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James 1:18

James 1:16-18 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. — KJV

James 1:16-18 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. — NIV

James 1:16-18 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:18 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
boulomai [1014] be willing, intend apokueo [0616] breed, generate, beget, produce hemas [2248] us, our, we logos [3056] word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ aletheia [0225] true, truth, truly, verity eis [1519] to, into… (prep. expressing motion) ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) einai [1511] to exist (am, is, was, be…) hemas [2248] us, our, we aparche [0536] first-fruit, a beginning of sacrifice tis [5100] anyone, anything, someone, something, somewhat ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) ktisma [2938] an original formation (creation: product or creature)

1.18.0 Introduction to James 1:18

This verse expresses the idea Christians are newly created, regenerated beings. It says that our new nature is the result of the action of the “word of truth” for the divine purpose of being a “kind of first-fruit” among all of creation. This statement implies what Paul says clearly in Eph 2:8-10, namely that regeneration is something accomplished by Christ (the word of truth) and not by ourselves and it is done for his purpose, not ours. It seems to me we have a divine purpose in our existence and to do anything other than fulfill that purpose with the gifts he’s given us seems like an insult to him.

1.18.1 What does James mean by “brought forth?”

Gen 1:24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. God initially brought forth everything in creation in the first chapter of Genesis.

The words of the Greek phrase have nearly identical meaning to the phrase in Gen 1:24. In each case the words used generally refer to birth, but in each of these cases they can and do also mean the act of creation. Birth, after all, is a step in the creative (or procreative) process. Just as God created the world and all the living things in it, He created each of us as individual human souls and recreates (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 5:16) us through the act and process of being born again (Jn 3:3).

1.18.2 What is “born again”?

Jn 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” From the beginning of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus took charge of the conversation. He began with this statement to Nicodemus. Jesus didn’t use this language with most others he encountered. Using this language with Nicodemus was appropriate because he was a student of the scriptures. He would have understood the many references to repentance and renewal of heart.

Question 1.15.5 asked if birth was the start of life, but the scriptures dealing with birth had more to do with entering a system of living rather than the actual start of existence. It seems logical, then, that to be born again really means that you start living live under a new system.

Ez 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. God cares about the condition of the heart above all else. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he needed to experience a radical heart change.

Lk 13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. The word repent literally means to change. Jesus did not use the phrase “born again” here, but the meaning appears to be very much the same.

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come. Indeed, to be born again implies an end to a previous life. It is a change of heart, a change of mind, a completely regenerated being. There is no room for the old.

1 Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God of our Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter also writes about being born again. The important point in this verse is “…he has caused…”. Man cannot cause rebirth, but can only experience it. It is a gift (Ro 3:24), something we cannot earn (Eph 2:8-9). As Peter says, Blessed be God.

1.18.3 How do we go about becoming born again?

In the realm of pop-Christianity the “Roman Road” is frequently used in personal evangelism. The goal of this technique is to illicit a confession of sin, faith, and prayer for forgiveness. While the steps of realizing one’s sin, admitting our inability to overcome it on our own and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice in faith are necessary steps, they are only the beginning. A new and changed life is required.

Salvation isn’t an equation with a fixed number of steps to be carried out to a logical end. That’s why there are so many books in the bible written by so many authors. Each book tells a story and most include examples how salvation is sought and discovered, or missed.

Entering into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ isn’t a light decision. The next few questions should perhaps be considered before advancing to a more proper answer of this one. We shall return to this question a bit later in the study…

1.18.4 Why would you want to be born again?

Rev 21:3-4 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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” There will no longer be separation between man and God. God will live with man and there will be no more tears, no more death, no more pain. All the crap will be gone. Not only does life continue into eternity, but it will be the life described in this passage. This is prize Paul spoke of (1 Cor 9:24, Phil 3:14), the hope of the Glory of God (Ro 5:2).

1.18.5 Why wouldn’t you want to be born again?

Rev 20:13-15 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Anyone who wants to join Satan, the false prophet and the beast in the lake of fire (Rev 19:20), might not want to be born again. Anyone else who doesn’t want to be born again simply doesn’t understand or refuses to believe the implications of that decision.

1.18.6 Is it God’s will for all to be born again?

1 Tim 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Either he’s the savior of all people or he isn’t. Or, just maybe, this passage doesn’t really mean what we tend to think it means by only a casual reading. Let’s examine a few more references for clarification.

Heb 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him Regardless of what happens to those who don’t obey him, we have the promise of eternal salvation to those who do obey him.

Mt 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Jesus will save his people, but what about those who aren’t his?

1 Cor 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. The man Paul is speaking of is a member of the Corinthian church. This member, supposedly a born again man, is living in heinous sin. Paul is advising the other members to throw him out. Paul goes on to say that Satan will destroy the man’s flesh, but Jesus would still save his soul. The grace of our Lord exceeds understanding and exists out of or in spite of linear time. Even so, this is not an argument for Jesus saving all.

Jn 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 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. Apparently it is possible to miss out on eternal salvation after all. Clearly not all will be saved (Rev 20:15).

