3. Faith That Fixes What’s in the Mirror (Jam. 1:17-27)
wisdom for a blue jean faith
“For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.” James 1:23-24 (NET)
I have a pair of painting jeans. Whenever I paint something—usually a room or the trim in our house—I wear them. They definitely show the wear and tear of the abuse I give them with the paint. (I am not very good at keeping the paint on the wall!) The jeans have spots of green paint that I used in my home office; there are blotches of white paint from the trim all around my house. There are various other colors as well that display the work that I have done. The jeans are the visible proof of what I have accomplished.
So far we have seen that faith is lived out when we face the trials and hardships of life. When we deal with such difficulties, we need to have our “jeans” on because we need durable and practical faith instead of merely “Sunday clothes” that look really nice but are fragile and vulnerable when put to the test. Our jeans are the visible proof that our faith has been tested and found real.
James calls us to live out our faith in very practical and real ways as we walk through this world. As we align our lives with the message of the Creator, we show the reality of our relationship to the one who made us and knows us best. Living in the midst of His will, we live with our “jeans” on.
day one study
You may not quite understand why I continue to have you reread verses in James. But I know that you are aware of the dangers in taking any sort of communication out of context. We hear it all the time when a public figure claims to have been misunderstood. The truth is that anything out of context is in danger of being interpreted wrongly. If there were ever a book that we want to be careful to understand correctly, it is God’s word. So I will continue asking you to reread portions of the book before we move into new sections. In fact, I would suggest that the more you read James in its entirely, the better!
Read James 1:17-20.
1. What has God done for believers according to 1:17-18? What three commands are we to follow in response to that truth of what God has done (1:19)?
2. How do we show that we truly love Jesus according to His words in John 14:15? Write down Jesus’ exact words.
3. Responding to God: Take time to reflect upon the goodness and mercy of God. Consider that the correct response to such love is to love Him back. Write a prayer or poem asking God to speak to you personally about ways to love Him. Ask Him to show you at least one specific way to obey Him out of love as you study this week.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Look for other verses about your love for God. There will be many in your exhaustive concordance under the word “love” so you may want to look at the cross-references in the margin of your Bible or a topical Bible. When you have a word that doesn’t have so many references, you can use the NET Bible at bible.org. Type in your word under “search for”.
4. Look at the other verses below and write down how they relate to the first and second commands of James 1:19:
a. Prov. 17:28
b. Prov. 10:19
c. Prov. 11:12-13
d. Prov. 13:3
e. Ecc. 5:2-3
5. Summarize the teaching of the previous verses in Proverbs and James in your own words. How would you explain it to someone else who tends to rush into saying what she thinks?
6. Sharing Question: Share the story of a time when you spoke too quickly instead of listening, with disastrous, or at least negative, results.
7. Responding to God: Spend time asking God for the grace to listen more and speak less. Think of one particular person with whom you are impatient and want to jump in and speak. Write a prayer asking God to remind you to keep your mouth shut when you interact with her or him. You may want to draw a picture of your mouth with God’s “hand” over it as a way to remember this lesson better.
day two study
Read James 1:19-20. We looked in detail at the first two of the three commands in James 1:19 yesterday.
1. What is the third command? Why are we to do this according to James 1:20?
2. Prov. 17:27 deals with the relationship between anger and words. Explain it in your own words. You may want to read it in several translations. (An easy way to do that is to go to bible.org and put Proverbs 17 in the box in the upper left side. When the chapter comes up, click on the verse number. A number of translations of that verse will come up.)
Moo explains the meaning of God’s righteousness in the context of James 1:20: “We are on firmer ground in thinking that James uses the phrase ‘produce righteousness’ with the meaning it normally has in the Bible: do what God requires of his people. . . . James’s very simple point is that human anger does not produce behavior that is pleasing to God.”11
3. Read these cross-references on anger and write down your insights:
a. Ecc. 7:9
b. Prov. 16:32
c. Prov. 29:22
Hiebert helps us understand anger:
Human anger is an instinctive reaction against that which is evil and injurious. The feeling of anger is not always wrong (cf. Mark 3:5). The individual who is never aroused and deeply stirred at evil is gravely deficient in moral character. James’ words do not forbid all anger, but this instinctive feeling needs careful control lest it blaze forth in unjustified and injurious reactions. The attitude of Scripture is consistently negative toward the indulgence in human wrath.12
4. Read Eph. 4:25-27. What are the boundaries given here for righteous anger? From Hiebert’s comments above, how would you describe righteous anger in contrast with most of our anger?
Stronger Jeans (optional): Find other cross-references on anger or wrath. Write down any additional insights that you gain. (You can pull up all cross-references that use a particular English word from the NET Bible at bible.org. Go to the reference—in this case James 1:20. Highlight the word that you want to reference and it will take you to other verses that use that word.)
5. Sharing Question: Share with your group the story of a time when your anger did not accomplish God’s righteousness or when justified anger turned into sinful anger because your behavior did not reflect God or perhaps because you let it simmer!
