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Sermon #10 — James Series
Title: Pure Religion
Text: James 1:21-27
Subject: The Obedience of Faith
Date: Tuesday Evening — April 14, 2015
Readings: David Burge and Merle Hart
Is your religion pure religion or pretend religion? Is my religion pure religion or pretend religion? Let’s open the Book of God and ask God the Holy Ghost to show us the answer. Pure Religion or Pretend Religion? — That’s the title of my message. Our text will be James 1:21-27.
God the Holy Spirit, in his mighty operations of grace, always lays sinners in the dust before the throne of God. This is what James declares in the first chapter of his Epistle. Once the Lord has made you poor in spirit, he will enrich you with his grace. When he strips you of all your imaginary righteousness, he will enrich you with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Therefore James says, in verses 9 and 10…
(James 1:9-10) “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: (10) But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.”
Do you remember what we read in Lamentations 3 Sunday night?
(Lamentations 3:26-32) “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. (27) It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. (28) He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. (29) He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. (30) He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. (31) For the Lord will not cast off for ever: (32) But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.”
The rich young ruler’s problem was not that he had too much gold to be saved. Money doesn’t keep a person out of heaven. If it did, Abraham, David, and Solomon would all be in hell. That rich young ruler could not enter into the Kingdom of God because he had too much righteousness to be saved. He was rich, in his own eyes, with righteousness. God will never lift you up, until he lays you low. He will never fill you until he empties you. He will never exalt you until he abases you. He will never give you peace until he troubles you. He will never make alive until he kills. Is that not what our Lord Jesus declares in Matthew 5?
(Matthew 5:1-12) And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: (2) And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, (3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4) Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (5) Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (6) Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (7) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (8) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (9) Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (10) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (12) Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
This is the universal doctrine of Scripture. But it is doctrine no one will ever embrace, none will receive it, until they are born of God, and taught of God, and learn “by the Scriptures, according to the commandment of the everlasting God and the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).
Proposition: Saving faith is not merely believing that the record of God concerning his Son is true; faith is acting upon that belief.
Saving faith is not merely believing that the record of God concerning his Son is true; faith is acting upon that belief. Therefore in our text James says, to you and me…
(James 1:21-27) “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (23) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (26) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Hearing the Word of God and agreeing with it is not salvation. Salvation is doing the Word of God. Salvation is “the obedience of faith.” — Let me show you.
First, in verse 21, God the Holy Ghost, by his servant James, tells us that there is something that must be laid aside.
(James 1:21) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.
What is James telling us to lay aside? Without question, we must ever say “no” to the filth of our flesh: our lusts, our pride, our vile hearts’ corruptions! Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, let us live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world, for Christ’s sake.
But the filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness James here tells us to lay aside specifically has to do with that pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness that stirs up a person’s wrath against the things of God, causing people to speak rashly against the gospel. James is talking about the filthiness that carried the Pharisees to hell and the superfluity of naughtiness that caused that rich young ruler to turn and walk away from the Lord Jesus. — The word “superfluity” means excess. The “filthiness of the flesh and superfluity of naughtiness” has specific reference to circumcision, the removing of the superfluous, unneeded, filth of the foreskin of the flesh.
· The superfluous, unneeded filth of self-righteousness and works religion is what James tells us must be laid aside.
· If you would be saved you must cast off your own righteousness.
· Casting off that excess of the flesh, confessing our sin, we receive the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (Jeremiah 4:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17-7:1).
(Jeremiah 4:4) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (18) And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (6:1) We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
(2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1) O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. (12) Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. (13) Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged. (14) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (15) And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (16) And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (17) Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (18) And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (7:1) Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The perfection of holiness, Christ our Righteousness, Christ in you the Hope of Glory, is yours when God convinces you that you have none of your own.
(Isaiah 61:1) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.
In this way, and only in this way, will a man or woman receive with meekness the engrafted Word of God that is able to save our souls. The “engrafted” Word is that which is put in us by God the Holy Spirit, made a part of our very being by the power of his grace, and is able to save our souls!
Doers of the Word
Second, the Spirit of God tells us in verses 22-25 that we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
“But be ye doers of the word.” — Doers of the Word are those who spiritually understand it, gladly receive it, and from the heart obey it, trusting Christ.
