Elizabeth “Betty” Bigley was born in October of 1857, the fifth of eight children. She grew up on a small farm in Ontario, Canada. She worked her first scam when she was just 13 years old, but it wouldn’t be her last.

In 1879, at the age of 22, Betty saved enough money to buy some expensive letterhead on which she had an announcement printed notifying everyone that a wealthy philanthropist had died and left her an inheritance of $15,000. She then created business cards which resembled the calling cards of the wealthy socialites. Hers read, “Miss Bigley, Heiress to $15,000.” She would buy expensive items and always write checks for more than the price of the item. If anyone questioned her she would pull out her fraudulent business card and all questions would be silenced.

Her scams grew bigger and bigger until she convinced people that she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. It was the spring of 1902, Betty had changed her name to Cassie Chadwick. She took a train from Cleveland to New York. She then made her way to the Holland House Hotel at the corner of 30th Street and Fifth Avenue. The Holland House was famous for the rich and famous who frequented it on a regular basis. Cassie convinced a prominent New York attorney, Mr. James Dillon, to give her a ride so she could take care of some “private business with her father.” Mr. Dillon was happy to help. Mr. Dillon hailed an open carriage and Cassie gave the driver the address: 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue. When the driver pulled up in front of the four-story mansion belonging to steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie, Mr. Dillon was speechless. Cassie said she would be back shortly.  

At the front door Cassie told the butler she was considering hiring a maid, Hilda Schmidt, who supposedly worked for the Carnegie family. The butler was confused because he didn’t know Miss Schmidt, but he invited Cassie in. After a long conversation, which Cassie knew would go nowhere, she left the house. As Cassie left the house she slipped a brown envelope out of her coat and carried it back to the carriage.

When Cassie climbed into the carriage Mr. Dillon apologized for what he was about to ask: “Who is your father exactly?”  Cassie put her finger over her lips and told Mr. Dillon he must never tell anyone: She was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. She showed him the envelope which had two promissory notes for $250,000 and $500,000, signed by Andrew Carnegie, and securities valued at $5 million dollars. None of them were real, Cassie had created each of the items. Cassie explained to Mr. Dillon that her father gave them to her out of a sense of guilt and responsibility. She told Mr. Dillon that she had others in her drawer at home and was set to inherit millions when her father died. She warned Mr. Dillon not to tell anyone, knowing full well he could never keep such a secret.

Mr. Dillon told everyone, introduced Cassie to his prominent socialite friends, and Cassie took advantage of it all. She went on a spending spree. She ordered custom made hats and clothing from New York, sculptures from the Far East, and furniture from Europe. She ordered eight pianos and gave them as gifts to friends at Christmas. She bought herself a $9,000 pipe organ, she had a jewelry chest of diamonds and a $40,000 rope of pearls. She convinced financial institutions to give her money against her future inheritance. She convinced Charles Beckwith, the president of Citizen’s National Bank, to give her a loan of $240,000, plus an additional $100,000 from his personal account. A wealthy Pittsburgh steel tycoon, who was an acquaintance of Andrew Carnegie, gave her $800,000 without asking a question. And the list goes on and on.

Eventually, beginning in 1904, questions were being asked and it was discovered it was all a fraud, a very convincing fraud, but a fraud nonetheless. Cassie was arrested. Charles Beckwith’s bank, Citizen’s National Bank, had collapsed, his personal wealth had been decimated, but still he told Cassie, “You’ve ruined me, but I’m not so sure yet you are a fraud.”

In March 1905, Cassie Chadwick was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud a national bank and sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary. Andrew Carnegie himself attended the trial, and later had the chance to examine the infamous promissory notes. “If anybody had seen this paper and then really believed that I had drawn it up and signed it, I could hardly have been flattered,” he said, as he pointed out errors in spelling and punctuation. “Why, I have not signed a note in the last 30 years.” The whole scandal could have been avoided, he added, if anyone had bothered to ask him. (Adapted from the article, “The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance.” The Smithsonian)

Cassie Chadwick presented herself as someone she was not. She convinced most everyone around her, for a period of time, that she was the daughter of Andrew Carnegie. Even though everyone was fooled there was one who knew the truth, Andrew Carnegie.

Cassie died in November of 1907 and yet Cassie lives on. There are many who are parading around making claims that simply aren’t true. They say they are the children of God, they may have even convinced themselves that it’s true, they can recite facts about their supposed Father, they even enter His “house” now and then, but there is One who knows the truth and He knows it just isn’t so.

