James 1:19-27 (Section 2)
1:19-1:27 – Religion that Makes No Behavioural Difference is WORTHLESS
We’ve said this around here literally for years as well. “A difference that makes no difference is not an actual difference,” is usually how we phrase it. James’ topic here is what real religion is about, and he even takes the time to define it. We tend to use “religion” like a bad word at BereanNation.com, and maybe we should be more careful. Religion, a system of rules that govern moral behaviour, is not always a bad thing. We actually have religious practices. Generosity, self-control, sober thought, following the law (as long as it follows God’s law), and even the paying of one’s taxes is a form for the believer of religious expression, founded on the belief that God put political rulers in place for the betterment, the protection, and the preservation of humanity.
In this part of his letter, James contrasts by way of imperative, and tells people that it isn’t enough just to hear what the Lord wants us to do and give mental assent to its rightness and correctness. Instead, we must allow our faith in God to move us to action with respect to those “laws” or “rules” and specific action that furthers the kingdom of God and its coming on earth. We will talk a great deal more about this, but some very interesting things come out of this, like the setting free of a slave, and this image is here and used by James.
The entire point of this section is that you cannot simply say that you believe that Jesus is God and that you believe He died for your sins personally, even though that is accurate and true. You MUST live like it matters–or for you it doesn’t matter, and your behaviour is what displays that, as per the previous section of text.
I broke the text down as follows:
KV26: Walking by faith over feelings requires self-control
19-20: The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God
21-25: Faith should drive you to action, not simple assent to ideals
26-27: Self-control is the mark of true religion – especially of speech
James begins to lay down the foundation of the Christian walk at a time when everything is brand new, and what WE must bear in mind is that this letter was written before there were many Gentile believers on the scene at all. For all the people that want to say that Paul and James contradict each other, we must realize that when we see things that look like ideological conflicts between Scripture writers it is OUR understanding that needs questioning, not the Scriptures. I know it isn’t a popular or accepted message today, but it is nonetheless true that all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for our teaching and instruction. Great care needs to be taken to understand the reasons that passages appear contradictory.
In this case, it seems fairly obvious to ME that what is being misunderstood is that this is not really a theological letter, though it is filled with theology. It is a practical living guide written by someone that was close to the Lord Jesus and knew what He taught. That writer, we believe the half-brother of Jesus, wrote to other Jewish believers in Messiah in a day when people had not yet coined the phrase “Christian,” which if we’re being honest, probably began as an insult to believers. “Oh look at the ‘little Christs’…there they go again…”. Like that.
Because the letter is written to believers, the discussion of justification by faith as seen in every Pauline epistle is not present. It is rather a discussion of sanctification, which James describes in this passage as the “salvation of your souls,” a code phrase for spotting discussions about Christians, not gospel verses. Too many heresies have crept into the church because of a lack of understanding of this distinction. If you are wondering what I mean, look no farther than the largest body of individuals that the world (wrongly) identifies as “Christian.” This is the Roman Catholic organization. They teach a salvation by good works, as opposed to what the Scriptures teach: Justification by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone, as discussed in the Scriptures alone (without the added traditions of men like canon law), all to the Glory of God alone, not getting rich by making your entire priesthood celibate, which had more to do with inheritance of property than it did dedication to God. There is a reason it is the richest organization on the planet.
The only behaviour we should be discussing with the world is the need for their repentance and faith in Christ alone. Discussions like James is embarking on should be saved for (and in James’ case WAS) reserved for believers alone. With that understood, let’s get into the text.
KV26: Walking by faith over feelings requires self-control
Paul said in Galatians that self-control was a part of the fruit of the Spirit, and James is actually speaking on this very point. I’ll bring it up a bit later in the text discussion, but there are striking similarities between this passage and Galatians 5:19-24. What Paul said is what James was saying here.
We speak a great deal about “repentance and faith” being not just a once for all choice, but also an ongoing process in which we must continually engage. This passage is one of the places in Scripture where we get that idea. And I need to explain that this is not an airy-fairy, nebulous concept being discussed when we speak about repentance. These are carefully defined words and carefully defined theological ideas and practices that we outline.
People seem to think that we all need a little faith, and I agree, but what is that faith in, and what does it mean for you to have that faith? Many look at faith as a kind of “gut feeling” that God gives you in situations where you must somehow mystically discern and understand His will for us. As my Grandpa Bob used to say, “Poppycock.”
Faith is a carefully defined word in the original Greek of the New Testament. The word pistis means “a firm persuasion or strongly held opinion.” In fact, that opinion is one held so strongly, it acts as a kind of motive force for choosing your own actions and performing them. Paul and James BOTH make this point: If you won’t do it, it is because you don’t really believe it. You aren’t really persuaded. And you will recall that “believe” is simply the verb form of “faith” in the Greek.
Another thing we MUST understand is that faith is NOT a feeling, and is not really associated with your feelings. James will start this passage with that very idea. However, it IS something that should actually guide your behaviour. It is the main reason we say around here that your actions are a visible display of what it is you actually believe, which is sometimes at odds with what we SAY we believe. Feelings have no relation to this at all other than they may coincide with the choices and occasionally motivate for or against your choices.
With all that pre-understood, we will look at the text.
19-20: The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God
He doesn’t explicitly say this, but I think it is at least a nod at the idea that the will of God is not accomplished by human emotionalism. Think about what anger actually is. It is an emotion—a strong one—that can be whipped up to energize action or actions for a purpose. An old-school example of this is the department manager that deliberately makes his subordinate angry to make him work harder. That would lead to said manager being fired these days, but that is the way it used to be done. I’m fairly certain any adult that has tuned in has experienced this at least once. The funny thing is that it works, and the department manager knows it, and uses it to his advantage.
We can do this to ourselves as well. Think about it. An event happens. If you are a believer, you have a range of choices at your disposal, and anger is always one of them. It isn’t always inappropriate, either. If someone is deliberately doing something offensive and wrong with the intent of harassing you, anger is not an inappropriate emotion. However, even in anger, the believer has a range of responses available, and besides, it is not the thing that is supposed to energize us. That is seen in Leviticus 19:18—Love your neighbour as yourself. Cut him (or her) some slack! Wear their proverbial shoes for a moment! Care about what they might be experiencing (and usually you can at least preach the gospel out of that, as unwelcome as that may be).
My point here is that we are not to be driven by rank emotionalism. I hear it all the time from people trying to sound spiritual: “I just feel like…” And lest you think I am holding my brother or sister offenders for sord use, that’s a pet peeve of mine. I go out of my way NOT to be like that. And I have done my homework. Some places, and I have experienced these places, try to manipulate your emotions to keep you coming back for worship because they make you feel holy, or spiritual, or loving, or righteous…but that’s a bit of a scam. Rather, the believer should be guided by the will of the Father, regardless of how it makes them feel. The example I cite is none other than Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. What was He, Creator of the Universe Himself, asking for? That He would not need to undergo the suffering of the cross. And what was HIS final word on the subject? How about, “Not My will, but Yours be accomplished.” And with that, He got up, and went directly to the cross.
Beloved, we ALL have things happen to us that set us off, for lack of better words to put that into. We need to be concerned with the will of God Himself being done in our lives at that time. Let’s see what the text has to say, as usual and in our favorite fashion, one phrase at a time in context.
19: This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
- This first phrase is one that joins the thought with the previous one, which is verse 18: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” James is saying that this is a given. What he is now beginning to examine is how we should behave with respect to that information!
- First James tells us that we must be quick to hear. The word for “quick” is interesting, it is the Greek tachus, from which we get our English word Tachometer, a device that records the speed of a vehicle, particularly an 18-wheeler, which is something I know a little about. It is also the root of the word Tachyon, which is a faster-than-light particle in the physics realm. We must be lightning fast to hear.
