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Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church

(4/22) Today we are reading from the book of James. Now this man James is a pastor of the first century church. He’s an elder, an older man, but growing up, and this is amazing, his big brother was Jesus Christ. The Bible says, that they both had the same mother; so they were half-brothers, because Jesus was the Son of God and James was the son of Joseph. So these are guys who probably shared a bedroom together, they would have learned and worked together with their father Joseph. They sat at the dinner table, praying, talking, and eating together. So we find that James had the unique privilege of watching his big brother Jesus grow "in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). And growing up together in the town of Nazareth, James got to see firsthand his big brother Jesus Christ living out the word of God.

He may have even heard Jesus say this very thing in Luke 11:28. "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it." So, growing up with Jesus, seeing how he lived his life, knowing his words, and the things that he taught, James learned what to do with the word of God. This is important because we live in a world that is filled with words about God: philosophy, religion, and speculation of all kinds. But what we are looking at today is not a word about God. This is the Word of God, and therefore it is most important for us to determine what do we do with this? What do we do with the word of God? And following in Jesus’ example and instruction, James says, "Hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28). Know it and do it. And so we read from James 1:19, where he begins...

James 1:19-27: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 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. NIV

So here’s how James begins. "Take note of this." He’s trying to grab your attention. He’s trying to grab our mind and to open it up to receive this amazing truth from God. Take note of this he says… and he proclaims the word of God saying, "Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." The Word of God, which is able to save your souls.

Now, how many of you have gardens? …you’re excited, because you’ve taken seeds, placed them in the ground, you’ve watered and nourished them, and hopefully… eventually… they pop up, they spring to life, and something new will come into existence… something fruitful will happen right?

Or maybe you remember when you were a kid in school, and they gave you a little cup of dirt, and they’d tell you to put a seed in it. They’d say, "OK, now water it every day, put it on the windowsill, and see what happens." How many of you remember watching that thing? You remember running over to the windowsill, over and over again, until that one day when you looked into that cup. And something was happening… a little green sprout had popped up… it’s growing! it’s happening!"

Well in the same way, God is like a gardener and he wants to take his word, he wants to plant it in your soul so that there could be life and fruit that grows out of your relationship with him. And so what he’s telling us is that the Word of God has power for life and salvation. God is saying, "My love is a gift… my word is a gift… and we’re going to do something together that is wonderful, and your life is going to change."

And so the first thing he’s saying is, "You need to know the word of God." "You need to listen to the word." But he quickly transitions from hearing the word of God to doing the word of God, because there are things in our lives that have a tendency to hinder, resist, and fight this great gift of God planting his word in your life to cause fruitfulness to come forth.

And so today we’re going to look cautiously, we’re going to look intently, and we’re going to look after, because it’s not just enough to hear the word. We have to do something with it, otherwise we end up turning Bible study into an academic exercise instead of a lifestyle, we use the Bible for information instead of transformation, it becomes something that we study rather than who we become.

So, James is pastoring a big church in Jerusalem, he’s got a bunch of religious people, he’s been teaching these people, and they have a lot of knowledge. They know a lot, but they’re not doing a lot. And he’s getting frustrated because that’s not what his big brother was like. Jesus didn’t just go down to the temple to study all day. He worked a job as a carpenter, he started a ministry, he fed, healed, and taught… he prayed, served, and encouraged… he went to the cross, suffered, and died... Jesus got stuff done.

And God reminds us through James that Christianity is about following in the footsteps of Christ. It’s about growing in your knowledge of the word of God and doing the word of God. It’s like two pedals on a bike. You hear and obey. Like verse 22 says, "Don’t merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

1. Look Cautiously.

There’s a word of caution. The concern is that we would "deceive ourselves." Again in verse 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" (James 1:26).

You see you may have been a Christian for a while… you know a few things… you’ve made some progress… but you don’t control your tongue… You may be fine with that, but let me assure you God is not. If you’re like me and you’ve been Christian for a while, you who know the Word of God, and you’ve been to a few conferences… like me you’re vulnerable to the trap of deception. James says this is where you think that because you know a lot you’ve changed. But Paul says to the Corinthians, knowledge all by itself… knowledge without love… "puffs up" (1 Cor 8:1).. It’s prideful and can lead to self-deception.

