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FAITH IN ACTION
THE EPISTLE OF JAMES
BY DAVID J. WRIGLESWORTH
LIVING WORD INTERNATIONAL
All Scripture quotations are from the Authorized King James Version of the Bible unless noted.
Biblical research and information is taken from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986.
“I’m just tired of thinking about it.” One time our daughter said this phrase several times in a church play. It added a special touch and classic humor to the dramatic scenes. It put spice and life into the meaning of the play. Sometime take a little time to watch people at work if you have opportunity. A majority is unhappy with their positions and would rather not be there. They come to the work with a poor attitude and pass it on to others. When they are done and get to go home their whole attitudes change. Work, although we may not like to hear the word or involve ourselves in the task, is a basic need and duty of man. God has made us to work and programmed our physical bodies to function six days a week and rest on the seventh. Please understand that we do not have to work all the time; we can relax and enjoy ourselves in recreational activities. But God Himself has set the example in creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh. He continues to work day and night watching over us and taking care of our needs. Are you not grateful that He is always right beside you and protects you in life? Without work, the body begins to malfunction and dies quickly. As I tell people, I was made to work and have done so all of my life since age seven or eight. The industrial nations of this world have learned the importance of physical fitness and exercise. Often, a person retires at an early age from his or her occupation and dies in a few years if he or she does not keep active. We need a constant purpose to live and function. And so it is with the Christian faith. God made it an active faith. We do not simply receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior; and then, wait for our arrival in heaven. Like the secular world, we, too, must be active ourselves in the Christian life. God has chosen the Christians to be human instruments in proclaiming the Gospel message. The Epistle of James puts all this in a practical perspective and instructs us quite privately and specifically to put our faith in action. Therefore, James is equal to the most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, given by Jesus Himself. Both have very little theological input; instead, they provide deep ethical teachings that are timeless truths for believers to accept and do. It is our interest to explore these practical truths in relationship to a daily faith in action in the world or market place. We are fully commanded to put our faith in action, and James even challenges us to put it to the test. In other words, we must be willing to expose our Christian life and beliefs to the everyday life. In doing so, we can know it works and changes our lives for the better. My family is precious. We have had both mountaintop and valley experiences, but God is an excellent God and can be trusted in all things. Despite the rough road, my wife, Carrie, and our three wonderful children, Kimber, Chad and Nicole, have been true to God and faithful in supporting my ministry for the Lord. I praise God for their love and care through the years, especially when I could not always be there when they needed me. They now have grown and have their own families. And in 2013, the Lord called our son, Chad, home to his eternal glory. As you study the Epistle of James with me, I trust it will give you new insights and ideas on how to put your faith in action. May God bless your faithfulness, commitment and endeavors until He comes.
THEME: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone” (James 2:17)
A Practical Letter (1:1) The Central Focus (1:2-5)
PREMISE 1: PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
A Doubleminded Man (1:6-11) A True Faith (1:12-27) A Partial Faith (2:1-13) A Basic Necessity (2:14-26) A Controlled Tongue (3:1-18)
PREMISE 2: PRODUCTIVE THEOLOGY
How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 1 (4:1-6) How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 2 (4:7-12) How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 3 (4:13-17) How To Misuse Wealth (5:1-6) How To Be Patient (5:7-12) How To Pray (5:13-20)
Faith: The Root of Salvation Works: The Fruit of Salvation
A PRACTICAL LETTER
Dream dreams. There is nothing wrong with having dreams. They are the foundational roots for survival and existence. They keep the well of hope alive in all walks of life. And often, they provide advancement and betterment for all mankind. Just as God had a vision and plan to create this world, He puts the same type of desire within us. The creation of man itself specializes in fulfilling dreams and ambitions (Genesis 1:26-28). Furthermore, the history of man attests to many evidences of both good and bad dreams fulfilled in life. The quests of both ancient and modern civilizations have been built on solid dreams. The human race has achieved mighty works; but still, there is a great future road to travel and conquer if the Lord tarries. We must face the many problems, obstacles and issues of life. Through the multiple experiences of life, we conclude time and time again that our dreams bring successes or failures. Quite noticeably, the dreams of mankind do not resolve the conflicts of the inner man. The Word of God clearly teaches that God alone with His wonderful and powerful works overcomes the spiritual deficiencies of man. World religions cannot fulfill the inner void because they miss the central plan of God. The spiritual emptiness of life is much greater than mere mortal man; therefore, God had to reach down to man instead of man reaching up to God. Faith in God opens the door to new life, inner joy and eternal bliss. Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless Son of God, is the perfect fulfillment of God’s dreams and realities for the human race. And yet, our faith is not a super “pie-in-the-sky” experience that has no practicality in the earthly life. The spiritual life simply adds newness and power to living in the present while we anticipate the glorious eternal future in heaven. James, the Epistle, considers the practical view of the Christian faith. James', the author, interests rest in putting our faith into daily action through changed, transformed lives. The Christian faith exercised according to the Gospel becomes a little taste of heaven on earth. Never reaching perfection or completeness in this life, it offers hope to the peaceful and restful eternal state and presence with God. Faith is practical. How does James make our faith most practical for daily living? First, the Epistle provides special and practical instructions. The salutation is strong: “James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our author is the converted half-brother of Jesus who recognizes Christ as Savior after the resurrection event. Prior to this historical occasion, most of His family members did not believe in Him. I am sure that great jealousy and envy existed among them because of His quick popularity and acceptance by the people. And besides, He was nothing more than a half-brother. Would it not have been difficult for them to accept His Virgin Birth and claim to be the Son of God? Human nature does not seem to allow any different thoughts, even among family members. It was just too difficult for them to submit to His claims, popularity and miracles. But now a deep spiritual change has taken place in the life of James, and he humbles himself to be a servant. Servanthood means ownership. A Christian willingly gives up his or her rights to a greater and better commitment in life. The heart is changed from serving the devil to submitting to God. James makes it very specific in this case. He is the servant of God, an open admission to the one, true living God. This same God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Jesus clearly proclaimed, He and God are one. And the Lord Jesus, taking on human flesh and dwelling among us, was crucified on the cross to forgive our sins and offer us eternal life. He resurrected from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of God and awaits His moment of return for His Church. Servanthood begins with Saviorship. Jesus Christ is the Savior. We cannot find or know God without Him. He is the one and only Savior of mankind. The prefect only begotten Son of God gave His life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Every person must make a personal decision to receive or reject Christ. To receive Him will change and transform your life. You will find new life and freedom in and through Him. And this decision promises and leads to an life in the presence of God forever and ever.
But servanthood also demands Lordship. When Jesus Christ becomes your personal Savior, you must also surrender to His great authority and power. He knows what is best for your life; therefore, it is important to put Him in charge. We have been called to bring honor and glory to His name, the sole purpose for our limited existence on this earth.
A major problem normally arises in this situation. There are many believers who do not understand the difference between these two decisions. Many individuals desire to make Jesus Christ Savior, but they are unwilling to give Him full authority and power. Instead they seek to control their own lives and reject His perfect will. This can be either an intentional or unintentional failure. Personally, I received Jesus Christ as my Savior at age nine, a one-time decision. On the other hand, I did not understand or give Him Lordship of my life until I was eighteen years old. Nevertheless, this was only the beginning. The commitment must be a daily decision to put our faith into practical action before the world.
Second, James writes his epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings.” The Bible is the book of life. It gives us new life in Christ. And it provides a very practical ideology and truth to living. Instruction by instruction it offers the best path to spiritual and temporal living. You will never go wrong when you follow the Lord and obey His commands.
By the time of this writing, the Church had been dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and established in many provinces. New converts were being added daily and needed special instructions. Often, they would become discouraged because of the numerous persecutions, sufferings and martyrdoms. So the Epistle relates to daily experiences occurring in the New Testament times and offers the true faith put into practice for believers of all ages. The special instructions are given to separate the true children of God from the imitators and falsifiers.
Second, the Epistle relates moral and right teachings. Taking a close look at this letter, we find a facsimile and parallel to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus in His most famous Sermon (Matthew 5-7) tells us the most important points to life. He takes the spiritual truths and puts them on an everyday level for us. Basically, this particular sermon emphasizes Christian living instead of deep biblical theology. The Lord Jesus, the best Teacher of all times, would take timeless truths and explain them with simple, natural illustrations. The biblical teachings are not difficult to understand and apply to our daily living.
The Epistle of James, probably one of the earliest New Testament books, was written in the middle of the First Century around 45 or 50 A.D. This would be approximately twelve to seventeen years after the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this view, the Sermon on the Mount would be fresh in the minds of His faithful and loyal followers. And with believers dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, it would be a most appropriate time to pen more practical guidelines to the faithful ones, especially to the new and fresh converts.
Looking back to the Old Testament, this Epistle looks much like the wisdom literature, primarily, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Our author uses the didactical method that is, repeating certain themes for reinforcement and power. Like all such literature, this writing also takes our inward faith commitment and translates it into daily, practical action. The joy of Christ, then, becomes our focus moving us from our self-centered lives and desires.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is not just another world religion. It is a personal commitment to God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and people. Faith saves us, but our faith has no value unless it can be seen by others. This is an Epistle that puts one’s faith in action, putting it to work immediately and keeping it active until the Lord returns. It moves us beyond mere words or teachings. James definitely shows us the picture of how life should exist on the fast lane.
And third, this Epistle puts faith on a daily and practical level. Does the Bible contradict itself concerning our faith? The Pauline Epistles teach justification by faith alone, while James is a great proponent of “faith without works is dead.” Who is right? Is there a biblical divide or controversy? What are we to actually believe?
