Let’s open our Bibles now for a time of study in God’s precious Word, James chapter 1 – James chapter 1. And this is the third message in our series, “Belief that Behaves” – belief that behaves. We’re looking at James 1:22 through 27. Let me read the text for you in order that you might have it well in mind. James 1:22, “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 a man beholding the face of his birth in a mirror. For he beholds himself and goes his way and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But whoever looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues, 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 bridles not his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is useless. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Now let me remind you that Scripture repeatedly – and I am finding more repetition of this the longer I study the Bible. Scripture repeatedly points to those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. I literally am amazed at this. In fact sometimes I sort of have to do a little inventory and say to myself, “Haven’t I preached on this before, like maybe a hundred times before or more?” This seems like such familiar turf. But over and over and over again, Scripture deals with the fact that not only are there saved people and lost people, but there are lost people who think they are saved people. That is of tremendous concern to God. That kind of deception is eternally fatal. And so over and over again, Old Testament and New Testament, the cry of the Spirit of God is that one should not be deceived about the reality of faith.
Scripture presents very many painful examples of this and I won’t belabor the point by going over all of them or anywhere near all of them, but just to suggest a couple that are representative. I’m sure you remember in our lengthy and diligent study in the gospel of Matthew that we came across a very interesting parable in the twenty-fifth chapter. You don’t need to look it up. It was a parable in which we learned about wise virgins and foolish virgins. You remember?
The foolish virgins maintained a form of religion. They are typical of a religiously deceived person. They had a form of religion. They had their religious ceremony that is they possessed their lamps. Remember the virgins had their lamps. That was emblematic of their religious ceremonies. They were into a profession of piety. They had on their religious robes. They had maintained their “religious virginity.” They were set apart unto religion. They had their ceremonies in place, represented by their lamps. They even accompanied the wise virgins which means they associated with those who were genuinely the children of God. They frequented the worship. They went through the ordinances. They performed all the duties. And then the cry was heard, “Behold, the bridegroom comes.” And all of a sudden they came to the realization that they could not enter the bridal chamber because they had no – what? – no oil in their lamps. In other words, everything was on the outside and there was nothing representative of true life. And they were shut out and they were shut out forever. Religious with all the trappings, performing all the duties, doing all the functions, hanging around the right people and still missing the kingdom.
Another illustration that we found a little earlier in Matthew is in Matthew chapter 23 and there we met the hypocritical Pharisees. The Pharisees were into religion like few people who have ever lived – deep into religion. And Jesus says to them in Matthew chapter 23, “You have cleaned the outside of the cup and the plate but inside is filth. You have painted the tomb white but inside is the stench of death.” And again we are reminded that God wants no vain oblation, to put it in Old Testament language. God wants no people who bring an offering with an impure untrue heart. But many people literally fill the dominion of Satan in hell eternally, who will be there under their own self-deception, and probably spend eternity trying to figure out how it ever turned out the way it did.
I have to be concerned about this, Jesus was concerned about it enough to speak of it over and over again. The New Testament is concerned about it so much that some books in the New Testament are totally devoted to that very thing, namely 1 John and James. Both those significant epistles deal with tests for true saving faith. And James, we have been very carefully noting, that James is not content to allow such self-deception. So James from, beginning to end of his epistle, gives a series of tests for true faith, so that the scattered Jews to whom he writes may know well the legitimacy or the illegitimacy of their supposed religion. The heart of all this, the most important test of all is the test that he lays out right here. The essence of true faith is bound up in the way a person behaves. True faith is made manifest in works. True belief is made manifest in behavior.
Now we saw already that genuine faith can be tested by trials. Remember that in chapter 1? It can be tested by temptations. We saw that also in chapter 1. And now it can be tested by our response to the Word of God. How a person reacts to the Word of God is an evidence of saving faith. I’ve had people on many occasions say to me they are Christians. And when I begin to probe about their lifestyle and find out there is some gross evil in their life – they’re committed to living a certain ungodly way – and confront them with the fact that they are not saved or there would be a great change in their behavior, they can get very irate about that, very angry about that, and fight to maintain the validity of a salvation that has no real manifestation.
