Monday, January 12, 2015

More Than a Glance

Week 2 in our 6 week study of the book of James at Alive Student Ministry 

This second lesson in James further addresses perseverance. This perseverance, however, has to do with continually living in the power of the Word of God. It has the power to save. Yet only listening to the Word without practicing it deceives us into believing that we are changed individuals when in fact we have merely taken a short glance into the Word. A life that is truly changed by faith is one that obeys the Word of God and puts its truths into practice every day.

James 1:21-25 (ESV)
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Supporting Passages:  Psalm 119, Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 40:8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Merely listening to the word is not sufficient. True freedom and blessing comes from remembering and continually acting upon the Word (Jas. 1:25). For some people, having the right answers and knowing correct theology is more important than allowing God’s Word to transform their lives. James said that this type of living is deceptive. For James, freedom and blessing come from continually hearing, intently studying, and putting God's Word into action. Here's a good illustration - The basic rules to golf are simple. You use a club to hit a ball into a hole, and you try to do it in as few strokes as possible. But knowing how to play doesn't make you a good golfer. You can study the game all you want, but until you can produce a low score again and again, you aren’t a good golfer. In fact, you aren’t a golfer at all. 

1. God’s Word must overtake the sin in our lives by becoming deeply rooted in our hearts (Jas. 1:21).

James urged his readers to exchange their former, sinful ways with a life that is rooted in the Word of God. He referred to the Word being firmly planted in a believer’s life. When the Word is rooted and growing in a believer’s life, it leaves no room for the sin that had once taken up residence there. God offers His saving Word, but it must be received and cultivated so that it can grow. A pot of dirt will never produce anything unless a seed is planted in it. But even if a seed is planted, that seed will not grow if things are not done to promote growth. It must be watered, weeded, fertilized, brought in for the winter, and protected from insects and disease. If those things aren't done, the seed will never be transformed into the fruit-producing plant that it was meant to be. James related hearing God’s Word to the planting of a seed. If we take the steps necessary to promote the growth of God's planted Word, then we will be changed into mature, fruit-producing members of God’s Kingdom. Like anything that is planted and tended, your faith will grow and life will be changed if you are open to hearing the truths of the Word and allowing God to work through it to change your life.

2. When the Word is truly rooted in our lives, we live it out every day (Jas. 1:22–24).

James said that merely listening to God's Word without allowing it to change one's life is misleading. It’s like a pretend relationship with God: A person acts like he or she follows God but in reality is merely going through religious motions. James emphasized this truth by comparing it to someone who looks at herself in the mirror and then walks away and immediately forgets what she looks like. The mirror was of no use to her because it did not affect anything about her life. Simply going to church or reading the Bible without allowing it to change the way you live will open the door for all kinds of moral filth and evil to come into your life. A true relationship with Christ is marked by a life that conforms to the Word of God instead of just seeing the Bible as optional words on a page.

3. Persevering in God’s Word brings freedom and blessing (Jas. 1:25).

James used four words to describe how believers should approach and react to God’s perfect law: intently, continually, remembering, and doing. Believers can’t neglect God’s Word. Instead, followers of Christ are to intently and continually study God’s Word. They are to be faithful to stand firm in the Word and not allow it to leave them unchanged; on the contrary, they are to incorporate it into their daily lives so that it affects everything that they do. Anything that we want to do well requires perseverance. Athletes practice over and over until muscle memory makes certain motions second nature. Musicians study music and then spend hours practicing. An athlete who did not persevere through difficult practices and musicians who did persevere through difficult pieces of music would never gain any skill. Similarly, being a Christ-follower requires being faithful in the Word and continuing to put it into action every day. Although studying Scripture and attending church are great things, by themselves they will not transform your life. A continual relationship with Christ, spurred by devotion to His Word, will speak truth, wisdom, and direction into your life. Empty motions void of action enslave us to a false life. But continually making God’s Word part of your life will bring freedom to allow Christ to work in and through you and put His Word into action in your life.

So, what's the BIG IDEA of the passage?

