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James 1:20

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. — KJV

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. — NIV

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:20 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
orge [3709] violent passion: desire, ire, anger, wrath, vengeance, indignation gar [1063] verily, therefore, yet, no doubt, as, because that aner [0435] male individual dakaiosune [1343] equity, righteousness, justification theos [2316] God ou [3756] absolute negative (adverb) ergazomai [2038] toil, labor, work, do

1.20.0 Introduction to James 1:20

Verse 20 expounds on the subject of anger and explains why anger isn’t a very helpful emotional response. James does not say anger necessarily produces sin, but he does say anger does not yield the kind of righteousness God wants from us. In later verses James goes on to talk about righteousness and if you try to look for a way to make anger a vehicle for achieving that kind of righteousness you will find it challenging at best. Questions for verse 20 dwell on the subjects of anger and righteousness and how they relate, both to us and to God.

You may notice there's a big discrepancy between the NIV and the ESV in the use of the term require vs desire in this verse. I want to call your attention to the Greek. While I'm no expert on Greek, it seems to me neither of these versions is accurate. The Greek word behind the phrase in each translation is ergazomai. It literally means work. Between the three translations given, for this verse KJV is by far the closest to the Greek.

1.20.1 How does anger of man differ from anger of God?

Rev 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” God is holy and man is not (Ro 3:10).

Mt 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother [1. some manuscripts insert ‘without cause’] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. One man may become angry with another, but God is always in perfect agreement with himself (James 1:17).

Jonah 4:1-2 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, [1] and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. [Note 1: The literal Hebrew says ‘it was exceedingly evil to Jonah’.] Jonah’s anger is contrasted against God’s anger in this passage. Jonah was so quick to anger that he ran from God’s command to show mercy. Jonah in his piousness found God’s plan of redemption for the vile and filthy people contemptible. Jonah knew, however, that God was indeed slow to anger and full of love. God isn’t generally going to agree with us. Rather we must agree with him if we are to partake in the Lord’s victory – even we all our logic and all our force of emotion war against what God says to us.

Jn 7:23-24 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. As John points out, man’s anger is based on the same thing as everything else a man responds to – the visible exterior of people and situations. God has the omniscience to see and know what lies beyond the reach of our perceptions. He is in a position to execute his anger and still remain holy and righteous while we, through our ignorance, can make no such claims.

1.20.2 What makes us angry?

Gen 4:5-6 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” There are probably many reasons, but pride is one of the biggest, if not the very biggest. There are definitely many reasons for pride. Cain believed in his own pride that his offering was just as good as Able’s, but he didn’t grasp what God wanted. His pride lead to jealousy when God accepted his brother’s offering. God explained the problem to Cain, but he didn’t want to hear the truth. Everyone wants love. When his offering was rejected he felt personally rejected. It was a lie, of course, how often do we fall into the same trap today? We feel worthy and when our flaws are made known to us we take it as a personal assault and completely miss the point. God tells us our flaws to help us, chastening us to create purity, not punishing imperfection. Humility accepts the teaching, pride accepts punishment.

Hosea 7:10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this. Pride is the attitude of self-importance. Any time we feel we are more important than God, we are wrong. Pride is the reason Satan was thrown down from Heaven. Pride is the reason Cain killed his brother and was forced into exile.

Gen 37:11, 28 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. Most people have at least heard of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. The reason, given in Gen 37:11 us jealousy. The act was one of wrath, indignation and retribution. Why else would there be jealousy, however, unless the brothers had more pride in themselves than humility toward God?

Jer 13:16 Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. The ability to feel a sense of pride, which is to say the underlying capacity for the attitude we call pride, is a gift from God. The problem is when that feeling is directed toward ourselves. The attitude then takes on the title pride. The same basic attitude, when directed outward toward God is called giving glory. The principle is the same – an attitude of superiority. The difference is whether it is directed inward (pride in self and coveting praise, self superiority) or outward (giving glory to and recognizing superiority of God, self humility).

Any number of emotions can be attributed to an attitude if not an act of anger. The words for anger or wrath appear literally hundreds of times through the bible. The subject itself could be one of extensive study. Without drawing this out further than reasonably necessary I submit that in general, the sense of relative worth, whether in the form of pride in one’s self or in defense of another who one deems to be of worth, is the most common and most powerful motivator of anger and wrath.

1.20.3 What makes God angry?

Deut 9:13-14 Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ All of Deut 9 from verse 13 to the end provides great examples of God’s anger. From this section we learn some things which make God angry, what he might do, and how a man who truly loves God can make a difference in the outcome of God’s anger. Deut 9 includes the infamous story of the golden calf. This is a story of idolatry (see also Rev 14:10) and rebellion. Verses 22 to 24 go on to provide a second example and it clearly states God became angry because of rebellion. The calf idol was explained as an example and these later verses state outright it was the rebellion making God so angry. It is one thing to make a mistake, even to argue with God, but wholly another when you take matters into your own hands in direct defiance of God.

1 Ki 11:6-8 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. This is another example of direct defiance and idolatry against God. Solomon knew right from wrong and deliberately chose to do wrong. Following verses provide gory details of God’s wrath against Solomon for his intentional erring. God’s retribution might not be sudden, but it is certain.

Ex 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you want to make God mad, another sure method is to abuse the weak and helpless. See also Mk 9:42.

1.20.4 What happens when God gets angry?

Gen 6:6-7 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” I find this passage fascinating. God comes as close to admitting error here as can be found in scripture. If you are at all familiar with the first few chapters of Genesis you know the context of this verse is the lead up to the great flood of Noah. Man’s rejection of God hurt His feelings. In His anger God wiped out man from the earth except one family.

1 Sam 15:28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” God doesn’t have to wipe you out. Instead he may very well cast you, your family and your nation into deep suffrage. In this case it was King Saul who made God mad and he had to pay a personal price and live with the consequences.

Mal 4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” This old testament prophesy reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds (aka tares) from Mt 13:24-30 and 36-43. I’m also reminded of how those who follow the beast are thrown into the lake of burning fire in Rev 19:20. Though I admittedly remain unclear as to the mechanics of these prophesies, it is crystal clear opposing God angers Him and the consequences involve both this life and eternity.

1.20.5 What happens when God relents from anger?

Gen 6:6-8 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. In the previous question we used this passage to see what God does when get is angry. The very next verse is included here to demonstrate God’s prevision for the time when his anger would relent. God chose a man to survive the flood. This man Noah would later be greatly blessed and when God’s anger subsided he would receive a new covenant from God to preserve mankind and animals on earth for as long as it exists.

Jer 3:11-14 And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the Lord. Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. This passage provides another example of God’s prevision to relent his anger. God provides an offer with a promise. The promise essentially is to forego anger in exchange for the return to faith. He promises to not be angry forever. He promises ultimately to bring the faithful to Zion.

1.20.6 Is God’s anger righteous?

2 Chr 12:6 Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is righteous.” When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. God is righteous therefore his anger is righteous. God stays the hand of wrath when the disobedient turn from their sin and obey. If you read this particular passage in context you will see that God disciplines Jerusalem to train them in righteousness.

1.20.7 Can we have righteous anger?

Jn 16:7, 13 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. Before answering the question, first it is important to remember that obedient born again believers of Christ enjoy the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit who helps and guides us. We know God can be angered and remains righteous, so it stands to reason if we abide with the Holy Spirit and become angry we too can remain righteous even in our anger.

Ro 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. God’s anger is righteous, therefore if follows that if God – which is to say the Spirit of Christ – is in you, you may have righteous anger when the anger is driven by the Holy Spirit.

Eph 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger Paul specifically instructs us to be angry without sinning. What is righteousness but behavior devoid of sin?

1.20.8 Why wouldn’t we produce righteousness from our anger?

Ro 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Apart from God we cannot be righteous. Righteousness is behavior obedient to God’s will. If we separate ourselves from God we are in rebellion and therefore unrighteous in all we do including whatever we produce as a result of our anger. We all suffer a sin nature in our flesh. In our anger we are often at our weakest with regard to clear thinking and our focus on God’s will. It is very easy to hastily act based on our own will rather than God’s when we are angry.

1.20.9 What is righteousness?

The Greek word dakaiosune appears 92 times in the New Testament and in every case (in KJV) it is translated as righteousness. According to the Strong’s Concordance this word is defined as follow:

1. in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God

a. the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God

b. integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting

2. in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due

As a part of speech this word is classified as a noun. It isn’t tangible per se, but it is a quality with tangible attributes in the form of how one lives and the impact it has. This is why I think of righteousness as a behavior. Because it is by definition acceptable to God, it must be devoid of sin and hence my simplified definition of righteousness: behavior devoid of sin.

1.20.10 Why does God require righteousness?

1 Pe 1:16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” God is holy. He promises to make us holy. One cannot be holy unless one is righteous.

Is 33:15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, Righteousness hates evil and refuses to look upon it.

Ro 8:6-8 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. God is Spirit, but man is flesh. Being “born again” means our Spirit is born into the family of God. The Spirit looks forward to the hope of eternal life in spite of the flaws of the flesh. As Paul writes here, those whose mind is in the flesh cannot please God.

2 Cor 3:9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. In this passage the reference to “the ministry of condemnation” appears to refer to the law of Moses. As glorious as that law was, the “ministry of righteousness” is vastly better.

James 1:21

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. — KJV

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. — NIV

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:21 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
dio [1352] therefore apotithemi [0659] put away, cast off, put aside pas [3956] all, any, every rhuparia [4507] moral dirtiness, turpitude kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too perisseia [4050] surplus, abundance, superfluity kakia [2549] badness, depravity, wickedness en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… prautes [4240] mildness, humility, meekness dechomai [1209] receive, accept, take ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) emphutos [1721] implanted, engrafted logos [3056] word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) dunamai [1410] be able, can, could, may, might, possible sozo [4982] save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, make whole ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) psuche [5590] breath, spirit, heart, life, mind, soul humon [5216] you, your, yourselves

1.21.0 Introduction to James 1:21

The implied tone of James in this verse seems almost out of place. It sounds like the audience is behaving badly and James is calling them out on it. Beyond that, it sounds like James is speaking to non-believers in this verse and warning them to start believing. We know from the beginning of the chapter James wrote this to believers scattered out away from the city of Jerusalem. So is there a disconnect? I don’t think so. This verse is tied to verses 19 and 20 based on grammatical implication, but it also seems to be a lead in to the hard hitting directives in the remainder of the chapter. It wouldn’t be the first time I saw a translation to English seem to misplace the paragraph breaks. Regardless, James isn’t speaking specifically or directly to non-believers. Rather, I believe James is providing guidance as a father would his children (ref. 1 Pe 2:2). The instruction is really preventative.

