Grace, mercy, and peace to all of us that love the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth. God’s word assures us that peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 Jn.1:3) As Believers in the Savior of the world how our lives have fallen to us in wonderful places. (Ps.16:6) God loves us. And we love Him. All is well with our soul. Amen! (I Jn.4:1-10)
The Word of God.
Beloved, today is our 9th study in the book of James. Today we are going to examine James 1:22-27. Please take out your Bibles and read along with me. Hear God’s holy and perfect word. Read.
James 1:22. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 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; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 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. 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. 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.
The assistance of the Spirit.
The Bible tells us that the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to instruct us, to be our indwelling Counselor. (Jn.15:26, Phil.1:19, WCF 2.3) The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. He made us spiritually re-born. And He can help us understand, love, and live according to His word. Let’s ask Him now in prayer. Pray.
Today I want to look at this passage first in a macro-view, try to get the big picture ideas. Then we will look at the micro-view, unpack some of the particulars of this exhortation.
The use of the Bible.
James had previously spoken about the place of the Word of God in the life of the Christian. We are converted by God the Holy Spirit making the Gospel of Jesus Christ effectual to us. (WCF 10.1-2, WLC 66-68, Isa.55:11) In this way we can say that the Holy Spirit uses the gospel word of God to justify us.
James 1:18. 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. (2 Tim.3:15)
Romans 10:17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Also, Jesus tells us as those that Believe in Him that we are continually sanctified by the Spirit of God using the word of Truth. Jesus says, Thy Word Oh God is truth. (Jn.17:17)
Here, James continues talking about the Christian and the Bible. We can say very generally that James presupposes that professing disciples of Christ, those that profess to be saved children of God will in fact use the Bible. What I mean by use the Bible is this, to read the Bible and to believe the Bible and to labor to obey the Bible.
Christians that do not use the Bible – hypocrites and worldlings.
For someone to say well I am a Bible-less Christian would be to contradict God for their justification and also their sanctification. Apart from being providentially kept from the Bible, being a Bible-less Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christ is presented to us in the Bible. How then are we disciples of Christ if we do not listen to Him where He is presented? It is like being a prayerless Christian. Another contradiction in terms. Living things live. Living children of God speak with God that begat them. Do.
But sadly, in part James writes his admonition because the Holy Spirit knows that there are those that call themselves Christians that do not love, read, or obey the Bible as the word of God.
This is nothing new. This is called having an evil heart of unbelief while abiding within the visible household of faith. (Heb.3:12-19)
Listen to how OT hypocritical professing Believers showed their true spiritual nature by their lack of use and misuse of the Divine Word.
Psalm 50:16. But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? 17 “For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you. 18 “When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, And you associate with adulterers. 19 “You let your mouth loose in evil And your tongue frames deceit. 20 “You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. 21 “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes. 22 “Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. (Ezek.18:25-29)
Listen to this sober word of God on the importance of obedience to God’s word.
I Samuel 15:22. Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.” 24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. 25 “Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.” 26 But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
Beloved, I believe that this passage of James and the truth it contains is vitally needed for the church in our day. I believe that there are masses of professing Christians that do not read the bible and make no attempt to obey the Bible. They are Bible-less Christians. They are Christ-less Christians. They believe to try to obey God’s word is a form of legalism. They are self-deceived. They think their disobedience is testimony of their understanding of grace. They are in great danger.
Of course, I pray that this not apply to any in this study. However, if it does then I pray God would grant us repentance, faith, and reformation. I pray that we all would live upon every word that proceeds from the lips of God. (Mt.4:4)
Christians that hear the Bible but do not obey the Bible – hypocrites and formalists.
Now there is another kind of deficient Christian that James is writing to here. And that is a Christian that does “hear” the Bible but then he or she goes away and does not obey the Bible. So, these would be called “hearing” Christians but not hearing and “doing” Christians.
This would be a professing Christian that does read their Bible. They do attend church where the Bible is read and preached. But that is where their use of the Bible ends. The word of God enters into their ears, it is processed in their brain a bit, but it never makes it to their heart and it never comes out in their words or actions.
