Making Our Religion Genuine
Biblical text is James 1:1-27
The epistle of James was written by the brother of Jesus, who was a leader in the Jerusalem church. It was written about 49 A.D. to Jewish Christians to teach them and to encourage them in genuine faith and Christian living that is more than just intellectual agreement with Christian doctrine. This was necessary because it was a time of intense persecution and growing heresies for Christians.
Although we are not facing direct violent persecution for our faith, there is a general disregard of our ministries and message by non- Christians. We know some church members who are no longer active in our fellowship or ministries. Our congregation has diminished in its size and energy.
We need a booster shot of genuine Christianity to energize us with the Holy Spirit. This is needed to enable us to see clearly what is vitally important about our faith, and to learn to demonstrate these basic vital marks of faith in our lives. We make our religion genuine by the way we face trials, by the way we face temptation, and by what we do in response to God’s word.
By the way we face trials
Persevere in your faith, as James teaches: “Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2–4)
The general importance of perseverance is illustrated by this report.
“Many years ago in England there was a small boy who talked with a lisp. While growing up, he was never a scholar. When war came along, they rejected him because ‘we need men.’ He once rose to address the House of Commons, and they walked out. He often spoke to empty chairs and echoes. One day he became prime minister of Great Britain and led his country to victory in a worldwide conflict. That man was Sir Winston Churchill, whose iron will to persever rallied all of his countrymen to defend their land and eventually win the war.” (“Perseverance”, #972, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 263)
Such perseverance will bring your faith to maturity and completeness, as James indicates in verse 4. As you engage in the trials brought to you by the world, your resources of faith will be increased and strengthen! Just like the case laws in a lawyer’s portfolio are increased and their applications strengthen by the different trials in which he or she is engaged, and physical exercise increases and strengthens your muscles and physical endurance.
Here is a cute story about how to overcome trials.
“One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed shovels and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off! Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping stone. Shake it off, and take a step up!”
To keep from being buried by your trials, just keep stomping on them and use them as “steps” up to genuine Christian maturity and completeness.
James continues with this teaching to seek wisdom from God if you need it. He says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5–8)
If you are faced with a trial that you are not sure how to handle, ask God to teach you the wise approach to victory over it. You do not have to stumble around like someone in the dark hoping to bump into the right approach. Do not seek or depend on the wisdom of the world. Many so called “experts” do not know what they are talking about when it comes to battles with evil and problems created by sin in our world.
Note that James teaches that you should ask with belief “not doubt”. You can do this because Jesus told his disciples that they could ask him for anything, and he would do it! “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13) The reason that Jesus makes this pledge of divine assistance is because he knows that such assistance will enable his disciples to bring forth spiritual fruit in their lives, and this will glorify his Father. (see John 14:15; 15:7–8) The glory of his Father was at the center of Jesus’ total ministry, so he would not refuse to give us anything that we need to increase our fruitfulness that would ultimately add to the glory of God. When God says “No” to a request, it is probably because our specific request will not increase our fruitfulness. That is why it is best to ask for wisdom. If you doubt this, James says you are “double-minded” and “unstable” and your request will not be granted. (James 1:7–8)
James continues with his teaching that we should not put our confidence in riches in how we face trials. He says,
“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” (James 1:9–11)
Individuals in “humble circumstances”, the poor and even those in the lower levels of the middle class should rejoice that they are in a “high position” with God. They are highly regarded by God, important benefactors of his compassion and care! Those who are “rich” should recognize that God regards them as being in a “low position”, and that they are in danger of withering away. (as James states in verses 10–11) Riches may enable persons to win some trials in this world, but they will not in and of themselves enable anyone to be fruitful or to be victorious in spiritual trials! No one is weathy enough to bribe Satan to leave him or her alone! If you are depending on riches as you face trials in your life, you may be fruitless, disconnected from Jesus, and withering up only to be burned in the fire. (see John 15:6)
Persevere in your Christian faith and you will receive the “crown of life”. (As James teaches in James 1:12) The Christian life and our ministries together are like an ongoing relay race. We each run our “laps” and then pass our “batons” on to someone else, and our individual efforts contribute to the general progress of the team—the congregation in its struggles with the world. Youthful energy from everyone can produce an excellent lead in a congregation’s early years of ministry. As the age of the congregation increases, the energy level may decline, and we start to fall behind. So we need a fresh boost from a renewed vision and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
By the way we face temptation
We can not blame God for our temptations, as James teaches, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” (James 1:13) A common excuse for homosexuals and many other sinners is “I can’t help it; I’m just made this way”. There is some truth to this since the condition of “human depravity” has made us all subject to sin. Here are some other common excuses for yielding to temptation: “It’s their fault”; “Everyone is doing it”; “It’s no big deal”; “No one is hurt”; and “The Devil made me do it”. The Devil can tempt you, but he can’t make you yield!
