In this episode, we explore this recurring theme in James and in the Bible as a whole. The best path for each of us is to walk in faith. To listen, obey, and mimic the wisdom of God. When we believe, speak, and act the call of Christ with intensity, we have discovered the key to winning at life.
We’re back in James, and this week, a summary of what we’re going to do can be encapsulated in the pretty simple statement: Your life is dramatically impacted by believing something, speaking it, and doing it. And this is a recurring theme in the Bible, and it’s a recurring theme in the book of James. And that’s what this lesson’s going to focus on.
The book of James, as a whole, we’ve said, is about winning at life. It’s about winning at life. It’s about living life in such a way that you complete the thing that God made you for.
And the way you win at life is by walking in faith in the wisdom of God. And the way you lose at life is by walking in faith in the wisdom of the world. You can either believe what the world tells you or you can believe what God tells you. And there’s no middle ground. It’s one or the other.
So, James, here, is speaking to us as brethren. The word brethren shows up in this book 15 times, we’ve said. And it’s very clear that what he wants us to do is live a constructive, productive life rather than the alternative. Which, of course, means we’re free to make bad choices as humans.
A lot of times people criticize God for giving us freedom, but that’s what being made in his image means. It means we get to make choices. And God, amazingly, let’s us make bad choices. There are constraints on where those bad choices can go, but those constraints largely don’t apply to us. We can destroy ourselves if we have a mind to do so. James wants us to realize that and not take that path.
Sin, when it is conceived, brings forth death
So, we ended the last episode with 1:21. So we’ll pick up from there.
James is like a finely woven sweater where every knit is amazing, but it all really fits together. So we’ll just knit it into the last episode.
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
And we talked about, in the last episode, how souls is psyche, half the time, roughly, translated lives. And what do believers need to have their lives saved from? Well, he tells us in verses 14 and 15. —each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
We had a pregnancy last week and came to full gestation, got delivered, and grew up. And that pregnancy is sin. And that seed is already within us. It’s our sin nature.
And temptation is not necessarily the circumstance. The circumstance is not a problem, he told us. The problem is us. It’s what we do with that circumstance.
And when we take that circumstance in and conceive to do the wrong thing, now we have pregnancy. And when we continue to dwell on that, it grows up, and then it’s born.
And then sin grows up and it becomes death, destruction, devastation. Because that’s what the consequences or wages of sin is. Anytime we follow that path, we get destruction. It might destroy relationships. It might destroy what we could have done. It might even destroy our own bodies.
But we have that gestation.
But the implanted word is able to save our souls
This word implanted here—which I don’t think I got to last episode—this word implanted is the word emphytos. It’s the only time it’s used in the New Testament. And if James were writing now, I kind of think he would use in vitro. Because it appears we don’t need anything from the outside to have a pregnancy when it comes to sin. We’ve already got the seed. We just need to nurture it a little bit, and it grows up, and we give birth to sin.
But if we want to have something different, a different kind of pregnancy in our lives, we have to have something come in from the outside. We have to have in vitro. We have to have the word come in. And the word, of course, is the word of God.
What does it save our souls from? Well from our sin nature that will draw us away and take us to destruction. We don’t want our lives destroyed. We want our lives to be blessed.
So, why do you do that?
Verse 22. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
So, two outcomes you can have: Destruction. Sin brings death. Destruction. That’s if we take the word of the world which is already there, and we allow that to grow.
The other alternative is to take in something from the outside which is the word of God and say, “Replace.” Because you can’t reform this other thing. Sin nature doesn’t reform. So it has to be replaced.
And what do you replace that with? Well, we’re a new creation. We saw that in verse 18. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth—just like God spoke the word and the world was created. When we believe in Jesus, he speaks the word and we have a new creation of us. We have a new us.
But that new us has to grow up, has to become capable. The way we do that is by taking in the word.
Believe, speak, do
Well how do you take in the word and have it actually change things? Well, you believe and then you speak and then you do. That’s fairly self-evident, it isn’t? If somebody says I’m a great believer in this cause and then never does a single thing to help that cause, you start to discount what they’re saying, don’t you?
So, if we want to take this thing that will save us from destruction and take us to blessing, this word, then you’ve got to believe it, speak it, do it. This is a pattern all through scripture.
Look at Revelation 1:3 real quick with me. Revelation promises a great blessing. And we had a whole series on Revelation. It’s on iTunes if you want to go listen to it. A real simple book, a simple message. This is a big part of the simple message.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
So what are you supposed to do? Read, speak, listen, understand, do. That’s what Revelation’s about. It’s not about trying to predict the future. God tells us enough about the future to make the point about what we’re supposed to do. What we’re supposed to do is be a faithful witness and not fear death, death of any kind. Death of the world. The world brings us death of all sorts of things. We embrace that.