So we need to look cautiously, because here’s the problem with self-deception: you don’t know that you’re self-deceived. You see, when you’ve deceived yourself, you’re not the best person to diagnose your self-deception. So if you study alone and you’re not in community with other believers, you’re more vulnerable to self-deception, because there’s no one to disagree with you, no one to correct you, and no one to help examine your heart and your motives.

That’s why I appreciate Wednesday nights in Celebrate Recovery; where we’ve been encouraging one another towards honesty and transparency with our spiritual inventories and choosing accountability partners. You could say it is our "Doing the word" time. And it’s guarding against denial and self-deception by inviting others to help us evaluate what we believe and how we’re behaving. And it is so important, because today there is just so much information, and you can know a lot, but apart from community, it can result in religious pride, in puffing up, and self-deception. So James says that we need to look cautiously… be on guard… be aware… and be concerned about this, because false religion is marked by self-deception and forgetfulness.

And in verse 23, he says, "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 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

2. Look Intently.

Now how many of you at some point today have looked in a mirror? I mean think of all the mirrors you’ve got in your life. You’ve got one in your bathroom, maybe in the bedroom and the hallway, and you’ve got three in your car, right? So James is using this analogy of a mirror. And he says a religious view of Scripture is like someone who looks into a mirror and then walks away and forgets what they saw.

And so what James is saying is that when you open the Bible it’s like a mirror. You’re able to see yourself in God’s eyes. To see your sin, your need for Jesus, the areas where you need to learn, to change, and to grow. And so you’re like okay "I’ve got it, I understand it," and you put your Bible down and walk away. Moments or hours later… what did it say? When temptation or trial comes your way… what did it says? I don’t know. I forgot what God said. I forgot what God showed me about myself.

And so just like the mirror shows us a reflection of ourselves, God’s word shows us something even deeper about ourselves… the condition of our heart. And it’s the heart that fails to look cautiously and fails to look intently that is marked by self-deception and forgetfulness. It is a worthless, vain, and false religion.

So James tells us that pure religion "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" (James 1:25).

And Jesus said the same thing; "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28). You see Christianity is about following in the footsteps of Christ: it is looking, listening, and hearing the word of God and doing it. And just like pedals on a bike, they require each other to be effective.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved my bike. I mean I could go almost anywhere as long as I was committed to pedaling. So I’d go to my neighbor’s house, to work, to town, or just go riding with my friends. But there was one day I can still remember. I was probably too far away, a little further than my parents gave me permission, and I’m pedaling hard when all of a sudden the pedal came off the bike, and my foot is firmly planted on the ground… of course I wiped out… I’m in the ditch. So after I regained my composure I tried to put the pedal back on, but now the threads were messed up. None-the-less with no tools, I got it started, I fixed it, and jumped on.

So I start pedaling and guess what happens? I almost wiped out again... You see I didn’t really fix it. I was a kid. I didn’t have any tools. And now I’ve got a pedal in my pocket. So I’m trying to figure out how I am going to get home. And I decide what I’ll do... I’ll just use one pedal… I’ll ride home with one pedal. And so I’m off… and it went pretty well until I began to climb a hill right? I mean, just think of me trying to pedal with one pedal? Have you ever tried that? It doesn’t work well… you don’t make much progress.

Well this morning, that’s exactly what I want you to think of… The Christian life is like that. It’s like two pedals on a bike. So, you hear and obey, you look intently, you continue to do this, not forgetting what you’ve heard but doing it. James tells us that we need to know the word of God and do the word of God. Then he compares that with religion and he says, "If anyone considers himself religious…" verse 26 and 27… "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this…"

3. Look After… Others

He says that pure religion is helpful and it’s holy. And by helpfulness, it includes keeping a reign on your tongue. I know if you’re like me, you have a list of things that you regret that you’ve said. Because once those words have come out of your mouth, you’ve unleashed them on others, and there is no end to the damage they cause. So James tells us pure religion is helpful, and it begins by having control over the words that we speak, which sometimes are motivated by the anger (verses 19-20).