These are professing Christians that do not bear any fruits of the Holy Spirit. Christ speaks about these three types of false Christians in the Parable of the Sower, which really should be called the Parable of the Soils. (Mt.13:18-23, Mk.4:19-21)
This is a very dangerous kind of professing Christian to be. Jesus said this about this about those in the church but not “in” Christ. They were mere formalists. Their faith was a mere empty profession. (Mt.5:20, 2 Tim.3:1-5, Mt.23:27-28)
John 5:37. And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. 39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.
Christ says this about those that call Him their Lord but do not obey His word.
Luke 6:46. Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk.6:47-49)
Jesus says, in Matthew 7, that there are many professing Christians like this. Many will say, Lord, Lord did I not hear the Bible read for 5 minutes (if that!) every Sunday. And He will say, depart from Me you worker of iniquity. (Mt.7:16-29)
Oh Beloved, I believe the better part of professing Christian “church goers” fall into this terrifying category. They are nominal Christians, name only. They are in great danger. (Rev.3:1-6)
Christians that hear the Bible and labor to obey the Bible – true lambs of Christ.
And then there are professing Christians that hear the word of God and labor to obey the word of God. These are the effectual hearers that James speaks about. These are true Believers, true Christians.
People with true Spirit-wrought faith and those truly spiritually united to Jesus our Vine. And because we are attached to Him, His life is in us and it comes out of us in our obedience. (Jn.15:1-10 Gal.2:20) True Believers are those that actually produce Gospel fruit of righteousness. (Mt.13:18-23)
In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, He speaks about two kinds of ‘hearers’ in the visible church. One is a foolish man that builds his house on shifting sand. And he will be destroyed at last. His folly and unbelief are evidenced by his lack of obedience to God’s word. The other man is a wise builder. He builds his house on The Immovable Rock of Christ Jesus. (Mt.7:24) We can see the true saving faith in Christ as evidenced by obedience to Christ.
Listen to Jesus.
John 14:14. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. 15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Listen to the disciple whom Jesus loved.
I John 5:1. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.
Jesus says that you will know true inward heart of love for Christ by their outward fruits of holiness and obedience to His commands. (Mt.5:1-16, Mt.7:15-20)
The micro view.
Now let’s consider some of the particulars of this passage.
The duty. When you hear or read the Bible – pay attention.
James 1:21. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 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; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 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.
The Holy Spirit is telling us to hear the Bible with a humble and teachable heart and to be actively involved in trying to understand it with an eye to obey it. If I were to tell you that I was going to read to you the directions to a treasure map, you would be intently listening with an eye to later going to find the treasure.
The writer to the Hebrews says this.
Hebrews 2:1. For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.
The idea is to pay attention to the word so as to be changed by the Word. Real change, inward change revealed in the outward. The apostle John says, let us not love with words or tongue (only) but with actions and in truth. (I Jn.3:18, Ezek.33:32)
Some words of practical application.
Negatively when we disobey the word of God and thereby grieve the Holy Spirit that inspired the word, God in turn may grieve us. He may grieve us as discipline in a number of ways. He may remove His friendly felt presence from us. He may send frowning or afflictive providences to us. He may not heed our prayers since we are not heeding His word. (WCF 5.5) By habitually disobeying God we reveal we are unbelievers and in great danger. (Rom.2:7-8)
Positively, when we labor to live according to God’s word we please God. We please Him in a number of ways. We honor Him by obeying Him. We rightly respect ourselves in that we are His royal holy people and we live to our calling. We express love for others. Obeying God is a wonderful platform for which to then present the gospel to unbelievers. Obeying God in an anti-God world shows that world that God is worth living for. We encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to likewise live worthy of the gospel of Christ. We act as a check or a preventative for sins that fellow believers may be tempted to engage in but are called back by our obedience to God. (WCF 16.1-7, Mt.5:16, Mal.1:6)
The duty – when you hear the Bible beware of self-deceit.
Next, negatively James warns Christians that they can be self-deceived “hearers” of the Bible. Obviously, he wants to put us on our guard against this.
Let me give us some practical examples. Those that hear the Bible preached on the Lord’s Day or read the Bible privately and at the conclusion of the preaching or reading, walk away without any Christ-like change. These people are deceiving themselves.
The deception is they think that are true Christians, that they are in an estate of salvation or grace and they are not.
The Bible says this about the corruption of our heart.
Jeremiah 17:9. The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 10 “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
Could there be a greater deception and danger? To believe that you are In Christ, when in fact you are apart from Christ.
