Faith That Works 2. The Test of Pure Religion
James 1:19-27 New International Version (NIV)
Listening and Doing
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
We are continuing our series through James a book that takes the aspects of our faith and puts it to the coalface of the practical realities of our lives in a series I have called “Faith that Works”.
This morning we come to probably one of the most practical aspects of James book. In this passage James Identifies those who are deceived by their “religion” and those who have, as James puts it, “pure and faultless religion.
It essentially boils down to does what you hear actually impact our life into action. So the first reality that James covers is this idea of the internal emotion change of the word, the external life change of the word, and finally how grace makes this all possible.
1. The Word and internal change
So, James brings in some very interesting and if you are honest with yourself very difficult internal checks to see if the word is having effect in your life, if you religion is actually changing you.
To hit home, he says, if you can’t control your tonged your faith your religion is worthless. That is harsh.
James identifies these markers as a religion that has actually affected you: You are more eager to listen than to speak, you have control of your anger, you have control of your tongue and have separated yourself from all moral filth.
James is essentially saying, if you say you know God, if you say you know Jesus, has this changed your thoughts? If you know Christ, you cannot, and should not tolerate any hatred to people based on race, based on their class, this means that you should not speak badly of to to your spouse, or child. It means that you should not think maliciously about anyone!
If your religion does not change your inner thought life it is deception. Now, that is huge! I mean even me saying this in this church, people will be squirming thinking that have become some kind of legalist.
The more honest among us will struggle because we don’t live even close to these realities. And some among us will say, I have tried to hem myself in and it hasn’t worked.
Now, the interesting thing is that James is not stepping far outside of what Jesus himself demanded of his followers, and if you don’t believe me go a re-read the sermon on the mount and see if it differs to what James is demanding here.
You see church, we have to ask ourselves; if there is no internal change of our values and internal thought life, have we actually changed?
This is the premise that James is trying to get the church to reconcile? How can we say we know the truth of the love of God for us, and the wonder of the Son and yet it effects no part of our lives, we are the same self-obsessed, self-aggrandising person we were before we believed? Surely we are hypocrites!
It would be like someone lecturing you on the benefits of a vegan diet, and telling you how they think eating meat is murder while they are eating a hamburger. Now I am not punting the vegan diet (in fact I would never punt it), but the point is you would look at that person and say; “are you sure you believe what you are telling me? Because your actions kind of give you away.
The point that James is making is; you say you know Jesus, that the Word dwells within you; well is there any internal change? If there is none you might be self-deceived.
The next reality is that he addresses,
2. The Word and external change
Here James calls into question the Word’s impact on our actions. He identifies that if the Word is in you, you should see someone who cares for the absolute least in society; widows and orphans, and someone who keeps themselves from being polluted from the world.
So, not only should your internal life be effected, but your actions, the way you treat people needs to change. And the greatest way you will see if your actions are really changed is if you are able to care for those who have no power or capacity to give back. Widows and orphans were the leftovers of society in the day that James wrote, these are people who would take without ever being able to give back ever!
You will be amazed at how often this idea comes up in the writings of the New Testament, but the gospel and care for the poor, or care for the widow and orphan. It was a hand in glove reality. Where the gospel went out so this concern for the poorest of the poor went with it.
It actually became a peculiar mark of the early church, and became such a movement that there are letters collected from Roman officials concerned at the influence that Christians had over areas, because they cared more the Romans in that area more than the Roman government did.
You cannot say you have met God, that you have had an encounter with the living God, and it changes nothing of your actions. This is foolish and illogical.
If I walked into this church, well dressed looking good and said I have just been struck by lightening, no one would believe me, why? Because that kind of power would change me! If I had actually been struck by lightening I would at best be walking in with my clothes scorched and my walk a lot more wobbly with a strong smell of burned hair. Because lightening is incredibly powerful! So how can we say we have encountered God and yet our lives remain unchanged; our actions remain unchanged.
Church we delude ourselves.
