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.

Three Traits Of A Spiritual Person

Now what are these three traits that should characterize the person who is truly religious in the purest sense of that word?--truly spiritual, a true Christian? OK, let's look at verse 26 and 27 for the answer, and we'll close with these verses. "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."

If you're truly religious, you're a true Christian, a spiritual person, #1, you'll control your tongue. This re-enforces what James has already said. The true test of a person's religion is not his ability to speak his mind, but to hold his tongue. And that is why the psalmist said in Psalm 39:1, "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin. I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence." We as Christians may pride ourselves in the fact that we don't steal from others or attack other people or commit immoral acts, but you may bring a pain worse than a blow to the body by wounding the heart of someone with your words. You can steal their good name and their reputation. Because that too is sin. And gossip and slander and backbiting are sins that are extremely widespread in the church today and we must seek to control our tongue. If you're a godly person you'll have self-control over what you say.

Number 2, a truly spiritual person will care about others, verse 27. "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, you visit orphans and widows in their trouble." This phrase "to visit" suggests the idea of "caring for" or "looking after." It's the idea of not just seeing someone in need, but acting on it and doing something for them. Remember Jesus said, if you gave a drink to a stranger, or invited them into your home, or clothed them or visited them when they were sick or prison, it was doing it for him. And he said "I will assure you that when you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you are doing it for me."

Number 3. And third and lastly, a truly spiritual person "will keep themselves unspotted from the world." A truly spiritual person will keep themselves unspotted from the world. Now, this is interesting--"Keep themselves unspotted from the world." Have you ever had an outfit on and you did not want to spill anything on it? And doesn't it seem that you always spill? You know, if I go out in jeans and a T-shirt, I don't spill anything. But if I'm in a nice suit and I have to go to a meeting and maybe give a little talk, I always spill on myself. Immediately it happens, a big stain somewhere, and you're really self-conscious, and I'll cover myself in napkins, I'll put 'em in my collar, all down and all over my lap, because I'm usually late and I'm eating in my car as I'm driving. But inevitably, that one little gap in the napkins, microscopic gap, the big glob from the burrito will find its way through and--BOOM!--it goes on your pants. You try to keep yourself unspotted, it takes an effort. Children have an amazing ability to acquire all of the filth they come into contact with through a day, don't they? There's all sorts of amazing stains. You have to make a conscious effort to keep clean and stay clean. Doesn't it seem like whenever you wash your car, you know you go through that mud puddle, or all of a sudden it drizzles when it wasn't supposed to rain. It's just the way it is. You have to make an effort. OK, God says, "Keep yourself unspotted from the world."

Now you might ask the question, "Now wait a second. I thought God would take care of us in that way. I mean, doesn't the Scripture say that we are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time? I'm kept by God." True. But I am also supposed to keep myself pure, 1 Timothy 5:22. I am also supposed to keep myself in the love of God, Jude 1:21. I'm also supposed to keep myself from idols, 1 John 5:21. And as the text before me says, I'm to keep myself unspotted from the world. Is this a contradiction? No. It just simply shows there's God's part, and there's my part. God will keep me, but the question is, do I want to be kept? Have you ever tried to hold hands with someone who does not want to hold hands? Maybe there's that beautiful girl, and you're feeling comfortable enough now, and you grab her hand, and it's like you're holding a dead fish. She doesn't pull away, but it's just, 'I'm not really into this' is what she's saying. Or have you ever tried to hold the hand of a child that wants to get away? It's not really holding hands, it's like holding their wrist, right? 'Cause they're pulling--'No, No!' You see, God wants to hold hands with you, in the sense that he holds your hand and you hold his, two people walking together. You join to each other willingly. You move at the same pace. You're not dragging him or pulling him back, he's not pulling you along against your will. You're moving with him. You're watching the Lord, you're keeping pace with the Lord, your holding his hand. You are keeping hold of him and he's keeping hold of you. God will keep you. Do you want to be kept? God is looking for cooperation.

"Keep yourself unspotted from the world." Well, how do we get spotted or soiled by this world in the first place? First it begins with friendship with the world, that we'll look a little bit later in James, where he says "friendship with the world is enmity with God, and whoever will be this world's friend is God's enemy." Which leads to #2, a love for this world, where we're told over in 1 John 2, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world." So, it's the love for the world that will then result in being conformed to this world. Romans 12:2, "Be no conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Lot, of the book of Genesis, is the classic example of this. Remember how he ended up in Sodom and Gomorrah? And when the angels came to deliver him, they had to practically drag him out of the city? How did it all start? First, Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom, the Bible says, where he could keep a good view of it. And the next thing you knew he moved into Sodom, and before long, Sodom moved into him. And he lost his testimony and ultimately his own family. And when judgment fell on Sodom, Lot lost everything. But it was Abraham, the separated believer, the friend of God, who had a greater ministry to the people than Lot did--the friend of the world."