1.21.1 How do we put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness?

1 Cor 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old [creature] has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation The question assumes you can. James’ instruction in verse 21 implies you can. Paul describes the believer as a new creation. Jesus spoke of being born again (Jn 3). The reference verse here indicates that being a new creation requires us to be “in Christ” and that “all of this is from God.” Throughout the bible, including the New Testament, we are given clear instructions regarding our behavior. While our spiritual being is regenerated solely through the work of Holy Spirit as the free gift of Jesus by his sacrifice, our behavior is a function of our flesh. Our flesh is controlled by us. We can yield to the direction of the Spirit, as we ought, as James describes when he says “receive with meekness the implanted word,” or not. If we choose to continue in our filth and live in rampant wickedness, this is when we grieve the Holy Spirit and we face losing our eternal hope.

2 Cor 9:7-8 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. Since we have control of our own minds we have control of our attitudes. We need to start by choosing to be joyful and giving. Many people regard this passage as an instruction toward tithing. The fact is, we give much more than tithes to God. We give up our “old man” (2 Cor 5:17) and our burdens (Mt 11:27-30) to Christ. Those need to be given cheerfully as well. When we sacrifice our selfish self-will we give what God wants most and in so doing we necessarily give up our filthiness and wickedness.

Gal 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. The act we need to cheerfully perform is to give ourselves fully to Christ. In so doing the filthiness and wickedness is crucified. We are present and we are participants, but ultimately it is the Lord’s will and the Lord’s work which makes it possible to put away the filthiness.

1.21.2 What does filthiness and rampant wickedness look like in today’s society?

Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. It is everywhere. Immorality comes in forms too numerous to name. Sex in the living room, homosexuality in high school hallways, lies from our highest officials, brutal beats, rapes, and murder, and school fundraisers. Okay, the fundraiser thing was a joke. Sort of. The point is, not all filthiness looks filthy. For example, most conservative Christians believe abortion is wrong, but many waffle when it comes to rape or incest. We pretend apprehension toward newsstand Christianity, but how many of us quote Televangelists as if quoting God? Is the “pledge of allegiance” idolatry? What do the Joneses have we don’t? They’re in the next pew, but they’ve got a better car? What about the gift God gave that Smith fellow, but didn’t give you? Is there any dirt on your halo? We don’t need to look far to find filth. At the same time, we can’t allow our own shortcomings to keep us from obedience to our Lord. Wake up, shake it off, and get to work. Your soul is on the line (Eze 3:18-19).

1.21.3 What does it mean to receive?

The Greek word dechomai here translated as receive (except in NIV) may be translated as receive, accept, or take. The full definition includes:

1. To take with the hand, take up, take hold of

2. To receive:

a. As in a place receiving one

b. As to grant access to, not refuse intercourse or friendship

c. Hospitality

d. Something spoken

e. Into one’s family

3. To receive favorably – as to hear, embrace, approve, not reject

4. To take upon one’s self – as to sustain, bare, or endure

5. To get, as in to learn

Gen 30:28 Name your wages, and I will give it. Some things we receive we rightfully expect because we earn them.

1 Pe 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Some things we receive are things given to us as gifts, unmerited, not earned.

See also Question 1.7.2.

1.21.4 What are we to receive?

Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. James said we are to “receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” The Greek term James uses is the same one used by John to describe Jesus in Jn 1:1.

Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. When we receive, accept, lay hold of, learn, give hospitality to, grant access to, and come into the family of Jesus through adoption by willfully believing and putting our trust in him we receive eternal life.

Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. With eternal life we receive a dwelling place in the presence of God.

1.21.5 What is meekness?

The Greek word prautes is defined by Strong’s as: mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, or meekness. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the Old Testament, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time.

Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The Greek word used by Matthew is a different form of the same word used by James. According to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ words, those who rely on God rather than themselves for self defense and accepting unjust trials in order to be purified will be rewarded with the earth.

1 Pe 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. In this verse the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit” comes from the same word translated meekness in James 1:24. God delights in those who accept whatever befalls them, trusting Him to use it for good whether it was intended for good or not.

Based on this information, the concept of meekness is tied very closely to the concept of receiving. Meekness, however, is a much more specific form of acceptance. It accepts in submission with faith even what it does not like at the time, trusting it all is for the best and expecting deliverance from God in the end.

1.21.6 Why are we to receive the implanted word with meekness?

Jn 3:20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. By definition the meek willingly obey God. If we willingly obey, we walk in light and we are comfortable with our deeds exposed. If we do not, we then hate the light, thus hating our very Savior.

1.21.7 How is the implanted word able to save your soul?

Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We must accept it is nothing we ourselves can do. God set a standard which Jesus met on our behalf. Since clearing that hurdle he then pours out his Spirit to regenerate and justify us and grant eternal life.

Jn 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. The Lord will keep his word (1 Thess 5:24). For our part, we are called to trust and obey. Ultimately this is what defines love. Call it anything you like, so long as you give God the credit. He does what he does by means we cannot fathom and in our arrogance we should not claim to fully understand such mysteries. We are but to accept these mysteries and trust in Him. And while salvation is not something we can earn or accomplish through works, the command to keep his word implies that genuine faith by definition must include baring good fruit.

1.21.8 What is your soul?

The Greek word rendered soul is psuche. From this we get our English word psyche. It is the only Greek word translated soul, though it is also translated as life, mind, and heart. It corresponds directly to the Hebrew nephesh. We know this from various places where Old Testament phrases are quoted in the New Testament. It is used to reference lower life forms, a man as an individual, the life of a person which can be lost, saved, or destroyed, as a part of speech to emphasize a pronoun (such as myself), and as the intense force of one’s being. The Hebrew term provides far more references to draw meaning from out of scripture.

Soul can perhaps be summed up as the animation of life in an individual creature/being characterized by breath. This is why when a count is taken on an airline they give the census as the number of souls, referring to the living people aboard.

It is interesting to note that God’s name, rendered YHWY, means breathe. This would seem an apt name we would use for God because He breathed life into man when he was but a clay figure. Indeed, God breathed life into every living thing. Even plants breathe, albeit CO2 in and O2 out while we symbiotically do just the opposite.

1.21.9 Summary of James 1:19-21

Essentially a proverb of James, this passage gives sound advice about running one’s mouth and ears, about anger, and about the best way to approach the gospel. We need to listen to others and not be quick to jump to conclusions. Don’t dismiss someone out of hand. You never know who God will speak to, or who will speak through. Listen for messages from unexpected places. As for jumping to conclusions, that’s often how anger flares up. We get irritated and angry over things of little consequence. Its okay to get angry, but be angry about injustice and evil rather than personal dissatisfaction. James then goes on to tell us we need to quit living lifestyles we know are wrong, instead submitting to the will of Christ trusting Him to have the better way. When we live such a life, embracing Christ and rejecting sin, we then make it possible for Christ to save our souls.

James 1:22

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. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:22 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
ginomai [1096] to become… de [1161] and, but, now… (conjunction) poietes [4163] a performer, poet logos [3056] word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too me [3361] not, no, none, never monon [3440] merely: alone, but, only akroates [0202] a hearer paralogizomai [3884] misreckon, delude, beguile, deceive heautou [1438] my-, our-, your-…self or selves (pronoun)

1.22.0 Introduction to James 1:22

This verse launches the next-to-last paragraph in the first chapter, but one could say it is the launching pad for the balance of the book. The book of James is generally considered the most practical book on Christian living in the New Testament and this verse is often cited as the reason why. It is interesting to note KJV and ESV use nearly identical language (KJV adds a “ye” that isn’t in the Greek) and NIV, though it structures the sentence a little differently, conveys a message which appears almost transparently the same. It says to do, not just hear. Hearing is good, but hearing without doing is empty and worse, it is self deception. Questions generated by this verse allow us to examine doers and hearers and finally, to look at why hearers only are deceiving themselves.

1.22.1 What does it mean to be a doer of the word?

Gal 5:18-21 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Like James, Paul also sometimes uses stark contrasts to make a point clear. In this passage Paul leads in to the answer to our question by first describing a doer not of the word. Even before this Paul talks about the law and how those lead by the Spirit are not under the law. Old Testament thinking was you either were obedient to the law or you were not. Paul artfully explains in this passage, however, the real issue isn’t obedience to law, but rather it is a matter of whether you are lead by the Spirit of God or your own mortal and sinful flesh and its desires.

Gal 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This section of the passage, better known to many Christians, provides the positive side of Paul’s contrast. It lists for us the spiritual fruit borne by the Spirit in the life of one lead by the Spirit. Anyone born again will not be able to prevent these fruit, nor will anyone living in the flesh be able to produce these fruit in true purity.

1.22.2 What do doers do?

Mt 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. The Great Commission is important and not to be forgotten. It does not, however, exist in a vacuum.

Mt 22:37-40 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Whereas the reference above is called “The Great Commission,” I would call this passage “The Great Compassion.” Doers love God and other people. It is important to note this kind of love is an action verb. It means paying attention to and caring for others – in other words: demonstrating compassion. It involves personal humility and kindness, particularly toward children and those who have greater needs in this world.

Ro 2:1-5 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. Doers repent from the heart without regard to others’ outward acts and without passing judgment. Doers ensure their own house is in order before they take the position of correcting others.

Mt 12:37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Doers do speak, but they speak as bid by the Spirit rather than their own unbridled tongue.

Jas 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [Note: alternate translation – the effective prayer of a righteous person has great power] Further on in the study we will examine this passage more carefully. For now the simple point is this: doers pray.

1.22.3 How can we be doers?

Lk 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Jesus commands us to lower ourselves and submit to His sovereign authority. The wonderful kingdom (1 Pe 2:9) is yet to come. For now, there is work to be done (Mt 9:37) and it isn’t glamorous. To be a doer, just listen to the prompting voice of the Spirit and obey (Jn 14:26).

1.22.4 What kind of people are doers?

Jn 3:21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God. The people in the light are the doers. They cannot hide (Lk 8:16-17). They do many things and can be described in many ways. I know of no better way to identify them collectively.

1.22.5 Are you a doer?

This is a question we all must answer – sooner or later.

1.22.6 How can someone be a hearer only?

Rev 3:1-3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. The word “reputation” is key here. Some people appear to be Godly, doing good deeds, but for the wrong reasons. Such people therefore are dead inside, as Paul explains to Timothy (2 Tim 3:5)

1.22.7 What prevents a hearer from being a doer?

Mt 21:21-22 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” It all boils down to faith. Do you believe it, or not?

1.22.8 Is there anything wrong with being a hearer?

Mt 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. This is the first of 15 times this phrase (or a variation of this phrase) appears in the New Testament. In fact, it also appears in Eze 3:27. Clearly it is crucial we hear. By no means should one interpret from James it is wrong to listen. Hearing God is one of the most important things we can ever do and one of the greatest privileges of having the Spirit dwell within us. We fall short only when we fail to act obediently on what we hear.

