James 1:17–27 17Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, who does not change or shift like a shadow. 18Just as he planned, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creations.
19Remember this, my dear brothers: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. 20Certainly, a man’s anger does not bring about what is right before God. 21So after getting rid of all moral filthiness and overflowing wickedness, receive with humility the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls.
22Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it. Such people are deceiving themselves. 23In fact, if anyone hears the word and does not do what it says, he is like a man who carefully looks at his own natural face in a mirror. 24Indeed, he carefully looks at himself; then, he goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. 25But the one who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continues to do so—since he does not hear and forget but actually does what it says—that person will be blessed in what he does.
26If anyone considers himself to be religious but deceives his own heart because he does not bridle his tongue, this person’s religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. All who do his precepts have good understanding. (Ps 111:10, EHV)
A few years ago, Joe Bieger, a Texas football coach mysteriously vanished one morning. Joe went outside to walk his dogs and promptly forgot who he was.
Joe had a small stroke which caused a psychogenic fugue, an extremely rare form of amnesia, which left him unable to remember his name, recall his family, or recollect what he did for a living. Joe had lost the ability to recall where he lived. It was this last part, being unable to find his residence, which caused him the greatest difficulty.
Family, friends, neighbors, all were searching for him. His high school football team was so distraught that it canceled its season.
For 25 days, Joe wandered the streets of Dallas until, finally, a contractor who was building a new house for Joe and his wife, happened to recognize him. By that point, Joe had somehow made his way to a suburb about 20 miles from his Dallas home, holes worn in the rubber soles of his canvas shoes. He had lost 25 pounds and gained a full white beard that covered the normally clean-shaven educator’s face.
The doctors say that Joe Bieger’s condition is a rare one, but I wonder.
Yes, having physical amnesia may be rare, but spiritual amnesia is quite common. As Christians, we often forget who we are.
We are driven to despair, doubt and fear because we forget God’s promises of grace and the love of the Lord who sent His Son to seek and save us from our sins.
We live and act as hypocrites because we forget that Christ put His name and seal on us at our baptism. So, we honor God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6).
We appear clean and tidy and all “Christian-like” on the outside, but we forget the kettle of corruption that is cooking in our hearts. These are sinful hearts that will never be converted in this lifetime. Our hearts restlessly seek to dominate our thinking and values. Our heart will never submit to God. Jesus says this about our hearts: “In fact, from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual sins, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and make a person unclean” (Mark 7:21-23).
James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, hated hypocrisy in people’s worship and in their professed religion. We should be doers of God’s Word, not just hearers of the Word. James relates how silly it is for a Christian to forget who he or she is by not living like a Christian. It is as ridiculous as a person looking into the mirror and immediately forgetting who they are.
“Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it. Such people are deceiving themselves. In fact, if anyone hears the word and does not do what it says, he is like a man who carefully looks at his own natural face in a mirror. Indeed, he carefully looks at himself; then, he goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. But the one who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continues to do so—since he does not hear and forget but actually does what it says—that person will be blessed in what he does.”
We often suffer from self-inflicted spiritual amnesia. We forget who we are.
We suffer from this self-inflicted spiritual amnesia because we do not look into the perfect Law of God’s Word. We look at our lives and think we must look pretty good. We are good parents, and even better grandparents. We take care of our neighbors. We set aside money to help the poor and hurting. We pray once in a while, open our Bible on occasion, and show up in church a few times a month. We look pretty good as Christians.
We look “pretty good” because we aren’t honestly looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law and seeing that God does not demand “pretty good” from us. He demands perfection.
There, in the Law of the Bible, we discover that we are often slow to listen, quick to speak, and abruptly become angry. Instead of getting rid of all moral filthiness and wickedness, we wallow in the filth and swim in the wickedness. We live in pride. Our tongue is like an unbridled wild horse bucking and kicking at others with our words. We have no interest in caring for the orphans and widows in society.
Our problem is that we don’t look into the mirror of God’s Law that shows us our sins. So, we forget who we are.
