Summary: Pure religion accepts and applies God's Word.
With our passage for today, we begin a consideration of what James calls, “pure religion.” He is describing those things which will lead the child of God to live out our call to truly be a disciple of Christ, a sincere Christ-follower, whose life can be used of God to really make a difference in this fallen world.
One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is that there is such a thing as absolute truth. The Christian life is lived as one acknowledges these divine absolutes and adjusts his life accordingly. As we saw last time, it is subjectivity that has contributed to the present chaos of this world (Genesis 2:17).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” - Proverbs 12:15 (NASB)
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” - Proverbs 16:25 (NIV)
As Christians, we are called to be “salt and light” in this world, living in such a way as to make folks thirsty for something more fulfilling and revealing that Christ is who they need. If we are to do this, then we must order our lives according to the divine absolutes found in God’s Word, for it is through the Word of God that the absolutes of God are given expression. Therefore, if one is to observe what James calls, “pure religion,” he must respond to the Word of God. What all is involved in positively responding to the Word of God?
1. We must accept it - vs. 19-21
The principle laid down in verse 19, is applicable to any relationship when it comes to communication and relational health. Applying this principle will benefit your friendships, your marriage, your work place, you name it. Now, if this is applicable to our human relationships, how much more is it also true of our relationship with God?
In his article, “Let’s Be Honest: Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles,” Erik Raymond lists 5 reasons we ignore the Word of God:
5) We have a dysfunctional relationship with God - we say we love Him but betray that love by ignoring His love letter to us;
4) We think it’s stale and lifeless - which reveals more of a problem with the heart of the potential reader than it does with the Bible;
3) We are undisciplined - we simply do not live with intentionality when it comes to reading our Bibles;
2) It’s too hard - some people find reading the Bible to be difficult, especially when it comes to understanding the ancient customs and practices mentioned in the Bible, or sometimes the difficulty lies in the version they are reading (which is partly why my preaching features a variety of versions);
1) It makes us uncomfortable - This is the reason no one wants to talk about but everyone needs to grapple with. We love to be
comfortable and the Bible aims to comfort us; but it makes us uncomfortable before it comforts us.
If we engage in honest Bible reading we know that we have been confronted by God and his Word. This punctures our pride and unsettles us. If we aim to preserve comfort and protect honor then we will avoid this like someone who is out of shape avoids the gym.
This is James’ emphasis: just because you feel conviction through the Word of God, don’t, for that reason, avoid it! Instead, be quick to listen to God’s Word, because the truth of God’s Word can transform your life - v. 21 - God’s Word brings life and deliverance. In verse 18 James says the Word of God is the instrument of our being born again; and in verse 21 he says it is also the instrument of our spiritual growth.
There’s an old saying: “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it!” But really, if God said it, that settles it, whether I believe it or not. So the real order is: “God said it; that settles it; so I believe it.”
If we are going to live our the Christian life as we should, practicing “pure religion,” we must accept God’s Word; and . . .
2. We must apply it - vs. 22-27
Hearing God’s Word is not enough. Even studying it is not enough. The Bible is a book to be read and practiced, just as our Lord taught.
“Anyone who hears and obeys these teachings of mine is like a wise person who built a house on solid rock. Rain poured down, rivers flooded, and winds beat against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on solid rock. Anyone who hears my teachings and doesn’t obey them is like a foolish person who built a house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, and the winds blew and beat against that house. Finally, it fell with a crash.” - Matthew 7:24-27 (CEV)