J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:22-25

Big Idea:  Hearing the word of God comes with a responsibility…but also with a hope.

James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

·    How does James describe a person who hears the word of God but does not do the word of God?
·    Do you enter into worship aware of this responsibility?
·    How might your family better prepare for hearing the word and then doing the word?

23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

·    How does James describe the hearers of the word who do not obey it?
·    What does a mirror reveal?  What do you learn by looking in the mirror?
·    How does those answer help you understand why we are deceived if we don’t obey the word of God?

25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

·    How is the law described?  What makes it so?
·    Why is obedience to the word described as persevering?
·    What are the blessings of obeying the word of God?

I don’t have any idea how many sermons that I have heard in my life.  My guess is that I have been alive for a little over 2,100 Sundays in my life.  That means that I have probably been in 2,000 Sunday sermons and that doesn’t include Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, all the revival sermons my dad peached, sermons I heard in seminary or sermons that I have listened to on tape, cd, or online.  I don’t know.  I guess I have heard 3-4,000 sermons in my life.

And you know what?  That is nothing to brag about.  I don’t get to be self-righteous because I have heard so many sermons.  In fact, I should be a bit fearful.  I am accountable for every single word of scripture that I have ever heard, studied, or preached.  And here is the thing…so are you.

What we are doing here is not a self-help seminar.  This is not information to fill your mental Wikipedia page.  It is not stuff for you to choose pick and choose from.  The sermon is not merely intended to inspire you.  God holds us accountable for each and every word that we hear here.  We are either being transformed closer to the image of Jesus in these moments or our hearts are being hardened.  Either way, we are accountable.

I have a friend, you know how this works, who used to worship and attend worship regularly.  Whether or not he is a believer, I don’t think even he knows, but he was faithful for a period of time.  But after a while of struggling and wrestling, he just opted out.  He no longer wanted to sit and hear the preaching of the scriptures Sunday in and Sunday out.  He admitted that they gave him mixed feelings.    He would be convicted of sin at one moment and angry at the next.  Wondering what life with Christ might be like while battling his doubts.  So he just chose not to sit under the preaching of the word anymore.  He reckoned that if these words weren’t true, he was wasting his time.  But if they were, he might very well be in trouble.  He didn’t want to take that chance anymore, so he opted out.

So as we, you and me, have this opportunity to hear the wonderful words of life proclaimed yet again, let’s take a moment and pray that God would break the hard ground of hearts and transform us in the hearing of His scriptures so that we might produce a harvest of the fruit of worship and obedience.

Big Idea:  Hearing the word of God comes with a responsibility…but also with a hope.

James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

As always, let’s take a second and set the context for these words from James.  Last week, we heard the daunting command of James that told us that in our interaction with each other and the world we should always be doing three things.  We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  James then went onto explain that one of the reasons for these commands is that our anger does not produce righteousness or goodness.  Our anger is typically selfish, self-motived, and self-serving and for that reason, our anger is sin.
However, James offers us the promise that God has implanted His word within us, and that word will change us and bring us more into the image of God Himself.  In fact, it was the word of God that originally brought us to faith in Jesus, and that word continues to work.  So having heard the promises of what God will do with the word, James now speaks about what we are supposed to do with the word of God.  With that, we get the command of verse 22

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

If you don’t remember, and even if you do, it is a good reminder, that James just a few verses ago reminded us to be careful not to be deceived.  Back in verse 16, James encouraged us not to be deceived into thinking that good and perfect come from our own hands, our own effort, or from any thing other than God Himself.

Now deception or being deceived means that we believe, speak, and act as if something is true when actually it is not.  And it appears that James is concerned that we all might be deceived yet again.  None of us like to think that way.  We all think we are smart enough not to be deceived, but apparently the scriptures think we are prone to deception so therefore we should keep more of a heads-up.

The deception that James is warning us of here is this:  we will be deceived if we hear the words of God and we don’t obey and put the words of God into practice.  Right now, in these few moments, in the mornings when you study your Bible, if you listen to a sermon on your phone or on the radio, any moment in which you take in the word of God, if you don’t put those words into practice and if you don’t begin to change, then you are deceived.  You want to know why so often we don’t live lives dependent upon the truths of the scriptures?

