Faith That is Pure


In the 40’s and 50’s, there was this professional baseball pitcher named Bob Lemon. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play. He had over 200 career wins and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976. I read something he said one time and for whatever reason, it stuck with me. He said, “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”

The first time heard that, I laughed. However, for me, his seemingly light-hearted statement is proving to be truer and truer for my view on sports. As I have gotten older and as I’ve become more attentive to the sports world, I have grown to believe that he was really on to something. Has anyone in here been to a youth sports event? Some of those parents and coaches are absolutely crazy! 

There are those overly competitive sports parents who show up at every practice and make team sports a nightmare for kids, coaches, refs and other parents. There’s parents who can't let go of their own glory days, so they scream relentlessly from the sidelines at 10 year olds and threaten volunteer refs. You see coaches who no longer teach fundamentals of the game, but rather teach innovative ways to hurt the team’s players. What was once a sport being played in its purest possible form by kids who possessed a genuine love for the game has now been turned into a nightmare. Something pure and simple had been turned into something else that hardly resembles its original form. 

Sometimes we do the same thing with Christianity. We can over complicate Christianity and completely miss the mark. We can become so consumed with dressing a certain way, talking a certain things, doing this, or not doing that we end up with some new gospel different from the one we started with. We started with, “We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.” But now we’re living like we’re saved by faith in Jesus plus x, y, and z. It’s completely wrong and it’s exhausting! 

In our text tonight, James is going to give us a clear and simple description of what pure, genuine faith looks like. Let’s pick it up in verse 26.

James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” This verse summarizes everything we went over a couple weeks ago in verses 19-25. Be both hearers and doers of the Word. Don’t live double lives. Receive the gospel and then live accordingly. 

Pick it back up in Verse 27: “Religion…” And religion not meaning cold, dead practices but rather genuine faith. So when James uses the word religion, he’s saying genuine faith. Genuine faith “…that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Why does James use orphans and widows? Why doesn’t he tell us to care for someone else? Orphans and widows, at the time this was written, were an incredibly vulnerable group of people. Orphanages did not exist at this time. Homeless shelters did not exist at this time. If you were a child and you lost your parents to disease, war, or something else, you were alone on the streets to fend for yourself. If a woman lost her husband and no other family member was willing to care for them, she would be in the streets. They had no economic support system. They had to beg, sell themselves as slaves, or starve to death. This is an especially vulnerable group of people right here. Also worth noting, this group of people could never pay you back. There was no “I help you, you help me” system in place here. These people were at the rock bottom of society with seemingly nothing to offer.

And yet, this is what Jesus demands, not suggests, of his followers. Now, we don’t always like to talk that way about Jesus. However, King Jesus makes demands. And the summary of the demands is this: Love your neighbor, specifically those who are most poor and vulnerable, as yourselves and to love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, and soul over and above by which you love the world. That’s the royal command. Real, genuine faith is a love for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and a single-minded love and devotion to God. That is real faith.

In our mission trip to India in 2016, we had the opportunity to go and visit two orphanages and a home for the dying and destitute. While we were at the first orphanage, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures or video. Sounds strange, but we had to keep our phones in our pockets. That was such a blessing. We were forced to stay in the moment of everything that was going on because we couldn’t escape through our phones.

After a failed puppet show, we all dispersed in the room finding ways to make connections with the children. We sang to them, read to them, rocked them, held their hands, and, very simply, invested time with them. Some of these children couldn’t play very much because of the severity of their medical issues. They were restricted to laying on a mattress and had no independent mobility. But even as they laid on that mattress, they would sway back and forth as Q sang worship songs. You could actually feel the joy they were feeling.

Amidst this, Q sang one song that absolutely broke me. He sang “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham. I’ve heard that song a hundred times, but this time was different. Q gets to the third verse in the song and sings, “Who makes the orphan a son and daughter? The King of Glory. The King of Glory”. I lost it. Here we are with these real children who really are orphans. They have been cast aside by society and are only receiving care because this Christian orphanage had taken them in. But they have not been forgotten! The King of Glory loves them and wants them! Their earthly father may died or abandoned them, but their Heavenly Father will never forsake them! He will make them His son or daughter. They are not without hope. 