- Contrasted with this, we must be slow about other things. The Greek bradus is the opposite of quick here, and it describes the relative speed with which we are to act upon what we hear. I sometimes face criticism for not responding to emails (especially emotional ones) right away. I am even slower when they get me angry, which happens more than I would like to admit, but those of you who actually know me understand I am trying to practice this verse. It says in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.” James is telling us this exact principle in other words. I could cite examples that some of you would no doubt remember, but that would be of limited value. We must be slow to speak (or write these days, hence my choice of the word “respond” earlier), and that isn’t all we must be slow to do.
- We must be slow to anger. As a younger man, I was a fan of the secular band named Rush. They wrote a trilogy of songs on the subject of Fear. In part three are these words: “Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand.” This is the exact sentiment and conditions that we as believers MUST avoid, for the sake of testimony if nothing else, but also that we may be of actual use by the Lord. If we are all caught up in human emotion while trying to accomplish the will of God, which is OFTEN contrary to what we feel, we will be challenged to be faithful to God to say the very least. We must be slow to engage our emotions. Thank God that self-control is a gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “It made me see red,” or statements like “I just couldn’t help myself” are symptoms of something other than Christ in control of your life, Beloved, and that can happen even to God’s people here on earth.
20: for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
- However, what James is teaching us right here and right now is that it must not be like this—because the anger of man does not [ever] achieve the will of God in any situation. I thought about how to explain this concept, and I thought I would try to illustrate with examples of things that make me angry and how my anger will not, indeed cannot, accomplish the will of God.
- Today, the church is rife with men who do not know the Scriptures leading God’s people. Some of you may know the name Ed Litton. For those of you that do not, he is the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US. I know, I’m in Canada, but he’s a Baptist, and so am I, and he at least is supposed to be familiar with the same kinds of confessions and practices and polity that I am. Less than 1 week after being elected to the position of President, it was discovered that he had plagiarised sermons. As the story developed, it turned out that it wasn’t just one or two, it was over 150, and it had been going on for decades in all likelihood. The evidence is incontestable, by the way. And he is only one example of this. Also, the same Ed Litton purchased his sermons in some cases from a place called Docent, which has been connected with Roman Catholicism and worse, which for a Protestant Minister should be a huge warning not to use the content. It turns out this outfit, Docent, is staffed by resurrection-denying Catholics writing moral sermons, which I was taught in Bible college that one should NEVER preach, we preach Christ. So at the very least, this lead pastor of a huge BAPTIST church doesn’t do his own work, and he gets paid quite handsomely for it. Why am I talking about this?
- Well, it turns out I have a connection to this issue from the other end. I am what is called a “lay-minister.” Oh we do everything a regular pastor does, but often without the paycheck that is attached to such work, and certainly not Ed Litton’s level of pay. I am not appealing for pity or compassion when I say this, either. Beloved, I work part time in a flooring store so that my family can buy groceries for all of us and eat, and pay the mortgage so that our stuff stays dry when it rains and warm when it snows because I live in Canada where it is below freezing 7 months of the year! I do a better job of expositing the Scriptures than Ed Litton for the love of Christ and His church as it turns out. I was actually interviewed on Pastor J. D. Hall’s Polemics Report about this one night. You can look it up in their archives at Protestia.com or on Protestia’s YouTube channel at the moment.
- Now…you can probably tell that this arrangement makes me angry beyond belief. But what is God’s desired response here? Is it to write angry letters calling for the resignation of Ed Litton? No, Beloved. It is to feed His sheep, and so here we are, despite what men like Ed Litton do. Justin Peters feels the same way I do, by the way. Do you know how many people attend the Bible Study HE teaches? Six, including his wife. I’d say I’m in good company. Not by power, not by might, not by numbers, but by the will and Spirit of the Living God, right?
What James is getting at, and sadly what the church herself is replete with bad examples of, is that emotionalism is not going to accomplish the will of God. What is the primary job of the servant of God? Well, in this text, James says it is to LISTEN. Listening leads to understanding, and understanding leads to correct and pleasing action in doing the will of God. And even better, the text doesn’t end here, it continues.
