The Bible shows us things that we need to do and things we must avoid.
Thank you so much for that beautiful worship this morning. Hearing you sing and Graham and Marsha play is certainly is a wonderful thing – our voices raised to the heavens as we glorify God with our worship.
Maybe you’ve learned this the hard way, but following directions gets you to the right destination. Right? I’m getting ready to tell a story about driving, but I just thought that as a husband, following directions usually gets me to the right destination, right?
As a schoolteacher back in the day, if my students followed the directions, that usually got them to the right destination, which was an “A.” In one particular class – it was tech math back in the day – about 15 years ago – no EOC state test in that class – the curriculum was pretty much my own, so we learned some things, but I had some students every day come in late. Now, you can’t do this today and students, you can’t do this today, so this is not something you should attempt to do. It doesn’t work like that. Times have changed, but then I had two or three students who were late every day, and I would mark them tardy. I’d mark them tardy, and it got to a point where one more tardy, they’re going to get suspended. But I noticed that every day they always came in with a biscuit from the service station across the street. Now about this time I’m getting hungry myself to be honest with you. So, my instructions to them was if they wanted an “A” in the class. they had to bring me a biscuit and a Cheerwine every day, and they did. They never were marked tardy again, and they got an “A” because I got my bread.
Now you can’t do that today, so teachers or students, don’t try that, but back then (and I’m sure you probably couldn’t do it back then), but following directions got me what I wanted and got them what they wanted, which was just to get out of my class, to be honest with you.
Following directions will get us to the right destination. I am directionally challenged. At home, I am directionally challenged when somebody asked me to do something, but more so I’m just not good with driving directions.
I’ve lived here – well, we haven’t lived here very long, but I’ve been in China Grove for about a year. I still have to Google how to get to Salisbury. Not really Salisbury so much, but any location in Salisbury I have to Google, and I’m not getting on 85, and so I’m always Googling the back roads to get to these locations. I think I’ve been to Go Burrito four or five times since I’ve been here, but I still have to Google it cause I don’t know how to get there. And by the way, the directions are always different. You ever notice that with Google? It gives you different ways. That’s why I’m so directionally challenged.
But our young people and some of our older members here will understand this. Our young people will never have the joy of MapQuest. Anybody remember that? That’s when you had to go to a computer and type it in and print off the directions and try to drive while reading a sheet of paper in front of you. Many of our young people, well, I’m kind of young too, but I did this, will never have the joy of using a real map that was the size of the entire state of North Carolina. A map that once unfolded would never be folded back correctly. Anybody remember those? Yeah, those were the day. And if you crossed over the state line, you better get you a new map cause it didn’t update like they do today. We’ll never have the joy of that.
I learned the hard way this past summer about this direction and destination thing. I preached in Hendersonville for a week. I’m coming back home to China Grove from Hendersonville. OK, so I should be coming east, maybe a little southeast and I should be coming east. I had my GPS on. And for whatever reason, I didn’t listen to the little voice that said you need to take a right turn at this exit, and in fact, I didn’t even hear it. I’m just driving along and next thing I know I see this big sign. Now, I’m coming from the mountains heading to China Grove. I see a big sign that says, “Welcome to South Carolina.” And like – wait a minute! I have gone way out of my way. And so, I look at the GPS and I missed a turn. And so I ended up going way down into South Carolina, getting on 85, and having to come on I-85 all the way back up to China Grove. If I would have followed the directions, I would’ve gotten to the right destination. Now, I got to the right destination, but I would have gotten there without having to get on I-85. And by the way, 85 in South Carolina is a nightmare to drive. There is so much road construction. Anybody been down there? It is terrible and here I am all locked up holding the steering wheel, stressed, anxiety, panicked all because I didn’t follow directions. Following directions will get you to the right destination. Now, I called Jennifer after I passed South Carolina. And what was the most classic response that she has ever said? “How did you do that?” A phrase I hear quite a bit. I don’t know, I don’t know.
James is writing a letter to a church. His church has been scattered. We’re going to be in James. We’re going to close out James, chapter one, so if you have your Bible, James chapter one, verse 22, is where we’ll start. James is writing a letter to his members who have been scattered. These are people who are unable to gather and to worship with him, and so he’s pouring into them mini sermons. It’s almost as if James has taken a lot of different sermons and shrunk them down into a few little, very important commands and teachings, and he’s put him in this book. The whole idea is where these people are at in their life, God has led them to a new location. God has scattered them.
James’s primary idea is that they would have a faith that impacts the world they now find themselves living in. That’s the name of our series – James, How Faith Can Impact the World. He wants them to live out their faith in a very unfaithful world as to advance the kingdom of God.
Now, James started with just a quick review with addressing their circumstances. They’re going through a lot of pain. They’re going through a lot of suffering, so right out of the gate he didn’t want to ignore that, so he told them that the trials they are experiencing are going to develop them into who God wants them to be. He then talks about temptation. You know the idea that they are tempted because of their own evil desires. But really, the key phrase in that is where he says that God chose to give them birth through the Word of Truth.
It was through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was through their faith in Jesus that gave them new life. Where sin led to death. Christ gave them life and we call that justification – where the moment you say yes to Jesus, the moment you decide to follow Jesus, you are saved for an eternity. You are transformed from death to life instantaneously and you can never lose that once you make that decision.
But the next section, which we’ve broken up into two weeks, is talking about how that faith transforms you. Last week we looked at how the first step in a transformative faith is listening and hearing from God. We’ve got to hear what God has to say, and we walked through that whole section about how we can hear God speak into our life.
But today James is going to take it a step further, basically saying once you hear it, follow the directions to get to the right destination.
