Hearing Must Lead to Action

21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:21-25)

Before we dig into verses 21 and 22, let’s take a look back at what James says God has already done in our lives, starting in James 1:17…

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 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. (James 1:17-18)

So everything we need for a rich physical life, God provides. He provides this planet which is perfectly suitable for us, even in its fallen state. Man has been looking into the skies for thousands of years and we have not found another planet exactly like this. It is abundantly clear that God created it just for us. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, all gifts from God. And without any one of them physical life is not possible for very long.

Just as God has given us everything we need for physical life, He has also given us everything, every spiritual gift needed to live a godly life. First and foremost He has given us Jesus Christ. The only begotten Son of God, the sacrificial Lamb who laid down His life as the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. The only acceptable payment for our sin, so that we are free from the power of sin and its penalty, which is death. He has given us His Word, which is the focus of James in our verses today. He has given us His Spirit to enlighten and empower us and to seal us, He has given us eternal life, and on and on His gifts and blessings go. Peter sums up what God has done for us…

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)

God’s power, God’s glory, God’s excellence, which has nothing to do with us and our abilities, and everything to do with God and His abilities. God has given to us everything that has anything to do with life and godliness, so that we can live a life that looks like Christ and not like this world.

We have been given everything we need to live holy, set apart lives. Not set apart from other people, but set apart by our love for God and the motives of our heart, we are set apart by our thoughts which must be toward God, and we are set apart by our godly actions. Peter goes on…. 

For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:4)

Peter informs us that we have been made partakers of Christ’s nature. And we have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of the power of God and the resources that God has given to us. 

So as we began to look at verse 21 this morning, we need to keep in mind that James has already pointed out what God has done for us. The salvation and spiritual resources God has already given us. Every good and perfect gift has come down from above, of which Christ is of most importance. And of His own will God has brought us forth, saved us, by the word of truth. And we have had no part in our salvation, and we have had no part in the provision that God has provided for us in order that we might obey Him and have victory over sin.

So keeping in mind that James is talking to believers who have been given every spiritual resource needed to obey the commands we find in these verses today, James says…

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

The filthiness and wickedness that James is referring to is the sin that remains in our life. It’s sin that remains even after the cleansing blood of Christ has been applied to our life and we have been made clean and right before God positionally. We still are wrapped in this body of flesh, our old man. Our old self still wants to dominate our life, and we must daily do battle with ourself.

I love the description of sin as filthiness or being dirty. Because sin has so many things in common with being unclean or dirty. And as a metaphor for sin it helps me to visualize what sin does to me. We can become dirty or unclean as a result of impurities in our bodies that come out, we sweat them out and they make us smell bad and look bad. Or we can be made unclean or dirty as a result of the dirt and dust around us that clings to us or attaches itself to us during the course of the day. And we do battle every day with dirt, don’t we? Bathing and showering, washing our hair and brushing our teeth, all in an effort to get rid of the internal dirt that has come out and the external dirt that has attached itself to us. 

Sin is like that also, isn’t it? There are the sinful attitudes and desires that spring up from within us. Maybe we are in our flesh naturally a greedy person, or a fearful person, or a jealous person, or a gossip. And most often there’s not just one type of sin seeking to dominate our life from within, there are several. And no outside influence is needed; this sin comes from within. Then there are also the external temptations to sin. Ways to sin that we may have never thought of on our own. Sinful patterns of thought and behavior that the world bombards us with. And when we are exposed to them our old man is attracted to that sin and it clings to us.

Whether sin starts internally or externally, once we become involved with it, it makes us dirty, or as James says, it makes us filthy, and it must be dealt with. James says we must put it aside. Just like removing our dirty clothes, showering, and putting on clean clothes in order to deal with our human dirt, to move from being dirty to clean, and to feel refreshed, so we must do the same thing with sin. 

And James is not talking about just the casual dirt we typically deal with on a daily basis. When James says “filth” he is letting us know that sin does not represent a little dirt in our life, but a stench, a foul and gross uncleanness. And what are the effects of this foul and gross uncleanness in our life? It can affect our vision or perception of the Word of God, and it can affect our hearing and understanding of the Word of God, and as a result hinder our obedience to His Word.

