings. But the sun, as good a gift as it is, varies in its gifts to us. It is not always the same. We just experienced a change of season recently, and whenever we do, you can see the position of the sun changing in the sky. The light begins to hit us from a different angle. Even in the course of a given day, the position of the sun changes, and you can see the shadows it casts move during the day – that is how a sundial works. The sun is a great gift, a great good – but it has variations and changes.

But James says here that the MAKER of the lights, “The Father of Lights”, God Himself, never changes. He is always the same – He always IS good, and He always GIVES what is good.

Many people are fond of saying, “God is good” whenever they get good news: if the dreaded medical test is negative, they report: “God is good!” If they make the sale, they triumphantly announce, “God is good!”. If they win the game, they exclaim: “God is good” – and He IS! In all of those times, God IS good!
But what we sometimes fail to recognize is that God is good even when those things DON’T happen for us; God is still good! God is good when the news is bad; God is good when we do have cancer; God is good when we lose the game; God is good when we suffer setbacks; God is good when we don’t get the job or when we are not given the promotion. God is still good then, too! As Habakkuk 3:17-18 taught us: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, thought flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, YET I will exult in the Lord” — God is still good! From the ash heap of his sufferings, Job still praised: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21) God is always good! He is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and there is NO CHANGE in Him.

God is the One thing that you can absolutely count on in this life. People can be fickle in their attitudes towards you: they may love you one day, and hate you the next; they may cheer you one day, and jeer you the next; they may smile at you in person, and stab you in the back in private. But you can count on the fact that God will always be the same towards you. He never changes. He is always holy; He is always good; He is always loving; and He always gives good. “There is no variation or shifting shadow” in Him. As the Psalm says, He IS good, and DOES good — and He never changes.
But of all the good things God has given, there is one greatest gift:

II. His Greatest Gift
:18 “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be, as it were, a kind of first fruits among His creation.”

Verse 18 is speaking about God’s gift of salvation, the greatest gift He has given us. As we mentioned a few moments ago, none of us are innately “good”; all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 says. But “God so loved the world that He gave …” the greatest gift – the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for us. Verse 18 here tells us several things about this great gift:

A) It is God’s desire to give us His greatest gift.
:18 says “in the exercise of His will”. This teaches us that we did not come up with the plan of salvation, God did. Salvation was “in the exercise of HIS will.” He planned it; He purposed it — and He carried it out. We can’t change a person’s life, only God can. But “in the exercise of His will” – because He desired to do so, God brought us salvation through Jesus Christ. Because it is God’s character that He IS good, and does good, He did not want to leave us to bear the consequences of our sin in hell and judgment forever, so He sent Jesus to die for us that we might be saved.

And because God is good, and does good, His will is for everyone to be saved:
— II Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is … not wishing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance.” The word “wishing” in that verse is the same Greek word, “thelema,” that is used here in James 1:18 where it says, “in the exercise of His WILL.” God’s will is for no one to perish but for everyone to be saved.
— I Timothy 2:4 says our Savior “desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Again, that word “desires” is the same Greek word, “thelema”, or “will”, that is used here in James 1:18.

Because God is good, He desires good for all men, and He wills for all to be saved. Whoever you are, you can thank God that means YOU! God does not want you to have to suffer eternally away from His presence in heaven for your sins. He desires for you to be saved, and to receive His greatest gift: to live in His presence forever in heaven.

B) This greatest gift comes in a new birth: :18 says “He brought us forth”.

This phrase “brought us forth” refers to giving birth. In fact, this is the same Greek Bible word which was used in :15, where it says that our sin “brings forth” death. Our sin gives birth to death; but God can give us a new birth, to eternal life.

This refers to the doctrine of regeneration, that God “gives birth” to a new life in those who are saved – it is what Jesus called being “born again” in John Chapter 3. Jesus told the Jewish teacher Nicodemus, who came to Him one night asking Him questions: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is such a significant statement. Here was this VERY religious man; respected among the Jews. And yet Jesus told this very respected religious man, if he was not born again, he would never see heaven! What does that tell you and me? If that highly respected teacher was not going to heaven unless he was born again, none of US will be either! Jesus emphasized that in :7, when He said: “You must be born again.”

