by Mike Ratliff
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16-18 ESV)
The test of true faith is that which is revealed in how one lives and walks through this life. Right belief, that is, a faith that lives in a regenerate heart born from above, is exhibited in right living as James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ wrote in the passage above. Notice also that he began that passage in v16 with, “Do not be deceived,” or “Μὴ πλανᾶσθε” from the Greek. This literally says, “not be deceived.” The verb πλανᾶσθε here is the present imperative active form of the Greek verb πλανάω, which means “to lead astray, deceive.” So, in the form used here, James and the Holy Spirit is commanding and warning believers to actively work to not be lead to believe the lie that which is the opposite of the truth that he is about to share concerning the nature of how true Christian faith produces a true Christian walk. The good gift of faith comes from God and all the gifts that follow concerning this Christian walk do as well. This is God’s plan for His people that they should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
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. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 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 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. 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. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion 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. (James 1:19-27 ESV)
Here we see the fruit of this “right belief,” which is, of course, born in a truly regenerate heart clearly contrasted with those who are merely religious, but who do not bear this fruit. The genuine believer is a doer of the word not just a hearer of it. If he is the latter than he is self-deceived. Remember, we looked at this earlier. The deceived are those who believe a lie in order to receive something they want. Those who are religious and professing Christians, but are not genuine are deceived because they have believed the lie that they can have things their own way or they have to do something religious or they have to be pious or be part of a group like a certain church or denomination in order to be saved instead of hearing the Gospel, understanding fully that they are sinners who can do nothing to save themselves then turning to Christ in humble repentance by the faith given to them by God. These are the regenerate. They will be different. They will be new creations who can no longer tolerate sin in their lives or being identified with with the world and its ways or with any man-made, false form of Christianity.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 ESV)
Right belief is exhibited in right living. James is describing professing believers in this passage who have apostatized from the faith they once professed (Hebrews 5:12-6:9; 10:29; 1 John 2:19). These people have taken a very dangerous step into grave danger. The church must rebuke and call them back. We know from v20 that these people are not believers, but sinners, ἁμαρτωλὸν. This word is used in the New Testament to describe the unregenerate (Matthew 9:13; Luke 7:37, 39; 15:7, 10; 18:13; Romans 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:9, 15; 1 Peter 4:18). These people have a dead faith. This is why they apostatized and are not just sinning, true believers. Those who go astray doctrinally (v19) will also manifest a lifestyle that betrays this in that they will no longer live according to biblical principles. Knowing all of this, and that our calling is to work to bring these people back to the light so that God can truly save them, we should pursue these people with the time God has given to us. This is another reason that I and my friends write these posts and bring to attention to the church those who profess to be Christians, but who are pursuing what is false, proving their professions to be false. God’s will be done.
Soli Deo Gloria!