21-25: Faith should drive you to action, not simple assent to ideals
One of the issues that arise from the example of Ed Litton is that what you really believe should drive your actions. If you do nothing, it means you do not believe your actions are significant, and that your life does not count for much. Beloved, nothing could be further from the truth.
People seem to get into their head that if they agree with the right ideals and say the right words and perform the right actions that it makes them a Christian. Take for example a person that would be a pro-life activist, gives to charity all the time, goes to church at least once per week, and even prays to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. He engages in evangelism when he feels he can. What would you call this pious individual? Well, I know what I would call him, but you might say this was a Christian. I would call this man a Jehovah’s Witness, and he is most decidedly NOT saved. I used to work with the guy. He’s a great guy, he has kids, his wife is adorable, and he is headed to hell if he doesn’t repent and follow the real Jesus, and he will only do that if God regenerates him, that is causes him to be born again.
I described him the way I did at first to illustrate a point. I have know doubt that this man believes, but his belief, his faith, is in the wrong source. But his faith, such as it is, is driving him to action, albeit wrong actions. This is a HUGE problem in evangelicalism today. Terms that are well defined are either misused (often deliberately), or their definitions are changed without telling anyone to confuse the issue and make people look dumb and make them question what they believe. CRT does this, incidentally.
One of the things that Jesus told His disciples is that people could be know by their fruits. What He meant by that is that we could tell those who are His and those who are NOT by their actions, the result of what they believe drives them to do. This is not difficult to understand. If you believe that the earth is flat, you will hesitate to take a long ocean journey in one direction. Incidentally, the earth is NOT flat, if you were wondering. ACTUAL science can tell you that. But regardless of what you believe, it WILL drive your actions, and people will be able to see what you really believe if they care to look. Let’s see what James says.
21: Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
- Remember that James’ audience is believers, and Jewish believers at that. These are people that are educated in all of the principles which are under discussion this evening. James is bringing needed clarity on these things for his readers, which includes us. What is the first thing James does here? He tells us what actions to lay aside.
- We must “lay apart” or “lay aside.” This Greek word is always used in the sense of putting it off continually (aorist tense) in the New Testament, and it literally means to take it off like a coat and lay it apart from you and your stuff. What are we laying aside?
- All “dirt.” James is using this in a metaphorical sense, I think we are safe to say, and this is used in Scripture to metaphorically indicate things that would defile you. Your language. Your hobbies or pastimes. Your distractions. Your very thoughts. Your sins in a broad and all-inclusive sense on top of that. And Beloved? Please hear me here. I am not using “sins” in a broad and general sense.” We all have many things that defile us. These are specific things. They could be obvious like adultery, or harder to reveal like pride, but whatever they are, we need to lay it aside. All of them. Note the plural. More than one. And we need to do it now.
- And the list of transgressions does not end with that concept word. This is one of the places where the translators of the NASB in my opinion were trying to soften the language and interpret for you, as opposed to giving you the meaning. I do believe they were well meaning in their intent, but I also believe they were off track here with the phrase “all that remains of wickedness.” The margin is to me more accurate – “the abundance of malice.” Why? That word in Greek for “all that remains” is perisseia, meaning “an overabundance of, to the point of overflowing.” The Greek for “wickedness” here is kakia, “badness, depravity, malice.” The phrase arpethenoi pasan ruparian kai perissian kakias could be translated as “and putting off all of the defilement and overflowing depravity.” Beloved, we are SINNERS. Saved by grace it is true if you have believed that Christ took your punishment on the cross, but sinners nonetheless. We are to be, as John Owen put it in his seminal work The Mortification of Sin, killing sin [I add daily, sometimes moment by moment] or it will be killing us. And he got that from Paul in Romans, among other places.
