Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - The Talking Dead: A Survival Guide (James ch.2)

In the US, the TV show with the highest ratings is "The Walking Dead", gathering 18.4 million viewers for its season 6 finale a few months ago.  The gruesome series is about a world overrun by zombies, and tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to remain alive.

In James 2v12-26, we read about a different kind of threat which I call "The Talking Dead", and this blog post is James's survival guide.

Question:  Who are The Talking Dead?

Answer:  They are people with a lifeless faith

James tells us of those with dead faith (2v17, 26).  They are people who say they trust God and sound like believers, but there is no evidence in their actions to confirm the truth of their words (v15-16).  What they say is denied by what they do.

As an illustration, I worked for Shropshire Council for 15 years, and during that time I learned that there were people who could interview for jobs really well, but it would turn out that they weren't able to do the job.  They could say all the right things, but they couldn't actually do the work.  If you've worked in the same place for a long time, you've probably met people like that, too.

James says there can be people like that in the church.  They say the right things, but their faith is dead.  They are the talking dead.

Question:  How do I check that I'm not one of the talking dead?

Answer:  My faith should be partnered with holiness.

In James 2v12, he writes that we must speak and act as those judged by the "law of liberty".  That is what a living faith looks like.  But what is this law, and how does it bring freedom?

James writes of the law of liberty in chapter one.  We look into this law when we hear the word (1v22-25).  It is through the Bible that God reveals this law to us and tells us what a living faith and true freedom look like.  If faith without works is dead, faith with works is freedom.

Active submission to the law of liberty is what we call "holiness".  Holiness is to be a part of our private lives and our relationships - in his letter, James gives emphasis to relationships and acts of loving kindness.  Holiness is a vital sign of a living faith.

Some might say we shouldn't be so demanding - that some people have an active faith, and others "just believe" (2v18).  But James says that is not enough - even demons just believe (2v19)!  

He gives two examples of people who had an active faith - Abraham and Rahab (v21-25).  In different ways, they both put their futures at risk by faith (Hebrews 11v17, 31).  They were justified because they believed God's promises and behaved accordingly.  Their faith was made whole by their actions (v22).

Remember, Christians are in a loving relationship with God, their Father in heaven, and loving relationships always have boundaries.  Often, the closer the relationship, the stricter the boundaries.  However, we recognise that those boundaries provide a framework within which relationships flourish.

Holiness is the framework within which my relationship with God flourishes, and it is the evidence of a living faith.

Question:  Why are the talking dead so dangerous?

Answer: They stop the living from thriving.  

If you ever watch a zombie movie, you'll always find the small band of survivors are struggling to get by.  It's almost impossible to thrive when you're surrounded by the undead.

In a similar way, the talking dead are a danger to the church community.  They will stifle love and discourage meaningful fellowship.  By their very nature, they want things to be superficial, and will influence the church so that they do not need to put their lives on the altar (Rom 12v1).

One type of defense many churches use against the talking dead is to have a process by which people become members of the church, usually overseen by the church elders.  Although not foolproof, it's a way of checking that those involved in church decision-making have an ongoing testimony of a living faith.

Question:  Are the talking dead dangerous in other ways?

Answer:  They discourage people who are looking for life.

Unbelievers can be very good at spotting the talking dead.  I'm sure we all have met people who have been discouraged from seeking the Lord because they went to a church and met hypocrites.  

Question:  Who else is in danger from the talking dead?

Answer:  The talking dead are a danger to themselves.

Unless something fundamental changes, the only future for the undead is decomposition.  Their time is always running out.

So what should we do?  We should behave mercifully because we have received mercy (2v13).  Our aim should be to put the talking dead out of their misery by helping them find new life in Jesus Christ.

Notice that James finishes his letter by telling the church how wonderful it is to bring back those who are wandering (5v19-20).  He wants people to find God's mercy.  What does that "bringing back" look like?  Sometimes it looks like rebuke (4v4) and sometimes it looks like encouragement (5v7).  James' tone is very different in these two verses, but his aim is the same - to make sure these people are in the land of the living.

We must pray for wisdom, so that we will know the most appropriate way to reveal to the talking dead their need of a living faith.

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