by Mike Ratliff
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)
Martin Luther hated the Book of James. He called it an Epistle of Straw and questioned whether it should be included in the Canon of Scripture at all. Why? His opponents in the Roman Catholic Church misapplied what James taught to try to support their theology that stated that people are saved by their works. A careful study of this wonderful book, however, does not support that. In fact, we find that James and Paul are in full agreement. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and the Book of James both speak of works and its place in the Christian walk in relation to Grace. They present the truth from different sides of the issue so when people who do not possess the spirit read James they often twist the word to fit their false theology.
In the passage I placed at the beginning of this post we read that James implores us to be doers of the word and not hearers only. This sounds reasonable doesn’t it? What good is it to read traffic signs while driving if we do not follow what they are telling us? James speaks of a dividing line in this passage that we need to understand, grasp, and apply to our lives. There seems to be two types of people who hear the word, or God’s commandments, or The Law. One group hears but does not obey it. The other group hears and obeys. William Tyndale broke people into three groups. The following quote is from his The Obedience of a Christian Man.
God requireth the law to be kept of all men to let them keep it for whatsoever purpose they will. Will they not keep the law? so vouchsafeth he not that they enjoy this temporal life. Now are there three natures of men, one altogether beastly which in no wise receive the law in their hearts, but rise against princes and rulers whensoever they are able to make their party good. These are signified by them that worshipped that golden calf. For Moses brake the tables of the law ere he came at them.
The second are not so beastly, but receive the law, and unto them the law cometh: but they look not Moses in the face. For his countenance is too bright for them, that is, they understand not that the law is spiritual and requireth the heart. They look on the pleasure, profit and promotion that followeth the keeping of the law, and in respect of the reward keep they the law outwardly with works, but not in the heart. For if they might obtain like honour, glory, promotion and dignity and also avoid all inconvenients, if they broke the law, so would they also break the law and follow their lusts.
The third are spiritual and look Moses in the open face and are (as Paul saith the second to the Romans) a law unto themselves, and have the law written in their hearts by the Spirit of God. These need neither of king nor officers to drive them, neither that any man proffer them any reward for to keep the law. For they do it naturally.
The first work for fear of the sword only. The second for reward. The third work for love freely. They look on the exceeding mercy, love and kindness which God hath showed them in Christ and therefore love again and work freely. Heaven they take of the free gift of God through Christ’s deservings, and hope without all manner doubting that God according to his promise, will in this world also defend them and do all thing for them of his goodness that is in them. They consent unto the law that is holy and just and that all men ought to do whatsoever God commandeth for no other cause, but because God commandeth it. And their great sorrow is, because that there is no strength in their members to do that which their heart lusteth to do and is athirst to do.
These of the last sort keep the law of their own accord and that in the heart, and have professed perpetual war against the lusts and appetites of the flesh, till they be utterly subdued: yet not through their own strength, but knowing and knowledging their weakness cry ever for strength to God which hath promised assistance unto all that call upon him. These follow God and are led by his Spirit. The other two are led of lusts and appetites.- William Tyndale
Despite the archaic English in this wonderful passage we see clearly that the authentic Christian is a doer of the word not a hearer only. He or she obeys God’s law because it is natural for them to do so. They are in a constant war against the lusts of the flesh. What about disingenuous Christians? Are they doers of the word? They may very well keep the law but not from their hearts. They may be incredibly bound to legalism and appear very godly. However, they disobey the spirit of the law because the spirit is not in them. As James said in 1:27 — 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.
I would like to close this discussion with one of my favorite passages.
1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (NASB)
Just as Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees that we would never enter the kingdom of heaven, John tells us that all genuine Christians seek purity as they keep themselves pure. From James and Tyndale we learn that the ability to do this is born from our regenerated hearts. Unless God writes His law on our hearts we can never keep it outside of the bonds of legalism and in that it is dreadful sin. When legalistic people attempt to put us into the irons of their warped view of God’s law we must counter them with the truth and seek for the Holy Spirit to continue to supernaturally enable us to keep God’s law naturally.
Soli Deo Gloria!