1.22.9 Is it easier to be a hearer than a doer?

If it were easier to be a doer why are there so many instructions in scripture about what to do? That said, you could argue this either way. I believe it is up to the individual. Ultimately, for a non-believer or one who is jaded it becomes easier to hear than do. I’ve often heard it is easier to do it right the first time. Taking the lazy route just means more work later. For those under conviction it can be much harder to be idle. Ultimately whether it is harder or easier is irrelevant.

1.22.10 Why does a hearer only deceive himself?

Ro 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Being a hearer only just isn’t enough.

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. One who fails to obey the Lord looses. Adam and Eve couldn’t hide from God. Neither can we. To believe otherwise is self-deception and spiritually sickening. The one who does what they hear is the person Jesus blesses in this reference from the beatitudes.

James 1:23

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. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:23 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
hoti [3754] that, which… (conjunction) ei [1487] if, whether, that (conditional participle) tis [5100] anyone, anything, someone, something, somewhat akroates [0202] a hearer logos [3056] word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ esti [2076] he/she/it is, them/they are kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too ou [3756] absolute negative (adverb) poietes [4163] a performer, poet houtos [3778] he, she, it, they, this, these, which, who eiko [1503] resemble, be like aner [0435] male individual katanoeo [2657] observe fully: behold, discover, consider, perceive ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) prosopon [4383] front view, countenance, appearance, face, person’s presence ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) genesis [1078] nativity, natural, generation autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… esoptron [2072] a mirror, glass

1.23.0 Introduction to James 1:23

In verse 23 James sets up a scenario. It is a parable of sorts, or what some might call a “word-picture.” The analogy (vv23-24) relates the almost silly idea a person would look in a mirror and moment later forget what they look like to a person who hears the word but doesn’t do it (v 22). In verse 25 James goes on to contrast this natural phenomena with someone who learns and acts on the word and is rewarded what James implies is simply common sense. Questions drawn from this verse alone seek to better understand some of its finer details.

1.23.1 Why does James specify “natural face”?

James is painting a word-picture in verses 23 and 24. He provides a simple allegory the reader can relate to for the overall passage. The man looks at his own reflection then goes away and forgets what he looks like. It may sound foolish, but it describes a person who sits through a sermon, but forgets (neglects to absorb and act on) the message as soon as he walks out the church door.

1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The hearer James speaks of is a person with perhaps some semblance of godliness, but they live only by what their physical senses perceive as reality. The spiritual word reaching their ears doesn’t reach their heart. It is rejected because they aren’t open to it.

1 Cor 2:12-13 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. In contrast to the natural face seen by the eyes yet rejected by the mind, Paul explains how those who are open to the Spirit do receive it. The good news is we can be born again, regenerated of spirit, and set upon a course of righteous action leading to salvation – not because of the righteous action itself, but because it wells up from the soul born of spirit and of flesh living out the faith in the Savior, obedient to His Lordship, in love. After all, we do as we believe.

1.23.2 Why look into a mirror?

1 Cor 13:11-12 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. We can only see the flesh of our face in a reflective surface. A mirror is a reflective surface. A person is more than mere appearance. To see what we are truly like as individuals we must seek our reflection in others.

Mk 9:42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [or to stumble], it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. We must look at others to see ourselves because all we do is based on what we believe. What we do impacts others. The impact is either good or evil. There are consequences to all actions. Even the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle agrees. It essentially says anything you interact with, even if only to observe, will by that action effect what you observe. You impact those around you. In answer to the study question – given what we learn from Jesus here – what effect do you want to have?

James 1:24

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. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:24 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
katanoeo [2657] observe fully: behold, discover, consider, perceive gar [1063] verily, therefore, yet, no doubt, as, because that heautou [1438] my-, our-, your-…self or selves (pronoun) kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too aperchomai [0565] come, go, depart, pass away kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too euthetos [2112] well placed, good fit epilanthanomai [1950] lose out of mind, forget, neglect hopoios [3697] what kind, what manner of en [2258] I was/were, have, hold, use

1.24.0 Introduction to James 1:24

In verse 22 James contrasted the hearer with the doer. In verse 23 James paints a mental picture of the hearer. Verse 24 explains the relationship between verse 22 and verse 23. Our questions are designed to help us learn more about the art of examination and the subject of forgetfulness.

1.24.1 How do you examine a physical object?

In science class you learn lots of observation methods. Visual appearance is an obvious method. Beyond that, one can examine an object for its physical dimensions, weight, density, chemical and electrical properties, melting or boiling points, flammability, hardness, color, smell, taste, texture and so forth. The list goes on and on.

Ben Franklin proved lightening was a form of electricity with a kite. Edison used electricity to produce light from a light bulb. It took Nikola Tesla to invent electric motors, radar, and high frequency radio transmission such as we use today in everything from remote control toy cars to cell phones. These people did a lot more than look at something, they utilized their skills and talents, built upon their knowledge, experimented, and accomplished things. Any of us can look at a telephone and see the wires and plastic and tiny circuitry. It takes more than observation to build a telephone. You have to take what you’ve observed and do something with it.

In context with our study verse, James is talking about the fellow who looks, but doesn’t do anything about what he sees. The observation is wasted and soon forgotten. James then goes on Verse 25 to contrast the casual observer with the one who acts on his observation. With the contrast James tells us the doer is the one blessed.

Mt 25:42-46 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Mt 24:45-51 and all of Mt 25 contain a series of examples (servants, virgins, talents, and shepherd) in Jesus’ own words contrasting the doers with the non-doers. In each of the examples given by Jesus, information was given yet ignored and they did as they pleased. In each case the non-doers are promised an ill fate (Mt 24:51, 25:12, 25:30, and 25:46). The doers are credited with righteousness and promised eternal blessings.

1.24.2 How do you examine a person?

Leviticus 13 is a chapter devoted to leprosy and physical medical examination. One point of this passage is the observation of the physical. Another point is the observation is carried out by the priest (representing holiness) on another (representing the “unclean”) and judgment results. The purpose of the judgment may appear to be condemnation, but actually it isn’t at all. The purpose of judging the unclean is to determine the nature of the problem so proper corrective action can be taken. The “clean” are kept from contamination and at the same time the “unclean” is given an opportunity for treatment.

Ezra 10:2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. The 10th chapter of Ezra provides a beautiful example of self-examination. Better still, the people deal honestly with themselves and realize their sins, repenting and making drastic life changes to correct their relationship with God.

In context with James 1:24, we need to examine ourselves, admit our sin, do what we can to correct ourselves, and move forward in obedience. If we fail to do these things we fail to be the doer and are like the person who forgets their own reflection. The judgment will come from the Holy One, so wouldn’t it make more sense not only to see the reflection, but to look at the Truth and do what the Truth reveals we ought to do?

1.24.3 What can a face tell you?

Gen 4:5-6 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? A person’s expression says a great deal about what is going on in their mind. God alone knows the heart, but a man reveals his heart to other men (just as Cain does here) when his expression reacts from his heart.

Ro 16:18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. We have all heard the saying “appearances can be deceiving.” There are dozens of examples of deception in scripture. How could so many be deceived? For one thing, the expression on the face doesn’t always tell the truth any more than the words proceeding from the mouth. Secondly, many times the deceived don’t look closely enough at the deceptive information or the deceiver. In this particular passage Paul indicates the deceived person is naïve. Throughout scripture and particularly in New Testament letters we are warned about deceivers and given clear instructions about discernment. A face may betray a lie, but you have to be looking closely to have a chance of detecting it.

Ex 34:29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Just as a face can betray deceit, it can also be a beacon to illuminate joy. People with a good heart tend to radiate a spiritual light. Some folks see this in what is described as auras, but even without that degree of sight we can see the fruit of the Spirit and the joy inside the doer of those fruit is nearly always visible on their face.

1.24.4 What should you be looking for in a mirror?

Mt 5:17-20 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. A mirror is a tool for self-examination. James uses it to illustrate a superficial self-examination in Verse 24. In this passage Jesus tells the believers to be doers, following the commandments and laws of God. Teachers use words, but people learn from examples. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees as bad examples and lousy teachers, but those who obey and do what God instructs will teach others by good example and ultimately will be called great in heaven. In answer to the question, then, one should be reflecting in their heart about their life and setting themselves straight – not just superficially looking at a literal mirror with the vanity ascribed to religious leaders.

1.24.5 What is the impact of forgetfulness?

Eze 23:35 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring. Forgetfulness has consequences.

Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. Forgetfulness is life threatening.

1.24.6 How can you improve your memory (retention)?

Jer 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. As a forgetful person I’ve learned the necessity for crutches. The advent of the PDA has substantially improved my life. I now have a repository for remembering events, contact information, and lists of all kinds. I’m not a list maker, so learning about lists has been revolutionary for me. I write these things down in the PDA and it remembers them. In the eternal scheme of things, most of what I put in the PDA has no real significance. God is eternal, as is His word. For it to be eternal to me personally it must be written in my mind and heart. To accomplish this I open my heart to Jesus, trusting Him and letting the Spirit enter. I also read my bible with regularity and intensity. I humbly attempt to live a life directed by the Spirit, obeying as best I can with the flesh and using the knowledge provided by His Word. People learn by several methods and it is invariable most effective when multiple methods are used in concert. The simplest way I can explain is that first we must receive the information (hear/read/observe). The next step is to confirm we heard correctly by repeating it back (writing or telling). Finally, apply the tactile technique (do it – practice makes perfect).

1.24.7 Why would someone forget what they look like?

Job 14:1-4 Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Sometimes you want to forget. Job asks who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean. In answer to his question, no man can cleanse him but Christ. Job said in this passage he realized his impurity by the perfect standard of God. Job’s friends sang from Satan’s handbook, telling him he was unworthy and sinful, therefore God had retracted from Job. If you look closely, though, you’ll see Job isn’t blaming God or turning from Him. On the contrary, Job is acknowledging his own position relative to God. How much easier is it in our minds today to be as Job’s friends and pick what appears on the surface to make more sense? Sometimes it certainly seems God has forgotten us when, especially when we feel unworthy. When we feel unclean before the Lord we often seek to hide ourselves as Adam tried to hide in the Garden (Gen 3:8). When we know we are sinful we want to forget the sin. If we appear sinful in our own eye, what better reason could there be to want to forget our appearance?

1.24.8 How does being a hearer only relate to forgetting your face?

Gen 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In this passage Adam hears the instructions not to eat of the tree and the consequences if he does.

Gen 3:6-8 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Adam heard only. He wasn’t a “doer” of what he heard. His consequence: Spiritual death and a start to physical decay leading eventually to a physical death.

2 Jn 6-9 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. John confirms the principle in this reminder to heed the commandments. He says be a doer and don’t forget the message – the true Word. John reminds us of the consequence of forgetting the message: loss of reward (eternal life, presumably) and not having the Son or the Father.