That’s why God’s Word is so vital in our sermons, Bible studies, classrooms, home devotions, and worship services. With some of the first words we said in church this morning, we were reminded who we are. We confessed: “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity. But I am truly sorry for my sins, and trusting in my Savior Jesus Christ, I pray: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Once we are reminded who we were born as in the womb, then we can be reminded who we were reborn to be in our baptism. We look first into the mirror of God’s Law. That’s when we see a sinner staring back at us. Then we look into the mirror of the Gospel. There we see Jesus looking back at us.
James recounts the blessed promises that God gives to us through Jesus. “Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, who does not change or shift like a shadow. Just as he planned, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creations.”
Every gift from God is good and perfect, but His greatest gift is salvation through His Son. This future salvation is our present reality because it comes from God the Father who does not change or shift like a shadow. When the sun moves, it produces shadows that shift and change. God the Father, however, never changes. Therefore, His good giving and His perfect gift of salvation never change.
Through the word of truth about Jesus, we have been given a new birth to become firstfruits of God’s creation. There are probably lots of vegetables that are coming up in your gardens right now. We are the first of God’s bountiful crop of Christians who will be gathered into His eternal storehouse in heaven.
We look into the mirror and see Christ’s righteousness. Where we fail, Jesus always succeeded. Where we sin, Jesus remained holy. Jesus was quick to listen, slow to speak, and always able to give people the comfort and peace that they needed with His words. The only times Jesus became angry was when people blasphemed His Father or desecrated God’s temple. In His anger, He still did not sin. Jesus was able to minister to those who were filled with moral filth and wickedness, yet He confronted, called to repentance, and forgave those people for their filth and evil. He washed them clean.
Jesus applied His righteousness and holiness to cover over our unrighteous living. More than that, Jesus died on the cross to take our stopped-up ears, wild tongue, quick temper, sinful pride, selfish cheapness, and faulty religion on Himself. He paid for those sins and gave us forgiveness in return. He has washed us clean with His blood shed on the cross.
Now we can look into the mirror of the Gospel and see Jesus standing in front of us. He has covered over who we once were and recreated us into the forgiven and redeemed Christians that we are now.
Through Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness, this sweet Gospel message, with the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, we are able to be doers of the Word. God calls and empowers us to live in His righteousness instead of the world’s way of living.
Notice how James holds Christians accountable for their lives. He teaches that reborn and recreated Christians have willpower, understanding, and the ability with the Holy Spirit to change their lives. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Certainly, a man’s anger does not bring about what is right before God. So after getting rid of all moral filthiness and overflowing wickedness, receive with humility the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls.”
“Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it.” The Law of God is bad news for unrepentant sinners. That’s because we forget who we are. We suffer from spiritual amnesia. So we live and act like the rest of the unconverted world. That’s why we have to continually be looking into the perfect mirror of God’s Law. It reminds us that God demands us not to look “pretty good,” but to look pure and holy. The demands of the Law convict and condemn us.
But, for repentant Christians who are daily looking into the mirror of the Law, then the Law becomes good news. It gives clear information on how reborn and regenerated people can worship and honor their Father with delight. Obedience to God’s Law is not slavery but freedom. It becomes a “law of freedom.” “He will be blessed in what he does.” Our lives really are better when we worship God, get rid of idols, curb our tongues, listen to God’s Word and live that word daily in our lives. We humbly accept the Word planted in us.
Real faith becomes evident in real life. James gives three brief examples. Our tongue: “If anyone considers himself to be religious but deceives his own heart because he does not bridle his tongue, this person’s religion is worthless.” Caring for others: “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their affliction.” And, how we live: “Keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Don’t walk out of church this morning and immediately forget who you are. Don’t suffer from selective spiritual amnesia. Look into the mirror of God’s Law. See a sinner staring back at you. Remember who you were born as. Then, look into the mirror of God’s Gospel. See Jesus looking at you. Remember who you were reborn to be through Word and Sacrament. Then, be doers of that Word and partakers of the Sacrament. Amen.
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, EHV)