If we take a microscopic look of the two positions, there is no evident disagreement between the two thoughts. The Apostle Paul claims that our faith is the root of our salvation. We cannot know Christ without a belief in Him. The Word of God teaches salvation by faith alone. Justification comes through Jesus Christ and His atoning work. This is the Gospel, and there is no other way to heaven. God alone has bridged the gap between Himself and man. And the redemptive plan of God makes our faith come alive.
On the other hand, James discusses the works as the fruit of our salvation. Our living faith is put into a daily action. We should never get the two positions confused. How often do people put the cart before the horse? Because human nature normally takes pride in itself, many people believe that they must do good works for their salvation. No, salvation is an outright gift from God. All we need to do is receive it. A friend takes out a $100 and offers it to you as a gift. This money does not become your possession until you take into your hand and receive it with special gratitude. The gift of God does not become real until we take it and receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. After our salvation, the works, then, take effect. Christian works never come without knowing Christ. It is the works that bear fruit for the kingdom of God and let people know that we are followers of Christ.
Faith is practical. It brings the experience of salvation and provides us a new life in Christ. And without, the born-again or born-from-above experience, there is no hope in life now or forever. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to life and its needs. It is the main root of putting life together and finding the redemptive hope. For many, many people they need to come to the Savior, return to their roots for existence, and find true and eternal life.
The Epistle of James clearly tells us “that faith without works is dead.” This is where the rubber meets the road. What good is our faith if we do not exercise its principles and contents? One commentator writes: “What a noble man speaks in this Epistle! Deep unbroken patience in suffering! Greatness in poverty! Joy in sorrow! Simplicity, sincerity, direct confidence in prayer! How he wants action! Action, not words…not dead faith!”
Our physical bodies feel great when we eat, sleep and exercise properly. Sometimes they get out of whack due to busy schedules or unexpected emergencies. What happens? Our bodies get tired and sluggish, and the peak feeling is gone. To restore our bodies back to a good feeling, we must get back into a normal building and refreshing pattern.
Which is more important—keeping the physical body or spiritual life in shape? The Apostle Paul tells us to focus on the spiritual realities. James gives us the same instructions. Yes, there is a real faith in Christ that we can know and practice. It is this faith that moves us into a true commitment to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And furthermore, our daily service to God equips us for holy and righteous living. In turn, we give an uncompromising and shining testimony for the Gospel and its effectiveness in our lives and hopes.
THE CENTRAL FOCUS
What is the life of an innocent child? It is most interesting to watch little children in action. Within seconds, they can be content or discontent. Openly and honestly, they express their true feelings. And it takes very little to make them happy. To them, their little world seems perfect. Why? They do not have to confront the adult problems and traumas of life.
When I was a child (that was a long time ago) a nickel would buy the world. Or in those days, we could get a whole candy bar for three-cents with the candy bar being much larger than today. An ice cream cone was only five cents. A simple little purchase made all the difference in my small world with full and complete satisfaction.
Children are the same on every continent. Having traveled in many countries, I know that children from all cultures are thrilled with a small piece of candy. Their little eyes get as big as saucers, and big smiles come to their faces. Their world seems complete. By the way, many of the adults are just as happy to get a little sweet. With very little to eat and no earthly possessions, the smallest gift can be a welcome sight.
As we move into adulthood, this contentment all changes with each passing year. In affluence, we gain earthly possessions, and the happiness begins to wane and die for many people. Major losses, trials and problems disrupt and upset the applecart. Human beings become most miserable in a relentless pursuit for happiness.
Joy should be the central focus in life. Speaking to the scattered and dispersed believers, James writes: “My brethren, count it all joy….” Joy is not difficult if life is good to us. Is it not quite as easy to be happy when everything falls into place and we get the desires of our human hearts? The rub comes when endless difficulties arise; and seemingly, they never seem to go away.
The Christian must learn to rejoice at all times in both the good and bad times. There is no reason for us not to rejoice under every circumstance of life. We must understand that out of every situation God offers His best and brings His countless blessings. The Word of God tells us to accept nothing less. Life is joy.
There are four important steps to spiritual joy. One, learn to rejoice (v. 2). Unquestionably, joy is the most common theme of the biblical writings and relates to the redemptive plan of God. Our God is the joyous God, and He wants His people to be a joyous people. The Old Testament speaks of the joy of the Lord in the forthcoming of the Messiah. The New Testament reveals the root of our joy. And the Church and its individual members are told to continuously and endlessly rejoice in the work of God (Philippians 4:4).
But why should joy be present when persecution continues to visit the family of God? The author makes an emphatic statement: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into temptations.” Temptations should be translated “various trials.” The New Testament writers had to encourage the believers in the strong attacks upon them, so they come to this conclusion. The adversities of life become benefits to us. God is preparing us to spend eternity with Him; therefore, we need to learn to accept the adversities and grow in spiritual maturity and steadfastness.
