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The Marks of True Spirituality

James 1:19-27

[This sermon given by Pastor Greg Laurie is just one of a series on the letter of James that he has available on cassette tape. All of these sermon tapes deal with personal spiritual growth. When you read this one, you'll want to order the rest and feed these messages to your congregation. Or if you're a local member desiring more spiritual food in the area of personal growth, these taped sermons will fill you with a knowledge and desire to grow spiritually. Here is the list:

  1. Facing the Trials of Life-James 1. Tape M853
  2. How to Overcome Temptation-Part 1-James 1. M854
  3. How to Overcome Temptation-Part 2-James 1. M855
  4. Faith That Works-James 2. Tape M857
  5. The Taming of the Tongue-James 3. Tape M858
  6. The Source of Our Problems-James 4. Tape M859
  7. The Danger of Friendship with the World-James 4. M860
  8. What is Life?-James 4. Tape M861
  9. It's Time to Pray!-James 5. Tape M863
  10. And of course this sermon, "Marks of True Spirituality, James 1:19-27", Tape M856.

These can all be ordered online at: http://www.harvest.org , and clicking on "harvest store". Or you can order by mail. To order by mail, write "Harvest Ministries, PO Box 4000, Riverside, CA 92514-4000. Single cassette tapes are $5.00 each. If spiritual growth is your heartfelt desire, these tapes are for you. Now the sermon.]

The Marks of True Spirituality
James 1:19-27.

"James chapter one, you know inspite of the moral downturn in our country today, America is still a very religious country. There are probably more people than ever in our nation that claim to be Christian, even more that would claim to be spiritual, whatever that means. It's not uncommon to hear someone interviewed who might even be known for living a relatively decadent lifestyle say, "Well, you know, actually I'm a very spiritual person." And of course, that phrase "spirituality' encompasses a lot of ideas ranging from bizarre mysticism, a religion a person might make up, and in the minds of some can even include Christianity--it's a very broad term. But America is made up of people that believe in a lot of different things. A recent poll revealed that 95 percent of Americans believed in God or a Universal Spirit, and 60 percent of them attend religious services on a regular basis. Only 9 percent of Americans profess no religion at all. We're a religious country, we're a believing country. We're a country that has a guise of spirituality over us. But what does it mean to be a religious person in the best sense of the word? Well, James is gonna give us the answer to that here in chapter one. He will tell us what pure religion really is, what it means to be a real Christian, an authentically spiritual person. And the emphasis in this section that we're going to be looking at is on self-deception. He mentions it a couple of times, in chapter one verse 22 he speaks of deceiving our own selves, and then in verse 26 of deceiving our own heart. And there are many self deceived people around today. There are those in our own country who would think they are Christian, that no doubt fall into the category of those that say they believe in God or a Universal Spirit, but really aren't Christians at all. In fact, Jesus said, "In the final day, that many will come to him and say, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And in your name do many wonderful works, and cast out demons"--and some might even add, 'did we not attend church on Sunday'? Or give our tithes, or be baptized, or follow through on a certain ritual?--"But Jesus will say on that day, 'Depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity.'" Now, not only are there people out in this world that are self-deceived, thinking they are Christians when they really are not, but there are also people in the church that are self-deceived, for that is who James is addressing, [people] who think they are more spiritual than they really are. So we're going to find out what true spirituality is, what religion ought to be when the phrase is used properly. James is going to invite us to look into God's mirror and see ourselves as we really are. And our very reactions to the truths that are before us will show if we are truly spiritual people, because listen, the person who really wants to know God is humble, and always ready to learn. I've had the opportunity to meet many Christian people. I've had the opportunity to sit down with many Christian leaders, those who would be household names in the evangelical world, and I can say without reservation, that the most spiritual people I've met have always been the most humble--not proud, not arrogant, but humble men and women of God. And if you are a true believer, if you are truly a spiritual person, if you are really growing in your faith, you will be humble and open, always realizing there is so much to learn. It was after years of walking with the Lord that the apostle Paul referred not to himself as the chief of all saints, but rather, the chief of all sinners. That is not a man that had gone deeper into the pit of sin, that is simply a man that had been looking in God's mirror and saw the depravity of his heart--even as he was still being conformed into the image of Christ. And after years of walking with the Lord it was Paul who said, 'Hey, it's not as though I have already attained, I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm pressing on.' A truly spiritual person will always say 'There is so much more there to learn, so much more in my life that needs to change.'

In contrast, the self-deceived person, the person who thinks they are 'spiritual' will really not be open to counsel. They won't be open to teaching. They think they know it all, which only shows how little they know. They are like those who are described in the church of Laodocia in the book of Revelation, "Who were rich and increased with goods, and said they had need of nothing." But God's assessment of them was that they were poor and wretched and blind and miserable and naked.

James will pose to us three tests for us to determine if we are truly spiritual people--three things we as Christians should actively be doing if we're really seeking to live godly lives. Our text, James chapter 1, starting in verse 19. Let's look at it together. "So then, my beloved brothers, let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. And be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves, for if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he's like a man observing his natural face in the mirror. He observes himself, he goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he that is looking into the perfect law of liberty, and continuing therein, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his own heart. This man's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:19-27). As our study begins, James tells us in verse 21 "that we should receive with meekness the implanted Word." The same concept, or picture of planting a seed in soil was used by Jesus in His well-known parable of the sower. You remember that? He said, "A sower went out to sow seed, and some seed fell on the roadside and the birds came and ate it, and it was not able to take root. [Some think the birds in this case are symbolic of Satan's demon's snatching the understanding from those who receive the seed of God's Word on the roadside.] Other seed fell on fallow ground that was imbedded with rocks and it shot up immediately but withered in the hot sun because the rocks impaired the growth of the seed. Other seed fell on ground that was imbedded with weeds, and they choked out the growth of it. And finally, some of the seed fell on good ground, and it brought forth fruits." And in that parable Jesus was describing four reactions to the truth of the Word of God. 1) There was the hard heart, that represented the seed on the roadside--the hard heart that does not understand or receive the Word, therefore brings forth no fruit. 2) The shallow heart, speaking of that seed that went on ground that was imbedded with rocks--describing those that are very emotional but have no depth in their life, thus they bear no fruit. 3) Thirdly, there is the crowded heart, representing the seed that goes into the soil imbedded with weeds--and that speaks of those who receive the Word initially, but they lack repentance and permit sin to choke out the Word. [another interpretation for the weeds is "the cares of this world or life" are the weeds choking out the Word. Both can have the same effect.] And finally, there is the fruitful heart that receives the Word and allows it to bring forth fruit. Now listen, you have determined what kind of soil your heart will be. I determine if I'm going to have a hard heart, a shallow heart, a crowded heart or a fruitful heart. I determine if the Word of God is going to effect my life, it's up to me. The Word of God cannot work in our lives unless we receive it the right way. Because it's possible to hear with your ears, but not with your heart. Jesus said in Matthew 13 [verses 11-15], 'Hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.' And that is why Christ so often said, "He that has ears to hear, let him hear." That was Jesus' way of saying "Listen up!--pay attention! Focus on what I'm saying to you." It's attention with intention. Attention with intention--I'm listening with a desire to apply.

