4501 Waller Rd E
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor
"SUNDAY CHRISTIANS" vs. REAL CHRISTIANS
To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and
ever, Amen. This morning I ask you to give your attention to the Word of God in James, chapter
one, beginning with the 22nd verse, as follows:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer
of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes
himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the
perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this
one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not
bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled
religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep
oneself unspotted from the world. Thus far our text.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who said, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it,"
Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Let's say you stopped someone on the street and asked him what he did for a living. Suppose he
said, "I'm a doctor." He'd probably think you were crazy if your next question was, "How may days
a week are you a doctor?" "Why, seven days a week!" he'd say. "I'm always a doctor - that's my
profession!" Ask someone what his political affiliation is. Say he's a Republican. If you then ask
him, "How many days in the week are you a Republican?" he's liable to think you've got a screw
loose. He's probably been with that party all his life. It's the same with gender, nationality, blood
type - and a host of other factors that are imbedded in our individual personalities. These things
don't change from day to day. You're either one thing, or you're something else. What day of the
week it happens to be certainly has nothing to do with it!
Isn't it too bad that religion is different? Sadly, there are a lot of "Sunday Christians" around.
People who give every appearance of being pious believers on Sunday, but on the other six days of
the week behave as though they never heard of the Bible. In our text for today, James says that
such people are fooling themselves - they're pretending that one-day-a-week Christianity is
acceptable to God. Let's look more closely at our text, as James compares...
"SUNDAY CHRISTIANS" vs. REAL CHRISTIANS
Which are you?
I. "Sunday Christians" hear the Word and forget it.
II. Real Christians hear the Word and do it!
The Apostle James was writing to a group of believers who had a serious problem. James wasn't
speaking to unbelievers who hadn't yet heard the Gospel, and he wasn't speaking to lapsed
believers - those who had lost their faith altogether and quit coming to church. No, James was
talking to members; to people who still considered themselves Christians, and who still came to
hear the Word, but for whom God's Word no longer made any difference in their lives. By hearing
God's Word and not doing it, James told them, their faith was turning into a dead faith. They were
becoming "Sunday-only Christians."
In a effort to get his point across, James tells a little parable of his own. He says, For if anyone is a
hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he
observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. He's right about
that, isn't he? You men - have you ever cut yourself shaving and stuck a piece of tissue on it, and
then forgotten about it? Two hours later, you're still walking around with this piece of tissue stuck
on your face! As soon as you take your eyes off the mirror, you forget. That's a common problem
among Christians, too, says James. They hear God's Word, and then immediately forget what it
says about them!
The Law portion of God's Word is a lot like a mirror. We can see ourselves very clearly in it. In fact,
that's one of the reasons we come here to church - to be reminded of what we really are. And this is
something God's Law does very well. It reflects every wrinkle in our personality, every blemish,
every weakness, every misdeed. In short, it shows us that we are sinners, and that we're in
desperate need of a Savior. Any time you come to services at Ascension Lutheran Church, you're
going to hear that part of God's Word - the Law part. It's not a very pleasant experience. But it's
something God needs to remind us of, so that we'll turn away from our sin and not be entrapped by
The problem, as James sees it, is that for many Christians that message is heard, but not
remembered. It goes in one ear and out the other. There was one Old Testament preacher, named
Ezekiel, who had the same problem. The Lord was getting fed up with the people in his
congregation. God said to Ezekiel, "They come to you as people do, they sit before you as My
people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much
love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one
who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do
not do them." Ez 33:31-32. The Word had no effect on their real, everyday lives.
In case the message isn't getting through to you yet - in case you're still thinking this doesn't
apply to you - James gives us a concrete example. He touches on a sin all of us are guilty of all the
time: it's in how we handle our tongue. In verse 26 he says, If anyone among you thinks he is
religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.
Now there's a hard one to slip out from under! Which of us can truly say that all our talk reflects
our faith in God, that our conversation at all times clearly tells people that we are disciples of our
Lord Jesus? James is saying that you can act as pious as you want to in church on Sunday, but if
you're right back on the phone Monday morning spreading nasty gossip, if you're tearing down
your neighbor over a cup of coffee at the work, if you're pouring out bitter and hurtful words upon
your spouse or your children -- then there's something wrong. It's one indication that the message
of God's Word isn't really taking root in your life. It's one of the warning signs of "Sunday-only"
You may be shuddering to yourself right now, recognizing some of these things in your own life.
And that's good! That's what the Law is supposed to do. But James not only describes the
problem, he also gives us the cure for the problem. According to the text, the cure lies in "looking
into the perfect law of liberty, and continuing in it." Real Christians, the Apostle says, hear the
Word and do it!
It's important for us to understand what James means by "the perfect law of liberty." It's not some
kind of "eleventh commandment." It's has nothing to do with the Law of God that condemns sin.
