James 1:21-27 Devotional Commentary

blessed in what is done: Devotional Commentary for May 24-30

James 1:21–27 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

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

Having previously taught us to be quick to listen and slow to speak or react, James now continues to equip us with very important and effective precepts which help us practice his teachings. Listen to who? Listen to what? James is unequivocal with this. He is clear. Listen to the Word of Truth by which we were brought forth as God's children by God's Will and His Grace.

This Word of Truth is etched in our hearts. It is instilled in our spirit. It has taken a permanent residence in our conscience. We are cleansed by it. We are saved by Grace through faith through the hearing of this Word of Truth. We have humbly received this Word of salvation and have become new in Christ. Therefore says James, get rid of immorality and wickedness in all of its forms. Get rid of everything that feeds the old-nature.

James is asking for concrete actions which accurately reflect our faith. He is not looking for a friendly acquiescence. He is not looking for a sympathetic endorsement or a commonsense validation. He is saying, if we have received the Word of Truth, and if this Word of Truth is planted in our hearts, then we must consciously reject the old ways of wickedness. We must allow our salvation to prove itself through behaviors and actions which express the reality of our transformation. He is confronting us not to be merely knowledgeable and agreeable to the Word of Truth but to be obedient to its precepts. What is heard must be put into practice.

The flesh is utterly defiled with sin’s filth. Unless checked or suppressed, sin pollutes our spirit and severely compromises our ability to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of its inherent nature, our sin-nature lives to disregard and defy the Master’s Voice, which is constantly communing with our redeemed spirit. Therefore, James strongly admonishes us to put off the works of the flesh so that we are the doers of God's Word. He warns us not to be deceived thinking that our familiarity with the Word suffices.

1:23-25
23For 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;
24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
25But 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.

Having issued the charge to be doers and not hearers only, James proceeds to outline the essential attribute that distinguishes mere hearers from actual doers. He says that a mere hearer is like one who observes his face in the mirror and walks away immediately forgetting what has been observed. In effect, James’ illustration affirms that the initial viewing is rendered worthless by the failure to commit the image to memory.

A mirror reflects the truth, remembered or not. It hides nothing. But if one forgets what one has observed in the mirror, one cannot correct any visible imperfections. No action can be taken unless the basis for action is accurately recollected.

The Word of God is like a mirror to the soul. It accurately reflects our true nature and perfectly manifests our newness in Christ. It must be heard, believed, and obeyed. But a person who glances at the mirror and forgets the likeness of one's appearance typifies a Christian who fades into a spiritual slump after hearing the Word. However, a Christian who takes the Word to heart and does what is taught distinguishes oneself from the mere hearer and proves to be a doer.

Three active expressions describe the diligence of a committed Christian: looking, abiding, and doing.

  • Intently looking at the perfect law of liberty connotes the desire to search, learn, and gain useful knowledge from the Word of God.
  • Abiding in the Word reflects the commitment to draw closer to God and stay the course while maturing in faith.
  • Finally, doing the work ordained by the Word of God and actively observing the learned precepts showcase real Christian practices resulting from a real faith.

A committed Christian hears the perfect law of liberty and observes its precepts in action. The perfect law of liberty is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are saved by Grace through faith by the hearing of the Gospel. Therefore, whoever is committed to searching God’s truth and persists in it is certainly blessed, not merely because of what one does but in what one does as a doer of the Word.

1:26-27
26If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.
27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Mere hearers are not only indifferent, but also project a religious personality. They are dispassionate about the practical aspect of their new life in Christ. Mere religiosity is empty and meaningless because its thoughts and words are deceptive.

James warns us to refrain from appeasing ourselves with vain and empty confessions. He exhorts us to bridle our tongues so that our lack of concrete action is not camouflaged by empty religious utterances. Empty religiosity is stained with indifference and unfaithfulness.

A truly religious person is active and faithful. The words of a truly religious individual are unstained, pure, and effective. A bridled tongue has no room for idle expressions. It serves the Word of Truth.

Pure and undefiled religion manifests itself through a practical faith that is pleasing to God. It is not superficial. Its actions are the natural outcome of true faith.

The role of a Christian clothed in unstained religion is characterized by a passionate commitment to give care and attention. James mentions caring for orphans and visiting widows to illustrate his point. Such Christians are the hands of God’s Providence to meet real needs of real people. Such hearers and doers of the Word are indeed faithful. They have faith, and they are faithful. Their faith is pure, undefiled, real, and pleasing to God. Always quick to listen, such people of faith are ready and willing to act for the Glory of God.

Notes/Applications

James' message is simple and clear. If a fundamental change took place at the most elemental level, then everything else that is inborn to the fundamentals must follow suit. In other words, if the soul is transformed by the implanted Word of Truth, then every wicked behavioral attribute of the old-nature must be replaced by the godly nature of the New Man in Christ. We must rid ourselves of the wicked ways of the sin-nature and abide by the precepts of the Word of Truth.

James is telling us acknowledging one's salvation and confessing one's faith are only the beginnings of our Christian walk. When the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit is accomplished, we are urged from within to accept our salvation and to believe and confess the Lordship of Christ. It must be noted however, this transformation is a wholesale conversion of who we are. It is exclusive and all-inclusive. This is the exclusive work of sovereign Grace.

This thoroughgoing transformation gives birth to a New Man who does not need to rely on the unwholesome resources of the old-nature. We are no longer who we were when we still languished in sin's bondage. That is why we say James' teachings are simple and clear: practice what we confess. Obey Whom we believe. If we have true faith, then let us be faithful. If what is spoken is heard, and if what is heard is believed, then what is spoken, heard, and believed must be practiced.

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

We encourage you to frequently visit our website where you can find weekly devotional readings and helpful blogs.

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James 1:21-27
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