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is what Jesus did for all of us! Before Christ, I was the orphan! Before Christ, you were the orphan! Now, because of Christ, I am His son. Now because of Christ, you are His son or daughter. We were once enemies of God. But because Jesus took on all of our sin on that cross and made a way for us to come back to God, we can now be called His children. We have been adopted into His royal family.

Jesus calls us to love the unlovable, to love the one who has been cast out, to love the one who has been forgotten, to love the one who is vulnerable, to love the one who cannot pay us back because that’s what He did and continues to do today! Jesus is merely calling us to do for others what has been done for us! We are to have love for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and a single-minded love and devotion to God. That’s the Christian faith practically lived out in it’s purest form.
This week's Lock Screen Wallpaper
Be sure to check out the latest pictures that have been added to the Fall 2017 Grace Students Flickr album! Click here to access it! 


Listen


Listening should be one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and yet, it’s usually one of the hardest. In one sense, listening is easy — or hearing is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative or energy required in speaking. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The point is that hearing is easy, and faith is not an expression of our activity or our strength, but our receiving the activity of another…namely the activity of Jesus — his life, death, burial, and resurrection. 

But despite this ease we often fight against it. In our sin, we’d rather trust in ourselves than in another. We’d rather try to stand on our own righteousness than receive another’s. We’d rather speak our thoughts than listen to someone else's. This is not a new problem. This has been something that human beings have struggled with since the fall of man in Genesis 3. James has observed this lack of listening amongst the early church and sought address it in our text we’re looking at tonight.

James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

This command is of so much importance that James tells them to “know this.” He’s telling them to write this down, take notes, commit this to memory. He tells them to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Do you see how these build on one another? He starts with being quick to listen. Then, if you are quick to listen, consequently, you will be slow to speak. Then, if you are slow to speak and you have taken the time to listen and understand the situation, then you will be slow to anger.

Therefore, we can see of the opposite of this is true. If you are slow to listen and quick to speak, then you are a fool speaking of things before you fully understand them. Thus, speaking first and listening second snowballs and builds up into this anger.

And this anger, as James says in verse 20, is not good for us. This type of behavior does not help you in any way. Not listening keeps us from living our lives in a way that glorifies God. This seemingly small act is like a poison keeping us from producing good righteous fruit. 

We all struggle with this. We, as natural people, are not inclined to listen. And this issue goes beyond the surface. There is more to this than simply developing good listening techniques. Not trying to hate on those, but there are merely bandaids. This issue is a matter of the heart. Some sort of real, significant, deep, heart change has to occur if we are going to genuinely listen to God and to listen to others. We don’t need a bandaid. We need surgery. We need a spiritual heart transplant.

Look at what James says in verse 21, “Therefore, put away all filthiness and wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James gave us the “what” we need to do in verse 19. Here he gives us the “how”. Did you catch it? Put away all filth and, in humility, receive the implanted word that has the power to save us. The power is in the implanted word, the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Before we receive the gospel, we believe that we are the center of the universe. You may not audibly say that to your neighbor, but you practically live that way. You do whatever you want and as long as it serves your best interests. You may actually stop and listen to someone else, but only because you see some sort of benefit for you. Not because you genuinely care about them. Other people are mere objects for you to use for your personal gain. 

However, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, this all changes for us. When we receive the gospel, when we place our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, some awesome things happen. The Holy Spirit of God comes inside of you to dwell. You literally have the Spirit of God living inside of you. Guiding you, directing you, and giving you power to say no to sin and yes to the things of God. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave, the same power that can bring dead things to life, is in you! How awesome is that?! Your old self has died and this new you is now alive with Christ. With this new Spirit in us, we no longer see things as we saw them before.