Listen, people would love to have a salvation that didn’t cause you to have to change your lifestyle. That’s the rub. You run around evangelizing people simply on the basis that they can take Jesus and go to heaven when they die, you get a lot of takers. But when you bring to them the responsibility to live in subservient obedience to the lordship of Christ, you’re going to get a lot of people who run, because they want to master their own destiny, they think. But then there are those people who think they have done it right and think they know God and do not. James’ point here is that obedience to the Word of God is the basic mark of regenerate life. If regeneration changes anything, it changes your will. You have new desires. Not perfection. You’re not going to be perfect, and you’re going to sin. But instead of sin being what you pursue, sin is what you hate. It’s a question of will. So James is telling us in chapter 1, really verses 19 down through 27, that a person’s response to the Word of God is the third test of living faith: Trials, temptations, and then response to the Word of God. And his point is that regeneration changes a person’s will and changes a person’s nature. You’re born again, new desires, new patterns, an act which is a divine miracle, an act of regeneration which is so powerful could never be hidden.
When you were born into this world you were born a sinner. Right? Could you hide it? No. Is it manifest? Yes. Is it visible? Yes. How? Through sinful desires and sinful deeds. Then if you have been born again and the life of God is in the soul of man, can it be hidden? No. Will it be manifest? Yes. How? Through desires and deeds, the changed life lived with a desire to obey the Word of God.
Let me remind you of Romans chapter 7, we’ve studied it in the past, go there for just a moment and let me see if I can’t profile very briefly what happens to a person who becomes regenerate or born again or recreated in Christ Jesus. Paul examining the dynamics of his own humanness as over against the new nature in verse 15 says, “What I do I don’t understand.” I can’t understand myself. “For what I would” – that is what I desire – “I do not. What I hate, I do.” Now he’s telling us something very important here. When I sin it’s not what I want to do and when I do it I what? I hate it. I hate it. You see, that’s the indication of regeneration. That’s the indication of a transformed life. He says, in verse 17, “It’s sin that dwells in me,” and verse 18 he says it dwells in my flesh. But notice verse 18, “To will, to will is present with me.” What do you mean by that? To will to do right, to will to do the law of God, to will to do the purpose of God. That’s in my heart. That’s my desire. I want to do God’s will.
Now what Paul is saying in Romans 7 is that my will is different. Then verse 19 he says the same thing, “The good that I will I don’t do. The evil which I will not” – or don’t want to do – “I do.” And that’s the battle. But I wanted you to note there that the desire is changed – the desire is changed. The behavior is changed also, because verse 4 of chapter 8 says, “The righteousness of the law will be fulfilled in us who now walk no longer after the flesh but after the Spirit.” Chapter 7 says, “I have a new will and a new desire.” Chapter 8 says, “I have a new behavior.” Regeneration must be made manifest. It cannot be that such a profound miracle can be hidden. The new life will show itself.
First John chapter 2 verses 3 and 4 put it this way, “By this we do know that we know Him.” How? How do you know you’re a Christian? “If we keep His commandments. And he that says I know Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him. But whoever keeps His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected and by this we know we are in Him. In fact, he that says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.” So how you behave is the proof of what you really believe and whether or not you’ve been regenerate.
Now let’s go back to our text in James and see that thought in the light of this passage. The key phrase is in verse 22, “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only” – because if you’re hearers only you’re what? You’re self-deceived – “you’re deceiving your own self.” So response to the Word is the gauge of the reality of salvation. Now in verses 19 to 21, just reviewing briefly, verses 19 to 21, James outlines for us the proper reception of the Word – the proper reception of the Word. And he suggested three things: We are to receive the Word with submission, verse 19; we are to be swift to hear the Word, slow to speak the Word, because we understand its tremendous importance, and we wouldn’t want to rush into such a sacred duty; thirdly, we are slow to wrath. That means we are slow to react in anger or rebellion against the Word. That’s what it’s talking about in this context. So we are willing to receive the Word with submission. That’s a mark of a true believer. There’s openness to the Word of God. In fact, more than openness, there’s eagerness.
That’s why you’re here. I look out on Sunday nights at a filled church and I bless God, because I realize there are people who are swift to hear the Word of God. They’re eager to hear the Word of God. And when it confronts them, they don’t angrily push it away, but they receive it with conviction, repentance, and a right response. The wrath of man of course does not produce the righteousness of God, so we do not want to be angry when God calls us to change our lives through His Word. So there’s a willingness to receive the Word with submission. Secondly, a willingness to receive the Word with purity. Verse 21 says, “Put away filthiness and the abundance of wickedness.” There’s a purging of life. There’s a willingness to put sin out and bring the Word in. Thirdly, a proper reception of the Word involves the willingness to receive the Word with humility. With meekness we receive the implanted Word which is so powerful that it can save. So with a heart of submission, a heart of purity and a heart of humility the true believer receives the Word of God.
Now we come to the second of James’ points, it is this. Not only a proper reception but a proper reaction. You receive it and how do you react? That’s verses 22 to 27, the text we’re looking at now. Now receiving and doing the Word, and that’s the proper reaction, has three elements. Do you remember last time what we said? The first element is to apply the Word without deception – to apply the Word without deception. Now notice again verse 22, “Be doers of the Word not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” If all you do is hear it and it never changes your life, you’re self-deceived. And it gives an analogy of that. If a man is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, this is what he’s like. “He’s like a person who beholds the face of his genesis” – or the face of his birth or his natural face – “in a mirror.” He goes to the mirror, looks at himself. He sees himself and he knows something’s wrong he needs to fix, but he goes away and immediately forgets what was wrong. Not doing anything about it, he goes away and forgets it.
There are people who come, hear the Word, walk away, no change, absolutely none. That’s a forgetful hearer. That’s a hearer only. That’s not a doer. That’s the mark of someone who may be religious but is not saved. But the one who looks, who bends over – remember the verb – and looks deeply into the perfect law of freedom, which is another term for the Word of God, and stays there, stays there until he has made the corrections that he sees need to be made, that man is not a forgetful doer – hearer. He is a doer and this man will be blessed in the doing, “blessed in his deed.” So there’s the analogy. The hearer only comes, hears the Word, walks away, forgets, no change. The true believer comes, hears the Word, the life is changed before he ever leaves.
I was happy this morning as I was greeting a lady in the line and she had come to visit us from another state. And she said to me, “Oh,” she said, “Pastor, I so appreciated the message this morning.” And she said, “I saw what I must do in my life, and you were talking about the fact that we needed to use our gift for the Lord, and,” she said, “right there I determined that when I went back to my home church I was going to begin to use the gifts that the Spirit of God had given me in service to Christ.” And I said, “Well, bless you.” I said, “That’s the response that encourages a preacher’s heart and encourages the heart of God as well.” Looking into the Word, seeing the need, acting on the need. That’s the doer, rather than the hearer only.
And really, folks, there’s reason to believe that there are great numbers of professing Christians – I’m telling you great numbers of them – who attend church – even this one. We heard about one who was here for ten years tonight – who listen to the Word proclaimed and even discuss the truth of God with family and friends and may even think that all of that religious activity, because it centers around the truth, is sufficient. But their heart is destitute of the saving grace of God. And the bottom line is how you behave. Are you a doer of it or just a hearer? True believers look deeply into the Word and they linger there.
John Bunyan, when he wrote of the wonderful glass which the shepherds of the Delectable mountains showed to Christiana and Mercy, wrote this, and he pictured them looking into the glass, “Now the glass was one of a thousand. It would present a man one way and with his own features exactly and turn it but another way and it would show one the very face and similitude of the Prince of Pilgrims himself. Yea, I have talked with those that can tell and have said that they have seen the very crown of thorns upon His head by looking into this glass. They have therein also seen the holes in His hands and His feet and on His side.” So said Bunyan.
What he was saying is if you look into the Word of God you’ll see two things. One, you’ll see your own sin and two; you’ll see your Savior. The man who continues looking into the mirror of God’s Word sees in it things far more wonderful than his own face. Yes, he sees his own face, and he sees the sin on his own face. He sees his own filthy garments. He sees the spots and the stains on his life, but the longer he looks the clearer comes out of the glass the face of Jesus Christ, the thorn-crowned brow, the Christ on the cross, the Savior whose blood cleanses him from all that sin. And such a person who sees and then responds to Christ and then lives out the Word is blessed in the doing. Joshua 1:8, the Scripture says, “The book of the law shall not depart from your mouth. You shall meditate on it day and night and observe to do all that is written therein. And then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” The doer puts the Word into living. Enjoying the Word then is more than a momentary experience; it is the application of truth to a life time – to a life time. And any other reaction to the Word but doing it is self-deception – self-deception. And so many people are self-deceived.
Now James moves away from that analogy, and we go with him then to verse 26 as he moves away. There are those people who might think that just the doing of religious duty itself was enough. So they say I’m into doing, boy, I’m really into doing. I’m going to do this religious thing and that religious thing, and James kind of takes this a step further here. Some people are saying, “Well, boy, I’m not a hearer only, I’m a doer. I’m into religious activity. Boy, I’m really aggressive. I’m after it. I’m in all the rituals, all the ceremonies – biblical they are and evangelical they are and I do them all. I go to church. I have my Bible. I read it. I do my prayers,” et cetera, et cetera, whatever it might be.
And so he says, let me take it a step further. There’s more than just an external doer, look at verse 26, “If any man among you” – let me translate the word seem with a way that you can understand it – “has the opinion that he is religious” – that’s what it means. The idea is ‘has the personal opinion.’ It is a subjective mental opinion that is implied by the word seem. It could be translated ‘has the opinion of himself that he’s religious’ or ‘thinks himself to be religious’ – “and does not bridle his” – what? – “tongue, but deceives his own heart, the man’s religion is useless.”
Now first James said you’re not really saved unless you’re doing the Word, and then he says if you’re doing it but you haven’t bridled your tongue, that religion is useless. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Even though the ritual might be evangelical, even though the ceremony might be biblical, it’s as futile as pagan idolatry unless the heart is right. See. So it’s the doing but the doing with a right heart. It’s a deception to think that if you read the Bible, go to church, pray, give money, sing songs, that’s enough. You want to know if your doing is right, he says, check your tongue. If any man thinks himself to be religious and doesn’t bridle his tongue, the whole thing is deceptive and useless. And we say, why does he pick the tongue out? We know that. That’s not the sum of all Christian behavior, but that’s the indicator of your heart. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. In other words, your lips will reveal your heart.
Let’s look at that phrase, then, “If any man thinks himself to be religious.” There are people who are like this. Suppose then there are those people who in their own opinion they’re very religious. They’re not conscious hypocrites. They’re not, in their own minds, phonies. They’re very self-deceived. I mean, they’re out there doing their religious thing. They’re going to church, going through the motions, doing all the actions. Perhaps people are even reinforcing to them that they’re genuinely Christians. Well, they got their theology right. They’re in the right spot where they ought to be on Sundays. And people are probably just enforcing the reality of their Christianity, and they may well be deceived. They have the mistaken notion in their own opinions that they are religious.
That word is thrēskos. Very interesting word. It is an adjective. It is only used here. The noun form is used also here in verses 26 and 27 and a couple of other places as well. Let me tell you what that word religious means. In its adjective form it has to do with ceremonial public worship. It is so used, for example, by Josephus when he writes about the worship of the temple. It has to do with the outward ceremony. Paul uses it in Acts 26:5 in the noun form of the ceremonial worship of a Pharisee. So the word religious here has the idea of external trappings, religious ceremonies, rituals, routines, liturgy, rites, external forms. It is a word that could better be understood if you understand that it’s different than the word eusebeia. Eusebeia means godliness, and that’s talking about the heart. Thrēskos means religion and that’s talking about the external form, the bodily activities, outward religious rites. So if somebody thinks himself to be religious in the sense that he’s carrying out all these outward formalities of religion while bridling not his tongue – that’s a participle modifying the main verb. He thinks himself to be religious, at the same time he can’t bridle his tongue. He’s deceived. You see this? Listen carefully. Outward religion without manifest inner control reveals that the religion is useless. Professing religion and having a tongue out of control is a great deception.
He says in verse 26, “If you can’t bridle your tongue, you deceive your own heart.” That again is a participle and it would be better to translate it if I can give it to you this way, “If a man thinks himself to be religious while bridling not his tongue but deceiving his own heart.” In other words, he’s not able to bridle his tongue and he’s carrying on a deceit in his own heart. This man’s religion is absolutely useless. Corrupt unholy speech betrays a corrupt unholy heart. We saw that in Matthew 12. Didn’t we? Out of a bitter fountain comes bitter water; off of a bad tree comes bad fruit.
You can tell about a person by what they say if you listen long enough. Oh, you might not hear it the first time. You might hear a whole lot of religious falderal, but it will come out. Did you realize that on an average day you speak – are you ready for this? – 18,000 words? Some of you are raising the average and I’m probably one who is adding. Do you realize that every day your speech would make a 54-page book? And believe me, I wouldn’t want to read each of those books. In fact, here’s a frightening thought, one fifth of your entire life you will spend talking. “And if any man,” James says chapter 3, “offends not with his mouth, the same is a perfect man.”
What James is talking about is that unbridled tongue that evidently is completely out of control. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 12:37 by your words you’ll be justified and by your words you’ll be condemned, because your words reveal your heart. So here’s a person who is liturgically, outwardly religious but whose tongue reveals an unholy heart. And he says this man’s religion is useless. If the tongue is not controlled, the heart is not transformed no matter how many prayers, how much knowledge, how many church endeavors he engages in, it doesn’t matter. It’s futile. The word vain is futile; it’s useless.
Isn’t that amazing? People can spend their life in a religion that is absolutely useless – useless, futile. The word mataios means accomplishing nothing. Religion that doesn’t transform the heart accomplishes absolutely nothing, nothing at all. So the first thing James wants us to know is that a proper reaction to the Word is to receive the word and apply the Word without deception. Put the Word to work in your life. See the reality of your faith and do not be deceived. And you can see it by whether or not you’re controlled by the power of that regenerate life. It’s a restrainer. It’s a controller of the heart.
A second thing that James says, and this is very, very important, a proper reaction to the Word not only means we apply it without deception, genuinely, not just outwardly but from the heart, but secondly, a proper reception of the Word means a willingness to apply it without selfishness – without selfishness. Look what he says in verse 27, “Pure religion” – that’s clean, the real thing – “and unstained before God and the Father is this, to visit the orphans and widows in their thlipsis” – their trouble, their trials, their tribulations. Did you get that? True religion, to sum it up in a single word, true religion is demonstrating what? What is it? Love, compassion. It’s love. That’s it. Pure is the word clean. Undefiled is the word unstained. They’re synonyms just to point out that this is the purest kind of worship, the purest kind of religion. It isn’t what you do on the outside; it’s what comes out of your heart.
Didn’t Jesus say in John 13, “By this shall all men know that you’re my disciples that you have” – what? – “love one for another”? Furthermore look what he says. Pure religion and undefiled before – whom? – God and the Father. That is in God’s evaluation. Pure religion by God’s standard, as He evaluates. When judged by the divine measuring rod, is judged on the basis – not on the basis of outward activity but on the basis of inward love. You see, the genuineness of anybody’s religion is not determined by their own opinion; it’s determined by the opinion of God. A man may think himself to be religious, but he is not the one who makes that decision. God says you are genuinely religious in the true sense of the Word when your life is marked by obedience and your life is marked by love.