The illustration. V.23, 24.
Again James imitates Jesus Christ even with his teaching method. He uses a common illustration from daily life, a man in front of a mirror. Much as Jesus did using parables from the farm and the field. (Mt.7:26)
The mirror is John’s way to illustrate his point of hearing and doing the word.
The mirrors of this day were made of polished metal and not of glass. And as such the reflection was not nearly as clear as our mirrors. So, the reflection of these mirrors was not an accurate reflection, but just a dim representation. (Job 37:18, I Cor.13:12, 2 Cor.3:18)
James says the man that sees his face in the mirror and as soon as he turns away, he immediately forgets what his own face looks like! Is just like the man that hears the word and does not obey the word.
The man has no spiritual memory, no spiritual sense, no spiritual abilities. (Eph.2:1-9)
The mirror of the Bible shows us our sins. If we are never convicted, then we have not profited by the Bible. (I Jn.3:8, Rom.7:7-10, Rom.3:21)
The Bible shows us the mercy of God in Christ. If we never trust in Christ for our salvation, then we are forgetful hearers of the gospel. (Jn.3:16)
The Bible shows us the duty God requires. If we walk away and do not do our duty, then we are the foolish man still dead in sins and trespasses. (Exod.20:1-17, Mt.22:37-40)
Then James gives us the positive example of the true hearer as the one that obeys what he or she hears from God’s word. This is here to comfort and encourage all true Believers. (WCF 18.1-4)
This is the contrast to the ineffectual hearer. This person hears and obeys.
James 1:25. 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.
God’s moral law is permanent. Those set free In Christ love God’s Law. The moral Law shows the Believer the things that please and displease God. (Jn.8:36, Rom.8:2,15, Gal.5:13)
Listen to David under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 19:7. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple…V.11. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 119:1. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. 3 They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. 4 You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. (Jn.13:17)
The examples. V.26-27.
James continues to be very practical. Now here he gives some common examples of how to obey God’s word.
James 1:26. 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. 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.
I would argue here that what James teaches is a summary of the second table of the Law of God. In other words, James is talking about the second greatest commandment in the Bible here – to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Rom.13:10-12, Mt.22:37-40)
Watch your speech – holy speech.
A truly converted Christian labors to put a bridle on his mouth because we love God and because we are loved by God in Christ. And now therefore we love people. So, we speak well of others and not ill. (James 1:19, 3:2, Ps.14:1-3, Prov.21:23, Prov.13:3, (see WLC on the 9th commandment regarding our speech towards our neighbor, WLC 143-145)
Because of our fallen flesh, our mouths without reigns on them will curse and swear and gossip, and so on. The person changed by the Word wants to love his neighbor and labors to love their neighbor even with what they say.
It is a sobering thought that James does not say do not be adulterers, robbers, murderers and so on.
These ‘big’ sins we all would condemn and strive against. At least the outward expressions of them. (Mt.5:16-32)
But watching what we say?! Little sins are not little to God. And in the little things we prove whether we are True Believers or deceived professors.
Our speech reveals the quality of our Christianity. (Eph.5:4, Eph.4:29, Col.4:6, Mt.15:11, Prov.15:1-2, Prov.16:24, James 1:26)
Help people in need – holy love.
(Dt.14:29, Ezek.22:7, Acts 6:1-6, Mt.25:35-40) True Christianity is not all negatives. But also, positives. Do not do evil. But practice righteousness. True Believers are to love others like our God has loved us. Not just with words, but also with deeds. True love for God gives birth to true love for others which comes out of us in expressions of love and grace and mercy and peace. We give cups of cold water to the thirsty because God in Christ has shed His love in our soul. God has given to us that we can give to others.
Psalm 68:5. A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. 6 God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity.
Psalm 146:8. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; 9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
Deuteronomy 10:16. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. 17 “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 20 “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.
Don’t be corrupted by the world – holy concern.
Thomas Manton says the world is a dirty and defiling thing. A man can hardly walk here without defiling his garments.
Christ prayed that we would be kept from the evil of this world. (Jn.17:15) In part, this is why the apostle Paul says he was crucified to the world. (Gal.6:14) We have to treat this world properly if we would not be corrupted by the world. (Gal.1:3-4, 2 Cor.6:14-18)
Listen to the apostle John on this.