You want to know why we don’t study our Bibles regularly?  It not merely that we are lazy or that we aren’t avid readers or that we are undisciplined.  All those things play a part.  But the real reason we avoid the scriptures is that our hearts know that the Bible speaks authoritatively to us.  These words, the very words of life, demand that we walk in faith, obedience, and repentance.  They do not allow for you to remain unchanged.   And since we like our sin or we don’t want to change or we don’t want to submit to God’s authority, we just don’t read the Bible.  Well, verses 23-24 explain the deception that comes from ignoring what the scriptures are telling us.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Now the scriptures don’t make parables and illustrations and use similes for random.  They are specific to the topic and the way the scriptures describe people and circumstances actually give us a greater depth and understanding than mere illustrations that we might come up with.  For example when Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth, it is no merely an illustration.  Your knowing Jesus Christ literally preserves this world and enriches it and gives it more flavor.  So this picture in James is pretty amazing for lots of reasons.

James says that if you hear the scriptures then you are like a person who into a mirror and sees his natural face.  That means you look into a mirror and you don’t over estimate your appearance or underestimate it.  Let’s face it; we have a hard time seeing our natural face.  If you are cocky and arrogant and vain, you look at yourself and think you are God’s gift to women or men or you think I’m took good looking for my own good.  If you are insecure and self-loathing, you look at yourself and think you are horrendous looking finding flaw where there is none and exaggerating every small imperfection.

James is saying that when you read the scriptures, you see your true self.  Not what you think you are or what you think you aren’t.  The scriptures lay you, your heart, your mind, your convictions; those things are laid bare before the scriptures.  That’s why Psalm 119:104 says, “Through your precepts I get understanding.”  Another reason why many of us don’t read the Bible.  We are afraid to find out what it has to say.

But every moment we neglect the scriptures is a moment in which you lose an opportunity to understand your God and your self better.  In fact, one of the evidences of growing in Godliness is not how well you can check off the Godliness checklist.  One of the evidences of growing in Godliness is how well and how deep you understand yourself in light of who God is.  Give me a person who has a grander sense of their sin in light of the Gospel over someone who wants to flaunt their supposed Godliness any day.

But if you keep reading you see that James is saying that merely looking into the mirror of scripture is not enough.  If you and I do not put these things that we hear each Sunday and what we learn each day in the scripture, if we don’t put those things into place, then James says we are deceiving ourselves.  In fact verse 24 says that we are not only deceived but we are

24    For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Neglecting to relentlessly pursue the scriptures in both understanding and obedience is like a person who looks in the mirror, sees what he looks like, and then walks away and completely forgets what they look like.  The scriptures reveal the character of God, the great need of our sin, the beautiful complete work of Jesus Christ, and we only rightly understand ourselves in light of those truths.  And just as the Psalmist in 119 said, We are to hide these words in our heart so that we wouldn’t sin against God.

Let me give you an example.  How many of you have ever specifically sought out the help of the scriptures with a particular struggle against some sin?  Let me use two common examples:  anger and lust.  You know yourself well.  You know that there are specific situations and specific people that when you interact with them, you find yourself tempted to be angry and say things you shouldn’t or you are specifically tempted to lust and fantasize about them.  A lot of times you don’t have any choice about your interaction with them.  They are at your work, school, grocery story, maybe even this church.  So, God has moved in your heart to not only study the scriptures but to memorize them so that you can fight the sin in your heart that the temptation brings out.

But the course of time comes, you get busy, and you begin to neglect the regular pattern of studying the scriptures.  As a result you aren’t being regularly transformed or encouraged or strengthen by one of the primary means that God has given to you for strength.  And you show up here each Sunday but by 4pm on Sunday afternoon, you have already fuzzy about what we talked about and completely forgotten it a week later.  We forget sermons from a week ago like we conveniently forget to pray for people that we have promised to pray for.  Well, you bump into that person or you get in that circumstance that you knew was coming, and without a hesitation, you respond either in lust or in anger.  There is not an ounce of fight within you.  But oh wow, the moment passes and you immediately are reminded of the scriptures both against those sins and the scriptures that promise to help you.  We realize that we have completely neglected the means by which God has promised to work in us.

