A genuine faith is never alone—it should always be matched with action that’s based on belief. People say what they think but do what they believe. Do you have a genuine faith or a fake faith? In this message, we study James 1:19-27 to help you answer that question.
How are we doing, Porchies? Good to see you. Welcome to our friends spread out. Last night, all of us were running to Indianapolis and trying to check out the Final Four, and tonight Indianapolis is jumping in with us as one of our Porch locations, so hello to you. We have some new friends up there in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. It is awesome to have you with us, but I'm glad to be here in the room with each of you as we dive into the book of James.
We're calling this series The Full Truth From the Half Brother. If you're not familiar with the fact that Jesus had siblings, let me introduce you to that fact. One of his brothers was a man named James. James did not believe in Jesus for a good long while. He didn't like his more excellent older brother. You can imagine following him. Some of you guys are not the firstborn. I'm the middle child in my family. When you have an older brother who does well in grades or does well in sports, it's always like, "Why aren't you more like your brother?"
Can you imagine being James? "Why aren't you more…?" "Because I'm not divine. Because I wasn't born of a virgin. That's why." James, anyway, was a guy who did not know early on in his life who Jesus was. He even mocked him in the beginning of Jesus' ministry and told him, basically, he ought to go figure out who he really was and quit having these delusions. A little bit later, he locked in and figured out who Jesus really was, and then he wrote a book, because he wants you to know who Jesus really is.
One of the ways most of us are going to find out who Jesus is is we're going to run into people who really know Jesus. So, if you're here and you're part of the larger community of Dallas or Cedar Rapids or Indianapolis or Scottsdale, or wherever you might be, who doesn't really know who Jesus is, this is a great series to drop into. Here's why: because most people who have a problem with God have never met a real God follower. In fact, sometimes when I talk to people who have a problem with the God idea, they'll tell me, "Oh, I don't believe in God."
I like to say to them, "Well, why don't you tell me what kind of God you don't believe in, because there's a good chance I don't believe in him either." Most people have the view of God that he's here to rip you off. He's here to suppress you. He's here to have you deny all of your desires. Let me just tell you this: God does not want to deny you your desires; he wants to inform your desires with wisdom. Mark that.
Jesus does say, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me," because sometimes when you don't do what you want to do, it feels like you're dying, you're denying who you really are. I want to let you know something. Who you really are are people created in the image of God who were designed to have an intimate relationship with your Creator. Who you have become, because you are descendants of sinners, are people given over to sin.
Every single one of us is part of the human race, and God's Word tells us the human race is a fallen people. We have moved away from the reality and the truth that God is good, his Word is true, and disobeying him is a big deal. We deny those things. It's in our nature to not believe in the goodness of God. What God wants to do is reveal to you the true character of his person. So, as I love to share with my friends, what God has done is he has left us a story of his interactions with real people in history.
The Bible is unique in that it is not just a collection of philosophies. The Bible is not nonsensical like other holy books out there. What do I mean by that? If you can't test something, if you can't verify something, you cannot prove its veracity. What makes the Bible unique from the Qur'an, from the Hindu holy books, from Buddhist writings, and other things, even the Book of Mormon, is that you can test it. It is anchored in the context of the human story. It is God's working with humankind through history, so you can go and look, and this is why.
Do you know this? There has never been a single archaeological discovery in the history of archaeology that has contradicted Scripture. In fact, they used to mock people who believed in the Bible because we believed in a King David, because there was no record in history that there was ever a David, and then lo and behold, just a few decades ago, they're digging around Jerusalem on what is called, locally, the City of David, and they find inscriptions with "David" on them.
People mocked the idea that there was a ruler called Pontius Pilate until they were digging in Caesarea by the sea and came across a stone that had the inscription of Pontius Pilate on it. I could go on and on and on. There have been many individuals who are archaeologists who don't necessarily believe in the full narrative of Scripture but who say, "I will not dig in the Middle East without the Bible, because it is a map for where things should be."
What God did is he anchored his story in the context of history. This Bible is not a rule book. It's not a story of what kind of morality you must live by or you're not going to be loved by God. It is the story of God rescuing people who don't live as God intended them to live, and because they separate themselves from God, they live in the due course of their error. They experience the pain and the problem of living according to the futility of man.
God is a good Father, so he runs to us, he seeks us, and he wants to pull us out of our all-knowing wisdom of our 20s and show us from an infinite, compassionate personage his kind intention toward us. Remember what I said? Most people, when they say, "I don't believe in God…" I love to ask them, "Well, what kind of God don't you believe in?"
"Well, I don't believe in a God who's going to send people to hell."
"Okay. Me neither. God doesn't send anybody to hell. People say, 'I want nothing to do with you, God,' so God lets them, one day, be forever in a place that will never remind them of him again."
