The Practical Outworking of God’s Word
© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020
Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.
God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.
We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.
Salvation has three tenses:
- I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
- I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
- I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.
God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.
Men and Mirrors
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.
If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.
So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)
Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.
Watch your Mouth!
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”
It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”
I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!
He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.
He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)
So, what kind of behavior
befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s
way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of
their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being
involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.
(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.
Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?
I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.
Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)
But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.
Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.