A re post of this series from my Blog Truth in Palmyra
Here, we are going to summarize our previous discussions which took us through the end of James Chapter 1. Here James makes his case that true faith will produce some action, or works on our part.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.1 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Doers Not Just Hearers
James lays out two essentials here, really. Even thought James appears to be speaking to believers here, he issues a reminder of what the first essential thing is; we must all be born again.
We are begat,or caused to be born, by the Word of God. It is the Word of God which convicts us as sinners and reveals to us the Savior, Jesus Christ. We are saved by faith, and faith comes from hearing the Word of God(Romans 10:17)
James is far from done here, however; he has really just begun. James was not writing a deep theological dissertation about salvation; ever practical, he just states the necessity of salvation as a fact.
Here is essential two; not only do we have to receive the Word, but we have to be doers of The Word. Being born again means The Word will not only save us; it will change us. We must not just be hearers of The Word, but doers of The Word.
If we hear The Word and no action results, James tells us we, in fact, may be deceiving ourselves.
Looking In the Mirror
Why do we look in a mirror? Usually to check and see if we look okay, to see if all is in order with the way that we look. Don’t we also do more than just look? If we look into that mirror and find things which are wrong, we normally take action to repair them, correct?
If a person looked into a mirror and saw that they were just totally messed up and just said, “okay, cool” and walked away then what was the point of even looking in the first place?
God’s Word is like that. When we read it, it becomes our mirror to show us if we are in order or if we are in disarray. It provides us with a reflection of our conduct and if our conduct is what God would like to see in our lives. We learn this clearly in Galatians 3:24. The Law never saves us; it just teaches us where we are failing. The Law is our mirror.
If all we do is look in a mirror, see what is wrong and walk away what have we gained? All we have gained is knowledge. “Well, I know my hair is a mess..great!” That’s absurd, really. We would never do that.
Why then, would we do that in response to God’s word? That is the lesson James is teaching us here. Just like looking in a real mirror, looking the the mirror of God’s Word should cause us to change. We should walk away from it prepared to do something, not just see that something is wrong.
He Who Looks In the Mirror and Changes
We just finished talking about the man who looks into the mirror, the mirror of God’s Word, and does nothing to fix what he sees. This is the man who either just glances at the mirror, or the one who spends time gazing intently into it; in both cases this man just wanders away without any action being taken. That man is merely a hearer but not a doer of God’s Word, deceiving himself.
There is, however, another kind of man. This is the man who looks in the mirror, sees what needs attention, and does the things the mirror tells him need to be done.
The phrase “perfect law of liberty” is an interesting one. Why does James use this phrase? One writer suggests that, because when we obey it, God sets us free. We can be set free by God’s law, or slaves of Satan’s sin. Psalm 119:45 teaches us, “And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.” On the other hand John 8:34 says the opposite, “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”
The key here is that, although reading God’s Word is very important and somewhat of a blessing in and of itself, the real blessing comes from the doing of God’s Word, not simply the reading or hearing. Literally translated, the phrase from our passage actually reads, “this man shall be blessed in his doing.”
Do we even bother to look into the mirror of God’s Word? If we look, do we just glance, or do we actually take the time to see our flaws and imperfections? If we see them, do we just accept them or do we make an effort to fix, repair, and prevent them from happening again? Do we want the blessing in our doings? Then we have to be…doing.
What Is Pure Religion?
James is about to dive full force into the practical application of Christian faith in the life of the believer, and he begins his dissertation on this subject with this passage. Here, we begin to enter some territory which has been considered controversial off and on in theological disputes.
Any true believer knows that man is saved solely by the grace of God, and not by any works we have done or can do. Ephesians 2:8,9 teaches that clearly of course. But here we have James, a most Jewish of Jews and steeped lifelong in the Law of Moses, writing a letter almost totally devoted to works in the life of the believer. Some have mistakenly assumed, for instance, that James and Paul conflict in their teachings, with James teaching works, and Paul teaching grace. Of course, this is not true as we will examine later and repeatedly.
James’s reference to “religion” adds to the confusion is some ways. Religion defined simply means, “the outward practice, the service of a God.” In some other uses of the original word in the New Testament, it was translated, “worshiping.” The important thing here is to note that true, or pure, religion has nothing to do with rites, sacraments, rituals or holy days; it means practicing God’s Word through our speech, service and separation from the world.
So, as we progress through the remainder of the Book of James, understand that James is in no way saying that the things we do will ever save us, but rather that the the things we do should be a natural result of the fact that we are saved.
Three Things To Do
Well, here we go. James is about to jump full force into the remainder of his epistle, and give us just tons of good, practical ways to display the evidence of true, saving Christian faith. These three instructions, as we will see, are not all the things James want to teach us; they do provide a good starting point, however.
We must control our speech. James talks quite a bit later about controlling our tongues. According to one writer, we spend up to one fifth of our lives talking; it is easy to see the influence our speech can have on our lives and the lives of the people around us. What we say is a reflection of what is truly in our hearts. We can learn this clearly in Matthew 12:34,37 , “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”; “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
We must serve. The reference to visiting widow and orphans here has much more meaning that just popping in on these folks to see how they are doing. The greek word used apparently is from the same root where we get our term “overseer,” or “bishop.” This direction carries the strong idea of caring for others and helping then in any way which might be needed. It is more active and continuous than just dropping in to say hello.
Finally, we must separate ourselves from the world. Not remove ourselves, separate our selves. We are still commanded to go forth in the world and evangelize it, just not to become tainted or stained by it. John 16:11-16 teaches us the idea of the disciples being in the world but not of the world.
Let’s move on now. In the next few chapters, James is going to get quite situational and specific in his guidance to us on proper Christian living.