"Well, I don't believe in a God who would allow evil to be on earth."
Good news. The Bible says God doesn't like evil either, but the reason he hasn't dealt with evil completely yet is because your definition of evil is not God's definition of evil. If God is going to deal with evil, it's not that girl who broke up with you who you wish hadn't. It's not that guy who won't like you who you wish would. It's not that parent who abandoned you.
Evil in God's eyes is anything less than him. When we live in relationship with him and enjoy him and consider him good in every way, then all is right in the world, but none of us do that. Adam and Eve said they didn't want to do that. "We don't want to believe in the goodness of God. We're going to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we'll decide what good is."
Here's the deal. When people say to me something like, "Todd, I don't really believe in a God who would allow evil on earth," I go, "Here's the deal. God didn't want evil on earth, which is why he told us to live in relationship with him, but when we choose to not walk with him, we get less than good, less than God, which is evil."
When most people say, "Well, God should get rid of evil…" Let me go back to where I was talking a second ago. I say to them, "What level of evil are you willing to get rid of? Why don't we go ahead and start with you?" People go, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! There are a lot of things that are more evil than me." I go, "I agree with that," usually, when I'm talking to folks, but what I have to say to them is, "We don't get to decide what is good and what is evil. Good and evil are a fixed reality."
God doesn't want to get rid of evil yet because he loves you. In fact, the Bible says this. "God is not slow, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, wishing that none should perish but that all should come to eternal life." He says in another place, "This is eternal life: to know Jesus Christ as Lord." James came to know who Jesus is, so he wrote a book to people who believed who Jesus was to tell them how to live.
This is why he wanted to remind them how we live. If we say we know God, we should be increasingly moving toward God, because God is good. If God is somebody we know and we know he's good, we're going to run more and more toward him. We're going to acknowledge when we don't. We're going to ask for forgiveness when we misrepresent him. We're going to ask for forgiveness when we hurt people, because God doesn't hurt people; God rescues people.
Sometimes, we as Christians hurt people and don't live as Jesus wants us to live. We don't deny ourselves, our own way of choosing to live, and we receive in our following after our own lusts and our own wisdom the due course of the penalty of our error. Remember what I said? God doesn't want you to deny your desires; he wants to inform them with wisdom.
So, James wrote this book to help those of us who say they know God and love Jesus to be conformed into his image, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we might prove out, evidence with our lives, the good way, so that people would bump into us and say to us, "Hey, dude. How come you love that way? How come you don't just follow the desires of your flesh like every other 20-year-old I know?
How come you don't think happiness is being a millionaire by the time you're 30? How come you forgive people who hurt you? How come you don't objectify women? How come you're not a slave to youthful lusts?" Then we can tell them. "It's not because I'm smarter than you or better than you, but I've come to know the goodness of God, and when you see the goodness of God, you begin to run toward his way, and you don't live with an evil spirit.
You now are informed by a holy spirit, and you have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, and you don't just follow your flesh; you inform your flesh with wisdom. My flesh still loves nasty things, because my flesh isn't dead, but spiritually, I'm alive. So I don't live the way I used to live because I don't think the way I used to think."
If you've been hanging around The Porch for very long, or Watermark where we all hang out, you know one of our favorite questions to ask people is this. As we get involved in a conversation, we start hanging out and running together, eventually we're going to want to get to know one another, so we'll sometimes ask this question: "Do you have a faith?" Because we want to hear what you believe in.
We all believe in something. Every single one of us has a worldview. That's a big term. A worldview is just a lens through which you see reality. It's how you file truth and how you perceive the world. It's why Jesus at one point was talking to people, and he said, "If the eye is dim, how great will the darkness be inside of you."
In other words, if you don't see reality for what it is, if you don't see this as God's world that God is sovereign over and God is going to judge one day, then you're going to see things out of focus, and it's going to hurt you. You're going to follow others who don't see clearly, and you're going to be blind being led by the blind, so I want you to see. God gives us his Word, which he calls a revelation, which means he's going to show you something you otherwise couldn't know. It's his kindness working in the life of men.
When we ask people, "What's your faith? How do you see the world?" that's a really great question that gets a conversation going, but here's another question I've been asking people a lot lately. I'm asking it to you, and it sets us up for why we're looking at the book of James. Here's the question: "Can I ask you a question? Have you ever met a faithful Christian?"
Have you ever met somebody who you look at and say, "If there is a God and he does save men and he does set them on the path of life and he does not leave them to their own understanding, but in all their ways they are being directed…" Have you ever seen somebody whose life you look at and go, "There's a love there. There's a goodness there. There's a peace there. There's a joy there. There's an ability to overcome anxiety and lust there."
