Whose Will? Whose Power?

I am grateful and thankful for how the Holy Spirit worked in Ryan’s mind in producing the fruit of his preaching to us last Sunday from Colossians 1. And I am thankful this morning for two realities of Scripture. The first is how the Lord repeats over and over to us important themes so that we might truly get them, truly understand them. Salvation is one of those themes that is repeated in God’s Word over and over. The second reality of Scripture I am very thankful for this morning is how rich God’s Word is, how compact and dense God’s Word is. Very often you can take a verse, a couple verses, and men have preached sermon after sermon on just one or two verses because there is so much in it, it is so rich.

This morning we will see both of these realities as we continue on in James 1. God in His providence and His will has brought us right back to two of the same themes that Ryan preached to us about last week. First is the idea that our salvation is not something we experience once then walk away from, but it is something that we as believers should be thinking about, thankful for, and dwelling on all the time, continually. Second, as we look at James 1:18-20 we’re going to see a great richness in what God had given us in just these three verses. 

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. 19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:18-20)

In verse 18 we see James returning to this language of birth, things being born. Two weeks ago we saw in verse 15 how sin is conceived in us and how we alone are responsible for our own sin. But here in verse 18 we see that God and God alone saves us from sin and eternal death by the power of His Word.

As we discussed two weeks ago, God has no experience with sin from the perspective of one who commits sin; God is holy and set apart from sin. But God being God knows how to deal with sin. And He deals with it in two distinct ways. He either forgives it by paying the sin debt Himself, with the precious blood of Christ, or He judges it by the counsel of His own will. No other advisor, no other motivation, other than His own will, His own desire to love us who were totally unlovely. He determined to show us love and kindness and forgiveness when we deserved none of those things. He even determined to save us before we were lost. Before even the world was created, as Ephesians 1:4 says. In His own will and in His own power God purposed and planned to save us and He carried out that plan on our behalf.

Regarding verse 18, I would like to talk to you this morning from two perspectives. First from the perspective of those of you who have not yet seen a real need to come to the Lord because you don’t feel that you need to be saved. And second I would like to talk to us from the perspective of those of us who have already been saved. How does verse 18 apply to us?

As an unbeliever, you may have grown up in church, you may have heard the Word preached faithfully, you may be even right now someone whom the Holy Spirit is at work within, prodding you to come to grips with the fact that you are a sinner. And like Adam and Eve you know you have sinned, you know you have attitudes and actions that are not in keeping with the character of God, but you have not yet been ready to own that fact. Maybe you have been busy blaming others for your sinfulness, maybe even blaming God. I am here this morning to encourage you to own up to your own sinfulness. It is not anyone else’s fault. It’s not the devil’s fault, not your mother, not your father, not your boss. There is no one who has caused you to have the attitudes and actions that are against God. They are your own sins. If you are ready to come to grips with that, only then will you be able to hear verse 18 and understand the reality of what God is able to do in your life. 

If you are a believer this morning, you have genuinely trusted Christ and repented of your sins, but perhaps this morning you are struggling with your relationship with the Lord, and maybe your relationships with other people. I encourage you this morning to think: have you been examining yourself? Have you been looking at your own attitudes and actions and evaluating them in light of the Word of God? In that evaluation, have you seen fault in others and not yourself? Have you been one who says, “Yes I’ve done these things, but it’s because…” then go on to blame other people? I would encourage you today as I encourage myself, to go to God’s Word, to go to these verses, and recognize that the same Savior who saved us initially is the same Savior who still has to deal our sins now. James says to us that in the exercise of His will, He brought forth you and I into salvation. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

It is only by believing this gospel message that we are saved, and only by believing this gospel that He continues to keep us. After we are saved it is still how we deal with our temptation, lust, and sin. When we have been carried away, enticed into sin by our own lust, we find our rescue in Christ, in His atoning blood, we find our rescue in His perfect sacrifice on the cross, we find our rescue in the power of His resurrection. His victory over sin and death is our victory over sin and death when we are in Christ. We have not only been saved, we are continually being saved as the Spirit of God does not leave us to wallow in our sin, but He convicts us by the word of truth. 

Has the Holy Spirit of God, by the Word of God, been prodding you this morning? Prodding you, trying to awaken you to the reality of some temptation or lust or sin in your life from which you need to be turned away from and steered back toward God?

As believers we have been saved and we will be saved. As we trust in God and turn from our temptations and lust and sin and repent and ask forgiveness, trusting in the Word of God, and the person of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit to do for us what we cannot do ourselves. God has not only saved us by Himself, He has saved us for Himself. For His glory, for His will. God has not saved us to do our own thing and go our own way, but He has saved us in order that we would humble ourselves and do His will. 

James tells us we have been saved so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. Those believers who were born and raised Jews and had worked to keep the law, they would have been very familiar with the concept of first fruits, and they would have been able to explain the concept to the Gentile believers who would have been there as James’ letter was shared from Christian community to Christian community. The Jews would have understood all that the commandments tell us about first fruits. The commandments found in Exodus 23 & 34, Leviticus 23, Numbers 18 & 28, Deuteronomy 18. These instruct Israel to bring the first fruits of all they had to the temple.

