Summary: In James 1:21-27, James shows you three steps in building a faith that really works.
Andras Tamas is the name officials gave a certain man decades ago in a Russian psychiatric hospital. He’d been drafted into the Army, but the authorities had mistaken his native Hungarian language for the gibberish of a lunatic and had him committed.
Then they forgot about him—for 53 years!
A few years ago a psychiatrist at the hospital began to realize what had happened and helped Tamas recover the memories of who he was and where he came from. He recently returned home to Budapest as a war hero, “the last prisoner of World War II.”
Not only had this man forgotten his real name, he hadn’t even seen his own face in five decades. So, according to one news account, “For hours, the old man studies his face in a mirror. The deep-set eyes. The gray stubble on the chin. The furrows of the brow. It is his face, but it is a startling revelation.”
Imagine looking at your own face in a mirror and not recognizing it. James says that is just what people are doing when they listen to God’s word but do not obey it. There, right before their eyes in Scripture, is an accurate reflection of themselves. But they don’t truly see—with the eyes of their hearts—what the Bible shows them. So, with that in mind, let’s read James 1:21-27:
"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 a man 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 the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
"26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his 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." (James 1:21-27)
The American novelist William Faulkner toiled for years as an unknown writer in the rural Mississippi town of Oxford before he gained recognition. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, his acclaim grew.
When approached later about the literary people and authors with whom he associated, Faulkner shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know any famous literary people. He said, “The people I know are other farmers and horse people and hunters, and we talk about horses and dogs and guns and what to do about this hay crop or this cotton crop, not about literature.”
Faulkner befriended real people. Unpretentious people. People who were honest about life rather than those who simply talked about it. The kind of people whose talk was backed up by their walk.
These kinds of people are rare these days. And at the root of it all is the problem of divorce. I’m not talking about the kind of divorce you normally think of, the tragedy that has broken up so many of our homes. I’m talking about an even greater divorce, a divorce that results not in broken homes but broken lives. And that is the divorce between our knowledge and our practice.
Author and Pastor A. W. Tozer once wrote:
"There is an evil which in its effect upon the Christian religion may be more destructive than Communism, Romanism and Liberalism combined. . . . It is the glaring disparity between theology and practice among professing Christians. So wide is this gulf which separates theory from practice in the church that an inquiring stranger who chances upon both would scarcely dream that there was any relation between the two of them. An intelligent observer of the human scene who heard the Sunday morning message and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who heard it would conclude that he had been examining two distinct and contrary religions. It appears to me that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right. And so the divorce between theory and practice becomes permanent in fact. Truth sits forsaken and grieves till her professed followers come home for a brief visit. But she sees them depart again when the bills come due."
It is because of this problem that James makes a special point in James 1:21-27 to show you how to build a faith that really works, to show you how to overcome this great divorce between your knowledge of God’s Word and your practice of it.