Most, if not all of us have had dirt in our eyes and have been unable to see clearly until it was removed. Or we have had dirt or wax in our ears that has affected our hearing. The filth which is sin can also keep us from correctly understanding the Word of God.

The Lord says in Isaiah 42…

19 Who is blind but My servant,
Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me,
Or so blind as the servant of the Lord?
20 You have seen many things, but you do not observe them;
Your ears are open, but none hears. (Isaiah 42:19-20)

It is frightening to me to think that as one of God’s sons, I can be so affected by sin that it can blind me to the truths of God. But it can.

The filth of sin can also make us spiritually sick. We can suffer greatly in our soul because we are filthy and have not used the spiritual resources the Lord has given us to deal with our filth. The Lord says again…

Where will you be stricken again,
As you continue in your rebellion?
The whole head is sick
And the whole heart is faint. (Isaiah 1:5)

James tells us that filthiness, the sin in our life, must be dealt with. We must put it aside, we must remove it.

But what about wickedness? What is wickedness, and what does it look like in our life? In Scripture there are two main ways in which this word is used. The first is malice, ill will, a desire to injure or harm others. An example of this kind of wickedness is expressed by David in Psalm 56…

5 All day long they distort my words;
All their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They attack, they lurk,
They watch my steps,
As they have waited to take my life.
7 Because of wickedness, cast them forth,
In anger put down the peoples, O God! (Psalm 56:5-7)

As we see, those who were coming against David in this Psalm had great malice and ill will toward him. They wanted to harm him and even take his life. This attitude and behavior is wickedness. And if we have any ill will toward anyone, even those who may have wronged us greatly, that is wickedness in us. We are thinking and acting wickedly when we want something bad to happen to someone else, when we make hurtful remarks to them or about them, when we are deliberately cold towards them, or withhold good from them. 

Yes, this type of wickedness shows up in our life not only by the hurtful things we do to others, but also by the good we know to do but do not do it. Isaiah says that the wicked keep the hungry person unsatisfied and withhold drink from the thirsty (Isaiah 32:6).

If there is any wickedness in our life that has to do with ill will towards another person or group of people, James tells us that we must put it aside. 

The second meaning of wickedness we see repeatedly in Scripture is an attitude of not being ashamed to break the law. Or those who have no remorse over their sin and take delight and enjoyment in it. Since James says sin is like filth or gross uncleanness in us, wickedness is when we say, “I am filthy, and I don’t care!” Or, “I am filthy, and I like it that way just fine, thank you very much!”

although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

Do you and I have any sin which we have a particular affection for? Even though we know it is wrong? Do we give a wink and nod to it in our life and in the life of others? Is there sin in our life that we have not and do not intend to repent of? Is there sin in our life that we enjoy and we want to keep on enjoying it? If there is any sin in our life like that, it is wickedness, and James calls us to put it aside.

James is not alone in calling believers to remove the sin in our life. Paul commands us in Ephesians and Colossians…

in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (Ephesians 4:22)

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices (Colossians 3:5-9)

God has given us everything we need to remove sin from our life, but He has called us to participate in our sanctification. Peter also commands us…

1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2)

As believers, when we began to put aside the sin which used to rule over us, we begin to grow in our trust and understanding of the power of God not only to forgive sin, but to defeat it. And not just defeat sin, but defeat sin in our life. And the second thing that happens is we become humbled by the realization that it is not by our might, but by the power of God and the Word of God that we are able to deal with sin in our life. And in humility we turn to the Word of God for further purification. 

As believers we know that there is no arrogant, prideful, self-sufficient way to be saved. And after humbling ourselves before God, mourning over and confessing our sins, understanding and confessing that we were utterly bankrupt in spirit, or as we remember from Matthew 5:3 we were “poor in spirit,” and we trusted in Christ’s atoning death on the cross as payment in full for our sin debt, and we were saved. Praise God! James is sharing with us that the same posture of humility we had to have before God in order to be saved is the same posture of humility we must maintain during our whole life as a believer. Just as there is no arrogant, prideful, self-sufficient way to be saved, there is also no arrogant, prideful, self-sufficient way to come to God and His Word after salvation.