There are some things we lose when we walk the right way, walk in God’s way.
Look at the other end of the Bible. Deuteronomy 30:11. This is Moses giving the charge to the Israelites, the second generation, the ones who survived the wilderness before they go into the Promised Land.
And he says in verse 11, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
This is not that hard to understand. This is not rocket science. This is not brain surgery. Or, as some people say, this is not rocket surgery.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
You don’t have to have an angel come down and explain this. It’s not that hard.
Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
This is not that hard. You don’t have to have a consultant come in and explain this. You know, a consultant is somebody with a briefcase that’s from out of town. You don’t have to have that.
But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
You know what the right thing to do is. Just speak it and then do it. See, I’ve set before you today life and good—that’s on one side—death and evil on the other side. So, one is life and good. The other is death and evil. Which one do you want? Pick!
And if you’ll walk in my ways—the thing you already know what the right thing to do is. Just speak it and do it. You get life and good, blessing.
And if you walk in the wrong ways, the ones that your evil desires, you get cursing. You get destruction. You get death. Okay? It’s pretty simple. Pick!
So the very beginning of the book: Believe, speak, do. The very end of the book: Believe, speak, do.
In between, if you study Romans, when Paul makes his seminal argument, the difference between the righteousness of the law, which does not bring righteousness, and the righteousness of faith, which does bring righteousness, he uses this verse to demonstrate what the righteousness of faith looks like.
He says it a little differently. He puts a parenthesis in and says that means bring Christ down from heaven or bring Christ up from the dead. But it’s the same idea. You don’t have to have Jesus return and explain this. You don’t have to have Jesus resurrect again and explain this. You have to believe and then do.
And he talks about this famous verse, confess, believe, believe, confess. Believe, speak, do. Because Romans is written to Gentile believers whose faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Just like James is written to believers who are experiencing persecution all over the world.
So, believe, speak, do.
So be doers of the word. Believe it. Yeah, that’s great. Now how do you know if you’re believing it? Because he told us in verse 6 that we’re double minded, that our natural bent is to be double minded. Have you noticed that?
Been around little kids any? Are they double minded? Do they have one standard for everybody else and another one for themselves?
When you start teaching them about fairness, how does that get applied? Right? “They won’t give me what I want so that’s not fair!”
“You have something I want, and you won’t give it to me! So give it!”
It’s not just a limitation on age. There’s no limitation on the scope of the thing. Because this is our problem as humans.
The way we overcome it is to speak, hear, do.
But how do you know you’re not deceiving yourselves? How do you know you’re not saying you believe, but you’re messing up?
Well, it’s pretty simple, really. Just do a little self-examination. Just do a little evaluation of, how am I doing?
Like a man who looks in a mirror
And the Bible has given us a great analogy to understand what that’s like. And the key is make up.
Verse 23. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man—
Now, a lot of times in the Bible, when you read the man, it’s like humanity, like God made man. This is not that word.
This should be translated male as opposed to female. This is like a male who goes and observes his face in a mirror.
Now what do males do when they look at their face in the mirror? They might preen a little. But are they there to do business? Are they there to seek perfection? Are they there to make sure everything’s complete? You know, comb the hair. That’s a little crooked. Oh, that’s good enough. I’m shaving. This is kind of a pain. Did I miss any? That’s good enough. Right? That’s a man in a mirror.
And you see men on a Saturday morning at Walmart. Do you see that man and say, “Oh, they spent time in front of the mirror this morning!”? Is that what you see?
Or is it, like, tousled hair, maybe a hat. You know, “I fixed everything with a hat.”
That’s the best way you can do mirror work with men, right? A hat! Just automatically takes care of everything.
But not females. No! When females get in front of the mirror, they’re there with intensity. They’re looking into that mirror, right? It’s time for business. We got to make this right! We’re not leaving this spot until we are presentable. Why? Because we’re going to Walmart!
We’re in Anchorage. We’re in Anchorage, and there’s no way we’ll run into anybody we know. It doesn’t matter. We have to be presentable. Right?
Go to the word with intensity
Well, don’t be like a man looking in a mirror. That doesn’t work. If you’re just like, okay, receive with meekness the implanted word, great! Ah, that’s good. Got my hat. I’m out.
No, that’s not what gets this done. Number one is let’s go to the word with some intensity! Let’s stare into this thing. Let’s understand what it’s telling us. We can’t receive with meekness the implanted word unless we spend some time looking at it. It takes some effort.
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
So, if you’re going to if you’re going to do the make-up thing, and it takes ten seconds [swishing sounds], there’s a price to be paid for that. You may not hear it firsthand, but it’ll be talked about. You can’t take that risk.