James 1:25

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. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:25 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) de [1161] and, but, now… (conjunction) parakupto [3879] bend beside, lean over, stoop down eis [1519] to, into… (prep. expressing motion) nomos [3551] law (esp. of Moses) telieos [5046] complete, full age, perfect ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) eleutheria [1657] freedom, liberty kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too parameno [3887] stay near, remain, abide, continue ou [3756] absolute negative (adverb) akroates [0202] a hearer epilesmone [1953] negligence, forgetful ginomai [1096] to become… alla [0235] indeed, nevertheless, not withstanding poietes [4163] a performer, poet ergon [2041] toil, work, labor, doing, deed, act houtos [3778] he, she, it, they, this, these, which, who makarios [3107] supremely blessed, fortunate, well off en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) poiesis [4162] action, performance, deed autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) esomai [2071] will be, come to pass, shall follow

1.25.0 Introduction to James 1:25

James 1:22 was a simple enough statement. Yet, James felt it was important enough to warrant more than a casual proverb. In his typical style he goes on to illustrate his point by providing contrasting images. Verses 23-24 describe the nature of a hearer whereas verse 25 describes the doer. Verse 25 differs in at least two keys ways. First, it describes the “word” in verse 22 as the perfect law of liberty. Second, it provides a promise of blessing to the doer. The moral of the story is simple: of everyone who hears, those who do what they hear get blessed while those who hear only get deceived. Questions about Verse 25 focus on the law, liberty, blessing, and other context.

1.25.1 What kinds of law are there?

Natural Law – This includes things like gravity, entropy, conservation of energy and so forth.

Civil Law – Judgments are established by a court to settle disagreements between two parties.

Criminal Law – These laws, when violated, can result in prosecution and judgment by the state (any level of government) where penalties may include fines, confinement (jail), loss of liberties, or even forfeiture of life.

Governmental Structure Law – The Constitution is an example of this type of law. It establishes and defines the structure of a governing body.

God’s Law for Man – The 10 commandments (Ex 20) are what most people today consider to be “the law” from scripture. These were definitely laws prescribed by the hand of God, but the entire writings of Moses are also known as The Law. Sin always condemns. The law of Moses does not condemn, rather it defines and exposes sin (Ro 7:12-13). These laws did not get replaced or done away with when Christ died at Calvary. Jesus is the only man ever to fulfill the law. This is why his sacrifice atones for sin.

God’s Law of Death – Gen 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The first commandment was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of failing to carry out God’s command is one we all must live with.

God’s Law of Condemnation – Ro:2:25-27 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. A soul is condemned by his or her own choices. It isn’t the letter of the law written in a book that condemns. It is the choices we make.

God’s Law of Life – Ro 8:1-8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. The law of Moses points out what condemns us. The New Testament shares with us the fulfillment of the giving the New Covenant. Jesus Christ carried out every bit of God’s law. He alone is worthy to overcome death. This is why his blood is sufficient. The gift, the greatest gift, is the opportunity to believe in him and find eternal salvation. A beautiful picture of this is found in Nu 21 where Moses puts a serpent on a pole when the people are dying of snake bites. When they choose to look upon the pole and trust in God’s healing power, their lives were spared. Now, we can look upon Jesus, trusting God’s word that his blood sacrifice is sufficient, and we are healed of the curse in the garden. The greatest gift, eternal life, must be a gift because none are worthy except our Lord Jesus Christ.

1.25.2 What is the “perfect law”?

In the answer to the last question we saw that death is the result of condemnation through sin. The “law of Moses” defines the perfect law. To fulfill the law is to be righteous in God’s eyes, to be found holy and just. To be without sin is to be free of the curse of death.

Is 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; Who are the captives, the poor, and the broken hearted? Who are bound in prison? I tell you all have sinned and fall short of God’s standards (Eccl 7:20). We are all captive to sin. We are all wretched, poor, and broken hearted. Blessed are those who realize it and do something about it. The Spirit of God, expressed here through Isaiah, comes to heal us and proclaim his own goodness for his own sake.

Gal 6:1-2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Paul expresses the law of Christ another way. As a practical matter, loving Christ means loving one another. We do this by caring for each other. Love is an action verb. When a brother falls, we ought not shoot him and kick him out of the way. When we see a brother or sister screw up we need to help them find healing and restoration. In so doing we demonstrate Jesus’ love. Love, after all, covers a multitude of sins.

Jn 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Continuing the thought on the subject of love, Jesus gave us the model for love. He gives hope to all, exposes sin and offers an alternative. He cuts away the bad and in so doing heals the good. He always shows hospitality and humility, ever the consummate gentleman. Always he is generously extending gifts that cannot be repaid. Trusting him means trusting his instructions (commandments) so that we might have a better life and especially so we can assist others with improving their lives.

Jn 8:31-36 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. No one likes the idea of facing a judge when he knows he is guilty. We are all imperfect and deserving of the worst judgment. This law that condemns, while technically it defines the absolute requirements to live by, makes us slaves to death by virtue of our guilt – and we are all guilty because we are all imperfect. Jesus came to set us free. By fulfilling the requirements of the law on our behalf, Christ is in the unique position to overlook our imperfections and present us as perfected before the Father. By living lives abiding in Jesus we are covered by the blood, which is to say the life, which was guilt free and found worthy of life. This law, this covenant of Christ consummated with the only blood worthy of atonement at Calvary, is perfect because it liberates rather than condemns.

Jer 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The new covenant perhaps best summarizes the perfect law. Men sin, but God forgives. Men die because of their sin, but Yeshua atoned for that sin, for those who would accept the sacrifice, believe it, and act on their faith. With the law written on the heart, the believer will live the law and be in harmony with YHWH, in His will, and under His grace. Salvation is by faith, but as James says, faith is demonstrated by action.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.3 How do the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) liberate?

Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before [note: or besides] me. YHWH is all we need. We are free of the strictures of created things or beings. We are free of the dictates of men (all false gods are creations of men or are created beings).

Ex 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands [Note: or to ‘the thousandth generation’] of those who love me and keep my commandments. We do not have to bow to stone, wood, or any other man made thing. We do not have to satisfy some dead object. We have only one God to satisfy and He is alive and sovereign.

Ex 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Note that the word translated vain literally means empty, false, worthless, or lie. By not disregarding God’s word we are able to take it all in, learn from it, grow, find His peace, be filled with His Spirit, enjoy not only salvation from sin and death, but life in abundance.

Ex 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. God rested on the 7th day of the creation week. This was to set up for us a system whereby we can find rest from our labor each week as we toil. Sabbath not only proves God’s plan to deal with our fall was in place before the creation of the world, it provides us periodic relief from the curse we called upon ourselves through our sin. It gives us a bit of freedom from our toil and labor. It gives us a chance to be free from the urgent and mundane things in life that drain us, allowing us to assemble before the Lord to be refreshed in His word. Jesus proclaimed himself Lord of the Sabbath. He explained the Sabbath was created to benefit man, not God. It is a blessing which liberates. Some believe it symbolizes the coming time when we will be forever resting in the bosom of our Lord’s new Kingdom.

Ex 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. This commandment is the first and only to come with a specific blessing connected to its obedience. Be a person who lives a life that reflects honor on your family and you comply with this commandment. When we behave rightly, we bring honor to our parents. We are free to do the right thing, always. And more than free, we are blessed.

Ex 20:13 “You shall not murder [Note: the word translated murder also covers human death caused by negligence or carelessness]. We are free from an humanly imposed requirement to cause human death. Life is so precious, our Lord made it possible for us to have eternal life in His presence. To take a human life is tragic. The one who murders carries the blood of that person on their hands and with it guilt most of us can barely comprehend. Be free of that guilt by not taking human life. It should go without saying that by not killing people you avoid the penalties of imprisonment or death at the hands of a human judge.

Ex 20:14 “You shall not commit adultery. Like murder, adultery destroys the relationship between man and God, but it also destroys trust between man and wife. The real problem is the division it causes. God is One God. There is not division of character or purpose in our God, even if you see YHWH, Yeshua, and Holy Spirit as three separate persons. When a man commits adultery, he is faced with sharing his affections. Men, unlike God, are unable to spread themselves with equal and absolute equanimity through each of their relationships. Spiritually, adultery is also used many places in scripture to represent man’s distraction from the first three commandments into idolatry. If you avoid adultery, you remain free to give all your love and devotion to your spouse and remain free to require the same from them.

Ex 20:15 “You shall not steal. If you do not take what is not yours, you will be free from owing what you are unable to pay back, not to mention the guilt you feel or the time you might do for the crime.

Ex 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. According to Deut 17:6-7 and 19:15-21 it takes two witnesses to convict someone of a crime. False witness is more than just lying, it means not saying something about someone that could get them convicted of a crime they may not have committed. Obedience to this commandment not only means you remain free of guilt for the consequences, but the neighbor does not loose his freedom as a consequence of your law. This commandment is designed to protect the liberty of others. Obedience means being free of payback from God (Lk 6:38)

Ex 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” If you are free from the lust of things, you are able to walk tall, justified by righteousness reckoned to you for the faith demonstrated to the Lord. Your heart will be free indeed to devote itself to what is good and noble.

1.25.4 What is liberty?

The Greek word eleutheria appears 10 times in scripture and is rendered liberty each time. Its application in scripture is consistent with the modern English word liberty. Liberty is defined as being free from restriction or control; the right or power to act, believe or express oneself in a manner of one’s own choosing; free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor; freedom from unjust or undue government control; immunity to engage in certain acts without control or limitation; not employed or occupied.

Ro 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? In context with the study verse, liberty here would seem to most accurately mean freedom from confinement to the judgment of death. It certainly does not mean license to act without limitation as some would assume.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.5 How does the perfect law liberate?

Deut 6:5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Joshua quoted this (Josh 22:5) as the law to keep and Jesus said it was the greatest commandment (Mk 12:28-30). It is significant to note this line is not written on the tablets stored in the ark.

1 Jn 4:16-17 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. God is love. When we abide in our Lord and He in us, he perfects his love in us. We don’t do it, He does. This is not to say we don’t participate. Choosing not to participate is the same as choosing to deny God. Deny Him at the cost of your eternal soul (Jn 3:18).

Ro 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. By loving our fellow man we do the very thing God wants us to do most of all. In so doing our love, which is to say the love of Jesus manifested and perfected in us, fulfills the law. Only in fulfillment of the law is freedom given as the perfect judgment. Therefore loving liberates us from death.

1 Pe 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Peter perhaps said it best and most succinctly. Love covers sin. Sin condemns, but the greatest commandment – to love one another – liberates.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.6 In context with this passage, what is meant by perseverance?

