We know we will be tested by God. These tests are to help us grow in our faith and obedience to Him.
We know we will be tempted by our own desires and by Satan. These temptations are an opportunity for us to choose to follow God and obey him.
In both cases, the net result should include obedience to God. But what motivates us to resist temptation and persevere through the tests?
I find that I can be motivated by many things. Fear is one of them.
I am often motivated by respect for others – when there is no punishment for disobedience.
I am also motivated by love.
As a Jesus-follower, there is another motivator. There is something that needs to motivate and shape the way I treat others, how I relate to God and how I view myself.
James 1:16–27 || 16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. 19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. 26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. [NLT]
This set of verses in James is packed full of great stuff! As a matter of fact, studying the book of James can sometimes feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. Rather than get into the specifics of each item James brings up, I want us to look at how the teachings of this book fit into the bigger narrative of the Bible.
In James 1:16-27 we have a lot of commands like “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. What GREAT advice, eh? That is a great verse to commit to memory. James explains that our anger does not produce righteousness [or right living].
At the end of these verses he says that “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God is to visit widows and orphans in their distress…”. Wow. First of all, religion is not bad! Second, it is about people and loving those that have no one to love them. It is loving our neighbors as ourselves (widows & orphans)
The end of that verse says we should be “refusing to let the world corrupt us”. This takes us back to the nation Israel for sure! When they entered the promised land they were do destroy all the inhabitants and their gods lest they become corrupted! This is also part of loving God with all our heart, mind and strength.
These commands take us back to the 10 Commandments, or the 10 Words.
I am the “why child”. But WHY should I do it? When your parents ask you to do something do you ever ask, “Why”? If the answer is yes, most times it is because of a lack of motivation to do it (attitude, laziness, rebellion, personal agenda).
In the verses we just read, James gives us not just commands to obey but he also gives us the answer to the reason why.
To better understand the motivator for us to follow the commands James gives, which are really the commands found in the 10 Words, let’s look at one particular word in this passage. The word, “word”.
James 1:16–27 || 16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
The more I read and study James the more my mind is blown and the more I realize I have so much more to learn from James! There is a lot that he is saying in these verses that is easy for us to miss.
“Every good gift comes from above.”
Though we often take these verses to refer merely to the good things of this life, or good values or virtues, they refer to that and a whole lot more. What is the best gift that ever came down from above, from the Father? Jesus!
He introduces God, the originator and sustainer of all things as “the father of lights who does not change.” How did God create the light? He SPOKE the Words. [Gen 1:14-19 on the 4th day] “God said…” It was the power of the Word of God that spoke all things into creation.
And the Father of Lights “chose to give us LIFE through the word”. We have new life, new birth though the word of God, the father of lights.
OK, there is a lot to unpack there, so let me share another passage of Scripture that I think will make this a bit more cohesive.
John 1:1–14 || 1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. 6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [NLT]
The WORD is Jesus. The same God who spoke creation into existence, chose to make his words come to earth in the form of Jesus so that you and I could be born again.
Basically, what James is telling us is that our motivation for living in obedience to God is the gospel.
He brings up the gosple again when we come to the next passage with the “word”. Sandwiched in the middle of our scripture passage today is this verse:
James 1:21 || 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. [NLT]
Accept the word planted in us. The word planted in us is the gospel. To humbly accept it means to honestly evaluate our lives considering the gospel.
When I think of how much God loves me and how he sacrificed his Son for my sins and pursued me to be his child, how could I not want to obey him?
When I think about the fact that is was my sin that put Jesus on the cross, I am humbled. He came to earth to live the perfect life that I could not live, and died for my sins therefore I should not consider myself as all-important; pride and arrogance have no place.
When I understand that God loved the WORLD this much, and that he sent Jesus not just for me, but for the people around me, it ought to motivate me to love and compassion for those around me, especially the marginalized and the ones “trapped” in a lifestyle of sin. It also ought to motivate me to mission – to joining God on his mission of seeking and saving the lost.
Don’t just listen to the “word” but do it. Remember, the bibles you have in your hands did not exist when James was penned. James was NOT referring to our modern Bibles as the word. He would be referring to the law, as mentioned in verse 25. And ever more, the perfect law that produces freedom, which is the gospel.
James 1:22 || 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. [NLT]
When the gospel is central in my life, then I can live the way God wants me to live. It is the greater motivator. It changes the way I think about myself, my God and the world around me.
There is a lot of talk about being gospel centric. The centrality of the gospel is a huge buzz phrase, especially among Baptist and Reformed folks. In most of my experiences, it has become just a catchy, cliché phrase that has lost its meaning. For some it means that every time there is a sermon the gospel must be presented. If that is how we define gospel centric we are in trouble!
My brothers and sisters, the centrality of the gospel is about you and me, individually, understanding What God has done for us and how it ought to shape the way we live. We are going to look at this in more detail in the weeks to come as we study James’ letter.
In the beginning of our passage, we learned that the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God, or the right kind of living that God desires.
Righteous living is achieved by obedience to God’s word as we face the testing of our faith and the temptations of our desires. And the motivation for this kind of living must be the word that is implanted within us – the GOSPEL.
The goal is that our lives would be righteous. That we would be right before God in our motives, our actions and our relationships. Let’s try to understand righteousness a little better.
Righteousness is granted to us through the Gospel. Because of Jesus, we have right standing and a right relationship with God. That is something that we could not earn on our own.
2 Corinthians 5:21 || 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [NLT]
Romans 5:1 || 1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. [NLT]
However, we are also reminded in Hebrews 11 that there are people whose actions were counted as righteousness. And in James we are told that there is a righteousness that we must strive after.
So, it appears we have both positional righteousness (we ARE MADE right with God) and a practical righteousness (we are to WORK OUT our faith and BE RIGHTEOUS).
Because of the gospel we have a righteous relationship with God that ought to produce righteous words and actions in our lives.
Right living and genuine religion only come through living gospel centered lives.
In other words, when I humbly acknowledge the gospel in my life, when I understand my position as a sinner who was graciously pursued by God, forgiven and accepted through Jesus – it MUST change the way I live. It must be the great motivator for what I stop doing as well as what I choose to do.
The gospel must shape my relationship with my heavenly Father as well as my relationship with the world around me that He created and loves dearly.
The gospel must shape my relationships with my Savior, Jesus as well as my relationship with those that need the rescue he offers by giving up his life for them.
The gospel must shape my relationship with the Spirit that lives in me so that I can live the kind of righteousness that I have been granted by the Spirit through obedience to the Word.
But to humbly receive the word means we need to think about, apply, confess and commit to the gospel and the implications of the gospel to our lives.
This morning as we celebrate communion, think about all that God has done for you and me. Think about what the gospel means to you. Make this time of remembrance a time to commit to the gospel being the core of your life. Ask God to show you how to live out the everyday stuff of life in a gospel centric way.