6. Responding to God: Are you angry with someone right now? Is there a person who seems to anger you every time you interact with her/him? Is it all about you or is there really a righteous anger involved? Talk to God about becoming a person who reflects His forgiveness and patience even when there is justification. Write down your response to Him.
day three study
Read James 1:19-21.
1. What is the condition, according to James 1:21, for God’s word to truly come into our hearts? Why would failure to do this hinder God’s word working in your life?
Vaughn explains the phrase “put away” (NET), “get rid of” (NIV), “putting aside” (NASB) or “lay aside” (NKJV): “The tense of the Greek word suggests a single and decisive act. The figure is that of stripping off and casting aside a dirty garment.”13
2. Other authors use this picture of taking off something that is inconsistent with our faith. Read these verses and compare them with James 1:21:
a. Col. 3:8
b. Heb. 12:1
c. I Peter 2:1
3. What is the result of receiving, accepting, or welcoming God’s message (1:21)?
This is not the salvation that some of us normally think of—the one-time turning to Jesus in faith to forgive us and bring us into a relationship with God. There are actually three tenses of salvation: past tense, meaning that at that one time we were saved from the penalty of our sins; present tense, meaning that we are being saved from the power of sin as we depend upon God day by day; and future tense, meaning that we will someday be saved from the presence of sin when we live in the very presence of God. James 1:21 seems to be dealing with the present sense of that salvation. As we welcome that word in our hearts, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. God is using His word to work in us.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Study Psalm 119, which speaks of the work of the word in our lives. Which verses speak to you today?
4. Sharing Question: Relate about a time in your life when your heart was hardened to what God was saying in His word. You did not welcome or accept it. What happened to change that? How did God work to soften your heart?
5. Responding to God question: I like the way that the NET Bible puts it in 1:21—“humbly welcome the message implanted within you.” Honestly consider these questions before God: Do you accept God’s word that way? As you come to your daily study time, do you humbly welcome what God is saying to you? Or do you dread it because you feel guilty because you don’t want to hear it? Write down your thoughts.
day four study
Read James 1:21-25. Your memory verse for this week is in this passage. If you haven’t already memorized it, work on it today. Use the cards that you received with your lesson and carry them with you each week. But be sure you review the previous weeks’ verses as well. I have found that I lose what I memorize if I don’t continue reviewing.
1. What two responses to God’s word are contrasted here?
2. What is James’ illustration in 1:23-24 and how does it help you understand your two possible responses to God’s word?
3. God’s people have always been in danger of forgetting. Read these passages and write down your thoughts:
a. Ex. 13:3
b. Num. 15:39
c. Deut. 6:10-12
4. Read Jer. 2:32; 3:19-20. What do you learn here about God’s feelings for His people Israel? Describe God’s feelings when His people forgot Him.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Based upon your previous Bible study, what biblical characters forgot God and/or His blessings? What happened as a result?
5. Sharing Question: How have you been guilty of forgetting your God and His blessings? Give specifics.
6. Responding to God question: Consider the hurt that God has felt over your forgetfulness of Him and His blessings in your life. Write a prayer of confession, asking for the forgiveness that He promises and longs to give!
day five study
Read James 1:19-27. It’s good to review the entire paragraph here at the end of the week and remember all that you have studied.
Focus on 1:26-27.
1. In what specific way can we be deceived, according to these verses?
2. We see “Blue Jean Faith” in these verses. James gives us some specific ways that faith acts practically. List them.
3. Read Is. 1:10-17 and write down how it helps explain James 1:27.
4. Sharing Question: If you are a widow or an orphan, explain how Ps. 68:5 makes you feel. If you are not in those categories, consider how you can “care for orphans and widows in their misfortune” in one specific way this week. Share with your group what you did.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Read the story of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:1-24. How does it confirm what we have seen about God’s heart for widows?
5. Responding to God: Write down your prayer or poem of response to God for speaking to you this week through His word. Thank Him for the power it has when you welcome it into your heart.
Nancy shares her story of actually living out God’s message instead of seeing it and hardening her heart against it.
I was in college, a new Christian, and always in a hurry when I got behind the wheel of my car. I wanted to get where I was going as quickly as possible. I knew the posted speed limit, but consistently chose to ignore it when it suited me to do so. When there was little traffic around me or when driving on a highway outside of town, I consistently chose to travel over the posted speed limit. During a 6 month period of time I was pulled over 3 times and given speeding tickets. I’ll never forget the third occasion when I was driving from Austin to Houston and saw the police car lights flashing in my rearview mirror. My heart sank. When the police officer stood beside my car talking to me, it was as if Jesus Himself was standing there. I felt so humbled before that officer and before God. God used that officer to convict me of my defiant attitude. God was showing me that I had a heart problem before Him, and I was in complete agreement with Him. The verses in Romans taught me that those in authority over me were placed there by God and for my good.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.
My defiance of the traffic laws was defiance of God Himself. I felt terrible and yet I felt relieved, too. I told God that day that I was through with my defiant attitude. In His grace and mercy He protected me from an accident during that time where I could have caused harm to myself and to others. I praise Him for loving me enough to remove me from that dangerous place of defiance.
11 Moo, 84.
12 Hiebert, 126.
13 Vaughn, 37.