- After we have been engaged in the difficult work of killing the sin in ourselves, we are to HUMBLY [the opposite of pride] receive. That word for “humble” is a form of the Greek prautes, meaning meek in the KJV, or Gentle in the NASB, here translated by HUMBLE. What are we to receive? The WORD! And not just any word, but the “implanted” word. The Greek here is emphuton, where we get our English word “emphasis,” but it means something different in Greek. It means that it implants itself like a seed in the heart of the believer, according to Vine in his Expository Dictionary. And according to James, that “implanted” seed of the Word is able to save your very soul.” That word is the Greek psuche, and it is used to mean soul. I see this as speaking of sanctification after justification by faith, but you already knew that.
22: But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
- James is informing us of the difference here between what we would call “lip service” and actually doing what you believe. His command is that we listen to the Word, and then that we DO it. Otherwise, we become those hearers that are really just deluding ourselves into thinking we are Christians and we are in danger of not being one of God’s chosen children.
- That word “prove in Greek means “to become.” It is placed in the imperative, meaning it is given as a command, Beloved. This is not an optional activity. We must become doers of the word, the logos, or the divine expression as I once heard it put. If we do not, we are not being those “little Christs” that we are by name accused of being, and personally, when that become a crime, I want there to be enough evidence to convict me without any doubt!
- Why do I, and why does James, say all this? Because it is possible to think we are doing something right and not be. Remember the first verse we looked at, and how it talked about how the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God? James said that because people thought, and still think, that their own “righteous” anger (which isn’t necessarily) is doing God’s will. This implies that it is possible to work up indignance and think that is enough, but it really isn’t. No, Beloved, we must allow our belief to drive us to right action and the doing of God’s written will. You don’t like the law that permits people wearing red shirts to rob banks? Then it isn’t enough to just be all indignant! Sure, that’s okay…but who will stand up and say, “The Word of God says, ‘Thou shalt not steal?'” We might not like the sermon on a Sunday, but is it because your preacher is lousy, or is it because you are deluding yourself into a false sense of conversion to Christ? Sermons, including bible studies like this, SHOULD bother you in this way, and I hope this one is.
23: For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;
- James is starting a statement with this verse, but he is going to finish it in the next verse. In fact, he’s using an analogy. Dictionary.com first defines “analogy” as “a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based.” Personally, I think it is a story or circumstance told to help in the understanding of how something operates by using those similarities, but that’s actually “engaging in analogy,” which is a practice of Logic.
- What is the analogy? Hearers (not doers) are likened to a man looking in a mirror. Let’s see where James goes with this.
24: for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
- It seems that this mirror gazer has MY memory! He looks, and then forgets what he looks like! Now granted, my situation has fatigue and medical reasons as causes, but I think I get this! At some point, you have looked in a mirror, yes? In fact, I’m willing to bet most people have and like what they saw, barring psychological disorders. Try looking at your video feed some time and see whose face you look at the most. I don’t care who you tell me it was, it was YOU that you spent the most time looking at, because most people like themselves that way. I know because I actively fight this every broadcast we make!
- Now—imagine that you looked in the mirror. And you’ve liked what you saw. And then you for some reason look away—and don’t remember the first thing about what you saw. That’s what James is comparing hearers (not doers) of being like. Not very deep, are we?
- But that isn’t the only comparison James makes here, he contrasts this with another kind of individual, the kind we should all be striving to be.
25: But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
- THIS is the DOER of the word, not just a hearer. Because we are trying to be like this fellow, let’s examine what it is he does and try to imitate him!
- First, he looks intently at the perfect law. James further defines that law as the law of liberty, so stop throwing around legal references to the 10 commandments here unless you know what you’re talking about, because we DO know what we’re talking about here. I’m not saying that to be proud, either. I’m saying that because God has given us an understanding of His Word. James here is referring to nothing other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not so much a law that has requirements and punishment for non-compliance, but it is actually word play, and you have to understand his audience were believing Jews to truly do that. You see, the Law and Liberty were both defined concepts for the Jew, and were actually mutually exclusive, though not entirely contradictory in Jewish thought. To call Liberty a Law is actually in English grammar called an oxymoron. Like Military Intelligence, two terms that these days seem mutually exclusive in our southern neighbours. For JAMES to use the words in this way was to express to that audience that there was a new way of thinking about BOTH. Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law (He was the only one who could), and in doing so set us free from the penalty of our non-compliance of that law, regardless of the best intentions we may have had! I usually put it like this: He lived the life we should have lived but could not, all so that he could deliberately and knowingly take the punishment for non-compliance on our behalf so that we would no longer have to. That is the perfect law of liberty, Beloved.