There's a power, frankly, in their life that you are drawn to, that you demand them to make a defense and give an account for the hope that is within them. What I have found again and again and again is most people who don't love God and most people who don't want anything to do with Christ have never met a faithful Christian. Enter the book of James.
James is writing to us so we would know what it means to truly know Jesus. This is really important. James isn't telling us what we must do so Jesus loves us. James is telling us that when we know God is good and he is love and he's not here to rip us off and keep us from fun but to lead us to life, then this is how we live.
There are a lot of different ways to say it, but one of the ways I like to say it is we are always saved… We're brought back into a relationship with God not by anything we do but because of what God has done. Those of us who know living according to our own will and way isn't prospering cry out to God for help. We say, "Mercy! I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I don't want anxiety to ruin me. I've tried to find meaning in men. I've tried to find life in women. I've tried to find purpose in education and success."
Here's the thing. So many people don't realize that while they're climbing the ladder of success it's leaning against the wrong wall until they're my age, and then they're angry and bitter. They're not just anxious that they're not going to have the things they think they need; they realize they got things that don't provide for them what they wanted. That is why this is a book not for old men and old women who are about to die and meet judgment. This is a book you want to dive into right now.
God is too good to wait until your last gasp of breath to say, "I want to know you." When Jesus says, "I've come that you might have life and have it abundantly," he's not just talking about a quantity of life. He wants you to have a quality of life right now. I'm going to say it again. Some of you guys who are not devoted to Jesus… The reason you're not is you probably have never seen somebody and, up close and personal, watched a person who knows Jesus live a faithful life.
When you run into that, you'll start to go, "Man, I'll be. I may not be convinced yet, but I'll tell you something. There is something there I wish I had. There's a peace, there's a power, there's a hope, there's a freedom I have to get more of." Have you ever met a faithful Christian? Have you met somebody who applies the book of James to their life?
We're saved by grace. It's a gift from God. It's not according to anything we have done. We're saved by grace through faith alone, the Bible says, but the faith which saves is never alone. It's always accompanied by acting on their belief. I like to tell people, "People say what they think, but they do what they believe."
They say, "I really think going to the gym and working out would be good for me, so I think I'll pay $30 a month to the fitness center over there," but they believe they don't need to go because they haven't gone. They're just sending them money every month. People say what they think, but they do what they really believe.
What James wants us to do is to be people who act on our belief, and he has the courage to say, "I have a little concern for you. Some of y'all say you love God. Some of you say you love Jesus, but you're still living like you love yourself, and that's a problem. It's a problem because you probably are not who you think you are, and it's a problem because other people are not going to think of God what they should because you're in the way."
So he writes this section we're about to study. Let's take a look. We're going to look at verse 19 down to the end of the first chapter of this book. What you need to know is when James wrote this, he didn't write it in verses and chapters. Those were labels we put on it. Almost 1,500 years after James wrote this, there was a guy who was a French printer who wanted to sell his Bible he was making, and he thought he could sell it better if he could give some new gimmick to it, so he, Robert Stephanus, sticks in his Greek New Testament chapters and verses. So they're not inspired.
James wrote a letter just like you. "Dear Earl…" He didn't say, "Verse 1. Dear Earl…" He just started writing, and when he was done writing he said goodbye. But watch this. Verse 19. There's a little phrase right here. It says, "This you know, my beloved brethren." There's a period there. I think where Robert Stephanus put that "19" is a little bit unfortunate. It probably should have gone after the period. Why? Because when he says, "This you know, brethren," he's talking about everything he just said, and he's reminding them they ought to live according to it.
Let me explain what he assumes you know: that you're not god, that when you live like you are it doesn't go well with you, and God isn't jacking with you when you experience temptation. What God is doing is he is reminding you there is a liar in this world who misrepresents who he is, and many of us have followed this liar. This is what it means to be converted. The Bible uses the word repentance, and that word is not so much a change of action; it's a change of mind.
When you change your mind about who God is, it changes how you live. For instance, if you think God is like Al Capone and he's just a mob boss and if you don't pay tribute to him he's going to blow up your bakery, you might tithe. You might go to church on Christmas and Easter. You might try not to cuss in the presence of a pastor. You might go to The Porch. You might even buy some Christian book and put it by your bed. You're just trying not to tick him off.
You don't really love him. You just don't want him to blow up your life. You don't want to hang with him. You have to manage him like an awkward uncle. You're kind of embarrassed about him. You don't tell your friends you know him, and when he's at the party, you kind of move away from him. You don't want folks to know you're associated with him. Anybody who treats God like that, who just wants to hang out with him for an hour a week, doesn't know God.