If we are believers, it is absolutely true that we were saved by the Word of God at some point in our life, as James points out in verse 18 that of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth. This is past tense, already done in our life, already a reality. But James is also saying that we not only have been saved by the Word of God, we are being saved by the Word of God, as he points out in verse 21 that it is the Word of God implanted which is able to save your souls. This is present tense, today, right now. And we shall be saved by the Word of God in the future.

For the believer the saving of our soul is both a singular event and an ongoing reality. What I mean by that is, if you are a believer there was a point in time when God miraculously brought you from darkness to light, from death to life. He saved your soul. But there is also the reality that God is still at work saving our soul as He is transforming us into the image or likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. And if Christ does not return first, one day we will pierce the veil of death and be saved from death into the very presence of Christ. We will be saved from this body of sin and decay and we will receive new bodies suitable for eternal life with a holy God. 

But James is not dealing with the future aspect of salvation here in verse 21. He is dealing with the present aspect of salvation. It was God’s Word that was implanted in us at the time of salvation, and it is God’s Word that needs to be implanted in us today. So truly hearing the Word of God is always transformative, not just at the point of our initial salvation, but God through His Word seeks to reach not just our ears and our mind with His Word, He seeks to reach our very soul, our very heart, who we are in our innermost being. 

The effect that God wants His Word to have on us, and the effect it will have on us if we truly hear it and receive it, is expressed beautifully by Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

So the Word of God was not only effectual for our initial salvation, but it must be at work in the life of the believer as an ongoing process of being conformed to the image of Christ in this life. 

Many people who have made a profession of faith believe that to come to church and hear the Word of God preached, maybe even to be moved by what they have heard, to have felt uplifted or encouraged or even convicted by what they heard, is the extent of what God wants them to do. They may faithfully attend church, Sunday school, and Bible studies. They may be amassing a great deal of Bible knowledge and feel very content that this is the extent of the good Christian’s walk. Maybe that was you at one time, or maybe that’s you this morning. James in verse 22 dispels that kind of thinking. He says… 

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:22)

For those of us who have received and continue to receive the Word of God which is planted in our soul, buried in our heart, we must bear the fruit of godly actions. In John 14:23-24 Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” There is a direct correlation between saving faith which results in loving God, and our attitudes and actions of obedience. 

If we are going to be doer’s of God’s Word it must be a continuous, ever increasing pattern of life for us.

Let me give you an example. I can hammer a nail into a piece of wood, but I am no carpenter. I am not trained in wood working. I only handle a hammer and nails on rare occasions. But a carpenter is skilled and trained in carpentry, he is well practiced, it is his life’s work. 

If we are doers of God’s Word, it must be what we do consistently. Obedience to God must be our practice and pattern of life. If we are faithful hearers of the Word, then we must be faithful doers of God’s Word, and as such we become a living translation of God’s Word. We will take God’s Word which has been planted in us and we will put it in to practice in our life for all to see. This is what Paul was expressing in 2 Corinthians 3 when he said…

2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

But if we are not obedient to the Word of God as a way of life, yet we say we belong to God, we are deceiving ourselves. We are either deceiving ourselves thinking that we are His when we are not, having no desire to do His will or to follow Him. Or we do belong to Him and we are deceiving ourselves thinking that we are hearing His Word, but we have become so contaminated by sin and the corruption of this world that we have become dull in our hearing and slow and lazy in our following.

The writer of Hebrews says…

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (Hebrews 5:11)

How have you been responding to God’s Word lately? Think about the series on the Beatitudes we recently completed. Did that teaching cause any change in how you think, any change in what you do? I pray that as we study Colossians we will all be true hearers of God’s Word as well as faithful doers.

21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:21-22)