A+ Faith

According to recent polls, virtually everyone (94 percent) in the United States claims to believe in God or a universal Spirit. Most people (84 percent) believe Jesus Christ is God or the Son of God. An overwhelming majority of Americans (93 percent) own a Bible. Yet, sadly, most Americans are as uninformed in matters of faith as the boy who wrote on his test paper that "the epistles were the wives of the apostles; Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife; and the stories Jesus taught were called parodies" (instead of parables).

Would you make the grade in the test of faith? Maybe in Bible Knowledge 101 you could ace the test by answering every question correctly. But an A+ faith is based not only on what we believe but also on how we behave. Many Americans profess faith in God, yet very few practice their faith in daily living. A Roper poll revealed that born-again Christians actually engaged in these negative behaviors more frequently after conversion than before.

Before Conversion:

After Conversion:

Engaged in illicit sex:

2%

5%

Abused drugs:

5%

9%

Drove while intoxicated:

4%

12%

God wants our talk and our walk to match. How do we improve our faith walk? The book of James was written as an "instruction manual" to help believers attain a Living Faith that practices what is preached. In God's book, that's A+ faith!

DAY 1: Faithful Teacher

DAY 2: Put to the Test

DAY 3: Making the Grade

DAY 4: Guidance Counselor

DAY 5: Flunking Out

DAY 1

FAITHFUL
TEACHER

Topics: JAMES, BONDSERVANT, SCATTERED, PERSECUTION, HIS FAMILY, BORN-AGAIN, SET FREE, PEN PALS

Preparation

Father, moment by moment, day to day, from my first breath in the morning to my last breath at night, help me to live by faith in You. Amen.

LIVING BY FAITH

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Romans 1:17, NIV

Exploration

Today we meet James, the man of A+ faith who wrote this letter, and the people to whom he wrote.

Read James 1, then focus on verse 1.

James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. James 1:1

1. Who was the author of this letter?

2. According to Galatians 1:19, how was James related to Jesus?

3. Rather than introducing himself as "Christ's half-brother" or "Mary's son," how did James describe himself in verse 1? Who were his masters?

4. What does James's description of himself reveal about his character?

5. To whom did James write this letter? What was their situation?

6. For background, skim Genesis 49:1-28. Who were the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel?

7. Read Acts 8:1-4, then answer the following questions.

a. Why were the Jewish believers scattered?

b. What was the positive result of the persecution and dispersion?

Transformation

8. We discovered that Jesus had brothers and sisters in His earthly family. Read Matthew 12:46-50 to discover who else is related to Christ.

Journal about how you can be included in Christ's spiritual family and how that makes you feel.

9. Many people wonder whether they have truly been born-again into the family of God. Fill in the following chart to discover whether you exhibit the family traits that God's children should display.

SCRIPTURE

SELF-EVALUATION

1 John 2:29

1 John 3:9-10

1 John 4:7-8

1 John 5:1

10. Today we saw that James was a leader and faithful teacher, yet He considered himself a slave to God and Jesus Christ. Check the items below that indicate what things have held you in bondage.

__ The perfect house

__ Substance abuse

__ Child-centered parenting

__ Quest for money

__ All-consuming hobby

__ Other _______________

Now journal about how Christ has set you free from that area of bondage.

11. James addressed his letter to his Jewish brethren "scattered abroad." Take the time now to write a letter to a loved one of yours whom God has placed in a faraway location. Encourage him or her to sow the Good News of the gospel in the place God has planted him or her.

Throughout this letter, James faithfully instructs believers how to pass the test of faith with flying colors. His lesson plan does not include reading, writing, or arithmetic; instead it includes lessons his students must master to prepare for final exams. James persuades us to act smart, not just sound smart, so his curriculum contains valuable instruction that requires implementation. Here is his lesson plan:

l James 1: Accounting. Making trials count. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (James 1:2-3).

l James 2: Behavioral Science. Exhibiting behavior that reflects our beliefs. "Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless" (James 2:17, NLT).

l James 3: Debate 101. Using our speech to bless others. "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10).

l James 4: Political Science. Discovering the source of human conflict. "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?" (James 4:1).

l James 5: Economics. Learning how God's economy differs from ours. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!" (James 5:1).

Our instructor challenges us to examine the quality of our faith in terms of attitudes and actions. Living Faith will produce real changes in your brain as well as your behavior.