If God is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness, if in his presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand are pleasures forever, if it's true of God that no good thing does he withhold from those who love him, if it's true that God doesn't want to squelch your desires but just wants to inform them with wisdom, then you're going to be like, "Give me more of God! Give me more of him! Let him have my sex life. Let him have my tomorrow. Let him have my right now." If you're not thinking that way about God, it's because you're buying a lie.
Now, what we just looked at the last time we were here… In verses 12-18, it talked about the fact that we should never say God is jacking with us when he tempts us. Do you want to write something down? Here's what I would tell you as a summary of what we looked at last week, in case you missed it: God tests our faith, and he tests our faith because he wants to lead us to life.
Every now and then, he gives us choices to make, and if we make choices that are contrary to him, he lets us experience the consequence of our choices, not because he's a jerk but because he loves us enough so we can learn to hate our choices. That pain in your soul is a gift from God. That pain when you're a kid and you touch a candle and it burns you is a gift from God. If you don't learn that fire is not something you want to roast your fingers in, you're going to step your whole body into a fire, and it's going to cause real problems in your life.
You guys have all heard of the disease leprosy. Right? Do you know what leprosy is? Leprosy is not so much a disease that eats your flesh. It's called the bacillus bacteria. What it does is it kills your nerve endings. When you kill your nerve endings, you stop worrying about blisters and sores on certain parts of your body, so you don't pay attention to it. You don't clean it. When we're sweeping a floor, we don't know it, but we're constantly adjusting that broom in our hands a thousand little times so it doesn't wear a little rut into our hands.
In fact, we do it just enough at just the right rate that eventually we'll get some calluses, and that'll help us. A leper will never adjust it, and they'll look down and go, "Dadgum! I'm bleeding, but it doesn't hurt," and they'll just go right back to it. Then it gets infected. They might be embarrassed by the pus and the blood, but they'll just wrap it up, but because it doesn't bother them, they'll just let it be. When you're dead to pain, that's when you're in real trouble.
What Satan does, because he's a liar and he wants you to know you're still in control, even though what you did isn't working, is he says, "Hey, I'll tell you what. Why don't you use some pharmacy, some plant derivatives…" Which, by the way, are gifts from God. Did you know drugs are a gift from God? God doesn't tell us in the Bible to never use drugs. It tells us all things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.
He doesn't say you shouldn't use drugs. He says, "I want you to use drugs in a way that is accompanied with wisdom." Anybody here ever had their wisdom teeth pulled out? Well, then doctors probably gave you some drugs, administered carefully, so you wouldn't experience unnecessary pain, so they could remove some wisdom teeth that were going to cause you some problems.
What Satan does is he will tell you to use these things in ways that aren't wise, like this. You're not living with wisdom. You're cutting your teeth on experience, and you have all kinds of aches and pains in your life, and he says, "Well, why don't you just drink yourself to a place of peace? Why don't you start numbing yourself with an altered reality? Your reality in which you're living in rebellion against God ain't working, so why don't you numb your pain?"
Do you see what he does? He keeps leading you down roads, and you go, "Oh, this is working." That always works until it makes your life worse and worse and worse until you say, "You know what? I don't even want to live," and he goes, "Well, you're still in control. Why don't you just take your life?" The reason he wants to take your life is because he hates you, and he hates God, and he knows God loves you, and he knows that when you take your life, it's appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment. He's trying to close the deal because he hates you.
James is saying to Christians, "You know God doesn't hate you. He loves you. So don't say God tempts you. God doesn't tempt anybody, but God tests you to prove out your faith, to lead you to life." Here's the thing: the Enemy tempts you not to prove your faith but to provoke your flesh. That's James 1:12-18. He sums it up in verse 18 by saying, "In the exercise of His will…" Meaning, God in his kindness. "…brought us forth by the word of truth…"
He kept showing us the pain of our own experience, and he showed us the word of life, which brought us back into relationship with him. "…so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." In other words, God would allow us to come to know who he is so we could begin to live as people who know God is good and run toward him. We care for others. We're a light in the darkness so other people can go, "Where are you getting this information that is changing the way you live? I want to know your God." That's all he's saying there.
So, when he says, "This you know, my beloved brethren," he's summarizing everything that was there. Watch what happens. New idea. "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…" What is going on here? This is a verse that is so misused. We usually use this verse in marital counseling. We use this in navigating people through relationships.
When the Bible says you should be slow to speak but quick to listen, we almost always are talking about "Look. The reason your relationships aren't working is because you talk too much and don't listen to anybody. You're like the fool who doesn't delight in understanding but only reveals his own mind." It is true that you're going to not have a very successful string of relationships if all you do is blah, blah, blah, blah at everybody. "Talk about me, talk about I," you know, the Toby Keith song. That just doesn't work. But this is not what this verse is talking about.