We see that there is a sovereign God of the universe who has created all things with the purpose of glorifying Him and, most importantly that we are not that God. We stop seeing people as objects to be used and manipulated by us. Rather, we see them as human beings created in the image of God just like we are! We see that we are not here for ourselves. There are roughly 35 plus "one another's" in Scripture. We are here for the good of others. We’re here to encourage one another, to build one another up, to love one another, to share burdens with one another. For the first time in our lives, we have this proper perspective about who we are and our purpose in this world. And with this new perspective, everything starts to make a little more sense.

We’re commanded to listen, but before you can ever truly listen, you need to remove yourself from the center of the universe. You need to dethrone yourself and place God in His rightful place at the center. With God on the throne, you are no longer standing in awe of yourself, you are standing in awe of God. Now, you can take your eyes off yourself and look to the interest of others. 

Love listens. Just as God hears us when we call to him, so must we listen to others. Half-eared listening despises the brother or sister and is only waiting for a chance to speak and get rid of the other person. Poor listening rejects; good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. Imagine what the world would look like if people were treated like they mattered, like they had a voice, like they were being heard and cared for. Just as our love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.

Good listening goes hand in hand with the mindset of Christ (Philippians 2:5). It flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It looks not only to its own interests, but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Simply put, good listening models Christ.

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Be sure to check out the latest pictures from our Fall 2017 Flickr album! Click here to access it!

Hearers and Doers


In our text for tonight, James moves from trials and begins addressing another concern of his with the Christians he’s writing to. The primary concern he wishes to address is the one of self-deception. He has observed these men and women and seen some duplicity in their lives. He hears them professing one thing, but then living another. James believes that these Christians might have a false sense of who they really are, and, lovingly, seeks to address this issue in verses 19-25. 

So let’s pick it up in verse 19. James says in verses 19-20, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” So these people, the community of believers, were struggling with speaking, listening, and anger. 

James is not only talking about the external outbursts or childish fits that happen. But he is also primarily talking about the deeply settled anger underneath the behavior as well. He is talking about the deep-seated entitlements and pride of our hearts that create the outbursts. He is talking about the heart, not merely the lips.

Look at verse 21. “Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul. 

Don’t miss what James just did. He just took the concerning behavior, the angry hearts and the angry words, and he took it straight to the heart. He went straight to their submission, or lack of submission, to the gospel. He didn’t stay talking about their anger and then say, “Let me give you some techniques for how to sort of cool down in that moment.” No! Those things aren’t necessarily bad, but he didn’t do that. He goes right to the heart.

He says, “You’re angry. You’re speaking in a way that’s ungodly, that’s not producing the righteousness that pleases God. So you need to receive the gospel afresh. You need to submit yourself to the Word of God, which is able to save you. It’s able to save you from these behaviors. It’s able to save you from your sin that’s indwelling you and keeping you from pleasing God.” He is saying, “Listen. Humble faith in the gospel is what pleases God.” This is what saves us. The gospel is what contains all the power God would give us that we need to live and persevere in this life.

Now James shifts gears a little bit. He moves from listening and receive the word to doing. Verse 22 says, “But be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James has this burden like we stated earlier, that the people in these churches are deceived about whether or not they have genuine faith. There are men and women in the church who think they’re pleasing to God. They think they’re in right standing with God, but they’re not. They think they’re right with God because they apparently are hearers of the Word. 

They say they agree with the teaching. They come to church on Sunday morning. They come to youth on Wednesday night. They sing the songs. But their life is filled with bad fruit. Their hearts are filled instead with anger and jealousy that’s spilling out into their words in all manner of filthiness and wickedness. They are being self-deceived.

Receiving the Word of Truth, or the gospel, means more than just hearing it and nodding along. It means to embrace the gospel and to actually, in faith, act upon it. What James is saying is the one who merely hears the Word and has a lifestyle that is characteristically against doing what he hears, that person has not truly received the gospel.