Such an important thought demands a closer look in our walk with the Lord. Again, the early church suffered great persecution and had to endure for the sake of the Gospel. There is greater persecution in the modern world than at any other time in world history. The enemy constantly attacks the Church and believers. He is relentless in his pursuits to defeat us. He does not have to attack the world; unbelievers are already in his camp. No, his goal is the defeat of the people of God.
The world has no problem in having happiness during the good times. Sometime stop and note the attitudinal changes around you. When people are at work, they seem to be most miserable. Offer them a party or good time, and they gain new life and energy. They are ready to go. Here is the bottom line: people are happy as long as life goes their way.
On the contrary, the Christian community learns to live in the good and bad times. This is a primary difference between the Church and world. Why? The eyes of the true believer are not fixed on the events of this world; but rather, we see the spiritual perspective of the present and future experiences. Without doubt, we know that all will end in peace and joy with Christ. We look forward to this greater joy knowing all the heartaches and pains of this life will be gone.
If the true believers are experiencing deep spiritual joy, the world will stand up and take notice. It is Christian joy that divides the two worlds, especially in the times of trouble. We can take our adversities and make them great witnessing opportunities for our Lord. Or tribulation can bring special development into our personal lives. The key is learning to rejoice at all times. This joy does not come naturally. It must be sown, planted, cultivated and watered daily. And God promises to bring happiness into our hearts and lives.
Two, accept the test (v. 3). It is a proven fact. Every Christian will face the tests of life. These tests come in various forms, such as, physical, psychological, social, marital, financial or spiritual problems. The root causes come from the endless temptations and pressures of living in the anti-Christian world. Satan is always present trying to discredit your life and testimony for the Lord.
Here it is necessary to make discernment about the testing of our faith. Not all the issues of life are the trying of our personal experience with God. Too often, we disorient ourselves from the practical, commonsense living and manufacture unnecessary problems upon us. We make wrong decisions on the path of life. We can become quite divisive, even within the church body. How many times do we possess unwilling hearts? We consciously determine that we are not going to change our lifestyle or position. And yes, we count it a great privilege to be engaged for the sake of the Gospel. We actually boast openly about what we are doing for the Lord. These are not spiritual tests. They are personal decisions that drive us from a close relationship with God.
In reverse, the spiritual tests lead us into godly patience. To be a child of God in this strange, ungodly world is the most difficult walk in this earthly life. We must learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us strength and ability to endure. And then, we will know the grater joy of life—heaven—it is still future.
Yes, we learn to accept the deep trials of life as part of our spiritual experience. We ride the rough, bumpy road and build our lives upon the unbreakable pillar of faith. We let His will be done in our lives and take every experience and make it an opportunity to serve the Lord. And of course, we are looking upward waiting for His glorious appearance.
In reality, the true child of God does rejoice in both the good and bad times. We are not rejoicing in the trial itself, but joy comes as the fruit of enduring the trial, that is, a lasting patience and endurance for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Third, build good character (v. 4). The learning of patience brings the process of life under the control and power of God. What is the major goal? It is perfection. Moffatt calls it “the staying power of life.” Matthew 5:48 says: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The author of Hebrews writes: “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of men made perfect.” The earthly accomplishments create a higher state of being. As a reminder, our salvation is a gift that cannot be obtained by works; but then, the Christian life is a day by day walk in the issues of life to become more like Jesus Christ.
Once again, let me ask: “Is our Christian faith practical?” Even though it has existed and survived for almost two thousand years, this does not necessarily guarantee its practicality. Today, it appears to be losing its effectiveness in the modern technological world and taking a backseat to false religions. While they are gaining prestige and power, our faith is desperately trying to survive in this hostile world. Can we no longer have a balance between the spiritual and temporal? Has faith lost its gusto in the highly educated and sophisticated environment? But this is simply the surface of the problem.
According to this fourth verse, good character is built with patience. Patience in faith leads to a strong inner maturity and completeness. In turn, we gain all that we will ever need to live life and complete its goals. And not one power or person can take this from us. Although the problems and issues are different from today, the early church had its difficulty in relating the faith with practical living. The words in James tell the whole story. It is most imperative to put feet to our commitment to Jesus Christ. If not, the world will see no difference in our lives, and they will reject the most life-changing message of love and hope.
Four, ask for wisdom (v. 5). God never leaves us defenseless in this life. Note that one of the greatest resources available to us is the wisdom of God. Wisdom comes by knowing God and experiencing life with Him on a daily basis. It is learning His truth day by day. Each individual is well-equipped to succeed in life, but not one person is expected to do more than God has equipped him or her to do.