What's the context? The context is "I have trouble in my life, and I have trials, and if God was good, I wouldn't have troubles and I wouldn't have trials. My flesh is still tempted. If God was good, he wouldn't tempt me. So, God, what are you doing?" What James is saying in this text is "Careful." Before you start telling God everything he's doing is wrong, why don't you remind yourself who God is and who you are not.
He is infinite; you are finite. He is eternal; you are temporal. He is omniscient; you got a D in calculus. So stop telling God what he doesn't know. Can I just encourage you with this? God is okay with you expressing yourself to him. It is okay to say to God, "What are you doing? I am grieved to the point of death! My soul is ripped. My life is ruined. What are you doing?" It's okay to say that to God, but what you don't want to do is rant against God.
I sometimes have had people in my life come up to me and do this. They go, "Wagner, what is this? What kind of work is this? What were you thinking? What are you doing? We can't have this. Somebody explain this to me!" And then they walk away. I might have deserved that, but what I realized is they weren't really there to have a conversation with me. They were there to say in a sentence, "You're an idiot, and I don't know why I'm paying you." They really didn't want a conversation. They wanted to terminate a relationship with me.
So, when you go to God and say, "God, if there's any other way or if there's some other possible way for this to work out, God, change it. I'm not happy, and my heart is torn, but I'm not God and you are, so speak to me. Teach me. Let me sit underneath your Word where you explain things to me. Let me get around wise men and women who will help me and guide me and tenderly lead my heart."
Was Jesus tested? You bet. Was Jesus tempted? You bet. Did Jesus say, "God, if there's any other way you can pull this thing off, let's pull it off another way"? Did Jesus feel such a burden underneath that testing and that temptation that, literally, he physically emitted blood through his pores? Oh, you bet he did. But at the end of the day, Jesus said, "You know what? As the incarnate Son of God, who's fully God but denies his own ability to be God except as a man to trust in who God is, not my will but your will be done."
Jesus never had to say, "Lord, let me repent and turn from my sin." What Jesus said was, "God, if there's any other way to pull this off, let's do it another way," but at the end of the day he said, "God, you're good, and I trust you." This is what the Scripture says to us. This is in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2. This is a parallel. Just so you know, James just rips off other wise people. He rips off his brother Jesus mostly. His whole book is just a synopsis, honestly, of the Sermon on the Mount.
There's another wise guy who lived. His name was Solomon. Solomon says, "Guard your steps as you go near to the house of God, and when you go near to the house of God…" Which is, for us, anywhere. "…draw near to listen rather than to offer a sacrifice to manipulate and control God. Don't offer the sacrifice of fools, for they don't know that when they try to manipulate and obligate God they're doing evil, because God can't be manipulated, and he's never obligated to anybody."
Watch this. "Don't be hasty in word or impulsive in thought in bringing up a matter in the presence of the Lord. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore, let your words be few." James is saying, "Look. You do know he's God. You do know that you mess up your life. So, now that you've turned to him and repented of living life on your own and you know God is good…"
We love to say this. Last Friday was Good Friday. If you're watching back this little James series months in the future, this is the Tuesday after Easter weekend, and there was a Friday that was called Good Friday. What do you mean "Good Friday"? It was the Friday that the most perfect man who ever lived, who was full of grace and truth, who brought healing and grace into the world and was here to call men out of darkness into his marvelous light, was betrayed by those he created, was nailed to a cross, and was called a demon. And we call that Good Friday?
It's the most awful act in the history of the world, but because Good Friday was God's way of paying an infinite debt against his infinite holiness through his own infinite Son who he gave in his infinite love, and he gave evidence that Jesus paid the debt of sin, which is death… Since the debt was paid, the wage is gone, and Christ was risen to newness of life. So, if the most evil act in history turns out to be the act that was done for our greatest good, can't we trust God in all things?
That's Paul's argument in the book of Romans. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" So it has changed your mind about God. God is not a God to be managed. He's not a God to be avoided. He's not a God to be bought off. He's a God to run to. He's a God to be embraced. He's a God to drink deeply from, because surely goodness and mercy is where this God is who would die on a cross for your sins. Do you see this?
Let me take you one other place. This is Proverbs 19:2-3, and then we're going to move off verse 19. Proverbs 19 says, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge…" What's knowledge? Here's knowledge: God is good. God is kind. God is gracious. God isn't here to rip you off; he's here to set you free. He's not just here to give you quantity of life; he has come that you might have a quality of life even in a broken world marred by sin. He has come to give you truth so you wouldn't be bound by lies.