The subject of perseverance was covered at length in the questions for James 1:4. That said, in context with James 1:22, James is instructing us to continue in being doers. Don’t just sit and listen. If you do one good deed, don’t then sit back and expect the glory to come rolling in. Love is a lifestyle, not a singular event and certainly not an emotion. Some might argue the cross was a singular event, but I would say that Jesus loved us during his entire ministry and indeed, throughout time. His crucifixion was a critical event, never the less it was one of an infinite list of past, present and future events demonstrating His perfect love.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.7 What two kinds of people look into the law of liberty?

Jn 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. According to James, among those who look into the law of liberty are the doers and the hearers only. The only difference is the response. Jesus referred to them as those who believe and those who don’t. When you see or hear something you either believe it or you don’t. If you believe something, trusting it to be true, you will be compelled to act on your belief. If you see something but don’t believe it, you will not act on the information. James’ statement here is really no different than Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.8 How do you tell hearers from doers?

Jn 3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God. They say actions speak louder than words. That’s because actions betray the heart. What you believe is what you will do. It is worth noting, however, that when Jesus spoke of coming into the light so that deeds are carried out, most importantly he was saying that the deeds would be seen by God. He isn’t saying people will necessarily see your deeds. In fact, other references indicate those who see your deeds will likely persecute you, not laud you. It is infinitely more important to please God than other people (Ps 118:8).

Jn 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. This passage is perhaps one of the best at illustrating how people will have outward indication of who is a doer. Loving one another wonderfully sums up obedience to Christ, the perfecting work of the indwelling Holy Spirit and all the other fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.9 Why does the doer receive blessing and the hearer only does not?

Jn 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Love is an action verb. Jesus said as much himself in this brief verse. The one who loves is one who actively responds obediently in submission to Jesus.

Heb 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. When you do a good turn for someone, how does that make you feel inside? It should bring a sense of joy. When you are genuinely glad to help others your reward is close to the heart, whether it comes close to the skin or not.

Lev 25:10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. In the year of Jubilee everything was to be returned to its proper and original condition. This free the people of debts, bringing liberty.

Jer 34:15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, When you give without expecting a return you are liberating the other person. To grant liberty is one of the most profoundly great things a person can do. When Jesus grants us liberty, I believe he is truly glad. He set this up as a ritual for Israel so the people would understand the joy of liberty and so his people would be able to feel a similar gladness.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.10 What kind of blessing does this passage promise?

1 Thess 5:24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. The passage says the doer will be blessed “in his doing” because when you do as you are called to do, God will make sure His Will is accomplished. In other words, when you do what God tells you to do, He will make sure you are successful. He does this for his own sake, but the doer still receives reward.

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. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. — ESV

1.25.11 Summary of James 1:22-25

This passage starts with a direct command. Do. Sitting on the sidelines doesn’t cut it. If you think you don’t have to participate, you deceive yourself. James goes on to illustrate just how foolish such a person is, likening them to one who looks in a mirror and forgets their own appearance. The presumption is that the reader has heard the gospel. Once faced with the Truth, you must decide whether you accept it or not. When you accept it, by your new regenerated nature you will be a doer. Doing the Lord’s will, which ultimately is to love one another, brings its own reward of gladness in your heart and success in whatever mission God gives you.

A word of caution here: I am not suggesting all you do will be a success in your eyes or even the eyes of other people. Often we accept missions that aren’t assigned by God. We feel pride when we complete those missions. If a mission we complete was assigned by God, we couldn’t have completed it on our own and therefore the right response on our part is humility rather than pride. The gladness comes from having a heart aligned with and abiding in the love of Jesus, not the sating of our smug pride.

James 1:26

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. — KJV

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — NIV

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:26 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
ei [1487] if, whether, that (conditional participle) tis [5100] anyone, anything, someone, something, somewhat dokeo [1380] to think, suppose, seem good threskos [2357] ceremonious in worship, religious, pious einai [1511] to exist (am, is, was, be…) me [3361] not, no, none, never chalinagogeo [5468] curb, bridle, lead by bit glossa [1100] tongue autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) alla [0235] indeed, nevertheless, not withstanding apatao [0538] to cheat, delude, deceive kardia [2588] the heart: thoughts, feelings, mind, middle autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) toutou [5127] of this, hereby, such manner of, thereabout, thus mataios [3152] empty, profitless, vain, vanity, an idol ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) threskeia [2356] ceremonial observance, worshipping

1.26.0 Introduction to James 1:26

The last major topic James tackles in Chapter 1 is religion. Verse 26 discusses bad religion. Once again talking about doing the wrong thing and falling into deception, James explains that an uncontrolled tongue results in false religion. This verse is a source of several questions about religion, one’s tongue, and the relationship between them.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.1 What is religion?

The Greek word threskeia, according to Strong’s, means a ceremonial observance related to worship. It implies an external display. As we have long since established, God looks at what lies within a man. What a man does, apart from God, has no value. When a man is united with God spiritually there will necessarily be good fruit brought about by the inner working of the Spirit through the outward flesh. Understanding these simple relationships are critical, I believe, to understanding what James is saying in this passage.

In context with James 1:26-27 religion appears to be more than just a ceremonial observance. Perhaps I would rephrase to something more like: a behavior pattern designed to exhibit one’s beliefs.

Another way of phrasing verse 26 then might be: If anyone thinks his outward behavior demonstrates worship of God and does not bridle his tongue but deceived his [own] heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.2 What makes a person religious?

Ac 17:16, 22-23a Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, The terms “religion” and “religious” actually appear only a hand full of times in all of scripture and then only in the New Testament (ESV). According to this passage what you worship defines your religion. The amount of your worship determines how religious you are. In this particular example Paul was remarking on the Greek idols in Athens.

Jn 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Our God seeks for us to worship not with idols, but in our spirit, with The Spirit and Truth (emphasis added). This is internal, from the heart.

In the context of James’ verses here we see James addressing those who claim to be worshiping Christ, but their worship is nullified by their actions of disobedience to His Will. The kind of worship accepted by God is to do His will through service and to avoid willing participation in sin.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.3 Is religion good or bad?

Lk 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. You need only contrast James 1:26 and 1:27 to see religion can be good or bad. It depends on whether it is pure and undefiled in the eyes of God. To go outside obedience to God in your heart results naturally in running your mouth in defiance of God because the mouth follows the heart.

Ro 10:9-10 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Just as the mouth can condemn by carrying out the sinful desires of the heart, the mouth can also redeem by carrying out acts of obedience to the Lord.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.4 What does bridle mean?

In this verse the term bridle is a verb. It means to control or restrain as with a bridle (n). The noun bridle refers to a device used on horses to restrain and guide the animal. James 1:26 uses the term to refer to controlling and restraining one’s tongue (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.5 What does it mean to bridle your tongue?

2 Sam 23:2 The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. In this passage, if you read 2 Samuel 23 in full context, you will see David is speaking. David is saying that he is actually only a vessel of the Lord who speaks through him. David was obedient in controlling his tongue so that it did not do as his own flesh willed, but willingly submitted it to the authority of God. I believe this is the ideal toward which we all should strive.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.6 What happens when you don’t bridle your tongue?

Is 32:6-7 For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. If you do not control your tongue, then who does? The flesh, apart from God, is of the world and so it is the plaything of Satan. It destroys the very body it belongs to as well as all it encounters.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.7 How can this verse be used in a practical way for spiritual warfare?

Eph 6:16-17 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, This is a brief portion of one of the most well known passages of scripture and certainly most quoted with regard to spiritual warfare. As it relates to James 1:26, submission of the tongue to God means allowing the Word to be used by God through you. Stand in boldness for greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). The Word is not the book, but the Lord (Jn 1:1). When his Spirit dwells within (Jn 14:17), its purpose is to make you able to stand (Eph 6:10) so that in the end you will be justified before God because God was responsible for you (Gal 3:24) because you allowed Him to be (Jn 3:16).

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.26.8 How does an unbridled tongue make your religion worthless?

Mt 6:1-2 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. When you don’t control your tongue you are lying. The flesh on its own is without Christ and thus without Truth, therefore it lies. It has no Truth within it. It speaks, pretending to know Truth for its own benefit, but it is at best an act. If you do a good thing and you boast about your goodness, you lie. An uncontrolled tongue will cost you eternal reward by seeking and finding carnal favor.

1 Jn 4:2-5 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. The unbridled lying tongue is of the world and anti-Christ. Free yourself of condemnation by getting control of your tongue and giving that control to the Spirit of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

James 1:27

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. — KJV

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — NIV

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worth less. 27 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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:27 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
threskeia [2356] ceremonial observance, worshipping katharos [2513] clean, clear, pure kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too [0283] para [3844] near ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) theos [2316] God kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too pater [3962] father, parent houtos [3778] he, she, it, they, this, these, which, who esti [2076] he/she/it is, them/they are episkeptomai [1980] inspect, select, go see, visit orphanos [3737] orphan kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too chera [5503] widow en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) thlipsis [2347] pressure, anguish, burden, persecution, tribulation, trouble autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) aspilos [0784] unblemished, unspotted heautou [1438] my-, our-, your-…self or selves (pronoun) tereo [5083] guard, detain, withhold, watch apo [0575] off, away, separation ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) kosmos [2889] orderly arrangement, the world (any sense)

1.27.0 Introduction to James 1:27

The last verse in Chapter 1 contrasts the worthless religion of verse 26 with an example of religion acceptable to God. Numerous key words and concepts are sources of questions as we explore the pieces of the picture of an acceptable religion.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.1 What is pure and undefiled?

In context with James 1:27 the “what” is religion. Religion, as explained in question 1.26.1, is a behavior pattern designed to exhibit one’s beliefs. Pure is an adjective that basically means free of defilement or pollution, unmixed, or faultless. The phrase “religion that is pure” would then seem to imply a consistent behavior pattern based on a clear, concise, and specific belief system.

Undefiled is another adjective that carries a meaning almost identical to pure, but it reinforces the concept of purity with the idea of being untouched by an external pollutant. When one thinks of undefiled religion before God the Father, one would immediately think of a religion devoid of idols and immorality. The balance of James 1:27 bears this out and then some.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.2 What does “visit” mean?

The Greek episkeptomai literally means to look in on, look after, or otherwise examine; specifically to check on those who have needs to attend to them and see to their needs.

In context with James 1:27, it seems that the right behavior pattern in God’s eyes includes checking on and caring for the needs of others, especially those who have special needs such as widows and orphans. To me visiting represents a practical implementation of what Jesus meant when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 19:19 – quoting Lev 19:18; Gal 5:14).

