Study Notes

James 1:21-27


James has been encouraging Christians in their behavior in the world around them.

He said that it was by God's will that we were born again into this new life, being made as a new creation. So we've got to watch our witness, be attentive to our testimony, because that can be ruined by hypocritical behavior. He pointed out how our being quick to speak and quick to become angry will not achieve the righteousness of God. But how can you overcome that? If you've got a big mouth or a big temper, how can you bring it under control? First of all, we need to see that the mouth and the temper are symptoms, not the source. The true problem is a lack of self control, which can be conquered by walking in the Spirit. You see,

Gal. 5:22-23 ...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...

If these are not evident, then the fruit of the Spirit is not being produced - instead, the deeds of the flesh are.

Gal. 5:19-20 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality ... strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions...

You see, the one who is quick to speak and quick to become angry is walking in the flesh, not the Spirit.

1:21 Putting Aside Filthiness And Wickedness

Because it is a Spirit vs. fles problem, James says, "lay those things aside. Lay aside all that remains of wickedness, then receive the Word."

You can't really receive what the Bible is saying unless you are willing to lay aside your sin. You see, if you are in sin, you justify the teachings in your mind. You think, "Oh, I wish Joe were here. He really needs to listen to this." Or, "Nice preaching, but that's not realistic." Or, "That doesn't apply to me."

If these are your thoughts, then sin is keeping you from receiving the Word. You need to turn from it, get rid of it, before you can receive.

If you do turn from sin, and begin to receive the Word, it is able to save your soul. Now, this is not talking about eternal salvation, forgiveness of sins, and heaven. These people to whom James is writing are already saved. No, the salvation that he is speaking of is a "preserving or saving" of your soul.

Your soul is the internal "you." From your heart spring emotions, from your mind come thoughts. And all of those things roll up into your soul to make you. This is what the Word can preserve when you receive it.

Have you ever known a Christian who backslid into sin for a long period of time? When they come back, they're still saved, but they've lost something. They're less of who they were, they're a bit burned out, they're a little emptier. That's because sin rots your soul. It eats away and evaporates who you are. And the longer you live in unrepentant sin, the less of you will be there on the other side when you come out of it.

After David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he didn't repent, he tried to cover it up. And as he tried to keep it hidden, his soul was decomposing. This manifested itself even physically. He wrote,

Ps. 32:3-5 When I kept silent {about my sin} , my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away {as} with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Selah.

David's sin was forgiven, but he was never the same man. He had lost some of his soul. Receiving the Word protects and preserves you from this soul decay.

Now, there is something less detectable, but just as dangerous, when it comes to the Word in our lives, which James tells us in the next verses.

1:22-25 Doers, Not Just Hearers

There are many of us who hear the Word, but don't apply it to our lives. This is a terrible trap.

How many times have we heard a Bible study and said, "Wow - powerful stuff. Good message! I never knew that about this Scripture or that history." But if it only fills our heads, but never makes a change in our lives, what was the point? All we did was get a little smarter, but we didn't get any better.

It is not enough to simply hear the Word - we must be doing it. Paul told the Philippians,

Phil. 4:9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.

You can't just hear it, you can't just watch it. It must be practiced.

James equates it to looking in a mirror. The Word of God is a mirror that shows us a reflection of ourselves. Now, as you know, mirrors are actually very valuable to us. We stop and check the hair, look for stuff on our face, food in our teeth, long hairs extending from the nostrils. We look to see if the buttons are buttoned, the zippers are zipped, the ties are tied.

But imagine if you would someone looking in the mirror and seeing a giant dark green glob of spinach in their teeth. They make a mental note, "Spinach in teeth," but then just walk away from the mirror, not getting rid of the spinach! They notice the zipper is down, but don't fix it. This is what James is saying happens when we hear a Bible study, we look into the Word, but don't apply it to our own lives. We get a clear picture of ourselves, but don't fix what's wrong. We walk away and immediately forget what we've just seen!

Jesus explained it this way,

Matt. 7:24-27 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and {yet} it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall."

How many more analogies do we need before we will truly act on what we hear in the Word?

1:26-27 Worthless Religion Vs. Undefiled Religion

How can you know if you are successfully doing the Word? Listen to your mouth, look at your actions. Again, James points back to what we say and how we say it. Are you quick to speak? Do things fly out of your mouth before you've even had time to weigh them out and pray them through? If so, he says, your religion is worthless - you're not being affected by the Word if your speech is like this. How come? Can't a person just have a big mouth but be an otherwise successful, Spirit-filled Christian? Absolutely not. Jesus said,

Luke 6:43-45 "For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil {man} out of the evil {treasure} brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart."

Your mouth speaks out of the abundance of your heart. Your mouth being out of control indicates a heart problem.

True religion is seen in your actions. By the way, I don't like the word "religion." In our society, religion is thought of as a system by which people can reach God. But that is not what this word means. This word in Greek is "thrace-KI-ah," which speaks of your worship and service to God. In more natural terms, a modern translation would say, "your Christianity," or "your relationship to God," rather than "your religion."

Your real relationship with God is not seen in how much of the Bible you have memorized, but it is seen in your actions. You want to find a truly spiritual person? Don't be duped by his grasp of the Greek, or Homiletics in Hebrew. Watch his life. Does he have a heart for the downtrodden? Does she do her best to help people in trouble? Are they avoiding the sin of this world?

James will talk a lot more about the outward proof of the inward truth as we continue in this book. Jesus did as well, saying,

Matt. 7:20-21 "So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.

Let us make sure that our lives are testifying of what we are hearing in the Word.

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