It's not good for a person to be without knowledge. "…he who hurries his footsteps errs." What do you think most of us do when we make bad decision after bad decision and pain comes into our lives? Well, verse 3 tells us. This is a couplet. "The foolishness of man ruins his way, and [then] his heart rages against the Lord." Ever been there? "God, how could you let this happen to me? Why one time and I'm pregnant?"
God is like, "I didn't want that to happen to you. I tried to inform your desires with wisdom, not let you be a slave to them. I tried to make you secure so you wouldn't be seduced. I told you how to use pharmakia. I told you how to use drugs so you wouldn't be drunk and loose and degraded in your thinking and go home with somebody who whispered things into your ears and told you he'd make you feel special the rest of your life.
I told you not to do that, because I love you. I don't hate you now; I just hate that you're living in the consequence of your choices. Someone is going to lie to you and tell you you're still in control and you can do this with your choice, but that's not a choice; it's a child. And I love you, so let's not make another bad decision. Will you trust me?" A lot of times we'll go, "After I take care of this my way."
All of a sudden, you become un-pregnant, but then you realize every year on that date the rest of your life that while you became un-pregnant, you never became an un-mother, and you know exactly what you did. So you are filled with anger and hate and rage, and you numb yourself with medication, and you are despairing and depressed, and you have people give you diagnoses, and you tell all of these stories, but not the real story. God is not mad at you, but he wants to call you out and give you real healing and real forgiveness and real restoration.
Do you see what's going on here? He's trying to rescue you. So, when you have trouble in your life, before you start running your mouth about what God did wrong, just know this. Some of you didn't do anything wrong in terms of your own decisions. You were just victims of sins in this world. God said, "Don't be surprised at what this world does to you, because this world is filled with people who don't walk with me. Don't get angry and join them. Hate sin and follow me." This is why in James 1:5 he said, "Do any of you lack wisdom? Let him ask of God, who gives to all people without reproach, and it'll be given to you." It's okay to ask. "God, why is there evil?"
"I'm glad you asked, because people think they can find good without me."
"God, why haven't you stopped evil yet?"
"Because I love people, and I'm going to rescue them from eternal judgment."
"God, this doesn't make sense to me."
"It shouldn't make sense to you, because you're finite and I'm infinite. You just believe me. Look at the way I've worked with people through history."
James is telling people who know him, "Be careful before you tell God he doesn't know what he's doing." Look at verse 20. "…for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." Your anger against God is not going to lead you to more righteousness. The Enemy is going to play on your anger at God that you don't like the way you look. God says you're fearfully and wonderfully made. You can either say, "Nuh-uh" or "God, I'm not sure I'd have made myself this way, but I know you're good."
Look at verse 21. "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness [of speech and of action] and all that remains of wickedness…" Which is rebellion against God, which is the way we all used to live before we knew God was good. "…in humility [meekness] receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." Do you see why God's Word is here? This is not some chain tied to a choke collar that he's just snapping. This is a book of freedom. You're free to make whatever choice you want, but you're not free to choose your consequences.
God says, "Do you want to know how to save your souls from anger and pain and despair and anxiety? Quit acting like you're god, like you have it all figured out. Trust me. I'm good. Trust me. I have words that lead to life. If you want to go get more of what you're getting, go get more of what you're getting, and I'll be right here waiting for you, but you need to know while I offer forgiveness to your repentance, I don't promise tomorrow to your procrastination. Today is the day of salvation. Why get more scars before you come to my Savior?"
This is tender stuff. Sometimes we love to be funny, and sometimes we're just going, "Have you met a Christian who doesn't ever get angry at God, who has this peace that passes understanding, who has a peace not as the world gives but a different kind of peace?" Do you see some people who have an inner beauty that you just go, "Where is that security and that strength coming from?" James wants more and more of those Christians to exist. If you're here as a guest, I hope you run into some of them here. Some of them hang out here. Some of them are just beginning to learn that God might be good. We're glad you're here.
James says, "But prove yourselves…" In other words, let your life become what God wants your life to become, not so he can save you, but prove you love God by living like somebody who has been saved from the ways that seem right to man, and start to live like you know the goodness of God, that he's not here to make you deny your desires but to live in a way that your desires are informed by wisdom. Prove you know God is good. Seek him. Love him. Run with him. Yield to him. Hope in him.
Don't be just hearers who delude themselves, who sing, "My God is greater, my God is stronger," and then go right out there and go, "I am god. I'll do what I want to." Don't just have a Bible by your bed. Don't just read your Bible. Apply your Bible. Jesus says, "Do you know the 20-year-old whose house is going to stand? It's not somebody who hears the Word of God. It's not somebody who goes to The Porch. It's somebody who lets that Word of God be implanted in their soul."