So what we’re going to do is we’re going to take time looking into this. This word looks, this word translated looks, is the Greek word katanoeo. Now Greek is like Hawaiian. It’s got all these vowels. Katanoeo. Whatever. Maybe that’s right; maybe it’s not.
Other occurrences of the word looks
But this word translated looks doesn’t really do this word justice. In the context, you can get the idea that there’s some intensity going on here. But we can look at some other occurrences of this word and get an idea that I think will help us.
Look at Matthew 7:3.
And why do you look—same word, kataoeo—at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
Why are you focusing intently on their faults and being blind to your own faults? The only reason you can see their faults is because you have them yourself. Right? So why are you staring intently and noticing their problem? Looks. Same word.
Let’s look at Luke 12:24. This is Jesus speaking. Consider the ravens—consider. Katanoeo. Same word. Consider. Think about. Ponder. Reflect on.
Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?
Why should you be spending all this time worrying about stuff you cannot control when God’s taking care of stuff? Why? Think about it. Ponder it. Reflect on it.
See this word? Spend time and intensity looking in this mirror.
Look at Luke 20:23. Jesus is speaking of Jesus with these guys that are attacking him. But He—Jesus—perceived—same word katanoeo—He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me?
Jesus was analyzing what they were doing. He’s understanding their perspective. He knows where they’re coming from because he’s focused on it. He’s thought about it. He’s reflected on it. He’s understood it. Same word.
One more. Acts 11:6. This is Peter after they saw the vision of the unclean animals. And he says, When I observed it intently—
And I’m not sure exactly which words they translated here. It seems like, sort of, in the literal translations I looked at it was, like, I gazed intently and considered. And considered is this word katanoeo.
So, I looked at it intensely and then I thought about it to understand, what is this vision God has given me? What does it mean?
Looking intensely into the word
So you get the idea. Spend time looking into the word. That’s why you’re all here. You’re doing this. You’re spending time working on the word. That’s why we’re going through these books. That’s why we spend time looking at, what does it actually say? That’s the whole focus of my Bible study ministry is to say what does it say? Not how can we fit this into what we want it to say? That’s double minded. That’s deceiving ourselves.
A lot of times when we see what the word says, it’s not very pleasant to hear. Why? Because we have a sin nature, and we don’t like to change. But meekness means I will admit what is.
Humility is just seeing reality for what it actually is.
And I see I have a problem. I don’t want to nurture those problems. I want to put something else in its place.
So, how did you do that? Well, you stare into the mirror. You’re there to do business. You look at this word.
The perfect law of liberty
Now, he uses a phrase here, the perfect law of liberty.
And this can be confusing because we, as New Testament saints, understand that by grace through faith we’re delivered from hell to heaven. And righteousness in our daily walk comes walking by faith. And Paul has taught us that if we’re under the law, if we try to make rules—fix us and fix other people, especially other people—then that does not bring righteousness.
And here, James wants us to stare into the law. So what’s up with that?
Well, this word perfect here is this teleo, which we see all through scripture. It means complete, lacking nothing. You know, our word telescope comes from that. You can see all the way to the end of something. So it’s come to the end of its purpose. That’s the idea. You got there.
So, the law is perfect. And actually, Paul tells us that in Romans. There’s nothing wrong with the law. What’s wrong is us. We’re the ones with the problem. The problem is we can’t keep the law. That’s the problem. It’s not the law’s fault that we can’t keep it. It’s our fault. It’s our problem.
Well, if we can’t keep it, then why stare into it? Well, we stare into it because we’re not going to it to figure out how to make a set of rules to justify ourselves. That’s the problem.
See, I’m going to make rules that are easy for me to keep and hard for you to keep and judge you and elevate me. And that way, I justify myself. And God’s obligated to put up with that or to accept that because I demonstrated it me vs. you. And now I’m in control of whether I’m good or not. Everything’s wonderful because I got what I wanted. I’m in control, including in control of God. How awesome is that? Rub the bottle; genie comes out. “Go back in. I don’t need you anymore.” That’s our bent.
Well, no. No, that’s not what we’re staring into the perfect law for. We’re staring there to get liberty.
Now, Paul has been real clear to tell us that if we think that we can reform ourselves by making rules, we will become a slave. We’ll become a slave to those rules and probably much worse. We can’t do it.
But if we look at this law to say, what is God telling me about myself?
You know, the New Testament’s largely a commentary on the Old Testament. There’s nothing new under the sun.
You know, in Luke 24:44, Jesus said, “These are the words which I spoke to you—speaking of the disciples—while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
The Old Testament is the same thing as the New Testament. It’s the same message in a different set of circumstances, historical circumstances.
So, there’s nothing wrong with what God tells us a good life looks like. We just have to have the power of the resurrected Christ and our new creation and walk in faith to do that saying I’m going to walk in obedience rather than make these rules that I justify myself with. That’s the point.