Calvary Road Baptist Church


James 1.21-27

This book of James is very fulfilling for me to preach through. I do not know what it is like on the receiving end, but on the preaching end of this book, it gets better for me each and every week. For some professing Christians this book is without doubt rather uncomfortable. If you are the type of professing Christian who would like to just sit and let moss grow on you, this little epistle is not very appealing. If, however, you realize your need to grow spiritually and to mature as a believer in Jesus Christ, I feel confident that in our progress through the epistle written by James you will find the experience quite beneficial.

Before proceeding any farther, let me bring up an issue that is too often overlooked in our day, this matter of false hopes. May I define a false hope as an erroneous conclusion reached by a lost person who thinks he is a Christian but who is not? False hopes are recorded throughout God’s Word, beginning with Cain’s false hope that resulted in an attempt to worship God with an offering that God rejected. The prophet Balaam had a false hope. In the New Testament, it is quite clear that Judas Iscariot entertained a false hope, as did Simon the sorcerer in Acts chapter 8, and without doubt the Corinthian fornicator in First Corinthians chapter 5. As well, the Savior spoke of false hopes in Matthew 7.22-23:

22     Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23     And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

There is no question that the matter of false hopes is a serious problem that is dealt with in God’s Word. As a matter of fact, how can you argue against the claim that James is dealing with the issue of false hopes in his letter, when it is agreed by most scholars that James 1.2-20 tests living faith by its response to temptations and trials? Why test something except to examine its authenticity, its genuineness, and the reality of it? Is it not amazing to consider that what is almost universally held to be the first of the New Testament books to be written is a letter from the Jerusalem pastor dealing with false hopes? Thus, false hopes do exist, they are a real problem for professing Christians to deal with, and James is the first of the New Testament writers to provide for his readers a means for examining and evaluating their faith to prove its legitimacy. To repeat, the first test of a living faith found in James is its response to temptations and testings. As I indicated, that test was set forth in James 1.2-20, and I dealt with that test over the course of several sermons.

This morning we once more address the issue of false hopes by means of a second test of living faith, faith’s response to the Word of God. Do you have the courage, this morning, to test your faith to see if it is alive or if it is dead? James tests faith’s response to the Word of God so that it may be ascertained whether that faith is alive or dead. Beginning in James 1.21, we will take note of three methods Pastor James used to test with the Word of God the faith of those he had once led. I would suggest you apply the same three methods to test your own faith’s response to the Word of God.


Living faith responds to exhortations to receive the Word, in verses 21 and 22:

21     Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

22     But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Consider verse 21 with me: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Do you think you can just sit down and read the Bible and get everything out of reading scripture there is for you to have? As well, do you think there is no spiritual preparation that is necessary before you come to a church service in order to derive maximum benefit from the preaching of God’s Word? Think again. James here sets forth the prerequisite to receiving the Word of God when it is preached to you or when you read it. Before you are able to receive the most you can from the Word of God, you must meet certain very specific conditions. Let me emphasize before I get too far along that this passage of scripture is directed only to those of you who have been born again, those of you who have turned from your sins and embraced Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Nowhere in scripture is the sinner requested or commanded to do anything before coming to Christ when confronted with the glorious gospel message except believe on His name.[1] Therefore, understand that this passage is directed to Christians. It sets forth conditions required for God’s blessings with regard to the maximum benefit derived from reading God’s Word or when sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.

James states the conditions for deriving maximum benefit from exposure to God’s Word to be two-fold: The believer is to lay apart all filthiness, and he is to lay apart superfluity of naughtiness. The word “lay apart” means “to put off, to strip off. It is a metaphor from the putting off of clothes.”[2] In Acts 7.33, Stephen, just prior to being stoned, mentions Moses being told by the LORD at the burning bush to “put off” his shoes. In Colossians 3.8, the same word for “lay apart” is used by the Apostle Paul. He tells the Colossians to “put off” the works of the old man, or the unsaved man. Therefore, using the same word and concept, James wants the Christian who listens to Bible teaching and preaching, and the Bible reader, to completely get rid of “filthiness,” to completely strip off as you would dirty clothes the “superfluity of naughtiness.” “Filthiness” means both dirty clothes and moral defilement.[3] As well, strictly speaking, the root Greek word means earwax.[4] Is it not strange that improper conduct, sinful behavior, will make it difficult for you to properly receive the Word of God, either by hearing or by reading? That makes one’s conduct doubly important for the Christian who would receive God’s Word. Whereas “filthiness” refers to external behavior, “superfluity of naughtiness” is related to your heart attitude. “Superfluity” means excess.[5] James does not advise his readers to dispose of just the really bad thoughts. No. He is directing them to recognize that any sinful thoughts should be thought of as excess and gotten rid of because they are wicked. Wicked because that is what “naughtiness” means.[6] When this Bible was translated the term meant very wicked.

Having explained the prerequisite to receiving the Word, James, ever the practical pastor, turns to the proper procedure for receiving the Word of God, in the last half of verse 21: “Receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls” You cannot just come to church and plop into a chair. God here outlines the way His Word is to be received by His child. You must receive the Word. Receive means to receive by deliberate and ready reception what is offered. You must set your mind to take in what God is about to give you, and you must take whatever God decides to give you.[7] I suggest that you not be so presumptuous as to decide ahead of time what you will and will not receive from God’s Word. Additionally, you must be meek. This is a heart attitude not often found in churches today. It is the kind of attitude that says in the heart, “Speak Lord, Thy servant heareth and will obey.” It is the traveling companion of humility, and we know that God both resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.[8] Notice how James describes the Word of God here when it is properly received by the Christian who has dealt with his filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. The Word is engrafted. This proves that he is instructing Christians here. Only Christians have the seed of the Word implanted in their hearts where it has taken root.[9] James further says that the Word is able to save your souls. Let me caution you that James is not here reverting to lost people when he speaks of the Word saving your souls. He is simply referring to the Word of God’s usefulness and power to continually save the Christian’s soul from the power of sin. When one is born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word, he is saved from the penalty of sin and future deliverance from the presence of sin is guaranteed. However, that daily freedom from the power of sin over your life only comes with the daily influx of the all-powerful Word of God through devotional reading and through the preaching of God’s Word at church time.

