by Mike Ratliff
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. James 1:16-18 (NASB)
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 led 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.
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:19-27 (NASB)
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 have looked at this before. 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 the world and its ways or with any man-made, false form of Christianity.
19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 (NASB)
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!