Freedom Exists Without Responsibility

James 2: 14-26


A half-generation ago, Joseph Heller's book Catch-22 develop a somewhat cult following among college students and young adults. The title of the book refers to a certain clause in military law having to do with grounding mentally unstable combat pilots.

At one point Yossarian, the book's main character, talks with Doc Daneeka about grounding an obviously unstable pilot by the name of Orr. Yossarian learns how the rule works: The doctor can ground Orr if he is found to be unstable.  But if Orr asks to be grounded, then that's proof he's not unstable, and he has to fly more missions. Or, as Heller puts it:

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; but as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions."

Yossarian's only response was a respectful whistle and the words, "That's some catch, that Catch-22."

You are, I'm sure, aware of other "Catch-22's" in life.

One has to do with borrowing money. If you already have money, you can usually get a bank to lend you money. But if you don't have any money, nobody wants to lend you any. In other words, if you have money and don't need it, you can get it; but if you need it and don't have it, you can't get it. Catch-22.

I've also seen a Catch-22 operate in small groups Small groups are about building trust and taking risks. In a newly formed small group, people are generally reluctant to risk sharing anything significant about themselves until they know there's a reasonable level of trust. But you don't build that kind of trust until people start taking those kinds of risks. Nobody risks until there's trust, but there is very little trust until somebody risks. Catch-22.

The catch 22 of Christianity  faith verses works

In several scriptures we are told that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior apart from any works or merit on our behalf.  I cor. 9 Paul says I am not under the law of Moses any more, now under the law of Christ.  Gal. 5 says: it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. If the son has set you free, you are free indeed.

James messes with our mind by telling us that faith without works is dead. Catch 22.

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

I.  Relationship between faith and works

This relationship between faith and works is important to understand because it relates directly to freedom and responsibility.

Unfortunately we have a tendency to emphasize one to the extreme of the other. The faith only concept says that since we are saved by faith and not under the law any more, we can do anything we want without regard because we are forgiven.  A distortion of the Christian faith. In addressing that in Romans 6 Paul says:  shall we continue sinning so that grace may abound; by no means those who have died to sin should continue to live in it.”

On the other hand, we have those individuals who live in constant fear that they haven’t fulfilled all they believe they should be doing. The Pharisees. They feel the more they work, the better God will like them.  In order for them to be accepted, they have to be perfect in everything they do. It produces paranoid Christians. Again a distortion of the Christian life.

As you look closely, you realize that James' is not asking whether works without faith can save us. But rather, whether faith without works is real faith.

As we look at the scriptures we discover these truths:

Faith is the way you receive salvation  

works is the way you demonstrate salvation

Faith is inward focused – my relshp with God

Works is outward focused – my relship with others

Faith is how one begins the Christian life

Works should be how one lives the Christian life.

Faith is the root of our salvation,

Works are the fruit of our salvation.

Faith gives us freedom – our responsibility is works

In the mind of James there can be no freedom without responsibility. It is true in family life, nationally as a country; it is true in a congregation. 

ethics and good works do not save us, but rather are the expression of the transforming work of the Spirit within us.  There are many individuals who have very good outward ethics and who are very compassionate toward their fellow mankind – that doesn’t save them.

II. freedom in Christ comes with responsibility 

Our government is careening toward disaster because no one wants to take responsibility to fix our problems. We know the history of the US was fueled by our insatiable desire for freedom. We champion that.  It is probably the single greatest core value that we have as Americans. 

No one likes to go to war – no one wants to fight but what do we do when our freedom is challenged by oppositional forces like Hitler’s dictatorship or communism which would take our freedom – we have a responsibility to fight for those freedoms.  Democracy cannot exist for a long period of time without responsibility of it’s citizens.

Responsibility is a word becoming obsolete in our culture.  Our national motto is becoming not In God We Trust but It’s not my fault – always someone else.  We aren’t to blame. There is a billboard at Tampa Road and US 19 that says:  It’s not your fault your overweight. Really – I know there are times when there are medications that cause us to gain weight and there are glandular issues beyond our control.  But most of us who are overweight it is our fault – too much intake – not enough outgo.

Heard about a doctor who decided to put one of his overweight patients on a diet. "I want you to eat regularly for two days," he said. "Then I want you to skip a day. Follow this pattern for two weeks and come back to see me. After two weeks you should lose five pounds. Got that? Two weeks later the man came back for his appointment. He had lost 20 pounds. The doctor asked, "You lost all this weight just by following my instructions?" The man said, "Yes, I'll tell you though, I thought I was going to drop dead on that third day." The doctor asked, "From hunger?" "No," the man said. "From skipping!" You can only tell that if you are overweight.

The truth is that all of us often try to avoid responsibility for our behavior when bad things happen to us. We automatically look to blame someone else. When we flunk a test in school, it must the test was unfair. It was not because we did not study for the test. When we get stopped for speeding, it must be because the police are trying to generate extra income for the community. Surely, it was not because we were speeding. When our spouse walks out on us and asks for divorce, it must be because he or she is selfish. It is never because we did not do our part to make the marriage work. When bad things happen to us, we often try to escape responsibility for those bad things.

One of the most valuable lessons we teach our children is that there are consequences for our decisions – teaches them about responsibility.  We also need to learn that there are consequences for our spiritual decisions. We don’t believe real freedom exists without responsibility. .

III. Responsibility is a response to God’s grace.

Faith apart from works is dead  Because we have received the forgiveness of God and bathed in His grace, we now have a responsibility to those around about us and to our God.

We show our love to God by living a life that is pleasing in his sight –not to win his favor – but to thank him for what he has done and to witness about his grace.

an emphasis on faith that does not include a commitment to Christ's call to walk in newness of life is a distortion of the Gospel. faith is confirmed by ethical behavior.

 Faith that does not give attention to ethical issues -- to telling the truth, seeking to live morally clean lives, shunning evil, fighting personal immorality and social injustice, feeding the hungry, caring for the needy, seeking the lost, standing up for the weak  -- that kind of faith -- a faith that does not give attention to ethical issues is dead.  Faith is a response to the grace we have been shown in Christ – therefore we are free to offer that grace to others.

Christian comedian, Elmo Philips. tells this story. "When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way . . . so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."

that catch 22 will keep some theologians awake at night. Is God's grace a blanket endorsement of everything we do? Have we no responsibility?

Through faith in Christ we are washed totally of our sins. They have been buried in the depths of the sea never to be retrieved again. It is as if they never existed. And yet, God is a righteous God who desires righteousness on the part of those who worship Him. Have we no responsibility?

Responsibility is the key if we understand our actions as a response to God's grace. Often when we say someone is responsible, we mean that someone lives according to the laws of man and God. You don't have to be a Christian to be a responsible person. But a Christian who is not responsible is a catch 22.  Shouldn’t be.

The evils of the world thrive in the vacuum of irresponsibility. When no one steps forward to take responsibility for the social, political, economic and spiritual  ills of the earth, we all take a giant step backward.

Paul urged the Corinthians to do no less than “aim for perfection,” to put all things in good order to work together and be of one mind. These are not pint-sized, puny dreams. I want to be the best father, husband, pastor, best friend that I can – that’s my aim. I have a responsibility when I became a husband and father or friend to do that.

As believers in Christ lets not shirk our responsibility. To give, to forgive, to be a witness in our community, to be faithful in our service to God, to stand up for those things we are know are right. 

Anthony DeMello has written this incisive first-person story: On the street, I saw a small girl, cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope for a decent meal. I became ANGRY and said to God, "Why did you PERMIT this?" For a while, God said nothing. That night, He replied quite suddenly, "I certainly DID something about it. I made YOU!"