- Then that doer of the Word ABIDES by that perfect law of liberty, the Gospel. He does not leave that place of grace once having found it. He is the opposite of what the writer of Hebrews describes in Hebrews 6:4-6, which reads, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” What does that mean? I think it means some things that are hard to understand, but it is not impossible. And I think it ties into this concept of doing the word and not just hearing it and giving mental assent to what is good. These individuals that the writer of Hebrews describes are members of a gathering. They have tasted. They have had enlightenment, real enlightenment placed in front of them. Maybe they even tried it out by becoming active in that fellowship. MAYBE they even said words of commitment to Christ, and maybe they were serious when they said them. Maybe they even underwent baptism (partakers of the Holy Spirit in a figurative sense). Then, for reasons usually having to do with hardship or shame, they turn away. A more modern example of this would be Charles Templeton, a contemporary of Billy Graham. He was often called the Canadian Billy Graham, in fact. After a number of years of just going through the motions, he converted—to agnosticism bordering on atheism. Beloved, after he had even “served the Lord,” [the quotes are used on purpose because what he did was obviously something other than serving the Lord] he turned away. Was he a real Christian? It certainly seemed so for a while. But it seems he was not. Was he saved? I do not know, and that should be a frightening thing to people, especially to those who adhere to the doctrines of grace. The reality is, we do not always know, and to presume just because of words or actions seen in public is kind of presumptuous in presuming righteousness, and kind of wrong in assuming damnation because redeemed people can err, make mistakes, even sin, and still repent. We do it every day. The one exception seems to be for false teachers, and there was a reason for that, but I’ll save that for when James talks about that.
- This individual doesn’t have “memory issues” with what he saw in the mirror! He remembers w2ho he is before God, and moreover, he remembers WHOSE he is before God, and that causes him to be an obedient DOER of the word, not just one who gives mental assent to what he knows is right, and that is a finer distinction than some people realize. Scripture says that whatever this man does will be blessed. For the record, that doesn’t mean prosperity on earth, it means spiritual blessing and growth in service to Christ.
Last week, I talked a little about how the concepts of faith/belief and hearing/obeying were connected in the ancient Hebrew. One of the Hebrew word for faith is aman, and it primarily means to confirm or support, both action words. Another is emeth, and it means to be faithful, or to be filled with faith or truth, again, an action. The connection between believing and doing is inherent in the meaning of the Hebrew words themselves. I’m not really surprised at that, in fact it seems like it is the way it should be. James is relating that people will know what you believe by what you DO, not just simply what you say.
This text and Galatians 5:19-26 fit rather nicely together, because Paul is also speaking of that law of liberty. That passage reads, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”
So if you call yourself a Christian, and you still swear like a sailor or mistreat or malign your brethren (with the noted exception of false teachers, again), well, I would at a minimum question your commitment to Christ. I’m not saying you never cuss, but you repent every time you do, and you do your best not to…moving on.
26-27: Self-control is the mark of true religion – especially of speech
We’ve been talking all evening about this without using these exact words. Who has overall control over what you believe? Don’t give me stock hyper-Calvinist answers, and don’t give me Arminian extensions either. The answer is in Scripture, and in most confessions of faith. I am most familiar with either the WCF or the LBC, but in both of those, it is in chapter 3. Anyone want to take a crack at an answer?
[Pause here and wait for an answer. For significant time if necessary.]
It is YOU. No real Calvinist will actually deny the free will of man, did you know that? They won’t. Just as most Arminians will tell you that no unregenerate individual will come to Christ on their own, they require what they call “prevenient grace.” Without getting into the errant theology in that idea, or Sovereign Election, YOU are in charge of what you believe, and your true faith will always be displayed by your actions. It is good that your spoken faith matches what you do, you will be a happier individual, but even if it isn’t, no violence is ever offered to the will of the creature, as per both the WCF and the LBC in their phrasing of the concept.
