Seminary Viewpoints

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Restoring Living Faith Through Confrontation and Prayer

Sam Horn | February 17, 2022
Theology Thursday

As discussed by Sam Horn on The Steve Noble Show on Feb. 17.

As a pastor endeavoring to preach practically, I just embarked on a series through the book of James, written by the brother of Jesus who was also a leader of the early church. He himself was a practical pastor who got down to business addressing his church’s struggles.

In fact, James’ letter is appropriately practical for believers then and now. He describes what true religion and living faith actually look like in the daily life of a church living in a fallen culture, similar to ours — and he instructs how to achieve that true religion.

WHAT IS TRUE RELIGION?

James sums up true religion this way: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27).

In writing his letter, James is primarily concerned that these believers’ once living, vibrant faith had been damaged, diverted and diluted to match their dying world. Their “religion” had lost its powerful impact and had become merely an empty profession of following Christ, marked by:

  • Lack of endurance under pressure (1:12).
  • Sinfulness and spiritual deception (1:13-16).
  • Hearing but not doing the Word of God (1:22-25).
  • Faith not accompanied by works (2:14-26).
  • The wrong use of the tongue to devour each other instead of giving credible and beautiful witness to the Gospel (3:1-4:3).
  • Partiality and preferential treatment by honoring those who did not honor Christ (2:1-13).
  • Presumptuous behavior on the providence and will of God (4:13-17).
  • Afflicting other believers (5:1-6).

But what was at the root of all these symptoms? They were double-minded. Abandoning true religion, they had embraced worldly wisdom and friendship instead of committedly loving Christ and His Word’s wisdom.

HOW TO ACHIEVE AND MAINTAIN LIVING FAITH IN THE CHURCH

In order for his congregation to achieve and maintain true religion within the church, James gives two instructions:

Take Immediate and Decisive Action

James lists multiple requirements for individuals as they confront their sin and return to a single-minded commitment to God (4:5-10):

  • Humble yourselves and submit to God (4:7).
  • Resist the devil and his temptations (4:7).
  • Return to God by drawing near to Him (4:8).
  • Repent by cleansing your hands and purifying your hearts (4:8).
  • Most of all: Receive and remain under the wonderful grace and enablement from God and wait for Him to fulfill His promise to restore and lift them up (4:10) by doing the next right thing (4:17).

Equally as important, James also calls his congregation to confront their spiritual brothers and sisters about returning to single-hearted devotion to Christ. He writes in James 5:19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Return to Living Faith Through Prayer and God’s Words

In James 5:17-18, James shows that God’s words and prayer go hand-in-hand with confronting the reality of our single-mindedness. In fact, they are the keys to returning to true religion. James alludes to Elijah’s prayer before the whole nation at the contest between Jezebel’s god Baal and the true God. This specific prayer demonstrates the confrontation-prayer model:

Confrontation:1 Kings 18:21
And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.
Prayer for restoration:1 Kings 18:36–39
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

If you look closely, this prayer also demonstrates why God’s words and prayer are the keys to returning to single-mindedness: only God could turn the entire nation of Israel’s divided heart back to Him. And He did!

Through His grace, God turns hearts back to whole-hearted, single-focused, unified devotion to Himself. And only His Word and fervent, faithful prayer are powerful enough for the Holy Spirit to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. That’s why, when James saw this problem in the people he pastored, he preached truth to them and prayed fervently for them — and the grace of God did the rest.

If this solution worked in Elijah’s day and James’ day, it is no doubt practical for our day. So what are you and your church waiting for? Act today — pursue living faith.