The word to visit, wonderful word, it means more than just to go by and say, “Hi.” It has an aura of care built into it. It carries the idea of bringing love and bringing pity to someone. It’s used in the concepts of Matthew chapter 25, I think about verse 36 or so. You remember where He talks about the sheep and the goats? “Naked you clothed Me. I was sick and you visited.” It doesn’t just mean you came by and waved. It means you came, you nurtured, you cared, you loved, you provided whatever it was. And He repeats the same word again in verse 43. So it’s the idea of reaching out in loving caring service to someone, and we’re back to a very, very common New Testament truth.
In fact, James sounds so much like 1 John, sometimes I get confused because I think I’m in 1 John. That’s exactly what John says, I mean to the very letter that’s what John says. First John 2:10, “He that loves his brother abides in the light.” Verse 11, “He that hates his brother is in darkness, walks in darkness, knows not where he goes cause darkness has blinded his eyes.” In other words, the mark of a true believer is love for someone else. Chapter 3, the same thing verse 10, “The children of God are manifest in this way, whoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother. This is a message you heard from the beginning, we should love on another. Not like Cain who was of the wicked one and killed his brother. And why killed he him? Because his own works were evil and his brothers were righteous.” Jealousy. “Marvel not my brethren if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death. Who so hates his brother is a murderer, and you know no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We perceive the love of God because He lay down His life for us. We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren ... My little children,” he says, “let us love not in words nor in tongue but in” – what? – “in deed and truth.”
Point number one, obedience to the Word. Point number two, love of others. And he picks out orphans and widows. Orphans and widows are a segment of the population within the church that demonstrate the need for compassion. As the tongue is not comprehensively indicative of Christianity, so widows and orphans are not comprehensively indicative of Christianity, but they are representative of the issue of love as the tongue is representative of the issue of a pure heart. God has always been concerned with the fatherless and widows. Exodus 22:22 says you shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. Deuteronomy 14:28 and 29, every third year demanded a special tithe to be collected from every Jew to care for the orphans and the widows. Deuteronomy 24:17 to 22 had a profit sharing plan for orphans and widows to be cared for in the harvesting of all the fields. Deuteronomy 27:19, God demanded justice for the widow and justice for the orphan. Why? Because Psalm 68:5 – write that down somewhere – Psalm 68:5 says, “God is a Father of the fatherless and the judge of the widows.” God has a special heart for people who have great need and widows and orphans fall into that category.
Jeremiah 7:6, “If you oppress not the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in his place, neither walk after other gods to your harm, then I will cause you to dwell in this place in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” In other words, if your care of widows and orphans is right, I’ll bless you. In Acts chapter 6, the very first thing the early church got in to in an organizational way was getting food to the widows. And in 1 Timothy chapter 5 Paul writes to the church, he says, “Honor widows that are really widows.” That means take care of them financially. And then he goes on with a lengthy discussion over the care of widows.
Now beloved, just understand this, will you? True Christianity is manifest from a pure heart by the way we talk and of course the way we act. But he uses the speech as the emblem of that. True Christianity is also made manifest by how we love people who are in need, not how we love people we like. Understand the difference? It’s a question of biblical love which goes way beyond the people you are necessarily attracted to because you have some personality and traits in common or because you have some common interest.
First John 4, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knoweth God. And he that loveth not knoweth not God. For God is love.” Love should characterize our lives. Love should be the manifestation of our salvation. And when we see people who are lonely – thlipsis, trouble, could imply loneliness, exploitation, people who are in great need. If the heart doesn’t reach out to those people in love and affection and a desire to serve, even though the resources may be limited, then that’s an indication that there’s no regenerate life there. See the unbeliever is monumentally committed to his own self-glory and self-indulgence. The redeemed heart reaches out to others.
What is the proper reception of the Word? Well, the proper reception is to bring the Word in with an eagerness and submit to it, to bring it in with purity after the heart has been cleansed, to bring it in with humility. And what is the proper reaction to that reception? To live out the Word without deception, to live out the Word without selfishness. That’s the mark of a true believer.