As to reconciling 1 Tim 4:10 with Jn 3:5, I have a theory. In context one has to realize Paul was writing to Timothy, a fellow preacher. More specifically, examine the balance of 1 Tim 4 and in particular verse 6 where Paul makes it clear he’s addressing issues within the church. It stands to reason, then, that Paul’s use of the word “all” in verse 10 can justifiably be restricted to mean all within the church body.

1.18.7 How do you know if you’re born again?

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. I believe the concept of being born again is profound in both its simplicity and its complexity. Fundamentally it means you are living a new life. That new life necessarily includes spiritual regeneration with a desire and active effort toward obedience to Jesus. The passage from Gal 5:22-24 illustrates such an example.

1.18.8 What are the responsibilities of being born again?

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. God is holy (Rev 4:8). We are called to be holy (Lev 11:45) because we are to follow Christ (Lk 9:23).

1.18.9 What must we do to become born again?

Isa 55:1-3 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Just as a mother gives bodily birth to a new child, so the Spirit breathes life into our spirits, bringing them alive for the first time. Birth is only the start of a system of living. Follow Jesus. Listen to his words and hear him well so that you can do as he instructs and you will be living in the new system and thus born again.

I would like to mention a variable collection of passages commonly called the “Roman Road.” While I don’t have a problem with any of those verses – they are all part of scripture, after all – boiling the Gospel message down to a formula isn’t the technique Jesus used. He speaks to individual hearts with individual messages. The heart changes and the behavior with it. If either changes alone then both are empty, assuming either could change without the other. People often think Paul and James say opposing things on this and that’s just not true. They merely focus on different sides of the same coin. Jesus spoke to the heart and the positive results were seen in the form of action resulting from the changed heart.

1.18.10 What is the “Word of Truth?”

Jn 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Jesus established himself as Truth.

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God spoke light into existence.

Jn 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jesus is the Word John spoke of. If all was created by and through Jesus, then it was Jesus who did the “leg work” of speaking light into existence. Jesus is both the Word and the Truth. Since we have long since established Jesus does not lie, he is therefore the Word of Truth.

1.18.11 What is “Firstfruit?”

Lev 23:10-11 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. First fruit is literally the first of the harvest. Being first usually symbolizes best and always means specifically chosen.

Ro 8:23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. This passage speaks of spiritual firstfruits. Here it speaks of what we receive, which is the chosen best of God.

The Greek aparche is found six times in the New Testament. According to Strong’s concordance it literally means to be of the first productions of the earth offered to God. The first portion of dough used for the consecrated loaves. This term was therefore used to describe persons consecrated to God for all time. Another definition being a person superior to others of the same class.

As used in James, firstfruits appears to indicate that we, either as humans or more specifically as the elect of Christ, are above non-human life and/or unsaved people. Though less obvious, James could also be implying that as those people chosen to live in the infancy of church age these believers were literally among the first to receive the good news and become born again. Traditional interpretation holds that believers are to receive a good and special position in the Kingdom of Heaven. While possibly true, it seems somewhat pompous to me to judge ourselves better than others for our faith. That is the Lord’s decision, not ours. As for me, I am a poor excuse for a believer and unworthy to be of any of the Lord’s fruit. If I were to be granted any position in His kingdom it would be an act of the purest grace and mercy.

1.18.12 What is the Feast of Firstfruits about?

Lev 23:9-14 (Feast of Firstfruit) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

Lev 23:15-21 (Feast of Weeks) “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. Moses was given this feast as one of the annual feasts for the Jews. In fact, this whole passage covers what are called the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks. Both involve firstfruits and so we shall look at them together. All of the feasts are generally viewed as symbolic of future events, ultimately to be fulfilled by Jesus.

Ac 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Those gathered were doing so in obedience to the Lord. They were among the very first dedicated believers. We don’t know for sure, but I suspect the days and hours leading up to this included prayer and fasting. Certainly Jesus’ ministry began with prayer and fasting. Either way, this would have been a period of mental, physical and spiritual purification. These believers were the firstfruits of believers. Jesus being first was used in pure form (unleavened). Notice that later, in the Feast of Weeks, a period of 50 days was to pass (seven weeks plus a day). Then came an offering of new grain, but this time baked with leaven. Leaven is symbolic of sin. These new offerings were to include sin. With the sin, however, once again comes the unblemished lamb. It seems the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to erase the sin of the believer. They are made holy.

1.18.13 Summary James 1:16-18

This passage begins with a firm yet loving warning to wake up, be alert, and not be fooled. We learned that deception is a kind of lie, that God does not lie, but people do. Satan is the original liar and Jesus calls him the father of lies. James reminds us of the unchanging perfection of God and the goodness of all that comes from God. We may not always perceive the good, but that doesn’t make it anything less. God is not only perfect, but unchanging. There is no hint of shadow, no room for wavering. We know it is the will of God, not our will, which brings us forward as firstfruits. Truly we are but invited guests in the Kingdom, yet we are welcomed as dear children, family of our holy and merciful Lord.