Now here's a little nugget of great truth. This is why I mentioned in our introduction to James that this is the Proverbs of the New Testament, because it's filled with great truths throughout it. [And the main truths brought out in James are the main points brought out in Proverbs.] "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath." Now that's good advice, isn't it? Now there's a statement we ought to post up where we can see it every single day. How different our lives would be if we would heed the admonition of these simple words "Let every man be swift to hear"--or quick to hear--"slow to speak, and slow to anger." The problem is, most of us are "Swift to speak, slow to listen, and quick to anger." At least I am, I don't know about you. And in our time [age] of instant information, 10 second sound-bites, it's challenging to slow down and be still and know that He is God. So many of us tend to be the proverbial Martha, running around in our self-made circle of activity, instead of wisely and calmly sitting at His feet like her sister Mary. We need to be swift to hear, ready to hear what God has to say. But then we need to be slow to speak. How many times have you said something, and the very moment the words left your lips, you regretted it. You said, "I should never have said that!" How easily we can say things we should not say. How quickly we'll pass judgment on a situation we know nothing about. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, but so often [we think], "I don't want to hear the facts, don't confuse me with the facts." I want to react, right now, to what I heard said, even though I don't even know if it's true or not." Be quick to listen, and slow to speak. A major part of self-control is mouth-control, because it's a lot easier to save face if you keep the lower half shut. It's difficult to put your foot in your mouth if your mouth is closed, isn't it? And as the ancient proverb says, "A closed mouth gathers no foot." How often have we said things we've regretted. You know our good friend Peter did this on more than one occasion. I love the stories of Peter that show his humanness, because it just gives hope to ordinary people like you and me. But one of my favorite Peter stories is when Jesus is being transfigured with Moses and Elijah, remember that story? And Peter was sleeping. Jesus told the boys to wake up, and obviously he had something great in store, but they were, you know, sleeping and they wake up and Peter sees this incredible sight--Jesus, Moses and Elijah! And then I love what the Scripture says, it says, "And Peter then said"--because he did not know what to say (you're always in trouble when you do that, right? You ever been in a tense situation, you want to say the right thing, you know, you want to make a good impression on that person that's interviewing you for a job--you want to make the right impression on that girl or that guy that you're interested in, or you meet that man or woman of God and you want to say something that will cause them to believe 'you're a real committed believer', and you say the dumbest thing you've ever said! You can't believe you said it!)--Peter said, because he didn't know what to say, "It's good we are here." Imagine, there's Moses, Jesus and Elijah. Jesus is being transfigured, he [Peter] stands up and says "It's good we are here." You know, you wonder if Moses turned to the Lord and said "Who's that?" Maybe Elijah said, "You know, I wasn't really feeling good about this, but I feel much better now that he said..." Obviously that didn't happen. "It's good we are here!" But he wasn't done. "Let's build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah." Oh man, the old foot-in-mouth disease. How often we've said those things. Jesus said, "I say to you that every idle word that a man may speak, he'll give an account of in the day of judgment, for by your words you'll be justified and by your words you will be condemned." You know, it's been estimated that most speak enough in one week to fill a large 500 page book [It's actually much more than that. Men speak on average 9,000 words a day, and women 15,000 words a day. Cf. Pastor Dave Moore's Love For A Lifetime series on marriage, available at http://www.mooreonlife.com.] In the average lifetime this would amount to 3,000 volumes of 1,500,000 pages. Can you imagine?--to just read these volumes of things you've said throughout a day, and how embarrassing that would be? It's frightening to think that by our words we'll be justified or condemned.

But not only should we be quick to listen and slow to speak, we should also be slow to wrath, or slow to anger. But how easy it is to rationalize our outbursts of anger. You know, someone really ticks us off. I read in the newspaper the other day, where people are just 'losing it' on the roads. You know, someone cuts you off or tail-gates you, people are pulling guns out and killing people and running people off the sides of the road and so forth. It's crazy. We're so quick to anger. But you know there are some people that will explode, be angry, and then they're over it. You know, in all honesty, when I lose my temper--and I've lost it more than once in my life--I'm one of those types of people that just--BOOM! I'm just mad--but then I'm over it. Now, not everyone else is over it, but I'm over it. I vented. I feel much better. But then, of course, after I look at those I may have hurt or offended, I have to apologize for what I did. But you know, there are people that are angry like that. But then there are those that will not have an outburst. They just seethe on the inside, they just boil. It was Oswald Chambers that made this interesting statement. "The man who loses his temper quickest, is the one who finds it quickest. But the man you must beware of is not the man who flares up, but the man who smolders--who is vindictive and harbors vengeance." You see, the problem with the bitter and angry person, is they're never content to keep it to themselves. They want to spread it around. You know they're just angry. And instead of dealing with it, instead of going to the person they may be angry with, or going to the person they have the conflict with and seeking to resolve it, they hold it on the inside, and they allow it to dig in deeper. And you know what it turns into?--it becomes a root of bitterness. And the problem with bitter people is they're never content to be bitter by themselves. They want to spread it around. They're the type of person that, you'll talk to them and they'll say, "What do you think about--Do you think the church should really be doing this? Do you agree?--because I was talking with eight other people and they didn't really like this. What do you think?" You know, they're immediately stirring up something. Or "You know, I heard something about so and so, and I don't know if it's true, but I heard this and I heard that"--you know, they're bitter and they want to spread this poison around. There are some people, I've come to realize, that just love to argue. They love to fight. And you get one thing resolved and they'll go to another, and that gets resolved and they'll go to another--they're looking for a fight. It's just their nature, it's their temperament, they love to be in confrontation with other people.