And again like two pedals on a bike, it’s helpful to not cause harm through our words but instead bring help through our deeds. That’s pure religion. It’s helpful. And in that society, in the days of the early church, the neediest people were orphans and widows. There was no such thing as life insurance or welfare… if they didn't have family to lean on, they were completely helpless. So, James said, if you want to really impress God with your spirituality, take care of those who can't take care of themselves.

I know there are needy and vulnerable people all around us. And there is no one willing to take care of them… no one visiting them… no one praying with them… So the Bible tells us, if you want to be spiritual…. if you want to be holy and good… identify the neediest people in your world, and start looking after them. As Paul said, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)

You see pure religion is having the Father’s heart for the whole family. So here’s what God is saying, that we need to have that kind of heart toward women and children. You know, when we see a single mom, we see somebody to love, cherish, and protect. We help provide for her because she’s my sister and her children are like my nieces and nephews. That’s the heart of God and that’s the father’s heart for us… that pure religion… it’s helpfulness… and it’s also holiness.

James says, "And to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Now when the Bible uses this word "world," like in John 3:16, "God so loved the world," it’s not always referring to all the people, races, and nations that God loves, and here it means the evil systems that are hostile and in opposition to God. There’s the kingdom of God and then there’s the world… they’re in collision… they’re in conflict. And so Satan works through the world to deceive, tempt, and destroy people; to oppose the kingdom of God.

So what he’s saying is that we’re not in the kingdom of God yet, that the kingdom of God is before us and we’re like pilgrims, we’re like travelers. And as we travel through this polluted, defiled, corrupted, and cursed world, we’re supposed to pass through it as God’s people in a way that is completely unpolluted or uncontaminated. We’re supposed to remain clean and unstained, with no dirtiness of any sort or kind. That’s the goal… but that can be discouraging? And maybe you’re like, "I’m not even near the end of my journey and I’m already dirty"?

Well, as we close we are going to celebrate the communion, the Lord’s Supper, and maybe you do recognize it’s too late… you’re already dirty… there are things you’ve done, but you can’t undo them. There are things in your past that are not in your present, but you know the stain goes with you into the future. You look down and you realize, "It’s true. I’m filthy." And you’ve tried to scrub it out, and all you’ve done is made it worse. You know you haven’t walked through this world unpolluted.

But the Bible gives us hope. In 1 John 1:8-9; "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (But) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Jesus wants to be that Clorox… that bleach to clean the stain… and he says, "Here, wear my clothes. I’ll trade you for your dirty ones." Now this is Jesus… so here’s Jesus, he’s wearing white, symbolizing his sinlessness, his purity, his holiness, and his righteousness. So did Jesus walk through this world unstained, yes or no? Yes.

So what Jesus says is, "I’ll trade you. "Give me your soiled, filthy, stinky rags and I’ll wear them. "And I’ll give you my sinlessness, my holiness, my righteousness, and you can wear that. I will gladly trade you your life for mine." And Jesus did… he went to the cross, he died in your place, and he paid your penalty. Jesus rose from the dead, he took your condemnation, and gave you his salvation.

I want you to know this, because everything in your life, everything you do should be motivated by knowing this. You can walk through this world unstained because in Christ you’re already clean, and when you do sin, Jesus will gladly clean you. He will gladly give you his righteousness. He’ll gladly walk with you, never leaving you, never forsaking you. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all of our unrighteousness.

And so I have good news for you: In Christ, you’re clean. The only way to walk through this life unstained is to walk with Jesus. So at this point, we need to do the word. James told us we needed to know the word… to look intently at it… and I want you to know that we need to be doing the word.

So we are going to have a quiet time… an opportunity to respond to Jesus… and if you have never responded to Jesus, or it’s been too long since you have responded to Jesus, this is the time to get real… the time where you give your sin to Jesus and receive his righteousness. You see He died and rose to make that great exchange. So this morning if there is sin in your life that’s unconfessed, this is where you give it to Jesus and receive his forgiveness and cleansing. You do the word of God.

And as we prepare to go, I want to focus your attention to widows, orphans, and those in need. I encourage you to seek an opportunity this week to do the word of God.

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