You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. (Exodus 23:19)

This covers everything that can be grown – grain, wine, olive oil, and so on.

Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours (Numbers 18:15)

Here the Lord was talking to Aaron the priest, saying that it was their responsibility to give of everything God had blessed them with. This covers all the things that have breath; the first and the best is to be given to God. Jews would have understood, as we should, that every good and perfect gift came from God. God was to be first in their life, and He was to be given the first and the best of all they had. Giving God their first and their best also demonstrated their faith and trust in God. I would ask you and I to think about that.

How have we been doing at giving God our best? How are you doing at giving God your best at work, or in your school work? Have you been giving God your best by serving Him through sacrificial service to your family? Husbands loving your wives, children obeying your parents? How have you been doing at giving God your very best by using the spiritual gifts He gave you to serving the church sacrificially? I would ask you to consider and think about this if you have not done so lately. 

God is deserving of nothing less than your absolute best. But here in the second half of verse 18 James is not saying that God is asking us to give our best to Him. James is saying that God has made us what is best in this world. Through no goodness of our own, not because we deserve it, but out of His own love for us, His own power and ability to do that, He has saved us and made us what is best in this world. He has done this not so we would live and do our own thing, but He has done this for a purpose.

My pastor when I was a boy, Reverend Davis, who was my pastor when the Lord saved me, he would always pray that we as individual members of the body of Christ and collectively as the body of Christ would be like beacons or lights set on a hill pointing the way of life to dying men and women. Even at fifteen and sixteen years of age, that image was seared into my mind, it was profound to me. I could see in my mind a picture of lost people wandering around in the dark, falling off the cliff into hell. And there you and I stand, shining like beacons on a hill, pointing the way to salvation and eternal life. That is what God has made us best in the world to do. Shining lights, pointing others to truth. People will encounter kindness, compassion, and forgiveness through you and I. They may never hear a sermon preached, and you or I may be the only person they will be exposed to who can show them salvation, what it looks like for a person to be saved.

We are not just to share the gospel, we must also live the gospel so people may see what it means and what it looks like for someone to be saved. That is what God has saved us and purposed us to do. People around us are always watching. It is said that people may not read the Bible, but they read us. That is why God has placed us in this world to be salt and light.

I thank God for that opportunity. I hope you and I are thankful for even the most difficult people God has placed in our lives, so we might show them compassion, forgiveness, show them Christ.

As people are watching us, how do we respond when we are successful in life? Do we take the credit for that, or are we quick to point to God? How do we respond when trials come? Do we become embittered, or do we trust in the goodness of God and thank Him for this opportunity to know Him better, deeper then we knew Him before the trial? How do we respond when we are tempted by our own lust? Do we turn to God and away from sin? And when we have sinned, how do we respond to God and those whom we have sinned against? Are we quick to go to them and ask forgiveness? Does a lost world see us humbling ourselves and asking God for forgiveness, and do they see us asking them for forgiveness when we have sinned against them? As a lost world sees us turning to God, trusting in Him in every area of our life, as they see us acting differently from those who are not saved, then they might ask us to give an account for the hope that is in us. Then they might seek to understand who God is, and how it is that He has made us different. But that comes from us living the gospel. 

Just as Jesus is our first fruits. 

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

And in the same way we look at Christ’s resurrection as proof of what will happen to us. We will receive a resurrected body that is perfectly able to go throughout all eternity. And just as we view Christ as evidence of what will happen for us, so too the people that God brings in our lives can see that salvation is real, that God is really able to take a sinful person and cleanse them. They can see that God’s power to save is not a sham, but it’s real. We are the living, breathing examples of what God can do in the lives of people. In our lives the power of God to forgive sin and cleanse is on display. The power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to turn away from temptation and lust and sin is also on display. As God has made us a kind of first fruits of the salvation that He has made available to those who are lost.

James tells us in verse 19 that we already know this: “This you know, my beloved brethren.” James has not shared anything with us that we don’t already know. We know this intellectually and by experience, we know and understand the gospel message – that Jesus the perfect, sinless, spotless lamb who laid down His life for us, who suffered and bled and died on the cross, taking the full penalty of our sins upon Himself, paying fully and completely our sin debt so that we could live free from slavery to sin, so that we could have life, and not just life but eternal life. We have experienced the power of God to deal with sin in our lives, we know the great regenerative power of the Word of God, we know Christ as the risen Savior, and we know the Holy Spirit of God. We know God in our mind and heart. That is why only through deception can our temptations and lusts draw us into sin and away from a holy God who has done so much for us. 

Knowing the power of the Word of God, how beneficial it is to enable us to deal with our trials, and to have a joy and hope as we are called to suffer, so then we must be quick to hear His Word. Because it is the Word of God that enables us to think rightly about our trials. There is no thinking rightly about a trial without His Word at work in our hearts.

His Word tells us to rejoice in trials, knowing that they will benefit us, they will produce in us endurance, perseverance, and they will help us to be conformed to the likeness and image of Christ. God’s Word is what informs us about this, and that all our trials are under the control of a loving God who cares for us.