What have we learned? First of all, we've learned that true spirituality is measured primarily not by what we say but by what we do. A truly godly person will come humbly to his Word, recognizing the great need for him and its truths. They'll reach out to those that are hurting. They'll keep themselves unspotted from this world. In short, they'll be doers of his Word, not just hearers. Let's pray:

Lord, help us to be spiritual people. Help us to be godly people. Help us to heed the admonition given to us here in James, that we would be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Lord, we ask that you would help us to come with an openness and a meekness to your Word, not with a heart filled with bitterness and anger, but one that is filled with openness and receptivity to what you would say. And then Lord, when we see our reflection in your mirror, when you show us ourselves as we are, and we see things that need to be acted on, help us not to be like the forgetful hearer that walks away. But help us to be the man or woman that acts on what we see, and does something about it. Help us Lord to keep ourselves unspotted from this world. Help us to care about others. Help us, Lord, to control our words. We commit ourselves to you now, in Jesus name, Amen."

End

[I would like to advertise two very good handbooks on Christian growth, both put out by The Word For Today. The first is Practical Christian Living by Wayne Taylor. "This book is sort of a "how to" book: How to be superbly functional, fruitful Christians. Only God can tell us how, and through the Apostle Paul in Romans chapters 12 and 13, He does just that. Practical Christian Living is a commentary on these marvelous words." I quote a tiny section of Pastor Taylor's handbook to give you a taste of what he offers:

" METAMORPHOSIS BY THE SPIRIT "

In Matthew chapter 17, the transfiguration of Jesus is recorded: "Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light." Jesus was transfigured temporarily into the form we will see when He comes again in His glorified state. His appearance was brilliant and dazzling, His face gleamed and glistened like the sun, and even His clothes shone out like a flood lamp with white light from within. Jesus was veiled in human flesh when He came as a man, but for a few moments, His inner glory was allowed to shine forth. "Transfigured" is the same word translated "transformed" in Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The transfiguration of Jesus portrays how we are transformed by letting His light dispel the darkness in our minds and moods, then shine out into our behavior: how we conduct our lives, and how we live our lives towards others. The Lord wants to transform carnality and selfishness, and give us new hearts. We won't start glowing in the dark or have a halo, but we will be changed on the inside so that outwardly we can shine forth His love, truth, and purity.

Metamorphosis

How can we make sure that we're not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds? In Greek, "transformed" is metamorphoo, from which we get "metamorphosis" meaning "a complete change of form." A classic example of metamorphosis is the growth and development of a frog. When frog eggs hatch, the little fish-like creatures with long tails called tadpoles appear. Tadpoles must live in the water, but later they metamorphose into frogs, which can live in the water and on land. How does this change take place? Their thyroid gland produces hormones that control this process. Tadpoles need iodine to stimulate the growth of their thyroid, which secretes the chemical that allows them to turn into frogs. Without food containing iodine, the tadpole will keep growing, but he will never become a frog. Isn't that sad? He just becomes a huge tadpole! On the other hand, if the tadpole lives on food rich in iodine, he will change into a frog much quicker.

The Living And Powerful Word of God

In our lives, the Holy Spirit is the One who uses the living water of Christ and the food of God's Word to transform us. If we're on a starvation diet in terms of taking in [and applying] the Scripture, we will remain immature spiritually, and our minds will be directed by our own thoughts and ways, which are not God's ways. "For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). God's Word is able to cut away the things that are immature and hurtful to our spiritual walks. So, if we allow the Holy Spirit to minister God's Word to us by bathing our thoughts with the promises and commands of Scripture, we're going to be changed much more rapidly and much more fully. Have you ever wondered why some people grow as Christians, much faster than others? They really take off, becoming stronger in their faith and used by the Lord. Then there are those who become Christians, but years later they haven't changed a bit. They still have the same old struggles and they're not really progressing much. I've observed this phenomenon for years, and I've concluded that it boils down to which people get into God's Word and let God's Word "get into" them. It makes all the difference when we cleanse our minds with the "washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:26)

... Christianity is not just going to meetings once a week, it's an everyday relationship--an exciting, active involvement. That is why Paul pleads with us in Romans 12:1,2 saying, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

In this book, Pastor Wayne Taylor takes us through a study of Romans 12 & 13 showing us what practical Christian Living is all about.
WAYNE TAYLOR is the senior pastor of Calvary Fellowship in Seattle, Washington. He is also the featured speaker on the radio program Consider Jesus. Wayne is a stimulating and practical teacher who relates Biblical truths to the needs of today. Along with Practical Christian Living, Wayne is the author of He Dwelt Among Us: A Devotional through the Gospel of John, and The Civil War Within. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Cathy, and their four children."