Why, then, do we find so many failures on the road of life, even within the body of believers? It is extremely easy to count the number not seeking the wisdom of God. They fail to acknowledge His presence or influence upon their lives. And they continually deny the power of His salvation and oppose His living truth. What actually takes place? Too many fail to discover the divine purpose in the hardships because of the lack of wisdom. All of us can easily spoil His glorious gifts bestowed upon us by grudging in the way in which they are given and complaining about the reproaches that accompany them.
Too often, we try to live life on self-wisdom and self-strength. We fail to acknowledge the literalness and action of this exhortation by James. Anytime, we lack divine wisdom, we can return to the eternal divine source and draw from it. The eternal, personal God supplies an infinite pool of answers to all the details of life. What happens? God hears our prayers. His creative resources become available. He openly gives to all who seek His limitless power. We begin living a new spirituality and godliness that becomes beneficial to our needs and useful to the people around us. The door of life opens on newer and greater levels. New joys and privileges abound, even in the hard times. All of this can come through a simple prayer for wisdom. What a refreshing thought in the midst of a troubled world! Jesus said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). Again, He teaches us: For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith” (Mark 11:23).
Life is joy. The little child is happy and content with the simple things of life. And practically everything in life makes the child content. Give him or her security, food, shelter, love and care, and the child is quite satisfied. How far we move from this concept as we get older and obtain more in life.
The Word of God is clear in its presentation. The joy in spiritual living rises from a closer walk with God. The nearer we get to heaven the possessions of this earthly life grow strangely dim. We must come to God with a simple child-like faith and understand the great complexities of this life through His leading.
When is the joy actually existent in Christian living? Our affluence in life has killed our deep, deep happiness in Christ. It is limiting our walk by faith. The Church, in general, needs an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Holy Spirit-led revival. Faith appears to be the great missing link to a truly intimate and personal walk with God. Today, let us seek God and ask His Holy Spirit to restore the full joy in Christ, our Savior. Like the Apostle Paul, let us count all circumstances “all joy.” In this, the peace of God will rule and reign in our lives.
PREMISE 1: PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN
Decisions and more decisions! They are an important part of life and must be made every single day. They cannot be ignored; and yet, there are many people who procrastinate and do not take the appropriate actions. These indecisive acts usually lead to major problems and ill relationships later down the road.
Sometimes, my wife and I go out to eat. It becomes a guessing game. I ask my wife where she would like to go. She responds: “I don’t care. Why don’t you make the choice?” I reply: “It doesn’t make any difference to me.” Or we go through the same procedure when we are with our children. Although this creates only a minor crisis, it illustrates what can develop with indecisiveness. In the end, we do come to a consensus and make a decision together.
In the Christian circle, James calls this individual a double-minded believer. The Greek term is dipsychos, meaning “double-minded, inconstant or fickle.” It is used two specific times in the New Testament (James 1:8; 4:8). This person leaves a negative influence in the work of God. Can you imagine a majority or whole body composed of doubleminded believers? It could be called the Doubleminded Fellowship or Indecisive Church. Nothing would ever get accomplished. How grateful we can be for decision-makers in the body of believers. Thank God for those who are willing to take the risks and make important decisions for the growth of the Church! They may not always be right, but at least they are willing to take action.
Why does James write about doublemindedness in his Epistle? How does this relate to faith in action? Foundationally, he is telling us that God’s people cannot have an effective faith by being unstable. The Christian must know his or her purpose and direction, make decisions in relationship to it, and mature in the faith as time progresses. True belief builds soundness.
What characterizes a doubleminded individual? Most important, the faith wavers (vv. 6-7). I think all of us would agree wholeheartedly and rightfully that our Christian world is built totally and completely by faith. Without it, we would not make it in this life. When we live by faith, we must ask by faith. And asking requires a solid, mature commitment. Faith alone becomes the primary life of the Christian who seeks to walk the straight and narrow path.
In the previous section, our author talks about trials and how we should handle them. None of us can waver if we desire to be victorious in the troublesome times. Wavering is the one step that is important to our enemies; they try to get us to fear and doubt. Faith does not quit when the enemy throws a fit.
What actually happens when our faith does waver? We seek the best from two worlds—the divine and selfish worlds. God can help us when we turn to Him, but He will leave us alone when we are not willing to ask for His advice. Either we will fulfill His purpose and plan in our lives, or it does not work. Why do we tend to make life so complicated when the Word of God makes it so simple? A sincere faith in God always resolve the issues of life in due time, but we try to do it ourselves without His help.
Too often, tribulations and troubles surface in life because our faith wavers. James uses the vivid and natural illustration of the boisterous wave driven uncontrollably by the wind. It cannot stop, and it leaves great destruction in its path. This is the faith doubter. He or she has mental reservations about prayer and remains uncertain about the requests. The key point is relatively simple. Be certain you want what you request. God honors those with an unwavering faith. And He will bless those with solid faith in Him. This is the promise of His Word, and God always keeps His promises.
