When we gather as a group, these are some ways we ensure the best group discussion:
We make the circle safe by staying honest and transparent - leave the masks at the door.
We keep it inside the circle. Each person’s story is theirs alone to share.
We look to the Bible for wisdom and truth, and work together to let it shape how we see the world.
We don’t try to fix each other in front of each other or give unsolicited advice. We lovingly save hard conversations for private moments.
We respect each others’ time by starting and ending when we say we will.
We believe that in Jesus Christ, there is hope for everyone.
Life Hacks is all about taking the wisdom that we find in the book of James and applying it to our everyday lives. James was Jesus’ half-brother, and it wasn’t until Jesus’ death and resurrection that James believed that He was really God in the flesh - so it makes sense that we would listen to what he has to say!
Brandon Watts from Epiphany Church was with us this Sunday to talk about faith and deeds, and how James deals with this tension that we all live in! James makes it clear we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - we can’t possibly do enough good to make God love us! But he doesn’t let us stop there! He also challenges us with the idea that a profession of faith that does not result in changed behavior is not real faith.
Remember, the questions are not a checklist to be completed, or in the perfect order! They’re simply guardrails to help you have a natural discussion about what we learned on Sunday.
Connect with each other
Do you remember the first time you heard the good news of Jesus in a simple and straightforward way? How did you receive it? What did you think of it?
Connect with the Message
Brandon talked about how we are tempted to either throw out or try to keep God’s law perfectly, but neither are actually right.
What is the real purpose of God’s law? (Read Galatians 3 for some direction!)
Which side of this tension do you normally fall on?
Since James and Paul both talk about the tension between faith and works often, we can guess that it has always been hard to balance for people following Jesus! Thinking about your own life, beliefs, and relationship with God, where do you feel tension between faith and works?
go to galatians and discover together!
There’s a LOT to be said about the role of God’s law throughout the Bible. It’s not a quick answer! It was given to show us how to live the best life in the midst of a broken world. But it was also given to us so that we’d see just how broken we are. It’s intricate, and we know that because Paul takes all of Galatians 3 to work through it!
This is a GREAT journey to go on together. Keep asking questions and pushing farther. If you can tell not everyone has a great idea of why God gives us the law (or even what it is!), spend some time reading through Galatians 3 and discovering together. Self-discovery is people’s path to real understanding, retention, and application.
Brandon said that James teaches we saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We don’t do good works to GET accepted by God; we do good works because we ARE accepted by God.
We often get that mixed up - we start doing good works to stay on God’s good side or earn his favor and love. Do you see that happening in your own life at times? How can you tell when that’s happening?
how to know you’re trying to get god to like you
It sounds like an easy question… but it’s not very simple for most people. We’ve all spent the majority of our lives trying to be good enough for God, good enough to be valuable in this world. So most of our habits and behaviors are tainted by this old motive.
When you’re trying to be good enough for God…
- you stop spending time with him when you’re feeling like a failure
- when you sin, you are more disgusted with yourself than you are thankful for forgiveness
- do more work FOR God than you spend time WITH God
So ask questions around those kinds of outcomes. Help people draw connections between their experiences and the possible motives behind them. This is an important foundation to build the rest of the conversation on, so don’t skip past it too fast!
The results of real faith
In a pretty blunt way, James basically calls into question the faith of anyone whose “faith” doesn’t result in changed behavior. Brandon said that it’s not your beliefs that profess your faith - it’s your walk, your talk, your habits, and your behavior that profession your faith.
What would your coworkers, friends, family, or neighbors say about your faith, based on how you live?
No one is all the way there, but when you started following Jesus, most likely things started changing! What are you doing now that you never would have done before following Jesus?
What’s changing about you right now? Where do you sense God pushing you toward a new way of living?
you don’t actually have to be a hypocrite
The reality is, there will always be a gap between what we believe and what we do. In 1 John 1, John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
It’s incredibly important to John that followers of Jesus are aware of that gap and actually make it known! It’s when we downplay the gap, downplay our struggles and failures, that we get labeled as hypocrites. But when we are the first to confess, the first to make it known that we are in progress and not nearly perfect, we take that label off.
And notice what John says… Confession is what leads to being forgiven - duh. But it’s also how God purifies us of all unrighteousness. It’s necessary to close the gap. So get sharing. Find the gaps and shine the spotlight.
God’s original plan
Brandon’s last point was that being justified (rescued) by faith alone is God’s original plan - not a new invention with Jesus. James reminds us that Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” But James also points out that Abraham’s belief naturally moved him toward obedience and action.
Trying to obey what God has called us to is hard. When it goes well, we get prideful. When it doesn’t, we despair. Which is a bigger trap for you personally?
Where’s the demonstration missing from your profession of faith? What’s the next area of your life that God is asking for obedience instead of just knowledge?
What’s the first doable step you can take toward that obedience this week?
READ. PRAY. DO.
Read along during the series!
James’ letter is one of the most jam-packed 5 chapters of wisdom in the entire Bible. It’s full of big concepts about how God created the world and how we can live in it best. During this series, we’re going to work through this dense and important book in several different ways!
To start off, we watched this video overview and read the book straight through to get the full picture of the letter!
THIS WEEK, we’re going to continue what we started last week!
Watch this video below and get an understanding of how much of the Bible is written as “Jewish Meditation Literature”. As many days as you can, quietly read James 4 out loud to yourself. Don’t worry about getting to the next part. Don’t worry about not making “progress”. Just slow down, soak it in, and see what happens as you focus in consistently on how God might be speaking to you through James’ words.
Pray this prayer on your own, or use it to kickstart your own personal prayer time.
(adapted from Ephesians 1-2)
Father, you are so good, and so good to us! Long before you laid down the earth’s foundations, we were on your mind. You had already settled on us as the focus of your all-encompassing love. You had a plan for us to be whole and holy in You. And when we strayed away from you, you had a plan to adopt us back into your family through Jesus. And it wasn’t because you had to - it was because you wanted to.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.
And yet somehow, hearing and knowing all of this, I run back so often to my old stagnant life of sin. I let the world tell me how to live instead of trusting your good and perfect way. I slip back into a life of endless pride and despair, either trying to impress you or just giving up on it all completely. But even still, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, you embrace me. You took my sin-dead life and made me alive in Christ.
Help me stop trying so hard and start trusting that it’s all true - that you need no help from me, and that I’m rescued and loved completely. Only that kind of faith can produce the type of life you have always been after - one that joins you in the work you’re doing, the good work you’ve always been inviting me into. Show me how to freely give away the love I’ve been so freely given.
Make a “Wisdom Board”
This letter from James is FULL of one-liners and powerful statements about how we can live wisely in a broken world. In the book of Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament, the people of Israel received God’s commandments for the first time - and this is what he said to them:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
So that’s kind of what we’re going to do! As you read through the book of James and listen to the messages in this series and different things stand out to you, write them down in little, memorable phrases. Keep them on the same page and put them up somewhere visible in your house. Keep coming back to them and start noticing just how often they’re VERY relevant to your everyday life.
Example from James 1:19: quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger