James Series: Evidences of True Saving Faith Pt. 1 (1:22-25)

November 16, 2019

 

 

Evidences of True Saving Faith Pt. 1

 

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 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. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22-25 (NET)

 

 

What are evidences of true saving faith?

 

One of James’ major themes of the book is genuine faith. The Jewish Christians James wrote to were being scattered by persecution, and trials tend to show what is truly in someone’s heart. Some were accusing God of evil (Jam 1:13) and beginning to follow the world (4:4); others were fighting with one another and some had even murdered (Jam 4:1-2). No doubt, because of this, throughout the letter, he shines a light on what true faith looks like. He does that particularly in James 1:22-27, as he twice mentions the possibility of being deceived about one’s faith. In James 1:22, James says, “be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” Then, he says something similar in 1:26, “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.”

 

As mentioned previously, James seems to be patterning his message after Christ’s in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s virtually a practical commentary on Christ’s teachings, as there are at least twenty-one parallel passages.[1]  This is also true in considering people being deceived about their faith. In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus said,

 

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers’

 

With these professed believers, who knew the Lord and served in the church, Christ said that he never knew them. Though serving in the church, they were never truly saved. They were deceived about the reality of their faith.

 

Because of this reality, other New Testament authors challenge believers in local churches to test their faith. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul said, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!” Likewise, John wrote a whole letter with tests of true faith. In 1 John 5:13, he said, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

 

Like Christ, and his other apostles, James challenges these scattered Jewish believers to be sure about their faith, and he gives them tests to do so. As we consider James 1:21-25 (and eventually verses 26-27), we will consider evidences of true saving faith. None of us will model these perfectly, but, if we are saved, they should be resident in our lives to some extent. And, we should continually be seeking to grow in them.

 

Big Question: What evidences of true saving faith can be found in James 1:21-25?

 

Those with True Faith Diligently Study God’s Word and Persevere in Doing So

 

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 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. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22-25

 

In describing a person who has true faith and one who is deceived, James gives an illustration of two people listening to God’s Word. Both of them are described as looking into a mirror. The Bible is a mirror because when we study it, it reveals who we are (and the character of the world around us). Hebrews 4:12 says it reveals our thoughts and attitudes. Not only does it reveal when we have wrong or right thoughts but also wrong or right actions.

 

Both of these individuals look into the mirror of God’s Word but not in the same way. James says the first person “gazes” at himself in the mirror (v. 23, 24). The word “gazes” has the sense of giving “careful scrutiny.”[2] This wasn’t a quick glance. Ancient mirrors were made of metal. Glass mirrors weren’t made until the fourteen-century.[3] Therefore, to see one’s appearance, a person had to consider oneself at the right angle and lighting to get a fair view of oneself. The person had to look with scrutiny.

 

As mentioned, the second person’s look at the mirror is different than the first. In James 1:25, James said that this person “peers” at the mirror and “fixes his attention there” (v. 25). The Greek word “peers” is a stronger verb than the one used for “gazes.”[4] It was used of a person bending over to look at and study something.[5] It is used of John and Mary when they bent over to look into Christ’s tomb (John 20:5, 11)—trying to figure out where he was and what happened. They were studying the scene. It is used of how angels try to understand the matters of the gospel (1 Pet 1:12). Since angels have never experienced grace (unmerited favor) and know only of God’s justice in how he judged the fallen angels, they peer in trying to understand something they’ve never experienced. Not only does the second person “peer”—bending over to study God’s Word—but he also “fixes his attention there”—meaning, he continues to study it. Both the deceived believer and the true believer listen to God’s Word—they are both sitting in the crowd on Sunday. But, the true believer listens to it and studies it in a deeper way.

 

When rabbis, like Christ, taught in ancient times, many people listened. But there were certain people who listened in a deeper manner than the rest of the crowds, and they were disciples. They wanted to not only understand, but also to follow and teach the words. A good illustration of the disciple and ancient listener might be comparing them to a student and an auditor in a college class. A student is responsible for homework, projects, and tests, but the auditor is not. Because of the students’ responsibility, there is often a deeper listening than that of an auditor.

 

In church every Sunday, there are students who are true disciples and also listeners, who are often deceived—the difference between them is discerned by their commitment to the Word taught. True believers are committed to Scripture; they bend over to study it deeply and they continue in it. Jesus said if you “abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31 ESV). Christ was very aware that there were many listeners around him, but only those who abided in what he said were true disciples.

 

Likewise, Paul told Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 KJV). And in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul described himself and his associates as stewards of God’s Word who must be found faithful. He says, “One should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful.” Similarly, David taught one of the distinguishing factors between the wicked, who won’t be able to stand in the judgement, and the righteous, who God watches over, is how the righteous “delight” in and “meditate” on God’s Word (Ps 1). Unfortunately, many professing believers don’t delight in God’s Word and therefore never really study/meditate on it. As disciples of Christ, we should delight in God’s Word, study, it, and share it with others. Like believers before us, God has called us to be faithful stewards of his message.

 

Application Question: What are some practical ways to study God’s Word?

 

It has been said that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss, 80% of what we personally experience, and 95% of what we teach.[6] Therefore, to truly study God’s Word, we must approach it in various ways to truly hide it in our hearts.

 

  1. We must read it.

  2. We must listen to it.

  3. We must meditate on it.

  4. We must memorize it.

  5. We must discuss it.

  6. We must teach it.

 

The more ways we study Scripture, the better it will be hid in our hearts. We must study it telescopically to learn the big picture of the Bible and how things fit together (continually reading through the whole Bible). We must study the Bible microscopically—seeking to understand various passages, Bible books, and doctrines, as we meditate on and research them. Studying includes using various tools to help us better understand Scripture, including using a study Bible (which briefly introduces books of the Bible, explains passages, provides cross-references, etc.), commentaries (which explain specific passages and books in the Bible), systematic theologies (which help us learn what the Bible teaches on various topics like Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.). God has chosen to help us grow through pastors and teachers (cf. Eph 4:10-16), and Bible study aids are written forms of their teachings.

 

The Necessity of Continuing in Scripture

 

Another aspect that we should briefly emphasize is how James says true believers not only bend over to study but also “fix” their eyes there (v. 25)—they persevere in studying God’s Word. This is an important distinction. Certainly, there are many in the church who once diligently studied Scripture (maybe even attending seminary or pastored) but then began to doubt its validity—it’s truthfulness; therefore, leading them to stop studying God’s Word and eventually even falling away from God altogether. Their problem was not that they didn’t peer into Scripture—bending over to deeply study— it’s that they didn’t fix their attention there. They didn’t persevere in it, which is part of James’ proof of true faith. Some who studied, eventually became confused and asked, “Can anyone ever truly understand Scripture, and does it really matter if we understand?” This led them to slowly stop fixing their attention on Scripture—opening the door to false teaching, worldliness, and for some even apostasy. Those with true faith both peer at Scripture to deeply study it and fix their eyes there.

 

Are you still bending over and fixing your eyes on Scripture? Are you still living in God’s Word? This is one of the factors James uses to distinguish the truly born-again believer and the one who is deceived about his faith.

 

Application Question: How did salvation change your relationship to God’s Word? How would you describe your relationship with God’s Word currently 1-10 and why? What methods of studying Scripture have you found most helpful and why? How is God calling you to grow in your study of Scripture? How have you seen or experienced those who once peered into Scripture and seemingly fixed their eyes on it, but eventually fell away from it and God?

 

Those with True Faith Obey God’s Word

 

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves… But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22, 25

 

Not only is there a difference in how the deceived person and true believer listen to God’s Word, but the major difference is in what they do with it. In James’ illustration, the one with only a profession looks into the mirror of God’s Word, sees the reflection, and walks away (v. 23-24). He is a forgetful hearer. However, the true believer studies God’s Word and obeys it (v. 22, 25).

 

James is not the only one to give obedience as a test of salvation. As mentioned, Christ and John did as well. In Matthew 7:21, Christ said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Likewise, in 1 John 2:4-5, John said:

 

The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him.

 

Obedience to Scripture is the ultimate proof of salvation. Being a forgetful hearer is a characteristic of the deceived.

 

Interpretation Question: Why does the person with only a profession forget God’s Word?

 

1. This person forgets God’s Word because it’s not a priority.

 

When James calls the person a forgetful hearer, in reality, he probably is not focusing on this person’s mental disposition. It’s probably more of a problem with the person’s priorities. It’s not that this person forgot that God forbids the practice of sexual immorality, lying, stealing, cheating, seeking vengeance, drunkenness, or using ungodly language. This person knows the truth but has other priorities—things that are more important to him. Being accepted by friends is more important, having fun, being successful, even if that means cheating at times. There are many idols in this person’s life that keep him from obedience. Certainly, he wants God to deliver him from hell and to bless his endeavors, but this person has other things that come before God—other priorities, which make him neglect what God’s Word teaches. Again, if this person doesn’t live a life characterized by obedience to Scripture, then he is deceived.

 

2. This person possibly forgets God’s Word because of accepting false doctrine.

 

For some, not obeying God’s Word is not so much a priority problem; it’s a false doctrine problem. Because they don’t want to accept the hard teachings of Scripture, especially on sin, they adopt liberal views. Maybe, they’ll say, “Scripture can be trusted when it comes to salvation, but you can’t trust what it says about marriage, sexual ethics, gender roles, miracles, etc.” Sometimes bad behavior comes from accepting false doctrine, and sometimes false doctrine comes from accepting bad behavior. Therefore, these professing believers adopt views that contradict crucial doctrines in God’s Word. It seems that the Corinthians were trying to adopt sexual immorality, saying the body didn’t matter to God as it was temporary. Sex was like eating food—a natural tendency to be enjoyed without hindrance. In 1 Corinthians 6:13, they said, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both.” However, Paul rebuked them by saying, “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Many in the church do the same. They twist Scripture so they can practice sin or accept others who are practicing it. This is dangerous. In John 10, Christ taught that his sheep hear his voice, and they will not follow the voice of another. Understanding and following Scripture is a proof or salvation. Therefore, turning from Scripture by twisting major doctrines—such as the need to repent of sin and practice righteousness—maybe proof that one is not truly part of God’s sheepfold. They are forgetful hearers because they reject what Scripture teaches—again potentially proving they are not truly born again.

 

3. This person probably forgets God’s Word because of lack of study.

 

The secret to learning (which is necessary for obeying) is study, including repetition. Since this person doesn’t prioritize God’s Word, as mentioned, he doesn’t study it deeply. If people only hear a message on Sunday and don’t revisit its truth, they will forget it and ultimately not obey it. Likewise, if people simply read Scripture and don’t meditate on it, most of what was learned will be forgotten. Unfortunately, many in the church simply listen on Sunday (and potentially read occasionally throughout the week) without any intention to study. Therefore, the message is lost and not obeyed. This goes back to first point about true faith. There is a difference in the diligence of the true believer and the one who is deceived. This is a reminder to be serious about God’s Word and to study it. Repetition is crucial for learning and therefore obedience. Otherwise, we will simply forget what God taught us.

 

The one deceived about his faith is a forgetful hearer—probably for many reasons. They don’t prioritize it, they may have accepted some false doctrine, which leads them to disregard Scriptures’ teachings, or again, they just don’t study, and therefore forget.

 

On the other hand, true believers hear God’s Word and submit to it—they don’t try to change it to fit their preferences or fit the culture, and they don’t dismiss it for other priorities. When Christ spoke to those considering becoming his disciples, he said they must hate their father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even their own life to be his disciple (Lk 14:25-33). For true believers, God and obedience to him are the priority. This doesn’t mean that idols don’t at times creep up in their lives, that they don’t fall into sin, or at times fall into false doctrine. They do. But, like Peter, after their stumble, they eventually come back to God. The righteous fall seven times and get back up (Prov 24:16). Judas, on the other hand, was deceived about his faith. He listened, taught, and served, but he didn’t obey. He lived a lifestyle of unrepentant sin—stealing people’s money and eventually denying Christ altogether. Christ said he was never saved—he was a devil (John 6:70). He listened to God’s Word and knew it better than most, but it never changed him. He was a forgetful hearer and was deceived.

 

While the professor forgets, the true believers obeys God’s Word, which James calls, the “perfect law of liberty” (v. 25).

 

Interpretation Question: What does the title “perfect law of liberty” say about God’s Word?

 

1. In being “perfect,” Scripture is without error. It is inerrant in what it teaches about history, science, and faith. Therefore, it is trustworthy. In Psalm 19:7-9, David said God’s Word was perfect, reliable, fair, pure, right, and absolutely just. We can trust what it says about how to be saved, ethics, parenting, conflict resolution, work, leadership, etc. It is absolutely perfect and trustworthy.

 

2. In being God’s “law,” Scripture teaches God’s moral requirements. Yes, it is full of doctrine—teaching. But it also clearly tells us what we should and should not do. Over half of James is imperatives, commands, where God is challenging us on right living.[7]

 

3. Finally, as the law of “liberty,” Scripture gives us freedom. Christ said he who sins is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and also that the truth shall set us free (John 8:32). Though sin feels like freedom, it is really bondage. It keeps us away from right relationships with God, others, and ourselves. It keeps us away from fulfilling God’s call on our lives. However, God’s Word, as we obey it, sets us free from sin. It helps us have right relationships with God and others. It sets us free to be all God has called us to be and to do all God has called us to do. Our ability to complete our God-given callings is connected to God’s Word. His Word truly gives us freedom.

 

In addition, James says that a person who looks into the perfect law of liberty and obeys it will be “blessed in what he does” (1:25).

 

Interpretation Question: In what ways does obedience to God’s Word lead to blessing?