A person is “born again” when the Spirit of God comes into their life and makes them “new” on the inside. That’s what happens when a person is saved. Becoming a Christian is not a matter of “turning over a new leaf” or “reforming yourself” or “getting religion.” James 1:13-15 teaches that since the time of Adam, we all have this “sin nature” inside us, which inclines every one of us to sin. We can’t change that, no matter how hard we try. We will never be truly different until the Spirit of God comes into our lives and changes us “from the inside out”. THAT is what it means to be “born again.” Being “born again” by the Spirit of God is what some of you need today. You have already tried to be “religious”, but it didn’t work. Religious works and deeds are not going to change you. It is just like Jesus said: “You must be born again.” You receive God’s greatest gift when you are born again by the Spirit of God.

C) His Greatest Gift comes through the gospel message:

How does being “born again” happen? James says it is “BY the word of truth”. In the Greek this is the instrumental case, which means “the word of truth” is the “instrument” God uses to bring about our salvation. “The word of truth” is the gospel message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose again to be the living Savior & Lord of whoever would repent of their sins and turn to Him. It is through this message that God accomplishes salvation. He does not just “zap” people from above and make them born again; we don’t just sit and meditate on the stars and come up with salvation somehow. And people do not get saved merely by watching Christians live “good lives.” God saves people when His “word of truth” – the gospel of Jesus Christ – is shared.

My son-in-law, Joshua Breland, lived his early adult life in rebellion against God, and his rebellion was lived out in the form of many of the typical sins of those who have turned away from God. But one day while he was driving home to Louisiana from college in Colorado, he was scanning through the channels of the radio, and he “happened” upon a gospel message by California pastor John MacArthur. As MacArthur shared that sermon, God’s Spirit touched Josh’s heart with the message, he received it, and he was born again. As a result, his life was totally changed. He went from rock-‘n-roll, drinking and drugs, to study in a Baptist college to train for the ministry. He has now graduated from college with a ministry degree, and is enrolling at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, where he will finish training for ministry. But the instrument that God used to change his life was “the word of truth” that Josh heard on the radio that day, which brought about his salvation.

That same kind of thing happens in each person who is saved. Ephesians 1:13 says, “In Him you also, after listening to the message of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Paul says the Ephesians heard the gospel message, they believed it, and the Holy Spirit of God came into their hearts, and they were born again. This is what happens in the life of each person who is born again: they hear the message, believe it, and are saved.

God brought some of you to this point today that this very thing might happen: that you might hear the “word of truth” of salvation through Jesus Christ. You have heard this message, and now you have the opportunity to respond to it. If you will, God’s Spirit will come into your heart, and you will be born again, and you will receive God’s greatest gift: eternal life in the presence of God in heaven.

All of this is an expression of God’s goodness, in giving us salvation. Salvation does not come to us because we are good. Salvation comes to us because GOD is good!

In 2010, the Personnel Committee of the church I was serving at that time announced that they were giving Cheryl & Michael & I a trip to England for our 10th anniversary at the church. After the announcement was made, I had a number of people come up to me and say something like, “Bro. Shawn, you deserve this.” I was very careful each time someone said that, to say, no, I did NOT deserve this at all, but our church was very gracious to give this to us. And I absolutely believed that. We did not go on that trip because I was so good; we went on that trip because the church was good, and gave me what I did not deserve!

What we need to understand today is that the same thing is true of our salvation. The one thing that makes so many people stumble in regard to salvation is that they think they have to earn it, and so they spend their whole lives trying to “be good enough” to deserve heaven. But you can’t earn salvation. Ephesians 2:9 says “it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
You don’t get salvation because YOU are so good; you get salvation because GOD is so good, and loved you, and sent Jesus to die for you, and sent His word to offer you this gift.

But just as with any gift, you must decide to receive it. When we were given the gift of that trip, we had to assent to it, and begin to make preparations for it. It is that way with any gift. If someone extends their hand with a gift for you, you have to make a choice. Are you going to reach out and receive it, or not? It is the same with God’s gift of salvation. He is extending to you salvation as a gift today. You now have a choice: you can ignore that gift, and keep going the direction you are going now, or you can receive the gift of a new life that He is offering you in Jesus Christ. Receive the gift that God is giving you, by making Jesus your Savior & Lord: trust Him as the Savior of your sins, and commit to follow Him as the Lord of your life from this day forward. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If you will receive His word of salvation, then you will be “born again”, and you will possess the greatest gift that our good God has to offer: the gift of eternal life!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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