(Romans 2:13) For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
· Christ is our Righteousness!
· Christ is our Satisfaction!
· Trusting Christ, we obey all that God commands and reveals in the Word.
(Romans 3:28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
(Romans 3:31) Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
James is not telling us to show men how much we love God, how righteous we are, how devoted we are, or to be careful to have a good testimony before men.
· That’s what the Pharisees did.
· That’s the very thing James is correcting.
· Our Lord specifically forbids that kind of behavior (Matthew 6).
Now, watch the next line. — “And not hearers only.” — Hear the Word swiftly and readily, and receive it with meekness. But do not be content merely to hear it. — Obey it!
· Hearing the gospel is not salvation.
· Studying the Word of God is not salvation.
· Admiring the doctrine of the gospel is not salvation.
· Salvation is doing what God commands in his Word, what God commands in the gospel. — Salvation is in “the obedience of faith!”
(1 John 3:23) And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
James compares the Word of God to a mirror (vv. 23-24). If you look into a mirror, you see yourself. And if you open this Book and read it, you will see yourself. When you do, it will make an impression on you. But how quickly we forget what we see in a mirror!
(James 1:23-24) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
· How quickly we forget what we see of ourselves in this Book as the sons and daughters of Adam!
· How quickly we forget what we see of ourselves in this Book in union with Christ! — “Complete in him!”
(Romans 6:11) Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (18) And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
(Galatians 2:20) I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
(1 Peter 4:1) Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; (2) That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
(1 John 3:5) And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
(1 John 4:17) Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
Third, the Spirit of God tells us to ever be gazing into the Revelation of God, to ever be trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a doer of the Word; and that brings with it the assured blessing of God upon our lives.
(James 1:25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
Much has been said about this “perfect law of liberty.” Some guess it is one thing and some another; but obviously in the context as James uses the term he is referring to the Word of God. This blessed Book is for believing sinners “the perfect law of liberty.” For self-righteous religionists and legalists, it is the dreadful tomb of bondage and death. But for the believing soul the Book of God is “the perfect law of liberty!”
· Christ frees us from the curse, condemnation, and bondage of the law.
· He frees us from the power and dominion of sin.
· He gives us freedom to approach the Throne of Grace.
· He leads us into the liberty of his grace!
The person who “looketh” into the word (not beholds and goes his way, but gazes into the gospel of Christ, the Word of God, receiving the testimony of God and trusting Christ, is blessed in the totality of his life, blessed of God in his “deed,” all his “deed!” —— Read Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Ecclesiastes 9:7-10.
(Deuteronomy 28:1-14) And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: (2) And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. (3) Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. (4) Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. (5) Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. (6) Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. (7) The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways. (8) The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (9) The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways. (10) And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee. (11) And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee. (12) The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. (13) And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: (14) And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
(Ecclesiastes 9:7-10) Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. (8) Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. (9) Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. (10) Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Fourth, James puts his doctrine in shoe leather, showing us the difference between pure religion and pretend religion (vv. 26-27).
(James 1:26-27) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
If a man professes to be religious (or appears to be righteous and religious by his preaching, or praying, or piety) and does not control his tongue, but boasts of his works, speaks evil of others, sows discord among the brethren, or speaks in wrath, unkindness, and gossip, and has no care about what he says, but gives his tongue a liberty to say what he will to the injury of others, he dishonors God, denies the faith, and is a fraud, a phony, a hypocrite. His professed religion is in vain!
(Psalm 39:1) I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
That religion which is sincere and genuine, free from hypocrisy before God, “pure religion” involves works of faith and labors of love. Where there is true faith in the heart, there is love to God; where there is love to God, there is love to others; and this will show itself in works of faith and love; not in works seen, approved of, and applauded by men, but in works performed for God for the benefit of others.
· The Woman with the Alabaster Box
· The Thessalonians
Grace makes people gracious. That is not all there is to true religion; but if my religion does not cause me to be gracious, kind, forgiving, forbearing, and generous, my religion is pretend religion, not pure religion.
(Ephesians 4:17-5:2) This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, (18) Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: (19) Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (20) But ye have not so learned Christ; (21) If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: (22) That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; (23) And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; (24) And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (25) Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. (26) Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: (27) Neither give place to the devil. (28) Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (29) Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (30) And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: (32) And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (5:1) Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (2) And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.