I heard Chuck Smith mention a tribe of people in New Guinea that had an interesting practice that they engaged in every single morning. At the same hour every morning all of the members of this tribe would gather in their little town square and have a huge argument. They would fight and scream and shove and push and pull and they'd yell at each other for a few minutes, then they would all go on to work. And a sociologist went out to study this, because it wasn't that they were arguing about any particular thing. They just got together and argued every single morning. After researching their diet, he found that they were lacking in protein. So his conclusion was, the reason they did this was to get sort of that adrenaline rush--you know how that can happen when you get mad and you just Whaa!--and they would do that every day to get the adrenaline rush to give them the energy to make it through the day. But the real reason they did it was that they had a deficient diet. Well, you know there's a lot of people like that in the churches today, our churches today--they live to fight--always nitpicking, complaining, arguing--and I'm sure it's a lack in their spiritual diet. When someone gets their kicks by constantly running others down they do so because something is wrong with their spiritual life. Listen to me, the truly spiritual person is not the hypercritical person, it's not the nitpicky person, it's not the legalistic person. Again the people I have met that are godly individuals--and more importantly I believe these are Biblical principles--they are those that are reflecting them--they're graceful people, they're compassionate people, they're loving people. Those that tend to be the greatest nitpickers, the greatest critics, those that argue about everything, that split hairs constantly tend to be the more unspiritual person. And don't be surprised to find that the person who whines the most and is so critical of the smallest things in others lives is guilty of something far worse in their own. Why? Because Jesus said, 'You know you can't find the speck in your eye because you have a telephone pole in your own eye.' That's what it is. It's a lack of spirituality, a lack of true godliness that causes a person to behave in such a manner. Now here's the problem. When I come to church into a worship service and to hear the Word of God with a heart that is full of anger and bitterness, the seed of His Word is going to fall on hard ground. Because I come with a critical attitude, right? As people are worshipping I got my arms folded 'Oh look at that. What are they doing that for?'...You know, you're always just critical of everything. Then the Bible study, 'Oh he mispronounced that word.' 'He's so bald, I hate him.'...(It's OK, bald guys can mock bald guys! [Pastor Greg obviously and humorously referring to himself I guess.]) So when we come to church with this angry, bitter attitude, our hearts are going to be like stone. Do you think the seed of God's Word is going to find root in that kind of soil? Absolutely not. The very Word that should be transforming us will harden us because our hearts are all wrong. As I said, we determine what kind of soil our hearts will be. So what we need to do is clear the soil, right? If you're going to go in your back yard and plant a garden, what do you need to do? Pull out the weeds, and prepare it for planting. Well, in the same way, we need to do it with our hearts. [And I might ad here that there is a tremendous spiritual resource that can help one do this spiritual weeding, rock and root pulling in our spiritual gardens. It is Nan Missler's book "Way of Agape", available at http://www.khouse.org . Excerpts of the whole book are also available on that site as well. The key chapter 14 of her book is on this site under the "Christian Growth" section. Getting the Lord to help you uproot bitterness is one of Nan's special areas of understanding. If you need the help don't fail to look up this resource!] And look what James says, in verse 21. He says that we are to lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness. I love the King James Version as it translates this verse. "Superfluity of naughtiness."--Superfluity of naughtiness, or filthiness and overflow of wickedness. For the seed of the Word of God to properly take root we are to first clear the ground of that which would hinder its growth--those weeds of wickedness and that root of bitterness must come out. Because Scripture tells us, "break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns" in Jeremiah 4:3. Clear it up. And once that soil is broken up and cleared up, then what? We are to receive the Word of God. But how are we to receive it? Look in verse 21, "Receive with meekness the implanted Word"--meekness. Now that would be the opposite of pride, coming humbly, with an open heart to hear and apply God's precious Word. Not with some hyper-critical "already heard that" attitude, but rather with an openness to what the Lord would say to us. And I'll tell you what, if you do this, it's gonna have a great effect on your life. And if you don't do it, you're going to have some problems.

