Faith that is Real
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the word, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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Many things in our world are fake!
Last year alone over twenty-three million dollars in counterfeit money was seized by the United States Secret Service. Nearly 1,800 people were arrested for trying to pass phony bills. Every year thousands of people are convicted of forgery and embezzlement. Con artists have become an ever increasing threat to the unsuspecting person.
In the spring of 1971 the whole world was shocked to read of the giant hoax surrounding billionaire Howard Hughes. Late in March a federal grand jury indicted Clifford Irving and his wife, Edith, on charges of fraud and forgery. The Irvings were accused and later convicted of concocting a fake autobiography of Hughes and selling the manuscript to McGraw-Hill publishers for three-quarters of a million dollars.
Through the use of extensive research into material already published about the billionaire, the Irvings were able to create a phony manuscript good enough to fool the experts.
Criminals, of course, have no monopoly on the world of make-believe. The Bible tells us that there are many counterfeit Christians in our world today. Many people appear to be religious but know nothing of a saving faith. In reality they are nothing more than phonies.
Webster's dictionary defines the word phony as that which is "not genuine, spurious, counterfeit, or false." In other words, a phony is a fake!
The word phony actually finds its origin in an ancient confidence game in which a brass ring was falsely sold as a ring of gold.
A powerful illustration of this trickery is found in 1 Kings 14. Under Solomon, Israel enjoyed golden days of victory. After he died, his son, Rehoboam, ruled Judah. "And it came to pass in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem: and he took away the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king's house; he even took away all: and he took away all the shields of gold which Solomon had made. And king Rehoboam made in their stead brazen shields, and committed them unto the hands of the chief of the guard, which kept the door of the king's house" (1 Ki 14:25-27).
Rehoboam had replaced the golden shields with those made of brass. They were forgeries! They were phony! And they even fooled the guards and the people.
Yes, polished brass looks like gold, but it isn't gold. Today there are many people who look and sound just like Christians, but they are not Christians! They know how to act; they know just the right way to talk; they go through all the motionsbut in reality they are phonies!
In the first chapter of his epistle, James attacks that which is false and unreal. He attacks the shallow, hypocritical religion of the phony. James describes faith that is real. He presents true Christianity.
James says that the Word of God is our guide to reality. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and immediately
forgetteth what manner of man he was" (Ja 1:22-24).
James tells us that the Bible is a mirrorit shows us what we really are.
Throughout the Scriptures we find similes used to describe God's Word. A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared. Here James uses the simile of the mirror.
Psalm 119 compares the Bible to a lamp. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps 119:105). The Bible illuminates! A thousand times I have found light and guidance from God's Word.
The prophet Jeremiah compared the Bible to a fire and hammer. "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" (Jer 23:29). My friend, have you ever felt the fire of this book? Have you ever experienced its melting force and its breaking power?
Remember what it is like to hit your thumb with a hammer? Rarely do you get by without a bruise or a blister. God's Word often bruises us like a hammer as it convicts and convinces us of our sin.
The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, speaks of the "washing of water by the word" (Eph 5:26). The Bible washes us!
The writer of Hebrews described the Word of God as "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12).
This great book, the Bible, is compared to many things. It is a lamp, a fire, a hammer, water, and a sword.
But here in James chapter 1 the Bible is likened unto a mirror. When James compared the Word of God to a mirror his audience did not think of a shiny glass mirror as we do today. The mirrors of ancient times were made of highly polished
metal, mostly brass. It was a mirror such as this that the brilliant Socrates used when instructing his students in public speaking.
There are two basic ways that a person can evaluate his performancetwo means of discovering how he looks or appears. He can either look in a mirror and observe himself, or he can use the wonders of photography.
The photographer, of course, can work miracles. He can remove blemishes, he can touch up here and there, he can shade in light spots, and generally make us look pretty good. But the photograph is not always accurate. At times it can be very flattering to us. The photographer deals with us in mercy, not justice.
A mirror, on the other hand, is absolutely just and dependable. It reveals our true image, blemishes and all. It shows us exactly as we are!
When I rise in the morning and walk in front of the mirror, I am immediately confronted with all of the corrective work that needs to be done. If I simply walk away and forget what I see, I am only fooling myselfcertainly no one else!
The Bible tells us that "the [human] heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked'' (Jer 17:9). The mirror of God's Word points out all of our weakness and wickedness. And unless we heed its instruction, unless we make the necessary corrections in our lives, we are only engaging in deluded optimism. We are nothing more than a phony!
Paul said, "I felt fine so long as I did not understand what the law really demanded. But when I learned the truth, I realized that I had broken the law and was a sinner, doomed to die" (Ro 7:9, Living). When Paul saw his sin revealed, he realized that he was condemned before God.
This great and priceless book not only shows us up, it is meant to clean us up. The Bible reveals and cleanses.
Under the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, the
brazen laver in the tabernacle court was to provide cleansing for the priest. In Exodus 38 we find that Bezaleel "made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Ex 38:8).
How interesting and suggestive! The glass which revealed the need for cleansing led to the fountain of cleansing. The brass laver was made from the looking glasses of the women of that day.
The story is told of an African princess of the last century who lived in the heart of the uncivilized jungle. For years this chieftain's daughter had been told by all that she was the most beautiful woman in the entire tribe. Although she had no mirror to view herself, she had been convinced of her unparalleled beauty.