Now, if YOU are in control of what you ultimately believe, why is it surprising that self-control is described as a part of the fruit of the Spirit? James in this part of the text tells us that it is in fact the mark of true religion, which is saying exactly the same thing, is it not? Let’s look.
26: If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.
- Like I said earlier, I tend to think of “religion” as a bad thing, but here James is using it in the acceptable and good biblical sense, as opposed to what the world means when they only loosely define the concept. Religion is a system of rules that are used to govern behaviour, usually with consequences for breaking the rules, but not always. Many times that I have seen, the penalty for breaking the religious rule is a delayed goal or a denied reward. That can be the case in Christianity as well, but Christianity does not define religion as a set of rules. It rather defines religion as a covenant agreement between two parties, in this case, between God and all of God’s Elect. It has penalties for rules that are broken, there are losses of reward, incentives, all like that, but with this important difference from most: All of the consequences for the bad behaviour were laid on Christ when He suffered on the cross. Like the Abrahamic covenant of old, this is a unilateral covenant, and as a part of the New Covenant, or Testament, or agreement, or contract, whatever you choose to say to recognize it, our old nature was crucified with Christ on the cross on Golgotha, and we have received His nature in our innermost being. Our flesh is still intact, but it has new ownership, and new control mechanism that are governed by different rules than our old nature. We re now being sanctified, or made holy, as we suffer in putting our own old nature, called the flesh sometimes, to death, in that we deny it expression, with sometimes greater success than others.
- James is addressing the confusion between true religion and the nebulously defined religion of the world system that demands certain compliance to uncertain and unstable rules.
- Here is the test to see if your religion is true: Can you control your own emotions, particularly your own speech, which gives those emotions verbal expression? If you cannot, you cannot be truly religious. Oh, you might have a religion, but it isn’t the true religion, because self-control is a characteristic of that true religion. James even goes so far as to say that adherents to the world’s false religion are deceiving themselves, and that their religion is worthless, and that brings up an interesting point.
- What is the one thing that this world religion demands from all of its adherents? Tolerance for ideas that are not yours and you don’t have in your religion. And what is the one thing that they do not truly have? Why, Tolerance of course, or they would put up with us a lot more than they do, and it is going to get much worse before the end of the world. Can’t control your tongue or steer your words in logical fashion? Your religion is worthless and vain. James’ words, not mine. Moving on.
27: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
- James even goes so far as to specifically define what GOD considers to be pure and undefiled religion, that is what His servants should be engaged in. We are to care about the defense of those who have no protection, and we are to keep ourselves unspotted by the world, which is a moral code of our own. We know them, too.. In no real particular order they go like this: Have no other Gods before Yahweh, make no images of worship of anything, because they too easily lead to false religion, honour your parents, keep the day of rest, do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie about others, don’t use the name of Yahweh falsely or to revile, and don’t think you are more deserving of your neighbour’s stuff than your neighbour is. Follow those, and you WILL remain unspotted from the world and all of its lies and false religion.
There is a lot more I could say about this, but I want to leave you with fodder to drive your own curiosity and bible study. Beloved, this is a critical section of text. If we get it wrong, we get all of James wrong, and if we get that wrong, we are not accurately handling the Word of Truth. I don’t want to be standing there on that day and listen to the “you had one job” speech. I want to hear the words “Well done” spoken by my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is no secret that walking by faith requires self-control. What seems amazing to me is that it is so clear in the New Testament, here in James, in Galatians, in many places really, and that’s just in the New Testament, and yet so few people seem to have understood or even read it. Beloved, you have heard the word here this evening. Don’t just be a hearer. Make your own applications, but remember what James says it needs to do—be concerned with the defense of those who have no protection, and to keep yourself clean from the defilement you will encounter in the world.
That is what I saw in the text section.