Next, the failure surfaces (vv. 8-10). The doubleminded person cannot be highly successful in any arena of life. He or she is not just unstable in one isolated area of life; it is the total life. In other words, the doublemindedness affects all the decisions—mental, physical, social and spiritual. The ultimate outcome is a most unsuccessful trip in life. And this person can also lead others down this same path.
The distinct contrast is between the poor and rich. Before discussing this, our author does not condemn the wealthy Christian who uses his or her assets wisely. The Bible does openly oppose those who mismanage or misuse their wealth. These individuals simply seek temporary material wealth and fail to see all the deceitfulness and destruction in riches. They constantly struggle with the anxiety to amass and retain greater material riches. Take for example the rich and famous. How many of them are actually happy with their fame and wealth? Riches do not satisfy the longing of the soul.
God never frowns on riches, but He does despise their misuse and abuse. We must always understand that He alone gives and takes away. We actually own nothing; everything belongs to God. He loans us certain things in life to accomplish more for Him. Without His grace and kindness, we would have absolutely nothing—not even our lives. But we are totally responsible for what we do have and how we use them.
Whom does God truly bless? He blesses those who are humble in heart, the true appreciative child of God. It is clear that the faith life will be exalted in the end. And God will bless those who know Him and serve Him faithfully. We will have all the benefits of an eternal home in heaven.
Those who place all their opportunities and chances in this earthly life will fall far short. They will quickly wither like the flower in the field. Have you ever noticed how short fame is? They tell us that we all have about fifteen minutes of fame at one time or another in our lives. A star is born today but forgotten tomorrow. A sports figure emerges victorious only to be crowned for a moment. And life itself is short and instantaneous. It simply comes and goes with no hope.
Be thankful to God for His involvement in this world and our lives. Praise Him daily for who you are and what He has given to you. The Christian carries the greatest hope for this life and eternity. It is guaranteed to be fool-proof in the end. This eternal life is available to all who believe.
Finally, the future persists (vv. 11-12). Grass is a precious commodity. We may not like to mow it, but we do enjoy its luscious green padding under our feet. In the Third World countries, it is almost non-existent. The developed countries live in a luxurious green world. No homeowner in our world wants to be without it. Once a new home is built, the owner works extra hard to create a beautiful, lush lawn. It is seeded and watered until it develops to full maturity.
What happens when there is a drought? The grass quickly dries up and becomes brown. If it is a severe drought, it never recovers. A new lawn has to be planted and developed over time, or it will not grow. Within a short time, grass can be gone.
It never seems to fail. Every place we go and live, we get a neighbor who idolizes his grass. He is always taking special tender loving care of it. Grass is important, but I find greater values in life. What an illustration by James to describe the doubleminded individual. When this person faces God, there is nothing left in his or her life. And those years of labor and toil are erased from the divine books. And God slowly closes them and pronounces His judgment. True life is lost in a Christ-less eternity. And the unproductive believer will lose his or her rewards in heaven.
Does there seem to be any hope at all? James pronounces a blessing to complete this section. To overcome temptation in this life provides the crown of life in eternity. It begins with salvation in Christ and ends in living with Christ forever and ever. God never closes the door of life to those who are stable in their commitment to the Savior. The Christian life is the one walk of reality.
True belief builds soundness. The exhortation is not to be doubleminded. This brings nothing but instability to life and leads to destruction. The individual, namely, self-destructs in both the temporal and eternal worlds. And such action is not a glorious sight.
The pronounced blessing tells the story of the faithful believer. Like all the biblical authors, James teaches faith as a gift of God. We cannot save ourselves, but we can receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. This is the one and only way to receive the crown of life. Ask God to save you without wavering. This is a decision for now and eternity.
In closing, I share these words from Charles Wesley:
“A heart resigned, submissive meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.”
Is this the deep desire of your heart? Come to know Christ better every day and serve Him faithfully until He comes. It will pay great dividends in the now and eternity. God is waiting for your response and wants to give you the best in life. Our commitment is to Him or self. Self cannot obtain what He offers to you.
A TRUE FAITH
Sometime, take a little survey from your neighborhood or street. Ask people if they are religious. Even ask them if they believe in God. The majority will respond with an affirmative answer. Religious thoughts play an important role in life, especially during the times of matrimony, birth, death and crisis; otherwise, many people do not practice religion in the modern world. It is only with great feeling and emotion the family or individual summons the Church to respond when there is an urgent need.
Are people truly religious? Yes, every individual is religious. Genesis, the book of beginnings, tells us that man is created in the image and likeness of God. From birth, we are religious beings and have been made for the purpose of worshipping and fellowshipping with the Creator.
But do people practice their religion? This, on the contrary, is a different story as referenced in our initial thoughts. The highest percentage of the population has nothing to do with the Church except when it is convenient or they need us for a special favor. Instead they turn from God and His Church for the pleasures of this world and never darken its door unless the special occasion or emergency arises. Quite literally, many people do not know how to act properly in the Church.