As we move along in our study of the letter of James this morning we will learn that James had a big concern for those in the churches he was thinking of as he sat down to write. His great concern was that they know the difference between a dead, useless faith, and a living, genuine faith. It’s important for us to recognize that James was writing his letter to those he addressed as brothers and sisters in Christ. Please turn with me to James 2:14-19 and let’s read together.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that– and shudder. (James 2:14-19 NIVO)

This section of James has been called the most theologically significant as well as the most controversial teaching in James’ letter. The controversy concerning James’ letter can be traced back to 1522, when Martin Luther, in the preface of his German translation of the New Testament wrote,

St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to these others (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, and 1 John), for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. (Luther, Martin. Preface to the New Testament. 1522)

Luther’s initial judgement of James’ letter and his reference to it as a “strawy gospel” had much to do with his own experience. It was Luther who had worked and worked to try to be as religious and good as he could be so as to become acceptable to God. The only problem was no matter what he did he always found himself falling short, until he discovered the truth shared by Paul in Romans 1:17.

17 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 NIVO)

Luther learned that it was not his righteousness that justified him, that made him right with God, but it was the righteousness of Jesus that justified him and everyone else who by faith trusts God’s work done on their behalf. Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

We are going to take our time in working through James 2:14-26 because what is shared with us in these passages is the most critical of biblical teaching, having implications for our life right now as well as for all of eternity.

There are those today who say that what James has written here is a contradiction of what Paul wrote in other places in God’s Word. Let me share a couple of those passages that they use to point out this supposed contradiction. Paul wrote, in Romans 3:19-20,

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20 NIVO)

Paul makes it clear that no one will be declared righteous, or find themselves in a right-relationship with God, because they’ve kept the law. We’ve failed miserably at keeping God’s law, we’ve excelled at breaking God’s law, at sinning against God, and therefore Paul says our mouths are shut, we are silenced before a holy and righteous God. The law doesn’t give us confidence in regards to righteousness, instead, it makes us conscious of our own sin. In Galatians 2:15-16, Paul wrote,

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16 NIVO)

To the Galatians, Paul made it crystal clear that they weren’t justified by observing the law, but by “faith in Jesus Christ.” I’ve come to the conclusion through the years that there are well-meaning people, people who would describe themselves as “spiritual” or “religious,” and some who call themselves Christians, but they lack understanding about what the Bible teaches about salvation and justification. I’ve noticed most of these people fall into one of two camps. The first group tries and tries to live a “good” life, however they define good. If you ask them what they think will happen to them when they die they will say, “Well, I hope I’ll go to heaven.” When you ask, “What is your hope based upon?” They will quickly tell you, “Well, I’ve tried to live a good life.” The good life they are trying to live is defined by their own definition of “good,” not by God’s definition of good or righteous. These folks often are miserable because even though they’ve written their own definition of “good,” they just can’t live up to it. There is a second group of people who suffer because they don’t understand the teaching of the Bible. These folks aren’t as plentiful as the first group, but they are with us even this morning. They know that God is holy and righteous. They know they are sinners, that they often fall so far short of the glory of God. They are hesitant to become a follower of Jesus because they know they will mess up, they will sin, and they don’t want to be a hypocrite. They aren’t like those in the first group because they know they are not good, even by their own definition. Their fear of failing keeps them from Jesus.

I’m certain there are some of you who are here this morning that find yourselves in one of the two groups I’ve just described. I’m so glad you are here because I have good news for you this morning. The “goodness” that reconciles people to God is not our goodness, not our righteousness, but the goodness, the righteousness of Jesus who came and lived a sinless life before offering His sinless life on your behalf so that you and I might be reconciled with God. Paul wrote,

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIVO)

It is by grace alone, the grace of God alone, exhibited in Jesus’ work on your behalf, on my behalf, His life, death, and resurrection that saves us, and nothing, absolutely nothing that we’ve ever done or ever will do. This is Paul’s message and this is what Martin Luther discovered 500 years ago when the Church was mired in false teaching and “works” were given equal weight as faith.

The quote I read to you earlier from Martin Luther calling James’ letter a “strawy gospel” was removed by Luther for every edition of his preface to the New Testament after it’s initial printing. Martin realized that James was not referring to faith and works as a means to our salvation, but that good works flow from the salvation that is imparted to us through faith. Luther later wrote,

Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works. (Martin Luther. Commentary on Romans. Translation J. Theodore Mueller. Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1954)

We can easily grab a few verses from Paul and a few verses from James and show that they are at odds with one another when in actuality they are starting from two different places. Paul is addressing saving faith while James is describing the outcome, the result of a faith that genuinely saves. Genuine faith results in good works, not because all of the good works in the world will make anyone right with God, but because having been made right with God it is only natural that our reconciled relationship produce fruit, good works. James doesn’t assume that everyone who professes to have faith actually has genuine faith. James offers a series of tests that are invaluable for his readers and for us. In the first chapter James says,