What is another way of stating this method of testing faith by its reception of the Word? Verse 22: “But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Literally, this phrase is “be Word-doers.” That is a person whose life reflects the teachings of the Word of God. That man receives the Word. He has living faith. Is this you? The hearer, the one who only listens to the preacher (that is what hearer means here) and thinks he is a spiritual man is fooling himself. He is not a hypocrite, he is just a fool. The man who comes to church and only listens to the preaching and thinks he is spiritual is simply and tragically mistaken. You must be a doer of the Word.


Living faith is illustrated to be receptive to the Word, in verses 23, 24 and 25:

In verses 23 and 24, we see the man who hears, but does not really receive, the Word:

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.

Why do you think James has a man looking into a mirror? One of the scholars on my bookshelf feels it is because even in James’ day men were failing in their God-given role as leaders in the home. To be a godly husband you must be a godly leader. To be a godly leader you must spend more time in the Word than those who you expect to follow you. How would you like it if your pastor spent less time studying his Bible than you do? You would not follow his lead. The same is true in the family. The Word of God is here likened to a mirror. Like a mirror, it shows the true nature of any man. What does the man in this illustration do? He looks into the mirror. He actually sees himself in God’s Word for what he really is. However, he goes his way after reading the Bible or after hearing a Bible sermon and straightway forgets what he saw in the mirror of God’s Word. This man is a hearer but not a doer. He is like a man in the pew who says to himself, “Self, the preacher is right. The Bible tells me I ought to ask my wife to forgive me for being such a heel. Someday I just might do that.” He then walks out of the service and conveniently forgets all that he had promised to himself and to God.

In verse 25, James shows us the proper illustration of living faith receiving the Word: “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.” Notice how this man looks into the Word. He continues in the Word. The Bible is now in him even after he is no longer in the Bible. It is for this man that the Word of God is described as “the perfect law of liberty.” He does not feel imprisoned by Bible truth, but truly free and at liberty. He knows the power of God’s truth to free him from sin. The man back in verses 23-24 does not know this truth. How can you tell for sure that this man is really a receiver of the Word? He is “a doer of the work.” Only he who really receives the Word realizes that the Word of God always demands a response from the reader. To respond to the Word is to genuinely receive it. To do nothing is an indication that you never received the Word of God properly. It is “a doer of the work” who is blessed of God. A father does not reward disobedient children. However, those who obey are greatly blessed of God. Notice the word “work” is used. God never tries to fool anyone into thinking that obeying Him is easy. It is not easy to do right. However, the rewards for doing right are always much greater than the consequences of disobedience.


That method is living faith applied:

In verse 26, living faith is applied to your speech: “If any man amoung you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” James is not telling us to go around and check out the way other people talk. The word “seem” refers to if a man thinks to himself that he is religious. James is here giving us a way to test our own religiousness. “Religion” here means the outward trappings of religion like going to church, tithing, etc. These things are right in themselves, but if they are the ways you measure your spirituality, then you have missed the boat unless your mouth is under control. You see, it is this way: Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking we are pleasing God. However, James indicates that if your tongue is running wild, then, brother, you are fooling your own heart and you are just playing church. This passage is not just speaking to people who talk a little too much. It is also directed to people who say unkind things to others. Christians are not supposed to be unkind in their remarks toward anyone. At the very most, we are to speak the truth in love. By the grace of God, the only people that ever stomp out of this church angry will do so because of the cutting edge of the Word of God, not some stupid, unkind remark made by you or by me. Therefore, if you are guilty of this type of speech, you must go to the offended one and ask forgiveness. I do, and I know that it is the most difficult thing there is to do. However, it must be done.

In verse 27, living faith is applied to your conduct: “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.” These two examples of proper conduct are examples of what else astounded the Gentile world about Christians in the first century. It is the type of behavior that should astound those around us here in the San Gabriel Valley even today. In two words, this conduct is summed up by the words charity and chastity. Widows and orphans were destitute in those days, as they often are today. James tells us we are to “visit” them. This means we are to inspect them to see if they are getting along okay. If they need help, provide it. This is charity. This is love. James realized this world system is evil and unclean. Therefore, he tells his readers to keep ourselves clean, unstained. It is okay for the boat to be in the water, but you are in trouble when water gets in the boat. Christians can be in the world, but the world should never be in Christians.

The title of my sermon this morning is “To Do Or Not To Do.” Are you a doer of the Word, or have you been deceiving yourself of late? James has tested the Christian’s faith to see if it is living or dead . . . by seeing if you truly receive the Word and become doers, by illustrating living faith to see which type of mirror gazer you are, and by applying your faith to the tests of proper speech and proper conduct. When you hear the Word of God preached or when you read your Bible, do you strive to do what it says? When you look into the Word, do you remember what you saw in it? When you live your life, does the Word affect both your speech and conduct? The Word of God was given to us to change us. When was the last time you were changed by the Word of God?

[1] Of course, the Savior’s directive in Luke 13.24 for sinners to strive is a special case that I have dealt with in other messages.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 725.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joseph B. Mayer, The Epistle Of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990), page 376.

[5] Rienecker, page 725.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5

[9] Ibid.

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