So, let's take a look at this. "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man…" Uh-oh. In Greek there are two words for man. There are actually more, but the two primary ones… One you're probably going to know. You go shopping at Anthropologie. The Greek word for humankind is anthropos. Anthropologie is a store for humans. You don't go buy dog sweaters there.
This is not the word anthropos. This is the word aner. If you go look up aner in your Merriam-Webster dictionary, you will find out it refers in English to a male insect, typically a male ant, but in Greek it's just the word male, man, or husband. This is interesting. We're going to have a little fun here, because it's time to have a little fun. Verse 23 says, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a [male] who looks at his natural face in a mirror…"
There's a reason he didn't say, "It's like all of humankind." God made us male and female, and the way a woman looks at the mirror and the way a man looks at the mirror are very different. Guys wake up. They burp. They scratch themselves. They just go, "All right, I'm street legal," and they walk out the front door. Women have these things. It's a tackle box, because they're fixin' to go fishing. I didn't know these existed until I married a non-aner. I'm like, "What's that?"
They open it up, and this is a box full of wonder. This is foundation and blush, and this is lip gloss and rouge, and this is setting spray and face powder, and this is mascara and eye shadow. This is a lip liner pencil, and this is lipstick. I'm like, "Oh my gosh!" Then there are tools. There are blow-dryers and curling irons, flattening sticks, and I'm like, "We've got to get a garage just for this crap."
When a girl goes to the mirror, she is there to go to work. She's like, "I don't like what I'm seeing, and we're going to stay here until I like it." That's what James is saying. Don't be like Adam who burps, scratches himself, looks at the mirror, sees it's disgusting, and then goes away and doesn't care that he lives a disgusting life. Get in front of that thing, the mirror of God's Word, and go "This is light, and this is righteousness, and this is goodness," and deal with it.
You conform yourself. Not with makeup. This is where the illustration now falls. By the way, boys, let me tell you something. I married a good woman. I can remember on my honeymoon we played all day long on a beach in Kauai, and we hung out. Somebody had bought us a gift certificate at this amazing restaurant we could never afford. So we played all day on the beach, and we walked into that restaurant. My wife had a plastic bag. She walked into the girls' restroom for like six minutes, and she came out, and I was like, "Oh my goodness. This is very good."
It wasn't like she had to get six layers of something on and completely change how she looked. There's a beauty about that. Do what you want with makeup, but I'm just telling you, what a gift to find a woman… Do you know who the most attractive women are? It's women who are comfortable with who they are. Here's a little secret. The women who are best in physical intimacy are the women who are comfortable with their bodies. I pray you never learn that until you marry one.
They're not hiding. They're not looking for the dark. They're like, "This is mine, and God gave it to me, and I've given myself to you. Let's enjoy it." There's no guilt. There's no shame. There are no falsies. There's nothing except reckless, wisdom-informed desire. Amen. So, don't be somebody who looks in a mirror and goes, "I don't care what I see." The mirror of God's Word is there to help you see. "Hey, look. This pain, this disgusting, this not-rightness…deal with it."
That's verse 23. Verse 24 basically finishes that analogy. Verse 25: "But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty…" If you still think this is a rule book that's here to put you in a cage, you don't know God. This is going to lead you to life and peace. I'm old enough now. My 20-something friends who mocked me when, by the grace of God, I discovered who he was right about your age…
My 20-something friends who said, "Bro, no, man. We're going to go live the high life in Lower Greenville. We're going to go down to Deep Ellum. We're going to go to Cancun. We're going to get married and then not be faithful to our wives…" They're now on their second and their third marriages. Some of them went, "Hey, I'm going to make all kinds of money. I'm going to make enough money that I can buy my kids whatever they want." And they bought their kids whatever they wanted, but they didn't buy them a present, focused, loving father.
Those friends are starting to call me. They go, "Wagner, we've been watching you online. I know we haven't talked in 30 years, but can I talk to you? Because I followed the law that led to death, and I see something…" Can I just show you? This was me Easter afternoon. I have six kids. Three of them are married to godly spouses. I have six grandchildren. I have a wife who loves me, who doesn't spend $200 a month to have her hair colored, and she is fine.
I have a family that loves to be together. And we're not perfect. We sometimes hurt each other's feelings, but do you know what we do? We repent. We seek and ask each other's forgiveness. We reconcile conflict the way God told us to. I am rich. I'm rich because the law of liberty has been given to me by a loving Father. I'm just standing here, and I'm not selling. I'm just inviting you in so that when you're 50 you don't have to call some guy who has been living according to the life of liberty and say, "How did you do it?"