A startling contrast can be drawn from this section of the Epistle. Foundationally, we see the definitions of two religions. First, there is the modern religion or vain religion. This definitely includes all unbelievers, apostates and double-minded believers. To them, external ritualism and rites are highly important, but do not ask them to get too serious about their belief in God. They practice their religion for show and condemn, censure, revile and distract the true worshipper. The false religionist is deceiving himself or herself, not others.
The second religion is called the “pure religion” or true faith (v. 26). In modern terms, it is the old-time religion. It is the biblical faith coming alive in the true child of God. It sets the right priorities—worship to God, service to others, and duty to self. It looks after the fatherless and widows (these are not original thoughts from James; they come from the Old Testament law—Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5, 83:3; Isaiah 1:17). It is a biblical faith and life that God intended for this world.
True biblical faith is unmixed with the inventions of man and the corruptions of this world. It acts in the presence of God and according to His perfect will. And the external evidence shows deep compassion and charity to those in need. As Jesus Himself saw the multiple needs within the human race, the Christian also experiences the same deep conviction and reacts to it. True faith is God in us.
What makes the real difference between a religious person and true believer? Real faith resists temptations (vv. 13-15). You and I face many temptations every day and during our lifetime. Temptation is not a sin until we yield to it; therefore, the child of God should resist all temptations and seek His righteousness. It must also be understood that God will never tempt us, but we ourselves fail the test. A self-desire or lust draws us from the presence of God, and we desire what God knows is not good for us.
This leads to the deliberate and willful actions to disobey God and His commands which produce sin. Under the umbrella of religion, many people try to blame God for all their woes and troubles. They deliberately and consciously choose the road of unrighteousness and expect God to bail them out in the end after putting the blame on Him. Knowing what is right is not sufficient; we must also do what is right. True faith has a moral base that cannot be ignored in our daily living.
It has been said: “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” There is a great deal of truth in these thoughts. The habits that we practice determine who we really are. They tell us much about the inner character of a person. What are the present existing people problems? Too many individuals are yielding to temptations and satisfying the sensual desires without weighing the outcome or consequences.
According to our text, pure religion remains undefiled. In other words, it never regrets what it has done. Sin delivers us to death, but faith provides eternal life (Romans 6:23). God does not take away the joy from life, but we ourselves commit that gross error when we do not resist the temptations that come our way. God intends for us to have the fullest enjoyment in life, but we spoil His intentions and purposes by falling into sin.
Real faith omits mistakes (vv. 16-18). “Do not err.” This stands as a specific command, not an option, to all believers. If we truly understand biblical truth, we will seek to minimize our mistakes and sins in life. God knows that we will still make them, but they should never be habit-forming in the godly life. And God expects the best from us under His guidance and direction.
How does this actually take place? Despite the reaching of modern psychology, self-esteem is not the answer. It is good to have the right self-esteem, but it should not be separated from a spiritual newness. The Christian accepts God’s gracious gifts realizing that there is no hope apart from the divine redemptive work in and through Jesus Christ. What we are comes from God Himself if we are on the right track. Salvation makes us acceptable in His sight and produces spiritual fruit within us.
But again, let us take a look at modern religion. What has happened to the pure religion? It has been replaced by erroneous doctrines building upon the idea of good works to achieve and accomplish. Man has come to believe that he must do something for his salvation. No, it is a gift of God and must be freely received. Without the power of the Gospel, there is no spiritual discernment. And even deeper, man does not know who he is and understand his independence without the presence of God and the Holy Spirit.
These mistakes cannot be if true faith is evident. God changes lives for the better and to make a difference in this world. If we as believers do not know how to freely accept His gifts and use them wisely, how, then, will the world see the power of the Gospel and its true meaning to life? Salvation changes us into new creations; and day by day, we live our faith before the world. The proof comes in the spiritual lifestyle and commitment that is far apart from the world and its practices.
Real faith changes reactions (v. 19). Here we find three concise commands, that is, listening to others, speaking with wisdom, and controlling the temper. Why are these three commands so important to us? If we think about them for a moment, their practice would literally dissolve most relational issues. Trouble arises when we do not practice these commands.
Let us put it in reverse for a moment. It is always good to look at both sides of the issue. If we fail to do these things, what are the foundational consequences? Not listening to others establishes dogmatic opinions and creates disunity and dissatisfaction in the family, Church, and world. It is a lack of wisdom that produces and blurts out half-truths causing a deep confusion and mistrust. And speaking in anger kindles deeper tensions and restlessness. All in all, what we are experiencing in the world today comes because we have thrown these commands out the window.
The Christian reaction should differ distinctly from the non-Christian reaction. The people of God will offer spirituality in life, but the unbelieving world moves further and further from it. The Church should always be the problem-solver, not the problem-maker. Without God, the world falls deeper and deeper into permissive sin and unresolved issues. It is traveling a dangerous road to destruction. Problems are never resolved until our hearts and minds turn toward God and walk with Him.
