The Seven Tests of Faith
August 18th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE SEVEN TESTS OF FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-18-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to our services in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Seven Tests of Faith. This is the third sermon on the Book of James. And having introduced ourselves to the pastor of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 15:13-21; Galatians 2:12], James, the Lord’s brother [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], the great overpowering personality of the first Christian century, we are going this morning to look at the letter that he wrote. Then beginning next Sunday morning, we will look at little pieces of it as we expound the text. But today we are going to look at the letter as a whole.
Being a pastor and all of his life, all of his discipleship in Christ, being an undershepherd, you are not surprised to learn that his letter is very pragmatic; it is most practical. It is a letter that has to do with the life of the people. It is not particularly theological. It is certainly not philosophical or metaphysical. It is down here where we live, and he is talking about our everyday life.
So he starts off, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into all kinds of”—and we have it translated here “temptations,” peirasmos [James 1:2]. Now to us, temptation has in it a connotation of invitation to evil, but he does not use the word. He is talking about a trial, a test, peirasmos. Let me show you how that word is used.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of John is the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Now look:
When Jesus lifted up His eyes, and saw a great company . . .
He said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
And this He said to peirasmos Philip: for He Himself knew what He would do”
You see, there’s no connotation of evil. “This He said,” and the King James Version translation, “to prove him,” or, “to test him, to try him,” peirasmos [John 6:6]. Now that is the word that is used here: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into all kinds of peirasmos, tests” [James 1:2].
Let me tell you what’s going on now. Out there last night, the Cowboys were learning how to play. And what the coach does, he sends in these rookies, and they just have substitutions all through the game, a multitude of them. What the coach is doing is, he’s peirasmos those candidates for the football team. He’s trying them; he’s testing them.
I’ll tell you something else that happened yesterday. Our John Shanks received his Doctor’s degree, but before he did it, he made a journey up there to North Texas University for an oral examination, a peirasmos. They tested his knowledge. Not only that, we have another marvelous academician here on our staff. Brother Peacock received his master’s degree, but before he received that, he went before the faculty and they gave him an examination, they tested him, peirasmos.
That is the word used here. So he says, “Don’t quail or feel that God has deserted you or doesn’t love you; when you fall into all kinds of testings, trials: for this worketh hupomonē, a bearing up under” [James 1:2-4]. You would translate it “a steadfastness,” a commitment. Then he begins: our weakness lies in our lack of wisdom; so he starts in the fifth verse, saying, “Ask of God and He will give liberally and not find fault with you, upbraiding not” [James 1:5]. When you don’t know what to do, and don’t know how to answer, or you feel weak before the trial, ask God, He understands, and He will abundantly answer your prayer.
Now he says that our trials are of two kinds. Some of them have pleasure in them, and some of them have sorrow and despair in them. But whether it is prosperity in verse 9 [James 1:9], or poverty in verse 10 [James 1:10], either way there carries in it a trial for us. Wouldn’t you suppose that a man who was prosperous would have no temptation, no trial at all? He has just as much as the man who lives in poverty. Whether we are poor or whether we are rich; riches try us, poverty tries us, need tries us. “But blessed is the man,” in verse 12, “that endureth the trial: when he is tried,” and there it is translated tried, “when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” [James 1:12].
Now he is going to discuss these trials. The first one begins in verse 19. This is our attitude toward the word of God. “My beloved brethren,” he talks like a pastor, “My beloved brethren,” or generically used, “My brothers and sisters in Jesus, let every man be swift to hear, to hear” [James 1:19]; and the twenty-first verse, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” [James 1:21].
Then the second part of his discussion, the first part to hear the word of God [James 1:19], and the second part to “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only [James 1:22] … But a doer of the work shall be blessed indeed” [James 1:25]. Now he speaks of this word as being the “engrafted word,” verse 21, emphutos; that is, implanted in us by our teachers and by our preachers [James 1:21]. So our first trial, our first test, lies in our attitude toward the word of God.
First, we are to be a hearer of it [James 1:19]. That is the beginning of the Christian life. No man is ever saved apart from the delivered, preached, word of God [Romans 10:13-17]. “By the word of God,” Simon Peter says, “are we begotten [1 Peter1:3]. By the word of God,” Simon Peter says, “are we born again” [1 Peter 1:23]. The apostle Paul wrote it like this: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God” [Romans 10:17].
