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James 1.22-27 Hearing and Doing

October 25, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 1:22–1:27

James 1.22-27 Hearing & Doing

October 25, 2009

Sam Ford


James 1.22-27  22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.


26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.


Retro-Faith Reminder

What I am preaching is not new…in fact it is very old.  We use the word RETRO-FAITH because it feels like we’re always trying to become “modern” in our thinking—to find the next NEW thing to help us.  And to “SPARK” our faith, we often do the same thing.  We throw off all the fuddy-duddy faith, foundational heart attitudes and practices, dismissing them as old-fashioned and irrelevant (Relevant it seems today means hip cool or likable)  AND it is clear that this tendency has resulted in people who are confused as to who Jesus is, what church is, and what it means to be a Christian (Much like Spelling tests in High School). 


And a ton of “Christian” authors add to the confusion by writing books with titles like Pagan Christianity, UnChristian, They like Jesus but not the Church, or the Gospel According to Starbucks ALL arguing that Christianity has an “image” problem and that Christians themselves have an identity crisis—and each of them have a different and “new” answer to fix it—to make Christianity more attractive. 


So, in an effort to fix the faith, all kinds of churches try very hard to make Jesus cool or relevant with new ways to “authentic” faith.  Usually, they end up castrating the power of gospel, demonizing the church, casting doubt into God’s Word, and making Jesus out to be a loving friend who you can fellowship with without any commitment—someone who you can learn a lot from, but who will never expect anything from you.  


Without a doubt, there was no confusion 2,000 years ago of what they were about and why.  There may have been rebellion, but there was no confusion that Jesus died to save sinners.  And that belief in a resurrected the Jesus changed you by the power of the Holy Spirit.  


James’ letter and Jesus’ Sermon

Many people TALK like they are changed.  Our culture has so overused “spiritual language” that I’m afraid that no one really knows what people mean anymore.  There are those who claim to be spiritual but not religious; religious but not practicing; lovers of Jesus but not his bride; believers in God but not His Word; readers of His Word but not doers of what it says.  James doesn’t tell us what to do to BECOME a servant of the Lord, rather, give us a description of what heart attitudes a servant of Lord Jesus will have and what real things they will do (As opposed to NOT DO) The first chapter is the foundation for the rest of the letter where he in essence says—a lot of you are faking it—you really don’t love Jesus.


Ironically, James only mentions the name of Jesus twice, and though he never directly quotes Jesus, James’ words are saturated with Jesus’ ideas, even using language that Jesus himself used, especially in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the most famous sermon every preached, we hear that James is not saying anything new—listen to these hard words from our friend Jesus:   Matthew 7.21-23  21   “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…


Receiving the Word “Implanted”

So who will enter the Kingdomof God—those who receive God’s Word as James said in verse 21, IMPLANTED.  The war against our sinful tendencies is waged with the WORD of GOD.  Our focus is not to work at removing all the sin, but to pursue the glory of God in his Word.  The Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, saves lives, changes hearts, and redirects behavior.   The power lies in the word, not in the relationship, not in the preacher, but in the Word.   Those who receive it implanted ARE doers.   


V. 22 Be a doer

James 1.22-27 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  There are those to DO GOD’S WORD and THOSE WHO hear it and do nothing.  The word “DO” encompasses ANYTHING that God’s Word tells us to—to have attitudes, actions, words, etc.  We DO a lot of things.  James doesn’t tell us to do good works, do relationships, but to DO God’s Word.


James is drawing some very stark lines in the sand, lines that will either encourage or offend those of us who say I believe the gospel.  Because, if the Word of God is not the governing authority in your life, then you may be a nice person, you may give away millions to everyone, but you are not a Christian.  And even if you have memorized the entire Bible, if you don’t do what it says, you are not a Christian.   This is a challenge, a throw down, a rubber meets the road moment.  Paul challenges us the same way in 2Corinthians 13.5  5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! Ask the Holy Spirit for a self-analysis then honestly examine yourself.  Is there real change in your life? Do you come to church, act like a Christian, even read your Bible and pray, but don’t really act on the truths you read and hear? Check out ALL of the action words, verbs in Colossians chapter 3:


Colossians  3.1-17 -- IF then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


Hearers only deceive themselves

Those who hear the Word and do not obey it, deceive themselves.  We act in line with our beliefs.  Regardless of what we SAY or HEAR, our attitudes, our actions, and our words evidence what is in our hearts.  When we disobey God’s Word, we rarely will admit that we are doing so but will lie to ourselves about people, about churches, about God, and about our own faith.  We will create elaborate arguments to justify, not why we live the way we do, but why the LIE we live is in fact TRUE.  James makes it quite clear, it doesn’t matter how ‘prosperous or poor’ your life is, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have or don’t have, it doesn’t matter how painful or painless your life its, it doesn’t matter how satisfied your desires are, what matters is if what you’re doing aligns with God’s Word.  What is at stake is whether or not you truly love the God of Scripture with his church, his rules, and his waysWhere or not you have honestly submitted yourself to the commands of a God who is LOVING and WRATHFUL.  Submission to God is an act of love toward God.  1John 5.2 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  


V. 23 The Man in the Mirror

James then gives us an illustration concerning those who do not obey.  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.   


The FIRST man looks at his natural face and goes away – a hearer who forgets

We are into mirrors.  We have mirrors in our bathrooms, on our countertops, in our halls, living rooms, cars, purses, gyms, everywhere.  We like to look at ourselves and how often we look at the mirror is evidence of how quickly we forget what we see.   WE LOOK TO SEE what we look like, to get a picture of what OTHERS SEE, to remove any blemishes, to make improvements, and to admire our beauty or cry. 


In the first century, mirrors were not made of glass, they were made of metal that had to be polished regularly.  The mirrors rested horizontally on tables so that the person who wished to see his reflection had to bend over and look down—it took effort.  And it is doubtful that any 1st century man took a lot of time to do this.  James says that the MAN WHO STOPS AT HEARING the Word of God is compared with how we look in the mirrors every morning.  If he does, it is for a quick glance not expecting to see much.  It is part of a routine because, as a man, he assumes it’s all good.  We’ll takes a quick look at this face, sees if anything is out of place, a new wrinkle, perhaps a button is undone, and then moves on rather quickly.  Because he doesn’t take looking very seriously and, though he may see the ‘problems’, his error is that he forgets because he only looks ONCE A WEEK…he may go out with stains on his shirt and dirt on his face. 


The SECOND man looks into the perfect law of liberty– a doer who is blessed

Spiritually, this is a huge deal.  James makes the point that Scripture is like a mirror into our soul.  Just as we gaze into a physical mirror to make inspect in improve us physically, so we look into Scripture for a true picture of ourselves spiritually.  Not only does it disclose our sin and our need for repentance, it also promises grace and love when it is. 


The one who truly hears the Word of God doesn’t look into an earthly mirror for a reflection, but deeply, constantly, into the perfect LAW of LIBERTY.  They never take their eyes off the cross, a cross that reminds them they are both more sinful than they will ever admit and more loved than they could ever imagine.   It seems odd to put LAW and LIBERTY, RULES and FREEDOM together as he does.  God’s Word is from a loving Father, not from an authoritative boss.  True freedom comes from obedience to the Father’s Word.  True bondage comes from disobedience to Father’s Word.  In the midst of trials, we will endure if we trust that blessing will come through following God’s Word, especially when it conflicts with our desires, our thoughts, and our ways.



And some of us don’t look in the mirror at all because of PRIDE or SHAME.  Some thing they don’t need to look into the mirror at all.  You deny that you’re dirty or messed up.  While they may not look in the mirror, they’ll spend much of their time comparing with everyone else and thinking better or worse of them—that is measurement of your sin NOT God’s Word.  Then there are those who refuse to look because of shame.  You don’t think you’re beautiful or loved.  You deny God’s grace, God’s Word that says you’re forgiven, cleansed, and made new.  The Gospel of Jesus says, I know you’re ugly, and I love you.  You’re so ugly you should be shot.  But I’ll shoot my good looking perfect son over here so that you can live. 


V. 26-27  True Religion

James closes his passage with two verses describing the cores of DOING FAITH.  John Calvin – “James does not define generally what religion is, but reminds us that religion without the things he mentions is nothing.” 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.


As I said earlier, many people consider themselves “religious”.  James writes to a largely Jewish audience whose religion is observed in external rituals.  In fact, the word for religion here speaks to the ceremonies or observable spiritual disciplines.   We often use “religion” in a negative sense, but James here is more trying to emphasize the hollowness of the outward show of formalism.  Today, we would consider ourselves religious if we attend church, read our bibles, pray, even fast.  In short, he gives us a picture of practical Christianity that amounts to keep your mouth shut, your hands busy, and your pants on.


Bridle his tongue – GOSPEL TRUTH

Anyone who fails to keep their tongue in check has a faith that is worthless.  Jesus said:  Matthew 15.18  18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person .  This works well with his admonition last week to be slow to speak.  We are not called to a silence tongue, but a bridled one. It needs to be broken and harnessed. An unruly tongue lies, curses, slanders, and glorifies sin more than he glorifies God with what he says.  It is not enough to not speak lies.  We are to speak TRUTH and TRUTHFULLY about ourselves, about others, about His Word, about His Church, and about God.  We speak truth by speaking allow GOD’S WORD for us versus speaking for GOD and HIS WORD.


Care for those in need – GOSPEL LIVING

Additionally, James admonishes us to take care of the orphans and widows.  Added to that list today are single moms, children from broken homes, even In other words, God expects his people to protect and provide for those who cannot protect and provide for themselves. 1John 3.16-18 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 


Unstained Obedience – GOSPEL COMMUNITY

Finally, he says that we need to keep ourselves from sin the world.  The world is that part of humanity that works together to attain human goals, without reference to God or His Word.  The world is anything and everything that is at odds with the Lordship of Jesus in our lives.  I believe we accomplish this by living as a gospel community within the world.  We don’t usher in the kingdom by our living, we live in the Kingdom as if God reigns.  And many people will adopt a social gospel and say, YES, doing the work of God is working toward this great humanitarian effort.  We do have a responsibility there.  But after feeding the Five Thousand in John 6, what must we do to be doing the WORKS of God, Jesus answered ?” This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”


We want to live like Jesus, point people to Jesus, love people in the name of Jesus, but call people to renounce their rebellion against God, to flee worldliness, and be read to meet the King when he returns to establish his kingdom.

More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows