Having 5 kids means our garage has several scooters and bikes. Not too long ago, a church member family donated a bike to one of our girls. So, on occasion I’ve been trying to teach some to ride a bike. The thing about learning to ride a bike isn’t about balance as much as it is pedaling; you cannot stay balanced forever if you are not pedaling. Left pedal push then right pedal push, and then repeat.
Similarly, the Christian life requires pedaling: Knowing the word then Doing the word, and then repeat.
- Earliest summary of Christianity, which promotes the Lordship of Jesus and practical steps for living out the Christian faith.
- Today’s question: Who is a real Christian?
- Know The Word: Head Christians. These people read and repeat the bible. They attend bible studies, maybe become bible teachers, and always want to share what they know. You’re also fact-checking other people – like right now you’re doing it while I speak.
- Do The Word: Hand Christians. These people are busily serving. They might head ministries, but more likely they are simply volunteers working behind the scenes; maybe don’t even attend groups or worship gatherings bc they’re busy with a task.
- James is calling for believers to do both, bc that’s what Jesus did.
- Jesus & James growing up in a D6 household of hearing law & doing love (Deut 6:1-9)
- Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock – [to sustain against storms].”
- Luke 11:28 “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Christians must receive the word.
Again, James calls his audience “brothers/sisters.” The implication is that knowing and doing the word of God starts with knowing your identity. You are accepted. You are beloved. Every other religion adheres to the philosophy that you must obey to earn acceptance and love. But Christianity claims identity before activity. We are accepted, and therefore we obey. In the gospel, God does not love you any more or any less because of what you do. Grace is received not earned. The difference is a life of doubt, never knowing if you’ve done enough, versus a life of inner peace and confidence, knowing we are forgiven and that fuels our love relationship with joy and service. So, let us not rush too quickly to these actions steps without first appreciating the refreshing grace of God. For these beloved, they are to keep knowing (verb tense) these things.
Yet, James indicates there are hindrances to receiving the word. Jesus told a group of religious people, “I know you are offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (Jn 8:37). Despite these individual’s familiarity with the Scriptures with their head, it was foreign to their heart. So, what causes us to not receive the word?
- Like what causes a plant to not grow: lack of sunlight, water, good soil, and room to grow, etc.
5 hindrances to receiving the word and spiritual growth:
- Closedminded: James challenges us to be “quick to hear.” Our excuse for being closedminded is believing our views are right. While that may be true, are you right about everything? Further, even if our content is right that doesn’t mean our tone is correct. James reminds us that listening is loving and creates space for dialogue.
- Chatterbox: James challenges us to be “slow to speak.” Our excuse is not wanting silence, but sometimes God does great work through whispers or stillness. James, the Proverbs of the NT, warns us repeatedly about many words multiplying sinfulness (cf Prov 10:19; 29:20).
- Condemning: James challenges us to be “slow to anger.” Our excuse is that we are passionate. Yet, our passion can quickly result in impulsiveness and unjust condemnation. God’s anger is holy and measured, so entrust vengeance and justice to Him (Ex 34:6).
- Compromise: James challenges us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” Too often Christians are known for hypocrisy by calling out some sins, especially the sins of others, but then overlooking other sins, especially those we coddle or compromise on our own. Christians call out homosexuality but tolerate sex out of marriage; they call out murder and abortion, but are unwilling to support and provide for single moms and unexpected pregnancies; they call out the immoral acts of others but their silence about their own associates makes them complicit and equally guilty. And the “nobody’s perfect” plea is true but too often used to manipulate personal agendas.
James’s challenge was comprehensive for ALL sin. So, let us not segment our life but surrender it all to Jesus.
- Conceit: James challenges us to “receive the implanted word with meekness.” Pride is perilous. When we think we know it all and have no need to change, then we are in a dangerous place before a holy God who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
These 5 characteristics hinder us from knowing God’s word. And the challenge with these characteristics is that standing alone they are not entirely evil.
- It is not wrong to have an opinion and closedminded about certain things.
- It is not wrong to speak up or converse about life and things that matter.
- It is not wrong to call out the sins of others.
- It is not wrong to have a sharp mind or skillful talents to be proud and used for God’s glory.
What is popular today is to test with personality profiles (Myers Briggs, DISC, Enneagram, Strengths Finder, etc.) While personality profiles can be helpful for identifying strengths and weaknesses, they can also become excuses for disobedience and unrepentance. Every person and personality has a predisposition toward sin, and if we are not careful we can blame God for making us certain ways that rationalizes away His truth and commands.
We are to receive “the word,” emphasized 3x in this passage (vv.21, 22, 23). Other synonyms James uses for God’s word are “perfect law” (1:25) “law of liberty (1:25), “royal law according to Scripture” (2:8), “wisdom that comes down from above” (3:17); and it’s a word that is able to save your soul (1:21).
- Do not treat casual what God has deemed sacred.
- Why do children/youth/adults not bring Bibles to church or studies?
- Why do we not read our group studies in advance but enter discussion cold and unprepared?
- Why do we feed spiritually on Sundays but then fast all week and run on fumes of Bible teaching?
- Why do we not hunger and thirst for the word of God like other nations with little access to Scripture?