Now, the huge danger in all this is to say, well then I must prove that God has changed me; in fact that is where most of our hearts go! I must fix my life! I must change! The problem church is you can’t without becoming a complete and utter hypocrite!
And the rest of this morning will be spent warning you against that and giving you the true key, the only key, to actual life change.
3. Grace as the key to it all
James makes some very interesting appeals in this text to ensure that we get this this; firstly he tells us to stare in the perfect law of freedom! This is fundamental and at the end of this passage he says that when we do this we keep ourselves unblemished from the world. Together we get the picture of the process of true religion, religion that actually changes people from the inside out, and, secondly, we get the process on walking in that faith.
So, let’s break this down by looking at the last phrase first; James says that when we do the Word we keep ourselves from the filth of this world. Now, we must be honest with this. The visual image is someone with a perfectly clean robe walking through a literal stream of sewage and coming out the other side spotless.
Now that is impossible! But let’s also be honest church, none of us here are clean to begin with! Who here, sitting in Church (the saved ones) has even kept themselves from being dirtied by the world even this week. Only the most supremely self-righteous would say that and if we sat down to talk long enough we would discover that when you start to dig into their thoughts, their hidden desires that we all stand filthy ourselves.
How do you keep yourself clean from the pollution of the world when you start off filthy? In fact, that is the main problem with the world, with people is that we have become so accustomed to the filth of the world that we have started to consider it clean. I am amazed at some of the conversation that we have today that would be considered absolutely taboo not even 50 years ago.
Now, for those of you who are tempted to think; yes the good old days! You see its these kids who are filthy! Let’s not forget that you were not having conversations that are considered completely taboo today! Our “morality” has just shifted the sickness and filth is still there and always will be! Now for you younger kids who think your parents and grandparents are so backwards, and we have become so progressive today and are tempted to virtue signal, just remember your grandkids are going to think you as backwards and primitive in your thinking! This always happens and always will because we are essentially blind to our own filth.
So, if we are blind to it, and we have no hope of changing what is James talking about? What is the hope? Well, it is where James says we must stare into the perfect law of Freedom.
The Greek word for stare into is literally to get down and dig into it, and the Law of Freedom is not the Old Testament Sinai Law it is the Law of Christ; the gospel!
Church we need to stare at the fact that none of us here can ever work hard enough for God to find us worthy, none of us can ever begin to hope to live up to the holy standards of God! We must stare into that and then live it out!
The gospel is that of course you are not good enough; in fact ,deep down you are far worse. But the gospel, the good news is that God so loved the world, God so loved you, that He send His one and only son to die for all that sin! To take the punishment we deserve that we can be clothed with His righteousness.
My mind is taken to
Zechariah 3:1-4 New International Version (NIV)
Clean Garments for the High Priest
3 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
Zechariah, pictures exactly what happens internally within us, we stand before God in the filthy rags of our sins and failures, with Satan standing besides us shouting accusations at us, “Have you seen what they have done! And they call themselves Christians!”
And God turns to Satan, and because Jesus paid it all! Because Jesus already dealt with the full consequences of our sin on the Cross, rebukes Satan! Quite! And then what happens next; God takes off the filthy clothes and places on clean ones.
This is grace church; all your sins, all your failures are placed like a garment upon Christ and His perfect life, His righteousness, is put on you!
And here is the impact; when we stare into what Christ has done, not just believe it once and move on, when we meditate daily on the cost it took Christ to secure our salvation, when we daily stare into the riches of the depths of the gospel, so that changes us, so our internal life starts to change, not to win God’s affection, no, but because God has already won ours! And very quickly our external life changed, not to prove we are God’s but because how else could we act in the light of such love!
The point is this church; either the gospel has you or it hasn’t, if it hasn’t maybe stare into what Christ actually did; maybe meditate more on the depths and lengths and breadths and limitlessness of the love of God for us in Christ Jesus.
When you get this (or I should say; when this gets you) your life will never be the same! The strange emphasis is this is a change of being, it has to happen to you, you have to receive Christ love; and His love will change you; if it doesn’t you don’t know it!