It is no small thing that we do when we gather our people together for the expounding of the Scriptures. This is the very heart of the kingdom of our Savior. Listening to the word of God, he says here, “it is able to save your souls” [James 1:21]. So when we call our people together in these services and the pastor opens the Book and expounds the word, the implanted, the engrafted word, we are dealing with our eternal salvation.
And a man sometimes will come to the services, and he’ll hear, and he’ll hear, and he’ll hear, and he’ll hear, and he, and one day he’ll really hear. He’ll see, and he’ll see, and he’ll see, and then one day he’ll really see. And that is the beginning of the Christian life, but not to be a hearer only [James 1:19], but a doer of the word [James 1:22].
There was a woman who was standing on the front of the church steps after the service was done, and a man passed by, asked her, “Is the sermon over?” And she said, “No, it has just been preached. I’m going out now to do it, to live it.” That is the whole message of this first test; our attitude toward the word of God, to listen to it and then to do it.
He uses an illustration here. He says so many hearers are like those who look in a mirror, and they look at themselves, but they do nothing about it. They just walk away from the mirror just as they were, just as they did before they looked into it. He says that the word of God is like a mirror. It reveals to us the truth. It doesn’t lie to us. It shows us just as we are.
But a man who looks in the mirror and goes away and does nothing about it is like a man who listens to the word and does nothing about it [James 1:23-24]. You know, that’s a good illustration. A man looking in a mirror, and he needs to shave, but if he doesn’t shave, what good to look? His face is dirty, but if he doesn’t wash his face, what good was it to look?
I one time heard of a couple of boys, and one said to the other, “I know what you had for breakfast this morning.” And the other boy said, “What?” He said, “You had eggs, I see it on your face.” And he said, “No, I had that day before yesterday morning.” What we ought to do is, when we look in the mirror we ought to do something about it.
I’ve been gone on a mission for two weeks, and I looked in the mirror and your pastor needs a haircut before he comes back next Sunday morning. He ought to do something about it. Now that is exactly what he’s talking about here; to be a listener of the word of God and then to respond to it, to shape our lives by it [James 1:25].
Now the second test is in the second chapter: our attitude toward the people of the Lord. “My brethren,” always the pastor, “my brethren, do not have the faith of Christ with respect to persons” [James 2:1]. Then he starts at verse 2 and he speaks of our attitude toward the poor and toward the rich [James 2:2]. And he says if we show deference to the rich and place them in seats of honor and acceptance and welcome, but the poor we pay no attention to and put them in some menial corner, he says, that is not right [James 2:3-8]. And in the ninth verse he says, “If you have this respect to persons, ye commit sin” [James 2:9]. Let me tell you, dear people, from the beginning—and I think clear to the end—the great throngs in the kingdom of Jesus will always be the common people. It says in the story of Christ, “And the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “Look among you, brethren, there are not many mighty who are called” [1 Corinthians 1:26]. And for us to have the attitude that because a family is poor, therefore, they’re not as acceptable, he says, that’s not right. He says that is sin [James 2:9].
Let me show you something about the ministry. Out of all of the preachers you’ll ever see gathered together, almost every one of them will have been reared in a poor and a humble home, practically all of them. A preacher that was reared in an affluent home is almost as scarce as a hen’s tooth. I don’t understand that. I can’t explain it. It’s just true. And when we despise the poor, we are leading ourselves into an error that would deny us our very ministry, and in God’s sight is not right. So whether they are poor or rich, live in poverty or affluence, each one of them is somebody for whom Christ died [John 3:16]. And our attitude toward them is ever to be one of love and acceptance [2 Corinthians 9:6-15].
Now the third trial is in the second chapter, beginning at verse 14: this is the test of our attitude toward God’s work. “What doth it profit, my brethren,” always the pastor, “my brothers and sisters, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can that kind of faith save him?” [James 2:14]. Empty profession, “No,” says the pastor of the church; empty profession is fictitious, it has no reality in it, for the man who is saved and has faith is the man who lives that kind of a dedicated life; for that’s what it is to be saved. And if he hasn’t changed, if there’s no difference in him, then he doesn’t know the Lord. He’s had no confrontation with Jesus.
I one time heard of Sam Jones, the great evangelist of this last century, a southern preacher, Sam Jones. Sam Jones is walking down the street, and there’s a feller there in the gutter, drunk. And a man, seeing him, said to Sam Jones, “Sam, look down there, that’s one of your converts.” And Sam Jones looked at him and said, “Yep, that’s right. He’s one of mine, God had nothing to do with him.”
Now that is so true. When a man is saved there’s something about him that changes: every motivation of his life, everything about him is new and different. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. He has a new love, has a new life, has a new vision, has a new prayer, has a new hope, has a new house, has a new home, has a new heart; just name it, it’s new, it’s different, it’s glorious, it’s godly, it’s heavenly. That is the attitude of the man toward the life of God.
Now, the fourth test regards our speech and our language. And he uses the whole third chapter to talk about that [James 3:1-18]. How do you talk? He says this tongue is an all-powerful instrument that God has given to us. In the third chapter he says, “That bit in the horse’s mouth is just a little tiny thing, but it will turn the whole big animal” [James 3:3].
In the fourth verse he talks about a ship. A ship is a tremendous thing sometimes, but it is guided by a little tiny rudder [John 3:4]. Then he likens it to a fire: the tongue is like a fire, and what it is capable of bringing to pass! [James 3:5-6]. Remember Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern? A cow kicked it over and that little flame burnt up the great city of Chicago.
You know, I remember driving one time through the great forests of Montana, one of the great national forests, and from horizon to horizon as far as you could see, the thing was charred. The great forest burned down. And I asked the ranger, “How come such a catastrophe?” And he said, “From a cigarette, just a little light in a cigarette burned down that great national forest.”
Then he says it’s like an untamed animal. He says, “All of these animals,” and he names some of them, “can be tamed. But who can tame the tongue?” [James 3:7-8] It’s something that God has to do for us. And he says that tongue, thereby bless we God, and then that same tongue can curse men [James 3:9-10]. Out of the same mouth there [ought not] be blessing and cursing. If the man is like that, he is not saved. That’s one of the tests.
You know, I had a man in the church, long time ago, I had a man in the church, and he wouldn’t pray in public. See I was pastor of just a little country church, and the men were so few, and all of them so vital, and he would not pray in public. Then when I ate dinner with him, he would not say grace at the table. So I just, being young and rushing in where fools would not tread, I said to him, “I don’t understand. Why don’t you pray in public, or at least why don’t you say grace at the table?”
And you know what he told me? He said, “You know, when I get angry at my team, for example, I curse them. And my boy hears me curse my team. And when I come to church, I don’t feel like praying in his presence. And when we eat dinner here at the table, I don’t feel like saying grace where my boy can hear me.” You know, I thought that was sad. That was sad that the man would allow a volative temper so to lead him in speech that he was ashamed to call on the name of God where his boy could hear him.
You know profanity, cursing, is a certain and sure sign of a mental and moral weakness. If I saw a chimney on a house propped up, I would say the chimney is weak. If I saw a wall on a building propped up, I would say the wall is weak. And when I hear a man curse I think his mental and moral life is weak. Oh, there is nothing that is so uncalled for and so unproductive as that a man would curse, take God’s name in vain!
Just recently, one of the greatest men of America brought upon himself one of the most disastrous lack of respect and confidence on the part of the American people. And you know why? No small part of it was the people learn for the first time that when the man was by himself and people weren’t listening on the outside, the man used unspeakable language. It showed a deterioration of character that astonished the nation! Don’t you ever persuade yourself that by cursing I am emphasizing what I say, or I am presenting a bold and a noble front. It is the opposite. It shows a colossal weakness. That’s what James says; the test of our tongue [James 3:1-18].
The fifth test is our attitude toward the world. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Therefore the man who would be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” [James 4:4]. Isn’t that a strong statement? And yet the pastor stays that. I can illustrate what he’s saying.
In the last chapter of the last book that the apostle Paul wrote, he says to Timothy, he says, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” [2 Timothy 4:10]. Oh, I have seen that time without number among my people! The world takes them away. What they could mean to God but the world captures them, the world woos them, and their hearts leave us and find entertainment and amusement and challenge out there in the world, and they’re away from us. That’s what the pastor of the church is saying. Watch it. Watch it. Watch that love for the world. Watch it. If you’re not careful, you’ll find your heart stolen away by the blandishments of the world [James 4:4].
The sixth test is our attitude toward our secular work, our secular life. In verse 13 of the fourth chapter, he says, “Go to now, ye that say, Today and tomorrow we are going to buy and sell and make game, whereas you do not know what any tomorrow may bring” [James 4:13-14]. The godly man, the man of Christ, is the man who looks upon his work like this: “Occupy,” said our Lord, “till I come. Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13].
What I have, what I am able to gain, the fruit of my work, is a stewardship I have under God. I just use it for a while. Then I give an account of my stewardship, my oikonomia, before God [1 Corinthians 4:2]. And then somebody else will take what I have. I really don’t possess it. And what I do, I do in God’s grace and in God’s will. God is my partner. Oh, what a difference that would make in a man!
God is my partner. And any decision that you make, ask your partner. In a choice before you, ask your partner. In an investment, ask your partner. In every relationship you have in your secular work, talk to your partner about it; see what He says. I can tell you truly there are some great men in America now, out in these corporations and in the business world who would be altogether different this moment had they just taken God as a partner and asked their partner about the decision that they made.
We must hasten. The last one is our attitude toward prayer, the test of prayer. In the fifth chapter he says:
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray…
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church;
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord
Now I want to expound on that for just this moment that remains. You see, without exception the Holy Scriptures will present in our illnesses, the Scriptures will present prayer and means, and always those two, prayer and means, however in that day the means might have been [James 5:14].
Do you remember in the story of the Good Samaritan? He came by and when the priest passed him by on one side, and the Levite passed him by on the other side, and the man who had fallen into robbers was almost left for dead, the Samaritan came by. And he bound up his wounds, pouring in wine, that would be alcohol that helped anesthetize the wound, and it is an antiseptic, and oil, the healing balm of oil [Luke 10:30-35]. You see prayer and means, prayer and means. And here it is again, prayer and means [James 5:14]. Now today, we pray for the sick, but we also believe in means. I believe in the hospital. I believe in the physician. I believe in the pharmacy. I believe in all of these things by which God has given us instruments to help us and to heal us.
My sweet people, if you can find me a faith healer, bring him to me. I need him. I’ll take him to Baylor Hospital. That’s where he ought to work. Let him go up and down the corridors of Baylor Hospital and let him heal the sick. You see, he won’t do that. Why doesn’t he do that? Because way down underneath, he knows he’s a fake and a charlatan. You’d never guess it, he knows it. He makes money off of the illnesses of our people, and he makes lots of money.
My dear people, I could have a sure fire thing if I entered faith healing. Eighty-five percent of the people would get well no matter what. And there’s no gambler in the world but that would get lucratively rich if he had eighty-five odds against fifteen to lose; he can’t lose. And the fifteen, they just didn’t have the faith; the eighty-five, he takes credit for it.
No, no. The two ought to go together. Let’s pray. Let’s pray. Is anyone sick? Let’s pray, let’s pray for one another. Let’s kneel by the bedside and pray. Let’s ask God. And then, let’s use means; wine and oil, medicines, the hospital, the genius of the doctor. And not to do that is not to be true to God.
Where did penicillin come from? God gave it to us. Where did all of those marvelous things that we have discovered in the world of medicine and pharmacy come from? God gave them to us. And I think a man who will accept them as from God, and as he goes into his profession of healing, to bow in prayer and ask God to save and to direct, I think it is pleasing in the Lord’s sight.
Bear with me just the other part of this. In prayer, is any sick among you? Prayer and means. And now, is any lost among you? “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” [James 5:20], praying for the lost.
I heard a young doctor one time stand up before the congregation, when he was asked—he was just a new Christian—when he was asked how it was that he’d found the Lord, he said, “I found the Lord through the preaching of the pastor and through the prayers of my senior doctor, seated here.” Oh, I just thought that was just everything right! “I found the Lord through the Word preached by our pastor here and through the prayers of my doctor friend, the senior doctor in our clinic.” As I say, he’s a practical man, isn’t he, this James who pastors the church in Jerusalem?
Our time is far spent. In a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In this balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front and the back and on both sides, come. The press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, today I make my choice before God.” To accept Him as Savior, come. To put your life with us in the church, come. To bring your family with you, come; or just the two of you, come, or just you. On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle, down one of these stairways, “Here I am, pastor. Here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.