And it is the Word of God that enables us to see our temptations and lust and sin for the vile things that they are. The Word of God reveals to us that they will bring disaster and devastation and destruction into our lives. And it is God’s Word that prevents us from being deceived by our own temptation and lust. 

Yes, it is the Word of God that we must be quick to hear. The Word of God is what helps us to live in the reality of the truth about whatever it is we are going through. We will not be able to see it truly and honestly unless we are quick to hear the Word of God.

And if we are willing to be quick to hear the word of God and allow it to do its work in our hearts and minds, we will also be quick to hear others. We will interact with others in a way that reflects the humble and serving nature of Christ. We will be quick to hear from others a word of correction. We will quick to hear from others the things that are burdening them. In conversation we will be more interested in what the other person is trying to tell us rather than only being concerned about what we want to say.

If we are truly willing to be quick and active hearers of God’s Word and if we truly want to serve others we will become better listeners in order that we might truly get to know people and find out the best way in which we can serve them. If we do that then we will surely follow James’ next instruction to us in verse 19, and that is to be slow to speak. 

If we are quick to hear and consider the Word of God in every area of our life, and if we are quick to hear what others have to say to us, then we will not be quick to dispense our own opinions and preferences. But we will be deliberate in basing our thinking upon the Word of God and how it should be applied to every situation. And when we do speak, what we say will be based on our being informed by God’s Word, and what we say will be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that we will know how we should respond to each person, as Colossians 4:6 tells us.

I was asked a very serious question two weeks ago by a very dear brother. My brother did not ask me for a quick answer. He wanted to know what God’s Word had to say about his question. He needed an answer based on the study and the hearing of God’s Word. He needed an answer that came from the Lord, not from me. When you and I open up our mouth to speak, are we speaking the truth of God, or is it just what we want to say?

James tells us not only to be slow to speak, but to be slow to anger. Anger in and of itself is not necessarily a sin. God is holy and free from sin, and He gets angry. But even in God’s righteous anger, He comes to it slowly. It is not in His character to become easily angry, even though we give Him cause to be continually angry with us. Even as believers we do that. But God is not that way. As the Lord describes himself to Moses and to us, this what He says about Himself.

The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6)

That’s what He says about Himself. And Jesus being the Son of God, His character is the same. In the gospels Jesus displays His righteous anger because Jesus is holy and sinless. When He gets angry it is righteous. But we only see Him getting angry on rare occasions. Predominantly in the gospels we see Jesus as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth. We see Jesus moved by compassion over and over again. He preaches the gospel to the lost, He heals the sick, He cast out demons, He feeds the hungry. And he was slow to righteous anger. 

Even when we have righteous anger because we are angry about the same things that God is angry about, we should come to that anger slowly. Anger should not be something that is quick to any of us, even when it is just. The vast majority of our lives should be spent in displays of compassion, grace, and lovingkindness toward others. We need to be treating everyone this way, even our enemies, even those who have really hurt us. That’s what we’re called to do. 

But we all know that most of the time the anger we experience is not righteous anger. I know there are times when we may try to dress up our sinful anger in a cloak of righteousness, but most of the time when we’re angry it is not because we are concerned about the things of God. Most of the time it is because of our flesh, because our flesh doesn’t get something that it wants. Or something that our flesh didn’t want has been given to us, so we respond with the anger of man. 

for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

I will give you two reasons why sinful anger does not achieve the righteousness of God. First it makes it hard to get along with other people. God wants us as first fruits to draw others to Himself, but when we’re angry that’s not what happens, the opposite happens. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife.” When we respond in anger toward other people, we stir up friction, tension, and fights, and people don’t want to be around us.

For the churning of milk produces butter, and pressing the nose brings forth blood; so the churning of anger produces strife. (Proverbs 30:33)

So it does not matter whether your anger is explosive or seething, both will cause problems in your relationships and cause people to want to move away from you and not toward you. They don’t make our relationships harmonious, but they drive people away.

The second reason why our sinful anger does not achieve the righteousness of God is because our sinful anger makes it hard not only to get along with other people, but it makes it hard for us to get along with God. When we are angry we are slow to want to hear His Word. And when we do hear His Word, our anger makes us slow to want to embrace its truth.

There are people who are angry at God and they don’t want to come to church, they don’t want to even hear God’s name. And that can even happen to us as believers. If we are living in sinful anger, it makes us want to resist hearing His Word, and resist obeying it. Our sinful anger makes us think and act foolishly.

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

Our anger can be at the heart of our turning from God to do evil.

Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. (Psalm 37:8)

If we want to do the will of God we must deal with sinful anger in our lives. We are to be salt and light, on display for the glory of God. God has saved us for His holy, righteous purposes, not for our own sinful desires. He has put us on display before a sinful world so that we might draw men and women to Him by not only sharing the gospel, but living it. That we might be a kind a first fruits of His creation, and we can only do this if we are quick to hear His Word, quick to hear others, slow to speak, and willing to deal with sinful anger in our lives. 

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. 19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:18-20)