Now it is my opinion and my opinion only, but it seems to me that this passage does not imply that we must all seek a vocation that involves full-time care giving. It does, however, mean to me that all believers, regardless of their Spirit given gifts, talents, and callings, should have a desire in their heart to check in on those they know who have needs, to volunteer, and to give whatever they can whenever they see a specific need. We are to look for opportunities to do these things. We can only give a dim reflection of the gift Jesus gave us by giving basic necessities to those in need around us. It isn’t the responsibility of a nameless institution to take care of the masses, it’s the responsibility of individuals to love other individuals by showing care, consideration, respect, and compassion one on one.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.3 What kinds of afflictions do orphans and widows have?

Eph 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, Orphans and widows share a particular affliction. They’ve both lost the support system of their family and especially their main providers. I will not attempt to catalog all the problems orphans and widows could face because they are largely the same problems we all face, but are multiplied because they lack the support of a father and husband in the house. Without help, a child or orphan may loose every physical support, get turned out, starve, face ridicule, and suffer any number of cruelties beyond what self-sustaining adults face. These issues are no different today than when Paul or Moses walked the earth.

Ex 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. YHWH speaks specifically about widows and orphans in the law given to Moses as recorded in this passage. God recognizes man’s capacity for picking on those who cannot fend for themselves and provides a stern warning toward those who would.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.4 What do orphans and widows represent?

Lam 5:1-5 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest. Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations shortly after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). The Jews were defeated, uprooted, displaced, driven from their homes and property, and moved hundreds of miles away to Babylon. Any desperate soul is like a widow or orphan in the big scheme of things.

Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed God chooses the poor to exalt. Widows and orphans have no income. Without help they are destitute. The good news is that Jesus came to give them life, eternal and abundant.

Luke 7:6b When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. In this passage a hearty man, respected and high ranking in Caesar’s guard, demonstrated the kind of humility we all should have. We are all miserable wretches, orphans of the world, widows of the current system of things, if only we will see our rags for what they are. If only we will see our lowly state and know we need a benefactor, we can humble ourselves and receive God’s love, his mercy and forgiveness. Only when we reach our knees can we look up into that face have so much given to us we can’t help but give it to others.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.5 What makes visiting orphans and widows a religion pure and undefiled before God?

Gal 5:19-23 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. This passage provides an excellent list of things which are corrupt and things which are good. Looking after and caring for those who need help fall into the latter. To bring them a kind word, a loaf of bread, a warm hug, and some good news is just what the Great Physician ordered.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.6 What is the significance of being unstained?

1 Pe 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are commanded to be holy. Being holy means that we are not corrupt or in other words unstained. None are righteous (Ro 3:23), but we can be redeemed and deemed righteous (Heb 11:4) and therefore holy by our faith. Only that which is holy can come into the presence of God (Lev 22:3).

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.7 What stains us?

The study verse speaks for itself in answer to this question. The world stains. The world is fallen and will pass away. A stain is a sin of any kind for sin is what makes us unclean.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.8 If we become stained after once being clean, can we become clean again?

Jn 13:10a Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. In Jn 13 we see the event where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter probably thought Jesus was just talking about humility at first. When Peter protests, Jesus explains an even deeper meaning. The clean body represents the cleansing of sin by Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice. That cleansing was once and for all. Even so, we must live in the world and we are constantly exposed to sin. The dirt on the feet represents sins committed after we are cleansed. Our feet represent our walk in the world. Dirty feet represent sins we pick up along the walk, but which don’t completely cover or consume us. By coming to Christ and only by coming to Christ we can wash our feet and restore our completely clean status. We don’t get born again and again and again, so we don’t need to be washed all over more than once. We do need clean feet, it seems, to walk in the streets of heaven.

Personally, I find this passage of scripture a great comfort. I am but a man who lives in the world and I “step in it” daily. I could never clean myself. It is only with supernatural living water that I can ever be cleansed.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. — ESV

1.27.9 Summary of James 1:26-27

In the many questions asked about these two verses we first learned what religion is, then the effect of an uncontrolled tongue on that person’s religion. Religion is the practice of worship. It is a behavior based on belief. While there’s a danger the tongue can be used to tear down, the other side of the coin is that when you shut up and get to work building the Kingdom, then you’re doing what God approves. When you focus on God and bring up and deal with your sins, He is faithful to forgive and will continue to abide with you.

1.27.10 Summary of James Chapter 1

It is generally accepted that the author of the book was James, a son of Mary and Joseph, half brother of our Lord Jesus. The letter was written more than a decade after the resurrection of Jesus, before the destruction of the temple, to support various believers already scattered or dispersed out from Jerusalem and Israel.

After the greetings, James begins with a word of encouragement about joy in the face of trials and the resulting benefits. He then compares faith and doubt, explaining how these impact our requests of God. Next James contrasts rich and lowly earthly and spiritual positions.

James pauses from conveying proverb like wisdom to talk about God’s nature. God is a constant and the source of everything good. He created us physically and regenerates us spiritually making redeemed souls the firstfruits of creation.

Returning to a series of illustrations using word-pictures and clear contrasts, James compares hearing to speaking and anger, hearing only without doing against true service, and false against acceptable religion. These last several comparisons build like a crescendo, one principle on the next.

James does not leave out salvation in this chapter, rather he inspires us to participate in the salvation process and follow the instructions we will hear from the Holy Spirit. James in no way says salvation is something earned or accomplished by men. He merely explains the nature of works that will necessarily accompany salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we become born again and our own spirits are renewed. Salvation is not a one-time event, not a prayer, not merely a gift. It is a complete renewal of our spiritual being and results in a new way of life that includes continual growth, service to others, and above all obedience to our Lord and Master Jesus and God the Father.

Lesson 48: Adopted Heirs of God (Romans 8:17)

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Adoption is a beautiful thing to behold. I often look around at this congregation and see families that have adopted children from other countries and think about where those kids would be if they had not been adopted into a loving family. They had no family to love them or provide for their needs. They had no caring dad or mom to listen to their problems or put their arms around them and assure them that things would be all right. Many of them were malnourished and sick. They had no instruction even about basic matters in life such as hygiene, let alone spiritual instruction.

Then one day a couple with love and kindness in their eyes chose them and went through all of the legal and financial matters necessary to bring that needy child into their home. For the first time in their lives, those kids heard prayers and felt kisses before drifting off to sleep. When they awoke frightened or sick in the night, they had the comfort of loving parents to calm their fears or nurse them back to health. They had nutritious meals and nice clothing. They learned what it was like to be a part of a loving, caring family where God is worshiped, His Word is read, and needs are brought before His gracious throne in prayer.

The Bible uses adoption as a picture of what God has done for us. We were dirty, diseased, impoverished street urchins, with no one to care for us. We were not there as helpless victims, but rather because of our deliberate rebellion against God. But one day He showed up at the cardboard shack that we were sleeping in and in love chose us to be in His family. He cleaned us up, removed our rags, clothed us in the righteousness of Christ, fed us with the nourishing truth of His Word, and guided us in His paths of righteousness and wisdom. He brought us into His family, where we have brothers and sisters to share our burdens and our joys. And He made us His heirs, so that throughout eternity we will enjoy the unfathomable riches of Christ.

But these wonderful truths raise a question: If we are God’s beloved children, then why does He allow us to suffer? As an earthly parent, I did everything that I could to protect my children from suffering and to alleviate their pain, whether physical or emotional. If God is an all-powerful and all-loving Father, then why doesn’t He do the same with His children? While many books have been written to deal with that issue, Paul here and through the rest of the chapter shows that our suffering is not at odds with God’s love for us as His children. Just as our Savior had to suffer first and then enter His glory (Luke 24:26), so too, our path to glory goes through the valley of suffering.

Romans 8:17 is transitional: it sums up what Paul has been saying and it introduces what he will go on to say. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 51:541) describes Paul’s style here as building a sort of Jacob’s ladder that takes us up from one step to the next. First (8:14) he says that all who are being led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. We saw that in the context this does not refer to the Spirit’s leading us in matters of guidance about life’s choices, but rather to the Spirit’s leading us to kill our sin. If the Holy Spirit is prompting and enabling you to fight against and kill your sin, it’s an evidence that should assure you that you are a child of God.

The next step up the ladder is that if you are a child of God, then you are an heir. Then he goes higher—you are an heir of God Himself and a joint-heir with Christ. The uppermost rung of the ladder is that we will be glorified with Him. Spurgeon applies this by saying (51:542) that every grace we receive should lead us to seek after something higher still. We should never be complacent or think that we have arrived spiritually. We should seek to be filled more and more with all the fullness of God.

With that as an introduction, let’s explore some of the riches of our text. I’m convinced that Paul does not just want us to think about these things intellectually and walk away saying, “That’s interesting!” Rather, he wants us to feel emotionally the wonderful grace and love of being an adopted child of God and all of the glorious riches that God has stored up for us in eternity so that we can joyfully persevere in our present sufferings. He is saying,

As God’s adopted children, we are His heirs and fellow-heirs with Christ, which includes suffering now and future glory.

1. Through God’s gracious adoption, we have become His children.

As we saw (8:15), we “have received a Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” As I explained, “spirit” should be capitalized, referring to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the seal or pledge of our inheritance as adopted children of God (Eph. 1:13-14).

In a wonderful chapter in Knowing God (“Sons of God” [IVP], pp. 181-208), J. I. Packer says (p. 187) that adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers, even higher than the blessing of justification, because it brings us into a richer relationship with God as our loving Father. He goes on to say (p. 190, italics his) that “the entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of it” [adoption]. He illustrates from the Sermon on the Mount (pp. 190-193) how adoption is the basis of Christian conduct, as we imitate the Father. It’s at the root of glorifying the Father, as people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. It’s at the heart of pleasing the Father, who sees our hearts, rather than being hypocrites who practice our righteousness before men. Adoption is the basis of Christian prayer, since Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven.” Adoption is also the basis of a life of faith, as we trust the Father to provide for our needs.

Then (pp. 194-207) Packer elaborates on how adoption gives us the deepest insights into five other matters: (1) It shows us the greatness of God’s grace and love; (2) the glory of the Christian hope; (3) the ministry of the Holy Spirit; (4) the meaning and motives of what the Puritans called “gospel holiness”; and, (5) the clue we need to see our way through the problem of assurance.

Does the doctrine of God’s gracious adoption of you as His child make your heart well up with thanksgiving and joy as you realize what the Father has done for you? He picked you out of the gutter of sin, cleaned you up, clothed you with the perfect righteousness of Christ, and lovingly brought you into His family as His child, where you enjoy the inexhaustible riches of His grace, both now and for all eternity! Meditate on that truth every day and it will give you strength to resist sin and grace to endure trials.