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22 NIVO)

James knows that it is possible to hear God’s Word, to speak about God, and do absolutely nothing about it. James says that to do this is to deceive ourselves. He goes on in verses 26-27 to put forth another test. He writes,

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26-27 NIVO)

Did you notice? James writes, “If anyone considers himself religious…”  There are many who would call themselves Christians, they consider themselves religious, but James says to these folks, “Do you keep a tight rein on your tongue? If not, then your religion is worthless.” James says genuine faith expresses itself in compassion towards “orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In the opening verses of James 2 we find another test. James says that as followers of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ we should never show favoritism towards anyone because of their race, economic standing, nationality, politics, or for any other reason. If we show favoritism then we show that we are not really followers of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Then, in our Scripture for this morning found in James 2:14-16 we find James laying before us another test of our faith. James writes,

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:14-16 NIVO)

A brother or sister, someone we know, someone close to us, is destitute, wearing shabby clothes and lacking food for today. James says that if our response to the situation is to simply wish them well, tell them, “I’ll pray for you,” when we have the means to help them out, then what good is our faith? What he means is this: That kind of faith is no faith at all. We’ve deceived ourselves into thinking we are followers of Jesus when in actuality we are not.

Someone here this morning may say, “Mike, who are you to judge whether or not I’m really a Christian or not? You don’t know my heart!” If that is your response to what has been being said then you are mistaken my friend. I’m not suggesting anyone here this morning is not a follower of Jesus. What I am saying is this: Take the test. Allow the Lord to examine your heart and reveal to you whether or not you truly are His child, His follower, saved, and possessing a genuine faith.

We have become such an individualistic society, each of us with our own truth, that to encourage one another or challenge one another to really think about, thoroughly examine, what we profess to believe has become the most heinous of sins. This may be the new reality for the society in which you and I live, but I pray that we as a church will never give into that pressure or embrace that individualism because it is deadly. We need one another. We who are followers of Jesus are part of the Body of Christ, we belong to one another, we are to look out for the interest of the rest of the Body, we are to be concerned with the health of the whole Body. Now, there is a healthy expression of this calling and there is a busy-body, self-righteous expression of this call to look out for one another. We are to avoid the busy-body version. None of us are called to be spiritual police, but we are called to care for one another’s spiritual health. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Philippi,

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 NIVO)

Paul didn’t simply have in mind the physical well-being of brothers and sisters in Philippi, but also their spiritual well-being. In James 5:19-20 we read,

19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 NIVO)

We really do need another. I need your help. I need you to walk with me. I need you to pray for me. I need you to be bold enough, courageous enough, to come to me when my life has gotten off track and you are made aware that I’m not following in Jesus’ steps. We need one another’s help.

James sets these tests before the brothers and sisters not because he is nosey, or judgmental, but because he loves the flock, the family of God. He wants them to examine themselves so they might come to understand if their faith is genuine, if it is alive, or if they have deceived themselves and their faith is dead.  If James was concerned about some in his day who had bought into a false faith that led them to believe they were right with God simply because they had walked the aisle, recited the right words, professed a belief in Jesus, and been baptized–how much more should we be concerned in our own day? The modern-day model for the Church in America has largely become a place of self-improvement. It’s the Christianized version of Tony Robbins for the masses. We want to be better husbands and wives, better parents, we need skills in handling our finances and our relationships so we find the church that is teaching on our particular need and go there. Many enter God’s house thinking they are Jesus’ followers, but they are deceived. They are hearers of the Word only.

How about you? My friend, please do not be led to believe that because you have come to church that you have been made right with God. Please do not be led to believe that because you volunteer in some ministry that your good works have impressed God and He has written your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life because of what you have done. Please do not be led to believe that because you can recite the Lord’s Prayer, are familiar with the Bible, and can profess faith in Jesus that you are made right with God. There is only one way to be made right with God and that is through Jesus’ work of living a sinless life, dying in your place as an atoning sacrifice, and rising from the dead to conquer death and sin forevermore for all of those who will trust in Him.

At the same time, those of you who profess to have trusted in Jesus’ saving work, do you see the fruit of His work in your life? Is there a difference in the way you live and the way your unbelieving friends are living? Are the things that concern God your greatest concern in life? Are you burdened for your unbelieving friends to know Jesus and His love for them? Do you show favoritism, have no concern for the hurting, the orphan, and widows in distress? Oh, my friend, if you can find no fruit then I would urge you to cry out to Jesus today. It’s not too late. You may have been deceived until this very moment, but this very morning Jesus is showing you the truth, you need to come to Him at this moment. Won’t you come?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

OKC, OK. 73114

January 14, 2017

Faith: Dead or Alive?
James 2:14-19
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