Thirdly and finally, a proper reaction to the Word also involves a willingness to apply the Word without compromise – without compromise. And so at the end of verse 27 he says also, “Pure religion and undefiled” – means to keep oneself unspotted from the world. He’s talking about the world, kosmos, and that means the system, that means the culture, the lifestyle around us, the stuff of the world, its philosophy, its morality, its ethics or lack of them. “To keep yourself” is a present tense continuously – verb meaning continuously. It is to continually keep yourself unspotted, just means unblemished. That means unstained by the filth of the world, by the evil of the world. It’s a very simple statement. We really don’t need to say much about it. It should be very apparent. We who belong to God will be marked characteristically by a holiness that’s like the Lord’s, because the same unspotted word is used of Christ in 1 Peter 1:19, “He was without blemish and without spot.” Same basic terminology. We are to be unblemished.
You heard one of the testimonies tonight of 1 John 2 and the significance of that in the life of the young man. He said that he had learned that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world and it passes away with the world. And we’re not to be engulfed in that. John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” James 4:4 says what? “You adulterers, you adulteresses” – you know what he means by that? You have a husband but you’ve left. You have a wife but you’ve left, and you’re out there having sexual relationships spiritually with the world. And anybody who is a friend of the world is the enemy of God. The two are incompatible. You love the world; you don’t love the Father. You’re a friend of the world; you’re an enemy of God. There’s no place for compromise.
So you look at a person’s life. Do they love the world? Do they live for the world? Do they indulge in the world? And I can tell you, there is good reason to believe they may not be a believer. What do you mean by the world? Do you mean do they drive on the freeway? No. Do you mean do they stay in a hotel? Do they go to a restaurant? What do you mean they buy their clothes at a department store? What do you mean the world? I mean do they buy into the world’s philosophy? Do they buy into its cultures so that it impacts their life and governs their behavior? James is saying, no. No, pure religion belongs to people who show an inner control manifest in their speech, who show a love for people in need, and who stay away from being stained by the culture, buying in to its Satanic philosophy. That’s how a Christian lives.
Now let me quickly say, as we wrap this up. You say, boy, I look at my life and I’m saying well I don’t know. I mean, sometimes my mouth says things that it shouldn’t say. And sometimes I know there are people around me with great need and I don’t demonstrate loving compassion. And sometimes I know I get hooked by the world’s philosophy. And my answer to that is when you discover that that has happened, what is your reaction? If your reaction is, “I want more of this,” then that is a wavelength that indicates an unregenerate heart. If your reaction is, “I hate that in me,” then that’s a reaction of a redeemed heart. You see?
You see, it’s not our perfection that proves our salvation; it’s the reaction to our imperfection. And just look at the normal pattern of life. Is the normal pattern of your life as you look at your own heart a tongue that speaks good things, pure things, upright things, honorable things, honest things, clean things? But every once in while the flesh comes through, too. But is the pattern of your life that which is right and do you desire with your tongue to honor God? That rises out of a transformed heart. And what about people in need. Do you have a desire to meet that need? Does it burden your heart that there are folks that are deprived? There are folks who don’t have needs? Does that burden your heart to the point where when you find out about that you rush to meet those needs? There are times when you don’t, but when you don’t do you feel guilty about that? That’s the indication of a transformed life. And do you want not to conform to the world more than anything else? And every time you get close and you realize you’re conforming, do you want to run from that? That’s the mark of a transformed life.
So the doer of the Word then is proven in three areas. Three areas: Self, relation to self; relation to others; relation to the world. You do a little inventory like this. You look at yourself. How do I know I’m a Christian? Well, I’m going to do a self-inventory, and the way I can check myself is by checking my – what? – my tongue. Maybe if you’re questioning your salvation, what you ought to do at the end of a day, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow night, in a few days, is run back over your 18,000 words. And if you can remember it, read your 54-page book that you wrote that day, and find out whether the fountain was sweet or the fountain was bitter, the tree was good or the tree was corrupt. So that’s from the viewpoint of self. A doer of the Word has self-expressing the reality of his religion through his tongue.