But, make sure that you are His child! The Bible is clear that by nature because of our sin we all are children of wrath, not children of God (Eph. 2:3). How do we become children of God? Paul explains (Gal. 3:26), “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Instead of trusting in yourself or your good works to get into heaven, trust in Christ, who died to pay the penalty of sin for everyone who believes in Him. And lest you boast in your faith, keep in mind that salvation is totally from the Lord. As Paul writes (Eph. 1:5-6), “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

If by God’s grace through faith in Christ you are a child of God, then it follows:

2. As God’s children, we become His heirs.

Have you ever daydreamed about what it might be like to be an heir of a wealthy family, like the Rockefeller’s or the Kennedy’s or the Getty’s? From what I’ve read, many of those heirs are not happy people. They fight and take each other to court, trying to grab or protect their portion of the inheritance. But as children of God, the Creator and Lord of the entire universe, we never need to fear that someone else will get our portion. God is “abounding in riches for all who call upon Him” (Rom. 10:12). Note four things about our inheritance as God’s children:

A. We are heirs of God Himself.

“And if children, heirs also, heirs of God…” At the very least, this means that we will receive all that God has promised to us as His children. But it probably also means that God Himself is our inheritance. This truth was taught in the Old Testament. When Israel conquered the land of Canaan, it was divided up among the various tribes. But the priestly tribe of Levi got no land, because “the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them” (Deut. 18:2; Josh. 13:33). Do you suppose that any of the Levites looked with envy at the other tribes and their fertile pastures and grumbled, “Where’s my inheritance?” And when they were told, “The Lord God of Israel is your inheritance,” they complained, “Bummer, I’d rather have some land!” I hope not!

The psalmist knew the joy of having God as his inheritance. For a while, he was envious of the wicked as he saw their prosperity. But then he got his bearings and realized that they would die and face God’s judgment. So he affirmed (Ps. 73:25-26), “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

The prophet Jeremiah also knew this wonderful truth. He had witnessed the awful destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, along with the slaughter of many of his people and the deportation into slavery of many others. It was far, far worse than the 9-11 tragedy in our country. In the midst of his grief, he affirmed (Lam. 3:22-24), “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’”

If God Himself is our inheritance, then our salvation is secure because He is eternal and unchangeable and His promises never fail. The reason we have Him for our inheritance is because He first chose us and predestined us to adoption as His children.

B. We are fellow heirs with Christ, who is the heir of all things.

Hebrews 1:2 declares, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” “All things” is fairly comprehensive! Paul puts it this way as he rebuked the bickering Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:21-23), “For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”

Again, if we are co-heirs with Christ, our inheritance is secure because there is absolutely no doubt that Jesus will inherit all that the Father has ordained to give Him. In Psalm 2, the nations rage against God and seek to throw off the lordship of His anointed king. But God, who sits in the heavens, scoffs at these proud earthly kings. And then Messiah responds (Ps. 2:7-8), “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord; He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’” It is certain that Jesus will inherit all that the Father has promised to Him. And since we are fellow heirs with Christ, our inheritance is secure. Our right to the riches of heaven is not because of anything in us, but because we are in Christ. But, what does our inheritance look like?

C. Our inheritance includes the unfathomable riches of Christ.

In Ephesians 3:8, Paul describes his ministry as “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” I preached an entire message on that verse when we worked through Ephesians, so I can only refer you to it now. But in Ephesians 2:7, Paul says, “So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” It’s going to take the ages and ages of eternity to reveal to us all that God has prepared for us and given to us in Christ!

These riches include our being heirs of the world. In Romans 4:13, Paul said, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants (lit., “seed”) that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Abraham did not inherit the world in his lifetime. The only piece of real estate he owned was the burial cave of Machpelah. But God has promised a new city whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10). Abraham was looking for that heavenly city (Heb. 11:16), and since we are fellow heirs with Christ, who is the seed of Abraham, we will inherit the new heavens and earth with Him.

Also, we are heirs of the kingdom of God. James 2:5 declares, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”

And, included with these promises, we are heirs of eternal life, which is the joy of knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent (John 17:3). In Titus 3:4-7, Paul exults, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Wow!

I’ve already mentioned the fourth truth about our inheritance:

D. The fact that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ makes our salvation absolutely certain.

In Galatians 3:29, Paul says, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants [lit., “seed”], heirs according to promise.” Who made the promise? God, who cannot lie, did! Then in Hebrews 6:17-18 we read, “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” The two unchangeable things were God’s word of promise and His oath when He swore by Himself to Abraham, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you” (Heb. 6:14). God wants us who are His children to know that our inheritance is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). It’s absolutely certain.

But, then, why does God allow His children to suffer now?

3. If we have these promises and assurance from the Spirit, then we can endure present suffering as the path toward future glory with Christ.

Paul adds (Rom. 8:17b), “if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” After meditating on all of the glories of being children of God and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, the mention of suffering hits us out of nowhere. Why does Paul throw that in here? Well, Paul was a realistic pastor who wanted his people to apply these glorious truths about our future inheritance to the present reality of life in a fallen and hurting world.

Paul himself suffered terribly (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He knew that many of his readers were suffering, some more than others. Some were being persecuted for the sake of the gospel. Some had lost loved ones to martyrdom. But all of God’s children go through trials from the world, the flesh, and the devil. We all go through trials in our families, trials with other people, trials at work (or with being out of work), trials because of our sins and the sins of others against us, health problems, disappointments, heartaches, and grief.

But, why does God allow His children to suffer? I can’t be comprehensive, because the Bible contains much on this subject. But, first, if Jesus, God’s beloved Son in whom He was well-pleased, had to suffer before entering His glory (Luke 24:26), then why would we expect to be exempt? The popular teaching that it is God’s will for His children all to be healthy and wealthy and that we need to claim it by faith is heresy! Have you ever noticed that none of the false teachers proclaiming this nonsense are over 100 and going strong? They’re deceiving people for the sake of their own sordid gain.

Also, if Jesus Himself, who was sinless, learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8), then why would we think that there is an easier course for us? God disciplines all of His children so that we might share His holiness (Heb. 12:5-11). Furthermore, as Philip Melancthon put it, “Where there are no cares, there will generally be no prayers” (cited by J. C. Ryle, “Are You an Heir?” in A New Birth [Old Paths Gospel Press], p. 241). Or, as Paul put it (2 Cor. 1:9), “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” Trials drive us to dependence on God. They purify the dross from our lives. They produce perseverance, proven character, and hope (Rom. 5:3). They keep us from loving this world more than we should. And, they fix our hope on eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Paul here says that we will be glorified with Christ. Our adoption is a present reality, but there is still a future fulfillment of it, when we receive our new resurrection bodies (Rom. 8:23) and we will be in the presence of the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

J. C. Ryle (ibid., pp. 224-228) whets our appetite for this future glory by asking a series of questions and then expounding on the perfections of heaven. “Is knowledge pleasant to us now?” In heaven, we shall know all things and there will be no disagreements among believers. “Is holiness pleasant to us now?” Is sin causing us trouble now? In heaven there will be no sin! “Is rest pleasant to us now?” Are we often weary and faint? In heaven we will enjoy God’s perfect rest. “Is service pleasant to us now?” We will serve God perfectly in heaven, without any of our present limitations. “Is satisfaction pleasant to us now?” In heaven, our joy will be perfect and permanent. “Is communion with the saints pleasant now?” In heaven, we will enjoy perfect fellowship with God’s people. “Is communion with Christ pleasant to us now?” In heaven, we will see His face and our fellowship will never be broken by our sin.

Conclusion

How does this apply to us now? In many ways, but consider this illustration from John Newton, the converted slave-trader turned pastor and hymn-writer (cited by John Piper, “Children, Heirs, and Fellow Sufferers,” on DesiringGod.org):

Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!” (Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, in The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1 [Banner of Truth], p. 108.)

Your carriage may be broken, but keep going—there’s a rich inheritance and eternal glory just ahead!

Application Questions

  1. Do you think often of your adoption as God’s child? How could this help your daily battle against depression or discouragement or sin?
  2. Do you often think of God as your loving, caring Father? Would doing this more often keep you from sinning? How?
  3. Why is the “health and wealth” teaching heretical? How does it damage people?
  4. How can we keep our eternal inheritance more in view in our daily lives?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Glory, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 49: Present Suffering, Future Glory (Romans 8:18-25)

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“Mom, why are there mosquitoes that give people malaria? Why are there germs that make us sick?”

“Mom, I saw on the news a bad flood that killed a lot of people. Why are there floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes? Why are there famines where people starve to death?”

“Mom, why did my friend at school get cancer and die? Why did Grandma get sick and die?”

“Mom, why do people set off bombs to blow up other people? Why do people do bad things to hurt each other?”

Maybe your kids have asked you questions like these. Probably you’ve wrestled with them yourself. Some become agnostics or atheists because they cannot come up with satisfactory answers to the question of how a loving, all-powerful God can allow the terrible suffering that is in the world. Since none of us are exempt from suffering and death, it’s important that we understand what the Bible teaches on this difficult topic.

Philosophers, theologians, pastors, and others have written scores of books on the subject. Some of these books are helpful, while some are heretical. Job, the oldest book on the Bible, is devoted to this problem. And in our text, Paul gives part of the biblical perspective that we need to persevere through the suffering that we surely will encounter. It’s not comprehensive, but it is helpful and practical if we will struggle to understand and practice what the apostle teaches us here. He’s saying,

To persevere in present sufferings with hope, keep your eyes on the future glory that God has promised us.

Maybe right off you’re thinking, “That just sounds like ‘pie in the sky when you die.’” As I’ve often said, my response is, “Yes, you are going to die. Would you like pie with that or no pie?” The statistics are not fuzzy: We all are going to die (unless Jesus returns in our lifetimes). Materialists argue that when you die, that’s it—your body decomposes and your soul ceases to exist, just like an animal. Paul deals with that mistaken view in his defense of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), where he says that if the dead are not raised, then eat and drink, because tomorrow you may die. But if Jesus was raised, then the dead will be raised. And if the dead are raised, then we should “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

In our text, Paul wants us to understand two certainties and a practical conclusion that flows from them: First, the present time is marked by sufferings because of man’s fall into sin. Second, the future will be marked by glory for believers as God fulfills all His promises to us. The practical conclusion is, if we keep our eyes on the future promised glory, then we can endure present sufferings with perseverance and hope.

1. The present time is marked by sufferings because of man’s fall into sin.

Paul mentions “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18). He was not referring to an especially difficult period in history, but to the entire present age. The whole history of creation since the fall is marked by suffering. The history of nations is marked by struggles and catastrophes—wars, natural disasters, internal conflicts, power struggles, and crimes. The history of individuals is also in large part a history of trials—the trials of growing up, figuring out what to do with your life, whom you will marry, rearing children, working through struggles in your marriage, providing for your needs, growing old and facing declining health and death.

But, why? Why do we suffer? How should we as Christians think about these difficult matters? Four observations:

A. The whole creation suffers because of man’s fall into sin.

Romans 8:19-22: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

Paul personifies creation groaning as it anxiously awaits the culmination of salvation for God’s people, because that will trigger the release from corruption to which all creation has been subject since Adam and Eve fell into sin. At that time, God’s judgment on Adam included a judgment on creation (Gen. 3:17b-18a): “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you ….”