It is our selfish and evil desires that lead us into sin, as James indicates in his ongoing teaching, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14) This produces fruitlessness in our lives and spiritual death, as James teaches, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)
Every good gift and spiritual action that we are able to express in our lives comes from the Father, as James teaches, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16–17) Do not be deceived into thinking that you can be good on your own or that you can live a genuinely religious life through your own religious rituals and thoughts.
These good gifts and divine powers include this one: “the word of truth”, which God “chose to give us birth.” (James 1:18) That is being “born again” by the “truth” that is in Jesus! Paul cites another one of these gifts and divine powers, which is the power to resist temptation in this teaching: “But when you are tempted, he (God) will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) John cites another one of these special gifts in his teaching regarding God’s offer of forgiveness, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” but God’s gift is not limited to his “forgiveness” as John indicates that God will also “purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Yet we are never perfectly “holy”; that is why perseverance in faith is so important! Note also that each of these fruits “of the Spirit (as cited by Paul in Galatians 5:22–23) are gifts from God: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
By what we do in response to God’s word
James continues his teaching with these words of instruction: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19–20) In other words he is teaching us to be patient!
Then he follows with these important words of instruction: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21) Really accept God’s word, which comes into you through your union with Jesus, “the vine”. (as John teaches in John 15:3–4)
Do what God’s word tells you to do! As James teaches with these words of instruction:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22–25)
Just listening to God’s word is not enough. As James teaches, look “intently into the perfect law” (verse 25), and use it to evaluate the genuineness of your religion that you see reflected back to you. God blesses those who obey him, and their religion takes on the marks of being genuine, truly reflecting the glory of Jesus.
Another aspect of this principle is illustrated by this statement regarding “faith and health”.
“If we could achieve...peace of heart and mind, we need to practice the ethical and moral teachings of religion, and hold onto intellectual faith. But this is not enough; we must put into actual practice the teachings of religion as to faith and trust. This is probably the hardest part of religious faith to carry out in daily living. Too many of us are like the minister who had a nervous breakdown, and put himself under the care of a doctor. After a thorough examination and many tests, the doctor told him that ‘if he would practice Christianity he would get well.’ In reply to his indignant demand to know what the doctor meant, he got the answer: ‘I suppose you never really read the New Testament....You read it but you do not believe it.’ The minister fairly shouted, ‘I do believe it!’ Then the doctor said, ‘Well, let’s put it this way—and come now, admit it—you don’t really practice its teaching of faith and trust, do you? I know you practice its morals and ethics, but you do not practice these principles: ‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ ‘Come unto me...and I will give you rest.’ Thus the medical man taught the minister to put his religion into practice, and it made him a well man, and a radiant Christian. Religious faith works when it is put into practice!” (from James Dale Van Buskirk, Religion, Healing and Health, p. 138. Contributed by Rev. Charles E. Zunkel, Elgin, Illinois)
There are three important signs of such obedient action. The first is keeping your tongue under control, as James teaches in these words, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) We’ll cover this in the next sermon, but note the importance that James gives to this: anyone’s claim to be a genuine religious person is “worthless” if they can’t keep a “tight rein” on their tongue!
The second sign is this: caring for orphans and widows, those who have no one else to take care of them, as James teaches in these words, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress...”. (James 1:27) This principle of genuine religion is emphasized by Jesus as actions that God rewards with his invitation to receive one’s inheritance into God’s kingdom. (See Matthew 25:34–36)
And the third sign, to keep yourself from being polluted by the world follows with these words from James’ teaching, “...to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) That means from having your “pure” spiritual qualities “polluted” by the dangerous toxins of the world, which basically are money, pleasure, and power, from being entangled in Satan’s web of sin, and from being deceived by worldly heresies.
You enable God to make your religion genuine by: facing trials with the perseverance of your faith, directed by divine wisdom, without putting your confidence in riches; facing temptation without blaming God for it, but recognizing that every good spiritual gift and power comes from him and enables you to be “born again”, to resist temptation, to be forgiven for the times you yield, and to be cleansed from sin; and by doing what God’s word tells you to do by being patient with others, by getting rid of all immorality and evil attitudes in your life, by keeping a “tight rein” on your tongue, by helping to care for those who can’t take care of themselves, and by keeping free from worldly pollutants, entanglements, and heresies.
As the religion that each of us demonstrates in our lives becomes more genuine, we will each become more fruitful, and the spiritual ministries of our congregation will be expanded and strengthened to the glory of God!
The above Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.