- Isaiah 66:2 “this is the one to whom [the LORD] looks: the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
Imagine an analogy:
A loving father cares deeply for his children. He cherishes them with cuddles and affection. He provides for their needs with shelter, food, clothing, and so many luxuries that they have little to want. The father loves the mother, and together they provide a nurturing environment to raise the children.
While the father lavishes love on the children, he doesn’t spoil them. He attempts to teach them hard work, discipline, and perseverance. So, early in the morning before the father goes to work, he sits down to write a note to the children.
“Dear Children, I love you so much. We had a wonderful weekend spending time together as a family. That chocolate ice cream was delicious, and I cannot wait to go get some more next weekend. I hope you have a terrific day in school and with your friends in the afternoon. And I cannot wait to see you when I get home tonight to give you giant hugs and kisses. Just one more thing: Can you remember to take out the trash, put them in the bins and take them down to the end of the driveway? Thanks! XO, Dad.”
When the father drives home and before he pulls the car into the driveway, he notices there are no garbage cans by the curb. He enters the home and the trash cans are overflowing in each room.
The father decides a family meeting is in order. “Children, let’s gather in the living room on the couch together… Did you kids get my letter?” “Yes Dad. Your letter was amazing. The prose was fantastic. The punctuation was perfect. Dad, you’re an excellent writer and we could tell you wrote with amazing love for us. You’re the best dad in the whole world!”
The father asks, “Did you read my request about the taking the trash out of the house and to the curb for pickup?”
The children reply “Oh yes Dad! In fact, your letter was so inspiring that we skipped the whole day of school to study your letter. We’ve never really thought about trash like this. We researched how other communities and countries dispose of their trash. Then that research let to other fields of study about recycling and minimizing our carbon footprint. It really got us thinking about how we could study taking out the trash in a faith-centered way. So, we invited church friends over to help us do a word-study on trash in the OT & NT. Dad – did you know this is a theme in the whole Bible? We found that the Jews in the OT would take their trash outside of the city to a place called Gehenna, and they would set it on fire and burn it. And that is an extraordinary analogy for hell. Then, we read in the NT how removing trash from the city is like removing sin from our life. And Dad, the apostle Paul says in Philippians that all religion is like garbage compared to the gospel. So, that led us to thinking how important taking out the trash was, which led us to making a website and a new ministry to educate others on the theology of trash. We could have small group studies and tell all the neighbors. Wouldn’t it be amazing Dad? And it’s all because of your letter!”
– – – Isn’t this how the church and Christians today treat God’s word? They are pedaling with one foot: know the word, but they are failing to also do the word.
Christians must reflect the word.
James challenges believers to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. It’s not wrong to read & study the word, but if we amass information without application then we become constipated Christians. We must receive and reflect the word. Christianity follows the footsteps of Christ who was a man of Scripture but also a man of service. He went among people to work as a carpenter, talking with people, helping the needy, healing the sick, teaching the curious, rebuking the wayward, loving the lost, even to the point of death.
James uses an illustration for hearers only as those who look in the mirror but then forgets their image. The person who fails to reflect the word and apply spiritual truth is deceived in his heart and has a worthless (μάταιος = having no purpose, ineffective, unreal or false) religion.
False religion is marked by 3 characteristics:
- Intentional forgetfulness. They willfully lack giving attention to their spiritual life and over time it shows. These people seek titles without tasks,
- Unaccountable lifestyle. They lash out with words and actions but seldom give thought to the damage they leave behind.
- Unsympathetic toward underprivileged. They give very little, if at all, of their time, talents, or treasure.
James describes false religion as being self-deceived. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is why participating in a faith community is so vital. James will go on to describe this in the following chapter when he says, “You believe God is one, you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” Satan has the same access to the Scriptures that we do, but his intentional forgetfulness, unaccountable lifestyle believing he’s more important than God, and lack of sympathy toward others will be his eternal damnation. When we lack humility and living in faith community then we are prone toward self-deception, false religion, and a demonic spirit.
James also describes true religion.
- Holy. Religion is pure (clean) and undefiled (without defect).
- Helpful. Bridles the tongue, and cares for orphans & widows – the most vulnerable of society in that day. Orphans and widows who were unprotected were subject to slavery, human trafficking, ungodliness and murder. So, these were who the early Christians were their protectors. Today, we could add others like: mental illness, disabilities, divorced, those from different backgrounds or ethnicities that are subject to contempt or castaway.
There are two practical applications for us:
- Words that build and not burden, that construct and not complain.
Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
à Last week’s application of 2 grateful for ever 1 gripe.
- Works that have tangible help… around the world is fine, but what about in front of you?
à In your home / neighborhood / school / job / church.
Some of you hear this message and you think: “It’s too late.” I’m already defiled and stained by the world. I’ve already exhibited behaviors with my words and works that are hurtful, hateful, and divisive. I cannot undo all the problems and pain.
Religion says – clean your clothes and keep scrubbing the dirt.
Jesus says – wear my clothes. Your clothes my be soiled and stench, but Jesus’s clothes are spotless and absolving.
But you must take off and then put on new, and then you cannot stay in the dressing room. Jesus calls us to walk with Him in faith, hope, and love.
 James 1:2, 9, 19; 2:1, 5, 14, 15; 3:1, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19
 Illustration adapted from Mark Driscoll sermon on James 1:19-27.