Contemplation

Faith is greater than learning.

Martin Luther

DAY 2

PUT TO
THE TEST

Topics: ADDING UP, TRIALS, CUSTOM FIT, ETERNAL JOY, FRUITFUL FAITH, REAP AND SOW

Norman Vincent Peale once ran into his friend, George. "Norman, I'm fed up," George said. "I have nothing but problems. I'd give you five thousand dollars to get rid of all of them." Norman replied, "Yesterday I was in a place where no one has any problems. Let me take you there." George agreed. "Good," Norman answered. "Tomorrow afternoon, I'll take you to the cemetery. The only people without problems are dead."

The Bible tells us to expect trials. The book of James does not say if you fall into trials but when you fall into them. If you are alive, you will definitely experience trials. They come in all shapes and sizes, and there's one tailor-made to fit your individual circumstances. You see, God uses the trials you face to test your faith. Often, understanding which kind of trial you are experiencing will help you when put to the test.

l Cause and Effect Trials: These trials are directly related to our actions or lack thereof. In other words, you reap what you sow.

l Spiritual Trials: This kind of trial comes from simply living the Christian life. It includes being persecuted, avoided, or mocked, as well as experiencing spiritual warfare.

l Mysterious Trials: This is the hardest kind of trial because there is no rational or logical reason for it, at least not from a human point of view.

Today we discover that God has a purpose for every trial and that even trials can produce great joy.

Preparation

Lord, I know that I can't always be happy, but I can always have Your joy no matter what circumstances come my way. Help me to remember Your joy in the midst of trials. Amen.

JOY

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. 1 Peter 1:6, nlt

Exploration

Yesterday we met James, the half-brother of Jesus, and learned that he wrote this letter to the Jewish believers scattered throughout the world. Now we dig into the text of the letter and discover how to view the trials we encounter.

Review James 1, then focus on verses 2-3.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, . . . James 1:2

1. How did James address the recipients of this letter?

2. What emotion did he advise them to display?

3. What phrase makes you think this emotion is a choice?

4. What key word did James use in verse 2 to reveal that trials are inevitable?

5. What types of trials did James speak of?

. . . knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:3

6. What is one spiritual reason for trials in the life of the believer, according to James?

7. How do you think the test of faith produces patience?

Transformation

8. Jesus accurately assessed His trials by counting them as joy: "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). List some trials you've endured that you once considered deficits. Then write how Living Faith has transformed them into assets.

DEFICIT

ASSETS

(Example: physical weakness)

(Example: spiritual strength)

9. The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk suffered trials that produced the spiritual fruits of patience and joy in his life.

Journal Habbakuk's proclamation into a personal prayer concerning a current trial in your life. "Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; . . . though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

10. In the introduction to today's lesson we identified three types of trials: Cause and Effect Trials, Spiritual Trials, and Mysterious Trials. Fill in the chart to describe which type(s) of trial was evident.

SCRIPTURE

TYPE OF TRIAL

Deut. 8:1-3

2 Sam. 12:7-14

Luke 22:31-32

John 9:1-3

Journal about your most recent trial. Into which category does it fall, and why?

A Midwesterner buys a thirty-thousand dollar Jeep and invites five buddies duck hunting. They load up the Jeep with a dog, guns, and decoys, then head to a nearby frozen lake. In the dead of winter, it's common to park your vehicle on the frozen lake. It's also common (if slightly illegal) to blast a hole in the ice. A construction worker has brought along dynamite to blast a hole in the ice. The Jeep owner lights the fuse and hurls it across the ice.

Remember the vehicle, the guns, and the dog? Yes, a black Labrador bred for retrieving (especially things thrown by his owner) sprints across the ice, bent on retrieving the stick-shaped object. The five frantic fellows yell at the dog to drop the dynamite. The bewildered dog runs for cover under the nearest refuge—the brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. BOOM! Both dog and brand-new Jeep sink to the bottom of the lake. The Jeep owner had no one to blame but himself for this trial.

Understanding what kind of trial you are experiencing can help you know how to defuse the situation. Like our mighty hunters, if a trial is blowing up in your life as a result of something you've done, then repentance will restore your joy and help you to remain patient until the trial has passed.

Contemplation

It is the trial of our faith that is precious. If we go through the trial, there is so much wealth laid up in our heavenly banking account to draw upon when the next test comes.

Oswald Chambers

—Women's Bible Journal