Not only the botanical world, but also the animal world, came under the curse. In either the millennial kingdom or in the new heavens and new earth (depending on your view of prophecy), Isaiah (11:6-9) gives us this vision:

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah pictures in poetic language a vision of a restored creation, where there will not be any violence or death. We’ve watched the magnificent DVD series “Planet Earth,” which has a spectacular scene in slow motion of a great white shark leaping out of the ocean, grabbing a seal in its mouth, and plunging again beneath the water to consume its meal. In another stunning scene filmed at night, a group of lions bring down an elephant for their next meal. Such movies portray this as the natural order of the world, in which the fittest survive by preying on the weaker species.

But the Bible teaches that this is not natural. Violence and death, even in the animal kingdom, are the result of the curse on man’s sin. Death was not a part of the original creation, which God pronounced as good. And in the future, when believers receive the full redemption that has been promised in Christ, all of creation will be restored at least to its original state, if not to an even greater level of glory.

Two observations before we move on: First, this text assumes that God is the creator of all that is. It did not evolve by chance or random mutations over billions of years. Right out of the starting gate the Bible presents God as the creator (Gen. 1:1), “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It doesn’t put it up for debate or discussion. It hits you before you can duck with the fact that God miraculously created all that is by the word of His power. Psalm 33:6, 9 declares, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host…. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” The psalmist sandwiches his practical application between these verses (33:8): “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” God alone is the rightful Lord of creation and Lord of your life. The fact of creation should make you bow in wonder and worship before Him (see, also, John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:2; 11:3).

Second, even though the creation is fallen, it still bears witness to the majesty and glory of the Creator. David marveled (Ps. 19:1), “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Here in Flagstaff at 7,000 feet elevation, with the city’s efforts at restricting light pollution, we often can see what David must have seen in those dark Judean skies. The Milky Way stretches across the sky. The constellations beam their light from trillions of miles away. Sometimes with binoculars, I have located Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away, with one trillion stars. It makes you feel properly small and God properly big!

Last weekend, Marla and I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Standing on the rim and gazing at the vastness of that great geologic wonder always takes your breath away. Every evening a large group of visitors gathers on the patio of the North Rim Lodge to watch the spectacle in the sky. The sunsets are gorgeous and we watched lightning from the thunderstorms across the canyon. But, sadly, I would guess that very few of those watching this spectacular show even gave a passing thought toward the greatness and glory of the Creator! But those of us who know Him should revel in His creation. If the fallen creation is this beautiful, just think how spectacular the new heavens and earth will be!

So the first observation from these verses is that all creation suffers because of man’s fall into sin. It is presently enslaved to corruption and death. But, also,

B. All believers suffer because of man’s fall into sin.

This needs to be stated because, as I mentioned in our last study, there is a pervasive false teaching that God wants every Christian to be healthy and wealthy. They say, “If you’re sick or poor, then you need to claim your healing or your wealth by faith.” Those who teach these lies are preying on people’s greed and their natural longing to be in good health. But as I also said, I’ve never seen one of these false teachers live to be 120. They all succumb to disease and death at about the same age as the rest of us. Do not follow their teaching!

Paul himself suffered terribly. When he got saved, the Lord told Ananias the prophet whom He sent to open Paul’s eyes (Acts 9:16), “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Paul often mentions the trials that he endured, which would have driven most of us to despair (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28).

Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). He came to this world of suffering to bear our sins through His own suffering and death. So why should we think that somehow we will be exempt from suffering? In the sovereign purposes of God, some suffer more and some suffer less. But none are exempt. It’s a part of living in this fallen world. This leads to a third observation:

C. We need to think biblically about suffering so that we will grow through it rather than be destroyed by it.

Note Paul’s opening phrase (8:18), “For I consider ….” The word means to reckon, think about, consider, or ponder. In other words, this paragraph is the result of Paul’s careful, biblical thinking about suffering. It’s important to think biblically about suffering because when it clobbers you or those you love, you will be engulfed by a wave of powerful emotions. I’m not suggesting that you should suppress or deny your emotions, but I am saying that you need to process them through the grid of biblical truth, so that you are not devastated by your trials.

Peter indicates that it is especially in a time of trials that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. But we must resist him by being firm in our faith and by understanding the biblical perspective on trials (1 Pet. 5:8-10). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul does not deny that believers grieve when they lose loved ones, but he does say that in light of the promise of the Lord’s coming and the resurrection of our bodies, we should not grieve as those who have no hope.

The Bible gives us far more perspective on suffering than I can comment on briefly here. As you read it, ask God to instill His wisdom in your heart for how to handle suffering. But here in our text, Paul wants us to think about four things: First, our present sufferings are relatively short compared to our eternal sharing in the glory of God. Second, the weight of our present trials is like a feather on the scale, which can’t compare with the tons of gold of the glory that will be revealed to us. He expresses the same thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

A third thing to think about to endure present, temporary suffering for future glory is that our future glory with God is absolutely certain. God has promised it and He cannot lie. Christ promised to return in power and glory to bring final redemption to His people and to judge His enemies. Either He was mistaken or it is our certain future. And in the rest of the chapter Paul unfolds a fourth reason that we need to think biblically about suffering, namely, that God is using it to conform us to the image of Christ. Not even torture or martyrdom can separate us from His great love (8:35-39). There is a fourth observation from our text:

D. The fact of suffering does not undermine the fact that God has a plan and that He will accomplish His plan.

Often people observe the terrible suffering in the world and doubt God’s love or His power. The argument is especially emotional when we consider little children suffering physical or sexual abuse or the horrible effects of war or natural disasters. We think, “It’s one thing if wicked people suffer such things, but how could a God of love and power allow these precious little children to suffer such things?”

But Paul shows that such things stem directly from man’s fall into sin. As we saw in chapter 5, when Adam sinned, the whole human race sinned in him. If you say, “That’s not fair,” you’re on dangerous ground, to accuse the Sovereign God of being unfair! And you’re arrogantly implying that you would have done better than Adam did, so you don’t deserve to be penalized for his sin. So you’d best not accuse God of being unfair for imposing suffering on the human race because of sin.

Pastor John Piper (“Subjected to Futility in Hope,” part 1, on DesiringGod.org) points out that if you think that somehow the suffering in this world is out of proportion to what is deserved, then you do not grasp the infinite holiness of God or the unspeakable outrage of sin against this holy God. God’s judgment on the entire creation as seen in all of history’s horrible tragedies reveals how horrific our sin is to Him. Piper adds, “But in fact the point of our miseries, our futility, our corruption, our groaning is to teach us the horror of sin. And the preciousness of redemption and hope.” Thank God, He sent the Savior!

But the fact of terrible suffering does not undermine the fact that God has a plan and that He will accomplish His plan. Paul says that the creation was subjected to futility “in hope” (8:20). He also uses the analogy of birth pains (8:22). The outcome of birth pains is the hope of new life. And even so, God is moving history toward a goal that includes our future glory:

2. The future will be marked by glory for believers as God fulfills all that He has promised us.

I can’t elaborate due to time constraints, but I want to include this in this message to convey Paul’s flow of thought. God’s final purpose both for fallen creation and for His adopted children is the glory of complete salvation. Note four things about this glory:

A. The future glory is not totally revealed to us yet, but it includes the revealing of all that God has promised for us.

J. B. Phillips (The New Testament in Modern English [Geoffrey Bles], p. 324) paraphrases 8:19, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” In Colossians 3:4, Paul says, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:14, he says, “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (See, also, Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:2.)

“Glory” is a hard concept to get your brain around, but it includes all of God’s promises to bestow on us the “unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Streets of gold and gates of pearl and mansions prepared for us are limited analogies that say, “You can’t imagine how wonderful it will be!”

B. The future glory includes the full renewal of creation to its original perfection and purpose.

The new heavens and earth will probably be even more glorious than the Garden of Eden was. With new, glorified bodies we will live on a new earth and enjoy God’s creation as it was before sin entered this world.

C. The future glory includes our freedom from sin and its corruption, including the full redemption of our bodies.

“Freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21) means at the very least, freedom from sin. We now enjoy the privileges of being God’s adopted children (8:15-16), but we haven’t yet come into our full inheritance, which includes the redemption of our body (8:23). Now, by God’s Spirit, we are able not to sin; but in glory we will not be able to sin. Hallelujah!

D. The future glory is guaranteed by our present possession of the Holy Spirit, the first fruits of our redemption.

The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us a taste of what it will be like to be holy, as Jesus is holy. But we’re still living in these fallen bodies that are prone to temptation and sin, with all of its terrible consequences. But the Holy Spirit is the promise that God will not abandon us to our sin. He’s the down payment that signals that God will complete the purchase. The practical conclusion follows:

3. Keep your eyes on the future promised glory and you will persevere in present sufferings with hope.

Paul anticipates us thinking, “But, I can’t see this future glory.” His reply is, “Yes, that’s the very nature of hope.” If you can see it all, then it’s not hope. Our salvation includes hope because we don’t receive it all in this life. The hope of our salvation is not uncertain, as when we say, “I hope it doesn’t rain on my picnic tomorrow.” Rather, it is absolutely certain because of the many promises of God, who cannot lie. But we hope for it because we have not yet received all that has been promised. So Paul concludes (8:25), “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” The key to persevering in suffering with hope is to keep your eyes on the promised future glory.

Conclusion

If you’ve ever watched your favorite team play in the Super Bowl, you were anxious as the game progressed, especially if it was close. If your team fumbled or threw an interception, you groaned because you didn’t know the outcome. You hoped they would win, but your hope was uncertain. Maybe you even got depressed when they were far behind.

But if your team came from behind and won in the last seconds of the game and later you watched a replay of the game, your whole attitude was different. You didn’t despair when they fumbled or fell behind, because you knew how it all would turn out. Knowing the certainty of the future glory gave you hope to persevere through the setbacks.

If we become anxious or depressed in trials and lose hope, it’s because we’ve forgotten the absolutely certain outcome: Future glory forever with Christ! Yes, there is present suffering because we live in a fallen world. But God has promised future glory. Keeping that in view will enable you to persevere any suffering with hope.

Application Questions

  1. Think about someone who has lost hope and perhaps his faith in Christ because of trials. How would you use the truth of this text to help such a person?
  2. Why is the “health and wealth” teaching heresy? How does it damage people? How can you refute it biblically?
  3. What are some practical ways to gain a clearer vision of the future glory promised to us so that it affects your daily walk?
  4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Final Perseverance of the Saints [Zondervan], p. 14) argues that believers should not be shaken or cast down by suffering. Is this realistic? Where is the balance between acknowledging despair and yet trusting in God? See 2 Cor. 1:8-10.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Glory, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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