In essence in that moment of sin, we forgot who we are.  We forget that Jesus Christ has completely bought us out of that sin so that we can have hope.  We forget that through Jesus Christ, we are no longer dead to sin but alive to righteousness.  And as we begin to walk in the guilt of our sin, we forget that through Jesus Christ, we are completely loved in an unchanging never ending way by God the Father.

The scriptures are intended to remind you of these things…remind you of who you are now in Jesus Christ.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, they are an invitation to know Him and know yourself.  Thankfully, James doesn’t only use negative examples or give pictures of when we get it wrong.  We also see what it looks like for us to interact with the scriptures in real, powerful, responsible, obedient fashion.  Listen to verse 25.

25    But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty, perseveres in doing it.  You don’t just hear the word but you obey it as well and therefore blessed in whatever you do.  Oh there is so much here, so let’s take it piece by piece.  The scriptures here are described as the perfect law and the law of liberty.  Why is that?  You see the law of God is a perfect expression of God’s character.  We are commanded not to lie because God is the God of all truth and does not lie.  We are commanded to faithfulness in marriage because God is faithful within the Trinity and Jesus is faithful to His bride, the church.  We are commanded not to lust because we are to be content with all that we have as God has a Holy contentment among the Trinity and Christ demonstrated what contentment was to us.

The law of God and all the commands of God are not merely the to dos and the to don’ts.  They are an expression of who God is.  That is why disobeying the scriptures are not merely breaking a rule or mixup.  Sin is cosmic treason where we declare we will be our own gods and we will sit on the throne.  So apart from knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and knowing His forgiveness and the transformation that comes with faith, the law is death.

Romans 7.10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans tells us that the commandments of God are pictures of the life of God but they prove to be death to you and me.  The sin in our hearts, apart from the work of Jesus, when it hears the law of God, springs forth.  The commands of God inflame the desires of a sinful heart.  The law itself is holy, righteous, and good of course but the law incites a spiritual riot, a spiritual rebellion in our heart against God.  That is why Galatians 2:16 says, “No one is justified by the works of the law.”  No heart can choose enough or obey enough to be justified by obedience because one, we already have sin for which we are guilty and secondly, we don’t obey the law apart from God’s regenerating work in our hearts.

So having said that, how can James call what we are doing here as looking at the perfect law of liberty?  How can the same law that inflames sin in our hearts also be the law that gives us liberty and set us free?  Romans 8 explains that for us.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There are a lifetime of sermons in just these four verses but let’s see what we can do.  James can call your looking into the scriptures and obeying them looking into the perfect law of liberty for this reason:  If you have faith in Jesus, you are no longer condemned for your disobedience.  Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

How?  Well, since you couldn’t do it, your weakened flesh could not obey the law, God sent His son Jesus in human flesh just like ours, to obey for us.  Jesus’ obedience condemned the judgment of sin on your life and fulfilled the good and righteous demand that God has for the law to be obeyed and fulfilled.  When you respond to God in faith, you are walking not according the flesh and sin any longer but you are walking according to the Spirit.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ and in the Spirit, you should hear that and rightfully rejoice.  But then you might ask, “Well how do I know if I’m in the flesh or in the spirit?  How do I know if my condemnation has been removed?  Look at verse 5.

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

After reading those verse, ask yourself, “Well, has God given me a transformed thought life?”  Not a perfect one, but a transformed one?  Is your mind set on sin and what you want or is it set upon what the Spirit wants as taught to you through the scriptures?  There is a big difference between the two here and we have to get it.  Everything depends on it.  The mind set on sin is set on death.  The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.  The mind set on sin is hostile towards God.

The way you know whether your mind is hostile towards God or not is whether your mind regularly submits to the scriptures in reading, understanding and obeying.  If you do not have a transformed heart and mind that desires to read, study, understand and obey the commands of scripture, you may very well have your heart set on sin and therefore you are hostile to God.  Look at verse 9

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.  If you do not have the Spirit of God transforming you, teaching you, moving you, enabling you, then you do not belong to Jesus.  But if Christ is in you, the promises are amazing.  Even though you live in a sinful, dying body, the Spirit gives you life and righteousness.