Simply put, Christianity is not a spectator sport. Real life change does not come from simply observing God's Word from the sideline. It comes from continually and intentionally studying it and doing what it says. We have to practice what we learn from God's Word. Pretending to value God’s Word but not applying it to our lives is a false religion and a pretend relationship with God. We must make the study of His Word a priority and also consciously seek His guidance in applying it in our daily lives.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote this letter in approximately A.D. 45–50 to people living in a pagan society. The words of James were not written to any particular group but to the Church as a whole whose members were living throughout the known world. It is very probable that most of his audience had very little understanding of how to live the Christian life once they became believers. Since many of those to whom James wrote lacked godly teaching on the subjects of prayer, faith, and morality, his purpose was to instruct them on the practical aspects of the Christian life, including the lesson that faith and works are both necessary in order to please God. The overarching theme of James’ writing is that while faith leads to salvation, works are the result of salvation.
James’s writings deal much more with the issue of Christian ethics than with Christian doctrine. As a result, the Book of James is sometimes compared to the writings in Proverbs and the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount because of the practical nature of their wisdom. But while James’s instructions are much more practical than theological, the words of his book are no less important because how we live is definitely a direct result of what we believe.
James reminds us that The Bible is God's Word and is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, it requires those who encounter it to do what it says. Reading other books requires no action on our part, whether the subject is fiction or nonfiction or whether we are reading for information, inspiration, or entertainment. But to read the very words of God is a call to obey; doing so demands action. James made this point clearly in James 1:22, which is one of the most recognizable verses in the book. He wrote that if we hear the Word of God and do not do what it says to do, we are deceiving ourselves. James means that we have a false sense of faithfulness if we know intellectually what the Bible says without following it up with action. To know what to do and not do it is disobedience—and disobedience is sin.
James 1:21 In this verse, James, writing to Christians, told them that they were to put off the sin that was so prevalent in their lives. He instructed them instead to humbly accept the Word of God that had been implanted in their lives. The word that James used to describe ridding themselves of sin is a word that is used to describe stripping off one’s clothes. Thus he implored his hearers to take off their sin as they would strip off dirty clothes that they would no longer want touching their body. It is important to note that the tense of the Greek verb that James used here stresses the importance of putting off sin before receiving the Word of God. Thus, we are to prepare our hearts to be open to God’s Word by confessing and repenting of our sin.
The word humbly in the original language describes how we are to accept the Word of God. We are meant to accept it soberly and with a teachable spirit. It means to accept and embrace the teachings of God’s Word without resentment as to what it requires in the way that we should live.
While the Word of God had already been accepted by those hearing these words of James, they were to do more than simply believe them—they were to live them. Not only did the Word save them, but when they lived it and did what it requires, it was also the best defense against the sins of the flesh that James had mentioned at the beginning of this verse. It is somewhat of a cyclical relationship: We prepare to receive the Word by putting off sin, and the Word also helps us to avoid sin in the first place.
James 1:22 This verse is probably the most familiar one in all five chapters of the book. It contains great words of instruction for believers. James told Christians that if they were simply hearing the Word of God—that is, using mere intellectual assent—but were not doing what it says, then they were only deceiving themselves. The original word used for deceive was a mathematical term referring to a miscalculation that had been made. James was not simply suggesting or making a request that Christians do what the Bible says; rather, he was demanding or insisting upon it.
One commentary writer gives a good description of what it means to be a hearer of God’s Word versus being a doer of God’s Word. He describes hearers as students who are auditing a class. They attend classes to gather information, but they do not write papers, take exams, or make any type of preparation for class. They have little personal investment at stake in the class. The doers, on the other hand, are students taking the class for a grade. They must write papers, take exams, and do whatever is necessary to meet the requirements of the class if they wish to successfully pass it. They have a lot at stake, and whether they pass is dependent upon their actions.
Likewise, we must be students of God’s Word, not mere auditors. “Doing” must characterize all Christians because those who hear and do not live out the Word of God will suffer the consequences of self-deception. In practical terms, being deceived in this way means that we go to church, read the Bible, or other religious activities and believe that simply doing any of them is all that we need to do as a “good Christian.” In this mindset, we have actually failed to apply the Word to our lives, and it has left us unchanged.
James 1:23-24 First-century mirrors were not made of glass but rather were polished pieces of metal, typically bronze or silver. These mirrors gave an adequate reflection as mirrors do today. James used the analogy of looking in a mirror to describe looking at the Word of God. A person who looks at God’s Word but does not follow through by responding to it is like an individual who looks into a mirror and then forgets what he or she looks like.
The point that James was making in these verses is that when we as believers encounter the Word of God in any way, it serves as a mirror to reveal who we really are. It gives a true reflection of who we are and leaves no question as to the sin that is present in our life. A danger lies in the fact that if we fail to act promptly after being confronted with the truth of God’s Word, it is easy for us to simply forget about the changes that we need to make. As a result, we go away unchanged and forget the sins in our life that were revealed. It is like looking in a mirror before turning away and forgetting what we saw.
James 1:25 James contrasted the man who hears God’s Word but does not act on it by describing the person who looks intently at God’s Word. This individual looks carefully and soberly at what God has to say to him. He is serious about actually applying the Bible to his life.
James referred to God’s Word as the law in this verse. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God’s revealed and inerrant Word was referred to as “the law,” so this reference does not specifically relate to Old Testament Law but rather to God’s Word in general. James also described the law as giving freedom. This means that God’s Word gives believers freedom from sin when it is applied to their lives. This is in direct opposition to worldly wisdom, which would have us believe that a lack of guidelines or demands on our lives is freedom. In those cases, individuals become slaves to their own sinful desires and passions. The spiritual irony here is that only when a person lives under the law is he truly free.
James closed this verse by reminding his readers that an individual who was free because he had obeyed the law of God—and then continued to look into God’s Word and do what it says—would be blessed. He would find God’s favor because he would not forget what he had heard, as opposed to the person in verses 22–24 who did forget and thereby deceived himself.
James clearly taught that God desires for Christians to act on what they know. Hearing, reading, and understanding what God has called us to be and do simply constitute head knowledge unless lived out. Students as well as adults often have a way of compartmentalizing each area of their lives so that one area doesn’t affect or touch another. They can hear the Word of God preached and taught, and they can even read it on their own. However, when it comes time to make everyday or future decisions, students may not see the necessity of incorporating the Word of God into every choice that they make. How is the transfer made from the head to the heart and then to the hands?
How many things do we know that we should do and be that we fail to act on because of laziness, apathy, or a lack of discipline? How can we model a life that puts the Word of God into action?

Small Group Questions:

  • Describe your attitude toward the Word of God.
  • When you read the Bible, how do you make an effort to act on what you’ve read?
  • What are some examples of “good” things that distract you from studying God’s Word and putting it into practice?
  • How does your life reflect a value for God’s Word?

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