Via the Holy Spirit, he gives us an illustration to help us better understand this in verses 23-24. He says, “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. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

What’s amazing is unlike today, mirrors in the time James is writing were not everyday objects. Let this blow your mind. People were generally unfamiliar with what they looked like. That’s just crazy to me! These people didn’t look at the mirror. They did not own a mirror. Even the mirrors they did have, were not smooth glass and never really had a clear reflection. It was metal, and the reflection was distorted and sort of blurry. 

When they saw themselves in a mirror, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on their hearts about what they looked like. They would see it, and it would be sort of blurry and distorted. Then they’d leave and forget what they looked like because they weren’t seeing it often enough. They couldn’t keep the image with them. James is saying that if you are someone who hears the Word but fails to act on it, this is what you are like.

He says you gather with the church on Sunday. You hear the Word. You receive some comfort for about 30 minutes, and then you walk out the door. Then as soon as you walk out the door, you have forgotten what you’ve heard. That word forget doesn’t just mean to not remember. It also means you discard. You purposely don’t give attention to it. You come, you hear, and you leave. For the rest of the week, until you gather again, you forget and discard everything that’s been said.

According to James, this does not please God. If you think this pleases God, if you think you’re right with God because you come in here and you do that and then you leave and you forget it until you come back, then you are self-deceived.

Then, we get a contrast in verse 25. He says, “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.  He is saying the one who looks into this Word of Truth, this gospel that compels us and demands we live life a certain way, which is actually a freeing way to live life and not a killjoy…The one who does that and perseveres in looking at it, “…being no hearer who forgets…” he is a different type of hearer. He is not a “…hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

This person is the blessed man from Psalm 1. This is the man who has his roots planted by the stream who is ever flourishing because he has his life rooted in the gospel. His life is rooted in what God has done for him through his Son, through His life and His death and His resurrection in the gospel. This is what genuine faith looks like. Listen and do what you’ve heard!

True belief causes Christians to live out their faith according to the Word. We don't just passively hear the Word and receive it, rather action should always follow genuine heart change. Do not be deceived.

You know, with a passage like this, there is this tension that I struggle with. As much as it depends on me, what I don’t want to do is to cause true Christians to doubt their faith. Especially those who are very vulnerable right now in their faith. I want to avoid that. Rather, Christian, I want to comfort and encourage you. While simultaneously I actually do want to explicitly confront those of you who need to be confronted because you are deceived in the same way James is talking about here in this text. You think you’re a true Christian, but you’re really not. What I thought would be helpful was just to maybe end with some questions we can all think through together and trust the Spirit of God here to minister to our hearts.

First, are you a Christian? I’m talking about you, not your friend, not your mom, not your dad. Are you a Christian? Are you one who has humbly received and believed the gospel about Jesus Christ? 

If the answer to that question is no, I would just follow up and ask you, what’s keeping you even today from receiving and worshiping Him? What’s the hurdle? I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this or not, but God loves you. This good God, this perfect God, has made a way for you to be loved by him and to become his son or his daughter. He did it by making his only Son an enemy so you who are an enemy of God right now could become his son or his daughter for eternity.

If you answered, “Yes, I’m a Christian,” is this evidenced in your life? Would other godly people affirm that about you? Probably a better question, are you even willing to ask them? Professing Christian, does your daily life, characteristically speaking, align with your profession of faith? Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word?

Would people in your family or on your team be surprised to learn you’re a Christian? Is there any chance that you’re self-deceived about what your relationship with God is? Is there any chance that you might be the one who looks in the mirror and walks away and forgets what you see?

Listen, we all need grace. We all have areas in which we need to grow. We all have areas in our life that need to become more in step with whom God has called us to be. Whether you answered yes or no to any of these questions, I pray we all have the same response. Let’s look to Jesus. However you answered these questions tonight, look to Jesus. 

Maybe you’re a Christian who’s just been struggling lately. We’ve all been there. Look to Jesus. Maybe you’re a Christian who’s enjoying a strong season of faith right now. Praise God for that and continue to look to Jesus for strength in your walk. Wherever you are, look to Jesus who stands ready to save you and love you, who has a table set before you, whose goodness and mercy want to follow you all the days of your life. Look to Him.

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