The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.  And that same Spirit gives you life, a life that is now able to thankfully obey and enjoy God’s grace.  Through Christ you look into the perfect law of freedom, response in obedience and experience every spiritual blessing in God.  To begin to pull of these things together, think of it this way.

Basic:  when you look in the scriptures, it shows you your real self.  Who you are and who Jesus is.  If you know Jesus Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and enables you to see these words as the very perfect words of life and liberty and you take joy in obeying them.  If you don’t know Jesus, these words condemn your heart, and you stay away.

Reminder:  Your obedience or disobedience is evidence of whether you know Christ not the means to knowing Christ.  If you know Christ, you look at the scriptures and obey joyfully.  You find yourself walking back to the scriptures as thirsty man crawls to drink water.  If you do not know Christ, you ignore the scriptures, neglect the scriptures, and even if you do hear them, you deceive yourself by not putting them into practice.

Hope:  The hope here though is that through Jesus Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin.  You have real hope.  Gang, some of us have given up the fight, maybe some of us have never started the fight.  We have given up the hope that real change can happen in our lives.  We can’t even imagine what it would like any more.  That is not the life to which you have been called as a child of God.

Let’s daydream for a minute.  Yes, you and I according to the book of James are absolutely responsible for every word of scriptures spoken here.  Whether I and the elders did a good job communicating it to you almost doesn’t matter.  We prayerfully try to communicate the scriptures in a clear way and then we pray that God would bless these humble words with the power of the Holy Spirit.  But we sit right now with these truth and hopefully your antenna is up, your heart is receptive.

Fortunately and by God’s grace, just as with everything else that God commands and promises, He enables you to live out the responsibility to put these words into practice.  What did we just read from the book of Romans?  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit that was present at creation, the Spirit that God promised to every single person who has faith in Jesus, that Spirit gives life to your mortal body.  Begin praying and hoping that God will move you from disobedience to glorious thankful obedience.  Begin praying and hoping that God is going to do the same in the life of your family and this church  and know that does not know Jesus.

Imagine how transformed we would be right here at SK.  We no longer passively resign ourselves to the fact that we haven’t grown.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in our hearts so that we can obey the scriptures personally.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working among us to bring others to know Jesus and grow this church and change our community.

Ephesians 4 explains what happens when we trust and strive with the Holy Spirit to cause us to obey the scriptures.  21 Assuming that you have heard about Christ and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.

Do you see the connection?  You trust Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit to enable you to put off your old sef and obey being renewed in your spirit and minds putting on the new self and imitating the likeness of God that is now in you.  And what happens when we do that?  All of a sudden you begin to share that truth with your neighbor.  The work of Jesus in your heart has no choice but to overflow into the lives of other people so that they can experience the truths of scripture and the transforming work of Jesus through the Spirit.

I’m completely unimpressed with anyone’s growth in Godliness and holiness unless it looks like this.  Growth in personal obedience must turn into a grown and desire to share Jesus with others.  When this work here among us doesn’t grow, we aren’t to stoically say, “Oh well, we didn’t grow” or “why should we expect to grow this year” or “well we’ve tried that already.”  Those are faithless words.  They should be uttered in tears and morning and sack clothes and ashes for the lack of our obedience.

We beg God to enable us to obey the scriptures knowing that that prayer God answers.  I promise you it to God’s will for you to obey.  So let’s pray in this moment, “God give us the full range of obedience that you command.  Enable us to put off the old self.  Renew our minds.  Enable us to walk in the new self.  Create your likeness in us.  Move us to share the Gospel with yoru neighbor.

I don’t any of this, “Well we are working on the personal obedience and then we as a church can share Jesus.  Junk theology.  Junk thinking.  We don’t do that with our kids, we don’t do that at work.  We don’t say, “Let’s work on obeying at home and then maybe when we get that down we’ll worry about obeying at school and church.”  We don’t say, “Well I need to focus on obeying at home and then I’ll worry about obeying at work.”

Junk.  We can’t think that way with our kids, our careers, or this church.  If we do, we have forgotten what we look like.  No, the Spirit of God dwells within you.  The Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead.  So the defeatist mentality about personal sin, the reconciliation of relationships and the growth of this church ends now.   Let’s pray.

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February 13, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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