Secondly, we can see the reality of our religion in relation to others through our love. And so we do a little inventory, and we say, is the desire of my heart to meet the needs of others? Do I receive great joy out of that? Or do I give to other people simply to pacify my conscience a little bit or to make people think I’m generous? Or is it because I really care? What’s my attitudes toward others. And finally, the world. What’s my attitude toward the world? Do I want to win the world or be like the world? Do I want to be unspotted from the world? Do I want to get as much of the world as I can possibly get? That’s how you do the inventory.
And so, pure religion, James says, is very different from that which is only external and elaborate and mere talk without reality. James says pure religion is a matter of holy obedience – I love that phrase – holy obedience. And it’s measured by one thing. It’s measured before God and the Father. God, speaking of His sovereignty; Father, speaking of His loving relationship to us. Our God, the sovereign God, and our loving Father is the one who sets the standard. And where there is habitual holy obedience – I’m not talking again about sinless perfection. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “There is not a just man on the earth that doesn’t sin.” But I am saying what John said, “Whosoever is born of God does not continue habitually to commit sin. For His seed remains in him and he can’t sin.”
So, you look at your life. Is it a pattern of holy obedience? If so, I’m a doer of the Word. It’s not on the outside only; it’s on the inside as well. And so James says test your faith. How do you react in trials? How do you react in temptation? And how do you respond to the Word? True faith is a belief that behaves. He has much more to say about this as we go through the rest of the epistle as we shall see in the days ahead. Let’s pray together.
Father, we know that a holy obedience to You begins with love to God, advances with hatred of sin, is encouraged by faith in Jesus Christ, is accompanied by a self-denying humility. It is nurtured by prayer. It’s purified by detachment from the world and is matured by a life and maybe even a death devoted to you. Lord, may we know that the religion of Jesus Christ is not a system of empty speculations designed to have no practical influence. But may we know that true religion, true salvation is reflected in loving, willing, holy obedience to Your Word – pure speech, loving care, and separation from the world’s unholiness. And if these are the desires of the heart, then the heart is a new heart, because those are not the desires of the old heart. And may each of us, Lord, do that self-examination. As Paul said, examine yourselves whether you be in the faith that there might be no doubt. That we might not only enjoy the reality of our salvation but that we might give You for the glory for it, knowing, Lord, that doubt not only takes our joy but takes our ability to praise and give You glory.
For those, Lord, who doing such inventory come up short, and who sense that the habitual pattern of their speech is not honoring to Thee, that there is an absence of loving compassion in the heart toward those in need and that there is a desire for the world, Lord, if such is revealed tonight, I pray that Your Spirit and sovereign power would bring the gospel of Christ to bear on that heart and bring the knowledge of the Savior. That such a one might come to true salvation, true regeneration and be made knew even this hour.
For the rest of us, if in doing the inventory we recognize the reality of our salvation, then may we praise You as if we had never seen it before. With the freshness of a newborn soul may we offer our gratitude for the true salvation which has come to us for nothing we have done and by no merit of our own but simply of grace sovereignly given and may we offer our praise.
With your head bowed for just a closing moment – the message, of course, is simple, direct, clear from the Word of God, but only God knows your heart and how it is received. I know most of you received this as it ought to be received with thanksgiving because things are right between you and God. I thank God for so many in our church, thousands of people who love the Lord Jesus Christ, whose speech reveals it, whose attitude toward those in need reveals it, whose attitude toward the world reveals it. But I also know that there may be some who in such an inventory come up short. Don’t guess. If there’s any doubt, open your heart to Christ, invite Him to be Lord, forgive your sin, give you the new birth, a new heart, a new spirit, create you anew for His glory and the usefulness that He has designed. I trust that you’ll pray that prayer if that’s the need of your life.
Thank You, Father, for this wonderful day. We love You and we bless Your name. We pray that You will cause us to be hearers of the world who hear and do, who looking into the mirror see what needs to be revealed and who look long until things are right and who continue in obedience, manifesting genuine saving faith, knowing the blessing of that faith and giving You the praise which is due Your holy name. Thank You for this wonderful day. We pray especially for the week to come, make it a glorious week in the lives of all who are here for the Savior’s sake. Amen.
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