Look in verse 21, this is kind of an interesting little twist. "Receive the Word with meekness, the implanted Word which is able to save your soul." And I would say well, yeah, so what. That's obvious. But understand this. This is not addressed to non-believers. Certainly if a non-believer accepts the truth of the gospel as proclaimed in the Word, they will be saved. But that is not the context of what James is saying. Who is James addressing his remarks to? Believers, right? He is saying to me as a Christian, if I receive with meekness the implanted Word, it will save my soul. But you might say, "Great, but isn't my soul already saved?" Yeah, but in the context here, he's not speaking of the salvation of my soul from eternal damnation, for the word saved can be translated "It will bring health to your soul" or "restoration to your soul." In other words he's saying, "If you allow those pollutants of anger, bitterness and a loose tongue into your life, you will have a sick soul. And you're refusal to obey the Word of God may not disqualify you as a Christian, but it will certainly disqualify you as a contestant for spiritual rewards. The word received is able to save our souls not only from damnation but also from damage. Don't have a damaged soul, don't have a sick soul, don't come to church with an angry heart. Come with meekness and an openness, realizing that there is so much to learn--but not just to hear it, but then to do it. And that's what I meant when I said "Attention with intention."--"I intend to apply what I have heard."

Look at verse 23, "If you're a hearer of the Word and not a doer, your like a man beholding his natural face in a glass" or a mirror. The word that is used here for looking at yourself in the mirror speaks of an intensive scrutiny. Now, this is not a picture of someone who sees himself in a mirror and then forgets what he looks like. Rather, it's someone who sees their reflection in the mirror and realizes something needs to be done, and then doesn't act on it. An illustration: Let's say you walk by a mirror and you realize 'Oh I put my lipstick on wrong.' (I'm speaking of women here, by the way. [laughter]) You know, you got up in the morning, it may be dark and you didn't want to wake up your husband, you put it on your nose instead of your lips. That's why everyone's been staring at you. 'Oh, I need to fix that.' But let's say you saw that, 'I need to fix that', then you just walked away and forgot about it. That's the idea that James is communicating here. Or maybe you're a guy, you walk by a mirror, "Oh man, I missed a spot when I was shaving this morning, I need to fix that." But instead of fixing it, you just go away and forget about that. The idea is that someone is hearing the Word of God, in your personal study, being proclaimed from a pulpit, or you hear it over the radio or the Internet or wherever you hear it, and God's Holy Spirit takes that truth and brings it home to your heart. You know what I'm talking about, when something just grabs you--"I need to do that." "He could have been saying that just for me." The Lord says "Do this", you say, "I need to do that." And then you leave church and you never do it. That's the idea that James is communicating. You look in the mirror, God shows you what you need to do, you may even agree with what he says, but you never act on it. This is the problem. God's Word becomes a millstone if I don't make it a milestone. Truth acted on brings more truth, but failure to respond to truth will ultimately result in the loss of truth. The same principle is shown in the story that Jesus told of the servant who did nothing with his talent but instead buried it. Remember Jesus said "Take this talent from him and give it to the other that has ten talents, for everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance. But he who has not, even what he has will be taken from him." You need to act on what you hear. And if you don't act on what you hear you're gonna lose it. Attention with intention--let's say you went into a restaurant, and you asked for a menu. You're very hungry. You looked at the menu, you looked at the little photographs of the food. Now is that going to satisfy your hunger? Are you going to set the menu down and say, "I feel much better now, thank you" and leave? Will reading a menu fill your stomach? No. Well, what if you memorized the contents of the menu?--You know, memorize every single order--let's see, the combination, that with cheese and onion--you memorize it all. Will that fill your stomach? No. Let's say you've memorized it so well you can quote it to other people. You can stand outside the restaurant and say, "Ask me whatever you want, I've memorized the menu. I know this menu." That's good. But you know what? It doesn't fill your stomach. [And if you really do that, it makes you a first-class fruit-cake as well!] Why? You need to order, right? OK, when I come to the Word of God, I can read it, that's good. I can memorize it, that's great. But until I act on it, it's not gonna help me. I can read the menu, but I need to order the food and eat it for my hunger to be satisfied. And for God's Word to have its full effect I need to not only hear it, but apply it and do it. And that is what James is saying.

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