 

Other than receiving “freedom,” there are many other blessings:

 

1. God blesses the obedient by giving them more understanding of God’s Word.

 

In Mark 4:24-25, Christ said this to the disciples about their hearing and obeying of God’s Word:

 

And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you. For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

 

If we hear God’s Word and faithfully obey it, God will give us more. He will unlock further truths for us. However, if we hear and don’t obey, even what we have will be taken away. To be taken away, means we will continually forget what we’ve learned (Heb 5:11-12 NIV) and eventually our hearts will become hardened towards God’s Word, as we continue to disobey it. We will start to lose the ability to understand and obey it. That’s how Christ described Israel in Matthew 13:14-15. He said:

 

‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend. For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

 

Since they continually heard God’s Word, as the people of God, but did not obey, their hearts became “dull,” as prophesied by Isaiah (Matt 13:15). They would continually “listen” but never “understand” or “comprehend” the truth (Matt 13:14). In fact, Christ’s giving the Israelites parables, instead of clear teaching, was part of this taking away. The context of the passage is Christ answering his disciples’ question about why he was speaking in parables (Matt 13:10-11). After Israel and the Pharisees rejected Christ—declaring that he worked miracles by the power of Satan, blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:22-45)—he began to give them stories, which at times, weren’t even explained, instead of clear teaching. One has to wonder if that is what has happened to the modern-day church. Clear exposition of Scripture is very rare. Most sermons are a text, unexplained, with a bunch of stories linked to it, and some light, moral encouragement. No doubt, the contemporary church is experiencing a taking away and a hardening of the heart, as they continue to reject God’s Word.

 

For those who hear and disobey God’s Word, it hardens their hearts—making them more vulnerable to false teaching, sin, and fully turning away from God. It’s often been said that “The same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay.” God’s Word is powerful, it will never return void (Is 55:11). It hardens some—making it more difficult to accept truth—and softens others—preparing them to receive more of God’s Word.

 

2. God blesses the obedient with favor over various areas of their life.

 

God said this to Joshua when he was called to be the military leader of Israel, “This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Josh 1:8). Joshua’s success as a military general was tied to his faithfulness to God’s Word. This is also true for us. No doubt, there are both failures and successes in the places God has called us to—marriage, parenting, the workplace, school, and ministry—that are often attached to what we are doing with God’s Word. Diligent study and obedience leads to blessing, while lack of study and disobedience lead to failure. With Joshua and Israel, when Achan and his family disobeyed God, it affected the whole nation, as they were defeated by a small army (Josh 7).

 

If God’s words to Joshua were not enough, David taught the same thing in Psalm 1:2-3. For those who “delight” in and “meditate” on God’s Word, God makes them like trees—referring to how they will be a blessing to others, instead of living selfish lives. They will bear fruit in season—love, patience, mercy, wisdom, among other graces, when needed. Their leaves will not wither—representing their endurance in the hard seasons of life. Everything they do prospers. It’s an amazing promise to those who abide in (and obey) God’s Word.

 

Since the promises are so good and the consequences so bad, we must ask ourselves, “Are we studying and obeying God’s Word or just listening?” Study and obedience to God’s Word is proof of true faith, and they are pathways to blessing. Not studying God’s Word and not obeying it, leads to deception and a hardened heart.

 

Application Question: Of the three reasons listed for becoming forgetful hearers, which one stood out most to you and why? How have you experienced God’s blessing when faithfully studying and obeying God’s Word—including fruits of the Spirit, favor over certain situations, and more understanding? How have seen or experienced a hardening of the heart for a lack of obedience to God’s Word?

 

Conclusion

 

Christ, at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, gave the same challenge as James. After sharing how some would be deceived about their faith in following him (Matt 7:21-23), he described the deceived and true follower by way of illustration. Instead of two people looking in a mirror, Christ described them as two different types of builders who were listening to his words (Matt 7:24-27). Some would simply listen and not obey—building their house on the sand. Others would hear, diligently consider those words as a roadmap for building, and follow the instructions—building their house on the rock. When the storms of life and ultimately God’s judgment came, only the house built on the rock would stand, while the house on the sand would be destroyed. Those who build their house on God’s Word are truly born again. Those who simply listen are deceived about their faith.

 

In referring to how we listen to his words, Christ would ask, “What are you building the house of your life on?” Likewise, James would question, “What are you doing with what you see in the mirror?” Our answers tell us something about the authenticity of our faith.

 

  1. Those with True Faith Diligently Study God’s Word and Persevere in Doing So

  2. Those with True Faith Obey God’s Word

 

 

Prayer Prompts

 

  • Pray for grace to diligently study God’s Word and for God to reveal wonderful things from his law.

  • Pray for grace to persevere in studying God’s Word, even when tempted not to.

  • Pray for grace to grow in obedience to God’s Word and to turn away from sin.

  • Pray these for others.

 

 

 

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 2). Chicago: Moody Press.

 

[2] Guzik, D. (2013). James (Jas 1:22–25). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

 

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 84). Chicago: Moody Press.

 

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 85). Chicago: Moody Press.

 

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 85). Chicago: Moody Press.

 

[6] Accessed 11/10/2019 from http://www.uh.edu/~dsocs3/wisdom/wisdom/we_remember.pdf

 

[7] Richardson, K. A. (1997). James (Vol. 36, p. 24). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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