1 John 2:15. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
You see in a very practical way this exhortation indicts many Christians for their friendship with the world. We are to be separate from the world in our affections, beliefs, words and deeds. We are called to be holy in Christ and devoted wholly for Him. (2 Cor.6:14-18)
Be spotless – holy goal.
Finally, the apostle James tells us that those that have true faith and truly hear the word of God that our ultimate desire is to be spotlessly holy like Christ. Oh, this does not mean that we make ourselves holy. But this does mean that we desire to be free from sin and that love holiness and that we constantly seek Christ for His holiness to us. (2 Pt.3:14, I Tim.6:14, Jas.1:21, 4:4, Phil.3:1-14, I Pt.1:16, Lev.11:44)
Let me close with these words.
Revelation 3:4. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
- Why it wrong to be a professing Christian that does not read and or labor to obey the Bible? What does being a Bible-less “Christian” indicate about the person’s spiritual nature? Of their thoughts of God? What are some ways that professing Christians express their disinterest and dislike of the Bible? (James 1:21-27, Rom.10:17, Jn.17:17, Heb.3:12-19, Ps.50:16-22, Ezek.18:25-29, I Sam.15:22-26, Mt.4:1-4)
- What is a nominal Christian? What is a formalist Christian? What are some tests to see if we are nominal or formal Christians? What are some ways that professing Christians read or hear the Bible but are not inwardly or outwardly changed by the Bible? What are some dangers associated with being a Bible “hearer” only? (James 1:21-27, Mt.13:18-23, Mk.4:19-21, Mt.5:20, 2 Tim.3:1-5, Mt.23:27-28, Jn.5:37-40, Lk.6:46-49, Rev.3:1-6, Mt.7:16-29)
- Why are Bible hearers and Bible doers the only true Christians? If good works do not save us, then why is it necessary to obey God’s word? Can true Christians perfectly obey God’s word in this life? How does obeying God’s word reveal our love of God? Do you sometimes not obey what you know from the Bible? Why? What should you do about it? (Jn.15:1-10 Gal.2:20, Mt.13:18-23, Mt.7:24, Jn.14:14-15, I Jn.5:1-4, Mt.5:1-16, Mt.7:15-20, WCF 16.1-7)
- How does the Bible act as a mirror? How does the Bible show us our sins? The danger of our sins? The Redeemer of our sins? How does the Bible show us the wonders of Christ, both His precepts and His practice? How does the Bible show us our duty towards God and Man? (Eph.2:1-9, I Jn.3:8, Rom.7:7-10, Rom.3:21, Jn.3:16, Exod.20:1-17, Mt.22:37-40)
- How does love fulfill the law of God? How do we express love of neighbor in our thoughts of them, affections towards them, speech of them and to them, and actions towards them? How can we express lovelessness to our neighbor? (James 1:21-27, Rom.13:8-14, Mt.22:37-40, Gal.5:14, I Jn.3:16-18, I Jn.4:7-21, Phil.2:3-4, Prov.10:12, I Cor.13:1-13, Mt.5:43-48, Rom.12:10, Eph.4:2, Rom.5:8)
- Why should we guard our speech? In what ways can we practice guarding our speech? How does our speech reveal what we think about others? How can we sin against others with our speech? (James 1:21-27, James 3:2, Ps.14:1-3, Prov.21:23, Prov.13:3, Mt.5:16-32, Eph.5:4, Eph.4:29, Col.4:6, Mt.15:11, Prov.15:1-2, Prov.16:24, James 1:26, WLC 143-145)
- Widows and orphans represent those that are needy. How do our outward words and actions reveal our inward heart of love for them? Or not? Why should we love with our deeds and not just words? Think of God’s love for us. (Dt.14:29, Ezek.22:7, Acts 6:1-6, Mt.25:35-40, Jn.3:16, Ps.68:5-6, Ps.146:8-9, Dt.10:16-20)
- How can we obey God’s word and not be stained by the sin of this world? How can we strive for practical moral holiness? Why should we? What are some ways that Christians make friends with the world? How can we maintain a proper holy “separatism” in the world? (James 1:25-27, Jn.17:15, Gal.6:14, Gal.1:3-4, James 4:4, 2 Cor.6:14-18, I Jn.2:15-17, 2 Cor.6:14-18, I Cor.15:33)