Ananias… laying his hands on him… said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17 There are three accounts in the New Testament...
Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13)
I want to draw your attention to the second part of this promise: “Those who have served well gain… great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13).
There is a direct connection between faith and serving. Those who serve well gain great assurance in their faith. There is a confidence, an assurance, a joy in the presence of God that comes to those who serve well. Why does serving well bring great assurance in your faith in Christ?
A Faith that Does Not Serve is Completely Useless
No passage of Scripture puts this more clearly than James. I want to show you that this emphasis is not unique to James, but that it is the unanimous witness of the New Testament. Let’s begin with Paul.
“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6
It was through Paul that the Holy Spirit gave us the great statements of justification by faith. You find them in Romans and in this letter to the Galatians. You might expect Paul to say, “The only thing that matters is faith.” But that is not what he says. He says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” because a faith that does not express itself through love is not authentic faith.
“If I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2
A faith that does not express itself in love is of no value. It is completely useless. It amounts to nothing. Love is the evidence that we are united to Christ by faith. If Christ is in us, love will be in us. John says:
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
We find this same truth in James:
“What good is it, my brothers, is a man claims to have faith but has no deeds.” James 2:14
Try to picture this man. He “claims to have faith.” Notice the word “claims.” He says he is a believer. He talks about faith in Christ. He claims to be a Christian.
But James says, “He has no deeds.” There isn’t anything distinctively Christ-like about his behavior. Nothing makes his life obviously different from other men in the world, except for the fact that he claims to have faith. His faith is only in his words. It is a claim—something that he says. His words are the only place where you can see any evidence of his faith.
James tells us that a faith like that is completely useless. He gives us an illustration of how useless it is. Suppose a man is cold or hungry. Someone says to him, “Keep warm and eat well.” What good is that?
The point James is making is very simple. A faith that is only words is as useless as telling a man who is hungry to eat well, or a man who is cold to keep warm. A faith like that will not save you. It is completely useless.
A faith like that leaves you in the same position as the devil (James 2:19), who knows that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross and that he rose from the dead. But Satan does not love Christ. He does not trust Christ. And he certainly doesn’t serve Christ. The devil serves himself. He is completely preoccupied with his own misery.
A picture of sin
If I asked you to draw a picture of sin, what would you draw? You could draw an arrow missing a target. That’s what sin is—falling short of the glory of God. You could draw a clenched fist. Sin is rebellion against God.
There is another picture you could draw—a man bent over, gazing at himself. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were able to behold the face of God. They walked upright. They talked with God face-to-face in the garden.
But Satan said to them, “You can be like God!” Instead of looking to God, you can look to yourself. But as he seeks to take the place of God, he becomes bent over on himself. Instead of loving God and trusting God and obeying God, he loves himself, trusts himself and serves himself. Instead of worshipping God, he becomes his own God.
That’s what sin does to us. That’s the condition of the man James is describing. He claims to have faith in God, but he does not care about other people. He sees a person in need. He does not want to get involved.
Why? Because he really only cares about himself.
“Can such faith save him?”
The Spirit of Christ is not in this man. Whatever he says about his faith, he is not a Christian. He is still in his sins.
James challenges the “easy believism” that is rampant in our day, an emaciated gospel that leaves many, many people thinking they are right with God, when they may not be.
There is no such thing as a salvation that does not bring transformation. There is no Christ who is Savior, and not Lord. There is no receiving Him by faith, without turning to Him in repentance. No one is saved from hell, without also being saved from sin.
The devil’s faith won’t save you! The faith that justifies is not a dead faith.
It is a living faith—a faith that expresses itself in love. The evidence of faith that justifies will be seen in a life of love.
Christ Came Not to Be Served, But to Serve
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world to be served. To be served is to have other people do things for you. Jesus says, “I did not come into the world so that you could do things for me. I came to serve you, to do something for you, that you could not do for yourself.”
Read the Gospels and you will see that Jesus lived to serve. Christ is not bent in on Himself. He looks up to the face of the Father and he says, “My food is to do your will! I live to serve You! Doing your will is meat and drink to me” (John 4:34).
Christ lives to do the will of the Father because He is not bent in on Himself. He ministers, serves, and reaches out to a world of human need.
Follow the story in the Gospels and see how He poured Himself out the days of His life: He gave Himself to the disciples and to the crowds.
When he was confronted with human need, He did not walk away. He comforted those who were overwhelmed with sorrow. He ministered to children. They came to Him. He connected with them, and He imparted His blessing into their lives. He taught His disciples.
In the extremity of His own suffering, He provided for the care of His mother. Wherever He went He proclaimed the good news, bringing hope and speaking the Word of life.
He said “I am among you as One who serves” (Luke 22:27). This is His whole life. He did not come into the world for Himself, but for us. His life was not for Himself, it was for us. His death was not for himself, it was for us. His resurrection was not for Himself, it was for us. His second coming will not be for Himself, it will be for us.
The Faith that Unites Us to Christ Shows Itself in Serving
Faith is the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ, by which Christ lives in you through the Holy Spirit. The Christ who lives in you, is the Christ who came into the world to serve
Think again of this picture of sin: A man bent over on himself. He is preoccupied with himself, and with his own needs. He is focused on his own problems, on how other people have let him down, on how he is going to make his mark in the world, and on when he is going to get the break he thinks he deserves.
Sin is a life bent in on yourself. Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). When Christ comes into a human life that’s bent in on itself, He straightens out the man. He saves you from loving yourself, trusting yourself and serving yourself. He lifts you up from your preoccupation with yourself, so that, looking into the face of God, you are able to say “I love you. I trust you. I want to serve you!”
One of the most beautiful pictures of salvation in the Bible is when David says, “You are the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3). You deliver me from being consumed with myself and with my troubles. You deliver me from being my own God. You lift up my head, so that by faith I can see you. You put your Spirit in me, so that I desire to serve others.
True faith will show itself in serving
“[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:15
What does this transformation look like? Paul describes the effects of the Gospel in the lives of these believers:
“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3
The faith that united these folks to Christ produced a different kind of life in which they were venturing in faith, laboring in love, persevering, continuing, and enduring because of their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s the same point Paul makes in this well-known passage: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ… If any fellowship with the Spirit…” (Philippians 2:1). He’s saying, “If you really are in Christ, if the Holy Spirit really lives in you, here’s how that will be seen: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus … who took the nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:4-5, 7).
Luther says: We were in need before God. We needed mercy. He gave to us what we did not have. Our heavenly Father came to our aid. So now, if the Son of God lives in us, we ought freely to help our neighbor:
“Each one of should become as it were a Christ to the other… that we may be truly Christians… Surely we are named after Christ, not because He is absent from us, but became He dwells in us, that is because we believe in Him and are Christs one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ has done to us.” 
That is why the New Testament is filled with statements like this:
“Love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34
“Forgive each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21
If your faith has really united you in this bond with Christ, it will show itself in serving.
Those Who Serve Well…
…Gain Great Assurance in Their Faith in Christ Jesus
We will grow in faith as we step out in serving Christ. This is true for individuals. This is true for churches. A church that is growing in faith will be a church that is increasingly stretched out in service. That’s why “Lord, increase our faith,” is a dangerous prayer.
You do not need great assurance in order to serve. It is not that you need it or that you have it, but that you gain it. Something is added to you by serving that would not be added if you stayed on the sidelines.
The good tree bears good fruit. As you serve, you will see the evidence of your union with Christ. That’s why it’s such a marvelous thing to serve. So, how are you going to serve? In what ways are your hands going to be the hands of Christ in the life of another person?
Many years ago a pastor named Joseph Parker spoke about how Thomas came to faith after the resurrection of Jesus. Parker said, “Thomas said, ‘Unless I see the prints of the nails in His hands, I will not believe.’ What Thomas said of Christ, the world is saying about the church: ‘Unless I see in your hands the prints of the nails, I will not believe.’”
Christ is at work among us
Last night, I talked with a woman in our congregation who was deeply moved by the love of Christ expressed to her and her family through The Orchard. I was moved by what she said and asked her if she would write this down so that I could share it with you today. Here are some extracts from the email she sent me last night…
This last year in 2009 has been absolutely earth shattering for our family. We have experienced not one, but many calamities that have now shaken our once strong marriage, children and each of our personal beliefs in the sovereignty of God and His love for us. A few of these events have included extreme and sudden financial loss, separation, then unemployment, underemployment and now foreclosure in this volatile economy.
The only hope we have clung to is Christ alone, each other and the body of Christ. The love, support and sacrifice we have received from the church body, in the most unexpected ways, have shown us that He truly is walking with us during these dark days.
Our toddlers absolutely LOVE going to Sunday School and AWANA each week! In fact, they continually ask if today is “church day” because they look forward to it so much. Not only do they have fun, but they are really learning God’s amazing truths each week, which they enthusiastically share with our family. It is so encouraging to know that they are in a safe and well-run program, which allows me to focus on the Sunday service and bible study. The volunteers are amazing – they make each child feel so loved when they are there. The kids all know and experience Christ’s love in a very real way each week!
God seems to answer our spiritual and practical needs through the many friends we have made at The Orchard! Only a few know about our personal difficulties, but regardless, God still seems to mysteriously lay our needs upon their hearts. Blessings of child care, hand-me-downs, cookies and even birthday cakes for each of our kids have overwhelmed us with His love!
We just wanted to encourage and thank everyone at The Orchard for their service and love to our family, for being an arrow that points us to Christ!
So glad to be planted at The Orchard…
Reading an email like this gives me great assurance that Christ is at work among us. The evidence of Christ’s presence with us is seen in the service and ministry that takes place within the body of Christ.
 From Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” p. 84, Fortress Press, 2008