The perfect law of liberty is just another name for the Gospel. It's the message that Jesus came to
earth to live and die for us. That His love for you and me drove Him to the cross, and that His
sacrifice there frees us, completely, from our sins. That's the principle of Christian freedom - "the
perfect law of liberty" that Jesus has blessed us with. Through Christ, God is delivering an
emancipation proclamation to us. He tells that we are free from every spot and stain and sin of
which our conscience may accuse us. We are free from the condemnation of the Law. It's that
freedom that Paul rejoices in when he says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who
are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law
of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." Rom 8:1-2.
That Gospel message of freedom through Christ is the other part of God's Word that you will hear
from this pulpit whenever you come to worship here. I wonder - what does that freedom mean to
you? It ought to mean a lot! Years ago a pastor in Boston came across a young boy playing in a
vacant lot next to the church. The boy had a cage with birds in it. "Where did you get those birds?"
the pastor asked. "I trapped them in the field," the boy replied. "What are you going to do with
them?" "Oh," said the boy, "I'll probably just play with them for a while and then feed them to an
old cat we have at home." "What if I offered to buy them from you?" the pastor asked. "Oh, you
don't want to buy these birds," the boy replied. "They're just plain old wild birds, and they don't
sing very well." "Nevertheless," said the pastor, "I'll give you ten dollars for them." "Ok," said the
boy, "but you're getting a bad deal!" and he skipped happily away home with his money. The
preacher took the cage back to the churchyard, and then he opened the door, releasing the birds.
As soon as they were free they began to fly up into the sky, singing loudly as they went. They
weren't bad singers at all. In fact, said the preacher, "It seemed to me that as they ascended into the
heavens they were singing, 'Redeemed! Redeemed! Redeemed!'"
How's your singing voice? I hope it's good, because that same thing has happened to you! Christ
has freed you from the cage of the Law. He has set you at liberty from the sins that imprisoned you.
With His own blood He purchased the right to open the door and release you from sin, death and
the devil. Isn't only natural that we should sing out loudly our joy and delight? Can we do anything
but sing with joy as we soar heavenward, with each passing day drawing nearer and nearer to the
perfect paradise that our Savior has earned for us? No, we have looked into the perfect law of
liberty, and it's only right for us to sing. And we do. Person for person, this congregation sings
louder than any other church I've ever been in. Why is that? It's not because we're all trained
vocalists. It's certainly not because we're somehow better people than others are. I think it's
because, in this congregation, we have a group of people who really understand how deep is the
grace of God, even toward wretched sinners like us, and we just can't keep quiet about it! We feel
like the writer of the 71st Psalm felt when he said, Also with the lute I will praise You, and Your
faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. My lips shall greatly
rejoice when I sing to You, And my soul, which You have redeemed. My tongue also shall talk of
Your righteousness all the day long. - Ps 71:22-24.
That freedom in Christ is the motivating factor in the life of a real Christian. It's faith in the Savior
who set us free that prompts us to serve God and our neighbor. We don't do it out of some
burdensome sense of duty, but out of faith toward Jesus, out of gratitude and love to Him. Martin
Luther summed up the relation of faith to good works very simply when he said, "Faith alone saves,
but saving faith is never alone." What Jesus did for us is the only thing that saves us. But you
know, a person saved by Christ can't help but react to this great gift with a life of active service.
The good works that follow faith are the identifying marks of a true Christian. I used to hunt on
some land in Wisconsin that contained an apple orchard. Some of the trees were sour crabapples,
and some were tasty Jonathans, but I could never tell the trees apart until autumn arrived and the
fruit came out. At that point, of course, the good trees were easy to identify. Likewise, the fruits of
faith are what identify a Christian. Jesus said, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree
bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit... Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matt 7:17-20. Think about it - what is it that tells the people who live around you whether or not
you're a Christian? They can't look into your heart. They're not going to come check our church
record book to see if you're on the membership list. They're going to look at your life.
So let the fruits of your faith come forth freely in your life! Consider what Jesus has done for you.
Meditate with joy on how much God has blessed you in Christ. The more you expose yourself to
the means of grace - the Gospel in word and sacrament - the richer those fruits of faith will be in
your life. James gives another concrete example when he says, "Pure and undefiled religion before
God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself
unspotted from the world." Caring for people, especially those of our Christian fellowship in this
church who need help - that's real Christianity. Being careful not to conform oneself to the sinful
trends and lifestyles around us - that's the evidence of an active faith in Christ. These things are
the natural fruits that appear on the tree of our faith. They're the fruits that I, as your pastor, have
seen in the lives of every family present here today. You don't always even think about them. You
just do them. That's how real Christians act, inspired by their Savior's love!
The front doors of this building we worship in may not seem particularly significant to you.
They're plain-looking doors, just like you'll find on many other buildings. But those doors are very
important, because in a way, they determine exactly what kind of Christian you are. Does the Word
you hear make it past those doors as you leave on Sunday morning? God grant each of us an
inspired, true Christian faith, the kind that gets carried along past those doors and out into our
daily lives. May each of us be the kind of real Christian who hears and believes the Word that is
preached, and continues in it, day by day. The kind who hears the word of God...and does it! In
Jesus' name, AMEN.