Real faith saves life (v. 21). Again, we are reminded that sin has no part in our Christian living. We must be meek and humble accepting the truths of the Word. Walking in purity and practicing the Word saves the soul. Salvation must be received by the power of the Gospel message. God has given us the plan of redemption, and we are not to add to it or subtract from it. Salvation never can be conceived within ourselves; it is the perfect gift of God, His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Modern religion relishes the impurities of life and loses the soul. The world cannot wait for the tabloid story—the latest circulating gossip. Why? People desire to know the bad side about a person. With its deep interest to be caught up in the modern evil, the world underestimates and minimizes the judgments of God. In fact, they actually ignore them and erase them from their minds. As a result, the temporal world alone becomes the priority, and eternity and its outcome are put on hold.
Life is more than this world. This is extremely hard for the modern scientific world to handle. We have to see, touch, handle and prove everything. With modern technology advancing more rapidly every day, we have literally lost the sight of the spiritual world and its existence. The Holy Scriptures tells us that life is not merely temporal, but this earthly existence is only a steppingstone to the eternal realm. And the Word of God clearly defines two different and opposite directions—the spiritual life (heaven) and spiritual lost-ness (hell). It also boldly proclaims that the decision concerning your position in eternity is determined now. Christ is the only way to heaven. You must receive or reject Him in this life. And your decision cannot be changed in eternity.
Real faith creates doers (vv. 22-25). This classical passage tells us to put our faith into action. Words are not sufficient in religion; Christian actions must speak louder than the words themselves. The world will never stop to read the Bible, but they do look at the lives of believers. Time and again, this is true. And the old cliché “actions do speak louder than words” becomes the norm. How many people have turned away from the words of the Lord because a professing Christian was walking the way of the world? You and I must pray to the Lord that we will not be an obstacle to the world, but rather, radiant lights of Christ living in and through us.
We must never forget who we are at any time or any place. Someone is always watching our every move. One time, I had a man say to me at my secular job: “Do you still whistle?” I have a habit of doing so at work, so I responded with a definite “yes.” We got further into the conversation, and he asked me if I were a believer. I responded with another resounding “yes.” He said that he knew there was something different about me and related his belief in Christ. The non-Christian world also sees the difference. They definitely know when you take a stand for the right and live it daily.
A doer practices the faith before people from day to day, not in the closet. A hearer hears the Word and leaves it at home, but the true child of God takes his faith into the marketplace. People can see it vividly and openly. Without a testimony for Christ, we vandalize the true faith and diminish the effectiveness of the truth.
A promise, then, exists for the actual doer. He or she will be blessed by God for his or her appropriate actions. When I do a good deed for someone, I feel good. I know that I have accomplished a service for the Lord. And I have found that God always returns the favor with His special blessing. I do not expect it in return, but we can never out give the Lord. Our doing puts our faith into action, and the action never goes unnoticed, especially by our Lord.
Real faith needs ministry (vv. 26-27). These two verses cite the test of every true and sincere believer. A tongue that flaps out of control and without any defined purpose reveals the true character of the individual. If the heart has not been changed by the precious shed blood of Christ, the religious affiliation or background makes no difference. A false religion will soon be detected from the speech and character of the person. Mere religion will never get anyone to heaven.
The heart is the key to true faith. Without God changing it, the good deeds will be meaningless. Oh, they may have short-term meaning for the person who has been helped, but the true effect will not last. James cites good examples of the changed heart—visiting people in need and separating one’s self from the world. These, of course, are not all the duties of believers, but they simply demonstrate the new life in focus. And they stand as the key elements to demonstrating our true belief in the Son of God.
Every Christian has been called to minister. We must do the work of Christ and bear witness to the truth. God never calls us to be perfect believers, but He does expect us to be faithful workers. Through our faithfulness, the Gospel can be heard, seen, and received by the world. This is true faith in action. And this is the way it should be, not the way we desire.
True faith is God in us. Test your faith. Does it measure up the definitions that James states? Are your resisting temptations, omitting mistakes, changing reactions, saving life, creating doers and needing ministry? Overcome your weaknesses by submitting to God and living up to your potential for His honor and glory. God blesses those who serve Him faithfully.
What can you do to become more Christian in your daily walk? First, you must be certain that you have repented of your sins and given Jesus Christ your heart and life. Salvation is the first decision. And second, you must develop your Christian character under the guidance of God. Accept the challenge. Pray for His direction. Seek help from other believers. And expect God to change your life. By taking these urgent steps, your faith will become pure and undefiled.
E. Stanley Jones wrote: “Faith is not merely your holding on to God—it is God holding on to you. He will not let you go!” It is our faith in God that makes the difference in life. Its greatest reward is our eternal home in the presence of Jesus, the living Christ.