I'm going to tell you how I did it. I believed God was good, and I didn't just delude myself, but I proved out the good and acceptable way of God. I'm just saying, "Come and see. It's good." That's why I love to talk to you guys. This is one of my favorite crowds to talk to, because you're so lied to, and also because you guys can be leveraged for the greatest good or the greatest evil right now. I am pleading with you to love the law of liberty. We're not going to like you more if you do. I just think you're going to love your life a whole lot more.
Verse 26: "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue…" Watch this. This doesn't just mean you don't drop F-bombs. Think of the context. Life is hard. Sometimes it's tough. Bridle your tongue before you say God doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing that you're 32 and still single. It's okay. Don't seek a spouse; seek the Lord. That's where life is.
If you seek the Lord, then you're bound probably, if you do meet somebody, to meet somebody who's also seeking the Lord, and then if you decide to get married, you guys will enjoy the law of liberty together. He's saying, "Watch your tongue. Don't deceive your heart that you know better than God. The person who does that… Their religion is worthless." Again, understand the context.
The context here is not "If you tell coarse jokes, if you say bad words, your religion is worthless." That is so petty. Listen. You shouldn't speak in a way that is profane, but the profaneness here is people who sing, "My God is greater, my God is stronger" and "How great is our God" and then go out there and live just like the rest of the world that's confused about the goodness of God. What kind of religion is that? Do you want to know what pure and undefiled religion is?
He's just going to say, "Your life might be hard, but there's somebody whose life is harder than yours. There are widows. There are orphans. Go love somebody. Quit worrying about how bad your life is. Go find somebody whose life is worse and love them." "Keep yourself unstained by the world." Do you know why he wants you to be unstained by the world? Because you're supposed to be bright and shining stars. A dark world is trying to figure out which way light is, and God wants them to run into you.
If you really know God… Listen. Christians can sin, and we can get stuck in our sin sometimes, but James is saying, "Let's pop out of it. Confess your sins. Pray for one another that you might be healed. Let's go, man. Let's be Christian, because there's a whole bunch of world out there that is trapped in the world, and if we say we know God but live like the world, how are they ever going to come to know God?"
You're going to be bound by cords you are set free from, because you know it's a lie, but you keep living in the lie, which should make you think, "Do I really know the truth?" Even if you know the truth, but you're living a lie, it's just a mess. God is so sick of people who go to church and don't follow him. It's fine to get around the church. The church is the people. I hope when you're around us you see us not live perfectly but live with hope. You see us confess our sin. You see us acknowledge that the world sure looks tempting sometimes, but let's remind ourselves: when we bit that lie, it always had a hook.
That temptation was there to provoke our flesh to trap us. God is here to give us a chance to stand in front of the world, being tempted as they are, tested by God, but to choose good. The world keeps saying, "How do you keep doing that?" The answer is not because the Ding Dong is any less attractive, or the Ho Ho or Swiss Roll. I don't even know. What snacks do you guys eat these days? I don't even think they make Ding Dongs anymore. I know. It's an awkward name to begin with.
Cookies are still sweet. Cake still looks sweet. Sex outside of marriage still looks sweet, but I know it's death. I want to show the world there's life somewhere else, because the world knows there's not life there. That's why sin never satisfies. But God does. So, if you're here and you don't have liberty, God wants to set you free. If you're here and you're disgusted with the deception that has ruled you, God wants to offer you the truth that he loves you.
He just says, "Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Come. Get to know my Son. He died for you. If I'm a God who would take on the form of humanity and live a sinless life and yet die a sinner's death all because I wanted to pay your debt, you might want to check me out when I tell you how to live. I'm not going to love you because you live a certain way, but you're going to live a certain way if you love me. Come." If you're already one of those people who came, let's be Christian, because the world needs to see that God is good. Amen?
Father, we thank you for James, this mirror of truth we could hold up tonight and we could look at and we could say, O Father, don't let us be deluded. Don't let us just come and do little spiritual things and play religious games. Let us be righteous men and women. Let us live by faith. Let us be individuals who know you're good. Let us build our lives on your Word.
If there is somebody who is here who doesn't know the word of grace that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, I pray that right now they would say, "Lord, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I hate sin and the Deceiver, and I want to be set free. O God, is it possible that you could love me? I take by faith that you did, and I come to you and confess my sin. I believe Jesus died on my cross for my sin, and I believe you raised him from the dead as evidence that my debt had been paid.
So now make me among those who are the firstfruits of your salvation, and let me walk now in the goodness of my new reality that you're not here to steal from me; you are here to give me, unbegrudgingly, wisdom so I may walk in a way that makes others demand to know what family I am from. May I tell them it is the family of grace, the family of Jesus Christ, the church." Lord, build our lives on that. In Jesus' name, amen.