There are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. If a Christian sins because Satan deceives him, that is one thing; but if he deceives himself, that is a far more serious matter. In these verses, James says we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word; and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men. In Part 1, we saw the first responsibility: receive the Word. Today, we will look at the next two responsibilities.
Practice the Word (James 1:22–25)
Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word, but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and receive God’s blessing. It is not the hearing, but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.
In the previous paragraph, James compares the Word of God to seed; but in this paragraph, he compares it to a mirror. There are three ministries of the Word as a mirror:
Examination (vv. 23–25). This is the main purpose for owning a mirror, to be able to see yourself and make yourself look as clean and neat as possible. As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we see ourselves as we really are. James mentions several mistakes people make as they look into God’s mirror.
They merely glance at themselves. They do not carefully study themselves as they read the Word. Many sincere believers read a chapter of the Bible each day, but it is only a religious exercise and they fail to profit from it personally. Their conscience would bother them if they did not have their daily reading, when actually their conscience should bother them because they read the Word carelessly. A cursory reading of the Bible will never reveal our deepest needs. It is the difference between a candid photo and an X-ray.
They forget what they see. If they were looking deeply enough into their hearts, what they would see would be unforgettable! We tend to smile at the “extremes” of people back in the days of the great revivals. Before we consign these people to some psychological limbo, remember how saints in the Bible responded to the true knowledge of their own hearts. Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5) Peter cried, “Depart from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Job was the most righteous man on earth in his day, yet he confessed, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
They fail to obey what the Word tells them to do. They think hearing is the same as doing, and it is not. We Christians enjoy substituting reading for doing or even talking for doing. We hold endless committee meetings and conferences about topics like evangelism and church growth, and think we have made progress. While there is certainly nothing wrong with conferences and committee meetings, they are sinful if they are a substitute for service.
If we are to use God’s mirror profitably, then we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. We must examine our own hearts and lives in the light of God’s Word. This requires time, attention, and sincere devotion. Five minutes with God each day will never accomplish a deep spiritual examination. Perhaps one reason we glance into the Word instead of gaze into the Word is that we are afraid of what we might see.
After seeing ourselves, we must remember what we are and what God says, and we must do what the Word tell us. The blessing comes in the doing, not in the reading of the Word. “This man will be blessed in his doing.” The emphasis in James is on the practice of the Word. We are to continue after reading the Word (see Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 13:43; 14:22; 26:22 for examples of this in the early church). We can measure the effectiveness of our Bible study by the effect it has on our behavior and attitudes.
Why does James call the Word of God “the perfect law of liberty”? Because when we obey it, God sets us free. “I will walk in liberty, for I have sought out Your precepts” (Ps. 119:45). “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). “If you continue in My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).
Restoration (Ex. 38:8). When Moses built the tabernacle, God commanded him to make the laver. The laver was a huge basin that stood between the altar of sacrifice and the holy place. The basin was filled with water, and the priests washed their hands and feet at the laver before they entered the holy place to minister (Ex. 30:17–21).
Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God in its cleansing power. “You are clean because of the Word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The church is sanctified and cleansed “by the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). When the sinner trusts Christ, he is once and for all washed clean (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Titus 3:4–6). But as the believer walks in this world, his hands and feet are defiled and he needs cleansing (John 13:1–11).
The mirror of the Word not only examines us and reveals our sins, but it helps to cleanse us as well. It gives us the promise of cleansing (1 John 1:9) and, as we meditate on it, it cleanses the heart and the mind from spiritual defilement. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses the guilt, but the water of the Word helps to wash away the defilement.
Nathan’s experience with David in 2 Samuel 12 illustrates this truth. Nathan told David the story about the “stolen ewe lamb” and David became angry at the sin described. “You are the man,” said the prophet and he held up the mirror of the Word for David to see himself. The result was confession and repentance: “I have sinned against the Lord!” The mirror of the Word did its work of examination.
But Nathan did not stop there. He also used the Word for restoration. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sam. 12:13). David visited the laver outside the Tabernacle, and washed his hands and feet. Here was the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, and it came from the Word.
Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18). “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” After the Lord restores us, He wants to change us so that we will grow in grace and not commit that sin again. Too many Christians confess their sins and claim forgiveness, but never grow spiritually to conquer self and sin.