To order this book, send your request with a check for $3.50 made out to The Word For Today, and mail it to The Word For Today, P.O. Box 8000, Costa Mesa, CA 92628 or you can phone your order in by calling 1-800-272-WORD (9673). As you can see, this short pocket book is an incredible resource for you and your congregation.

Another pocket book within the scope of this Christian Growth sermon by Greg Laurie is Building Godly Character by Ray Bentley. Pastor Ray Bentley of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California takes us through a study in the life of David to show how God builds His character in our individual lives. This pocket book is the same price, and mailing address, at The Word For Today.

A Message For Pastors And All Who Would Teach God's Word

In Practical Christian Living Wayne Taylor brings out an important point, and I see a similar complimentary point mirrored in John Wesley's instruction for lay pastors in a biography about him. So please take to heart the brief excerpts from Mr. Taylor's book and the brief quote of John Wesley.

"Teaching--Explaining Truth"

Verse 7[of Romans 12] : "...he who teaches, in teaching..." Teaching is explaining the truth. Someone who is gifted by God to take the Scripture and expound, clarify, and make it alive to its hearers. Jesus did this with the Old Testament. In Matthew 5:27,28, Jesus said, "You have heard that is was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus is clarifying that when God gave us this Old Testament commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," He meant far more than just having an affair with a married person...In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says "all Scripture is profitable." So, if you feel that you are called to be a spiritual teacher in the body, you must also have a great desire to study all of the Bible. This is how it became clear to me that God wanted me to teach His Word. Suddenly, I had a ravenous appetite to study the Bible. I couldn't get enough of it--I would study for hours and hours a day. After a while, the Lord led me to share with others what I had learned. Paul also told Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). It's just like a skilled surgeon who expertly uses a scalpel. If I'm going to be operated on, I really don't want someone who doesn't know which organ is which. The Lord wants teachers to know His Word before they minister His truth by explaining it to the body." Now in the brief excerpts preceding this one, we saw how Wayne Taylor also had an excellent grasp of the science of metamorphosis in the frog. He gained this by study of secular science as well. Next I'm going to quote John Wesley in his advice to lay pastors, and show how this all fits into being an effective teacher of the Word. "At Leeds in 1766 Wesley was careful to impress upon his preachers the necessity of possessing a book-shelved mind, and entered in the minutes, "Read the most useful books...Steadily spend all the morning in this employ, or at least five hours in twenty-four...'But I have no taste for reading.' 'Contact a taste for it by use or return to your trade.' John was trying to make certain there were to be no preachers the feet of whose minds paced across their sermons with a leaden step..." John Wesley studied the Word of God as ravenously as Pastor Taylor says a teacher of the Word should, and added another dimension to that requirement. And it is a dimension many successful pastors employ. A successful teacher of God's Word has to make it come alive, as Pastor Taylor did in describing being transformed, and linking it to a clear understanding of what metamorphosis is all about in the world of science. Pastor Dave Moore of Moore On Life ministries combines the same rich knowledge of Scripture with verifiably sound principles of secular psychology in his superb sermon cassette series about marriage, titled Love For A Lifetime (available online at: http://www.mooreonlife.com ). To effectively teach the Word, you must be thoroughly in the Word, and have an effective knowledge of the relevancy of the Word to the world around us. That takes a combination of lots of Bible study as well as outside reading as John Wesley called for. I hope I have made clear an important principle of ministry and pastoring. Calvary Chapel pastors all seemed to have mastered these principles, and enjoy some of the most successful ministries this world has seen since George Mueller and John Wesley's revivals. This site, in promoting spiritual unity within and hopefully throughout the body of Christ does use some Calvary Chapel sermons, because they effectively teach the Word of God. I just thought I'd let you in on a little secret of how they came to be so effective at it. John Wesley in his day was no different. Neither was George Mueller. There's something to be learned here. Be sure to order the rest of those superb sermon cassettes covering the Epistle of James from Harvest Ministries.