One day when an exploring party traveled through that part of Africa, the princess was given a mirror as a gift. For the first time in her life she was able to see her own reflection. Her immediate reaction was to smash the mirror on the nearest rock. Why? Because for the first time in her life she knew the truth. What other people had told her all those years was of little importance. What she had believed about herself made no difference. She saw for the first time that her beauty was not genuine. It was false.
The mirror of God's Word works in the exact same way in our lives. Our friends may tell us we are wonderful, and we may even fool ourselves into believing it. We can dream up thousands of ways of improving our own self-image, but when we read the Word of God we see ourselves exactly as we are! It is impossible to be indifferent to the Bible. You may hear it and choose to do nothing about it, but the Bible will do something to you. Truth heard and ignored is dangerous.
On one occasion Jesus was teaching in the temple when a
group of scribes and Pharisees came to Him with a woman that had been caught in the act of adultery. Jesus, knowing their hearts and motives, said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (Jn 8:7b). John records that when they heard those words, "being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst" (Jn 8:9).
These religious leaders heard the words of Jesus, and they were convicted. They recognized their guilt, but they did nothing about it. They were hearers only.
James said that if our religion is true we must be "doers of the word." We must act upon what we know to be true. We must make the necessary changes in our lives and we must "conform to the perfect law of [God's] liberty."
My friend, the Bible is our guide to reality. It is our blueprint for holy living. Jesus said, "My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it" (Lk 8:21). True religion demands complete obedience to God's Word.
Not only do we have a guide to true religion, but in James 1:26-27 we are given a test of true religion.
James says, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Ja 1:26-27).
A BRIDLED TONGUE
The first test of real salvation is a spirit-controlled tongue.
Moses was a great servant of Jehovah, but at times he suffered from an uncontrolled tongue. When the children of Israel's water supply was depleted, they accused Moses of leading them into the desert to die. Unable to control his
temper, Moses smote the rock and shouted, "Hear now, ye rebels; must we bring water out of this rock?" (Num 20:10). God was faithful and He satisfied the people, but Moses was barred from entering the promised land.
Or consider the apostle John. Gentle John was probably as close to Jesus as any other person. He is called "the disciple that Jesus loved," and yet he too experienced tongue trouble. Luke's gospel tells how friends of Jesus had tried to arrange lodging for Him in Samaria. When the Samaritans would not receive Jesus, James and John exploded and said, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Lk 9:54). But we read that Jesus rebuked them and said, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Lk 9:56).
Loving John was usually Mr. Reliable. More than once he had kept the apostolic band from impulsive conduct, but here his tongue ran wild.
It has been said that the control of the tongue is the barometer of Christian maturity. The test of reality with God is not a man's ability to speak his mind, but to bridle his tongue. Paul told the Ephesians to "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth" (Eph 4:29). The test of true religion, the indication of a genuine salvation, is the control of the tongue. If a man cannot do this, says James, his "religion is vain." It is nothing more than a sham or fake. The man with the uncontrolled tongue is a stumbling block to those who judge true religion by him.
AN UNDERSTANDING HEART
From the negative aspect of an uncontrolled tongue James proceeds to the positive aspect of "true religion" in action. Real salvation, says James, is demonstrated by an understanding heart. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Ja 1:27).
In this verse, James has not given us a complete definition of salvation. Neither is he offering a blueprint for social action. But rather, James is suggesting an illustration of a faith that is genuine. He is saying, "If there is any substance to your convictions, if there is any reality in your faith, you will show a love and concern for those who are in need." This truly is faith in action!
My friend, when was the last time you visited a needy familynot just to say a brief hello, but to provide tangible help and assistance? The cry of the widows and orphans was heard by Jesus, and we must hear them too.
The word visit which James uses here is the same word which describes the mystery of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ. Our great God "visited" this poor and confused world in the fleshthrough the person of Jesus Christ. He came to us in all of our poverty. Now we are to visit the needy of our world.
A SANCTIFIED LIFE
Finally, if we are "doers of the word," if we possess a genuine faith, if our religion is true, the result will be a sanctified life. James says, "Pure religion. . . .is this . . . to keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world" (Ja 1:27), or as Moffatt translates this, "from the stain of the world."
I once saw a sign in a department store which read, "slightly soiled, greatly reduced in value." The Christian whose life has been soiled and dirtied by the stains of sin becomes of little value. His effectiveness for Jesus Christ is greatly reduced.
What a high calling to live a spotless life in this world.
Jesus was offered as a lamb without spot. The Scriptures tell us that Christ will someday present His church without
spot or blemish as a glorious bride. A real Christian is a clean Christian. This is what true religion is all about.
Paul told believers not to be "conformed to this world," but to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Ro 12:2). J. B. Phillips translates this, "Don't let the world squeeze you into its own mould." Throughout the Word of God the call for moral purity goes out to all who name the name of Jesus Christ.
The big question is What is true religion? How can we be genuine? The answer is: by daily receiving the Word of God which delivers our souls; by controlling our tongues and speaking the truth in love; by cultivating a sincere interest and genuine concern for those in need; by keeping our lives unspotted from the world; and by abstaining from the very appearances of evil.
My friend, is your faith true of false? Are you real or are you a phony? Is your experience gold or brass? Today you can seek cleansing and begin to live a life that is pleasing to God. First John 1:9 states, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
* "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Ja 1:27).
* A phony is a fake!
* The mirror of God's Word points out all our weakness and wickedness. And unless we heed its instruction, unless we make the necessary corrections in our lives, we are only engaging in deluded optimism.
* The Christian whose life has been soiled . . . [will find that] his effectiveness for Jesus Christ is greatly reduced.
Chapter Five || Table of Contents