2 Corinthians 3 is a discussion of the contrasts between the Old Covenant ministry of Law and the New Covenant ministry of grace. The Law is external, written on tables of stone; but salvation means God’s Word is written on the heart. The Old Covenant ministry condemned and killed; but the New Covenant ministry brings forgiveness and life. The glory of the Law gradually disappeared, but the glory of God’s grace becomes brighter and brighter. The Law was temporary, but the New Covenant of grace is eternal.
Paul’s illustration of this truth is Moses and his veil. When Moses came down from the mount, where he met God, his face was shining (Ex. 34:29–35). He did not want the Jews to see this glory fading away, so he put on a veil to hide it. When he returned to the mount, he took off the veil. When Jesus died, He tore the veil in the temple and removed the veil between men and God. The Old Testament prophet wore a veil to hide the fading of the glory. The New Testament believer has an unveiled face, and the glory gets greater and greater!
You may explain 2 Corinthians 3:18 in this way: “When the child of God looks into the Word of God [the mirror], he sees the Son of God and is transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glory of God!” The word changed in the Greek gives us our English word “metamorphosis”—a change on the outside which comes from the inside. When an ugly worm turns into a beautiful butterfly, this is metamorphosis. When a believer spends time looking into the Word and seeing Christ, he is transformed: the glory on the inside is revealed on the outside.
It is this word that is translated “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. The glory of Christ on the mount was not reflected; it was radiated from within. You will find the same word in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As we meditate on the Word, the Spirit renews the mind and reveals the glory of God. We do not become spiritual Christians overnight. It is a process, the work of the Spirit of God through the mirror of the Word of God.
The important thing is that we hide nothing. Take off the veil! “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Our first responsibility is to receive the Word. Then, we must practice the Word; otherwise we are deceiving ourselves. This leads to a third responsibility.
Share the Word (James 1:26–27)
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 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.
The word translated “religion” means “the outward practice, the service of a god.” It is used only five times in the entire New Testament (James 1:26–27; Acts 25:19; 26:5; 1 Tim. 5:4; and Col. 2:18, where it is translated “worship”). Pure religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, or special days. Pure religion means practicing God’s Word and sharing it with others, through speech, service, and separation from the world.
Speech (v. 26). There are many references to speech in this letter, giving the impression that the tongue was a serious problem in the assembly (James 1:19; 2:12; 3:1–3, 14–18; 4:11–12). It is the tongue that reveals the heart (Matt. 12:34–35); if the heart is right, the speech will be right. A controlled tongue means a controlled body (James 3:1).
Service (v. 27a). After we have seen ourselves and Christ in the mirror of the Word, we must see others and their needs. Isaiah first saw the Lord, then himself, and then the people to whom he would minister (Isa. 6:1–8). Words are no substitute for deeds of love (James 2:14–18; 1 John 3:11–18). God does not want us to pay for others to minister as a substitute for our own personal service!
In the first century, orphans and widows had very little means of economic support. Unless a family member was willing to care for them, they were reduced to begging, selling themselves as slaves, or starving. By caring for these powerless people the church put God’s Word into practice. When we give with no hope of receiving in return, we show what it means to serve others.
Separation from the world (v. 27b). By “the world,” James means “society without God.” Satan is the prince of this world (John 14:30) and the lost are the children of this world (Luke 16:8). As children of God, we are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually (John 17:11–16). We are sent into the world to win others to Christ (John 17:18). It is only as we maintain our separation from the world that we can serve others.
The world wants to “spot” the Christian and start to defile him. First, there is “friendship with the world” (James 4:4), which can lead to a love for the world (1 Jn. 2:15–17). If we are not careful, we will become conformed to this world (Rom. 12:1–2) and the result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32). This does not suggest we lose our salvation, but that we lose all we have lived for. Lot is an illustration of this principle. First, he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Then, he moved into Sodom. Before long, Sodom moved into him and he lost his testimony even with his own family. When judgment fell on Sodom, Lot lost everything. It was Abraham, the separated believer, the friend of God, who had a greater ministry to the people than did Lot, the friend of the world. It is not necessary for the Christian to get involved with the world to have a ministry to the world. Jesus was “unspotted” (1 Pet. 1:19), and yet He was the friend of publicans and sinners. The best way to minister to the needs of the world is to be pure from the defilement of the world.
We have three responsibilities toward God’s Word: receive it, practice it, and share it. If we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men.