Now think about it, that GPS that I put on my phone – if I don’t follow it, it’s useless. If it’s just directions that talk to me and I don’t listen to it, there’s no use in that. There’s nothing to it. It has no value. We can read the Word and we can come and listen to sermons, but if we don’t put it into practice, what good is? If I would have done a 60-minute sermon, we’d have done this all last week, but I broke it up so we can say last week was hearing the Word. Today is we have to put it into practice. We have to follow directions to get to the right destination. My goal for us today is that we would see that we need to continue to do God’s Word. So that we can be who God wants us to be, so we can be what God called us to be so that we can reach the destination that God has for us.
So if you’ve got your Bibles, and I hope you do, or your holy mobiles –
James 1:22-25 – But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect Law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.
Like the last few weeks, there’s really just one main insight that I want you to see from the text, and it’s this:
1 – Be doers of the Word
It’s important to note right up front, James is not diminishing the hearing part. If you want to do it, you have to hear it. He’s not saying ignore what God says. He is building upon and expanding upon this idea. He goes, if you’ve humbly received the Word (that was last week), if you’ve humbly received the Word, then you will be doers of the Word.
I coached football for a long time. And I love coaching football. I love primarily skill development with young players. I’m not much on schemes or anything like that, but you know, the basic foundational skills primarily for offensive lineman cause that’s what I am. You know, that’s what I like to teach, and I can speak till I’m blue in the face to these young people and they can listen to me and they can hear me, but how do I know that they get it? How do I know that they’ve understood what I’m saying? They do what I tell them to do. They use the techniques that they have been taught. They’ve put it into practice.
How do I know that my kids have heard me say go clean the room? They clean their room, right? I mean, that’s how I know that they have heard me say that. If we want to be hearers of the Word, if we want to humbly receive the Word, we have to put that Word into practice.
But this is not a new concept. It wasn’t a new concept for the readers of James’ day. Greek and Roman philosophers and a group called moralists – they emphasized, and this is where we get it, I think. They emphasized that teachers need to practice what they preach.
One of the big things from my preaching classes in seminary was this. Always preach to yourself first. And then I’ll never forget Tony Merita, who I had two of those classes. He looked at us and he said, and then after you’ve preached to yourself, practice what you have preached. Because if you want to lead a congregation, if you want to shepherd the people, the pastor has to put into practice what he is asking his congregation to do.
That was the concept that the Greeks and Romans certainly lived by – practice what you preach. Jewish people had this same concept. There was a Jewish rabbi who once wrote this, and it’s worded kind of odd, but, I’ll quote it, then I’ll explain it. The rabbi wrote, “Not the expounding of the law is the chief thing, but the doing it.” What he says is the most important thing isn’t standing up and expounding upon what the Torah said, it was actually living it out in your life.
Moses in Exodus 24:3 writes this, “Moses came and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances.” Listen to how the people responded. “Then the people responded with one voice.” The whole nation of Israel, with one voice just received the Word, the Commandments of God. They said, “We will do everything that the Lord has commanded.”
Now, how did that work out for Israel? Well, they did it for a while, but then they turned their backs and began to rebel. And then there were consequences of them ignoring to follow God’s laws. But God continued to love them. God continued to make paths for redemption for them. The apostle Paul says in Romans 2:13 that it is not those who hear the law who will be declared righteous, and then Jesus Himself said that blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it. We have to be doers of the Word.
Now, absolutely Jesus emphasized an overwhelming, fantastic, the wonderful news of, we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone – that our decision to follow is just based on coming as we are, giving Jesus our mess, giving Jesus our sins. We don’t have to clean ourselves up to come, but once we make the decision to follow, we are going to be changed, and we have to live that change out.
Jesus often spoke of obeying Him and abiding in Him. In fact, on one occasion He says you have to take up your cross and follow Me. The very definition of what it means to be a disciple is someone who listens to the teacher, and then does exactly what the teacher says. And if we don’t do those things, if we only listen, then we’re deceived.
2 – Hearers only are deceived.
Now I need you to lean in on this just a little bit, ‘cause this is a really hard Word. It’s a hard Word to study. It’s a hard Word to preach. It’s a hard Word to receive, but it’s God’s Word. What kind of deception is James talking about? I mean, we’ve all been deceived, right? Anybody stayed up late and watched an infomercial about that knife that can cut a can? Like if you get a soda can, and that doesn’t work. I’ve been deceived by those commercials.
Anybody been to a fair and gone through the funhouse? It’s got all the mirrors. Let’s talk about deception. I look in one of those mirrors, I look like I’m 100 pounds. I look in another mirror, it looks like I’m 300 pounds. Maybe that was the real one? I don’t know, all right? Deception is something we’ve all experienced, and so what is James getting at when he talks about hearers only are deceived?
Well, if we continue to read the illustration, maybe we can get some insight into it, because here’s what he says – because if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like somebody that looks at his face in a mirror, for he looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what kind of person he was.
I wake up and one of the first things I do, maybe you do it too, is I look in the mirror. And if I don’t do it first, I’ll do it eventually, because I don’t want to go out of the house with my hair messed up. I mean, I don’t always shave, but it would be good to look and if I need to shave, I shave. When we look in the mirror, the goal is to see what’s wrong and fix it, right? Now if I look in the mirror and I notice that I need to shower, I need to shave, and I look sloppy and I go to work or go to a job interview, am I going to get that job? No. See the point of a mirror is to reveal things about ourselves that we need to fix and then most of us I think, would fix it. Guys, not all the time, I think. A lot of times, we just put on a hat, right? My hair is a mess. Just put on a hat. Yeah, that’s what we do, but see, how did we know our hair was a mess and we needed a hat? We looked in the mirror. The mirror reveals to us our imperfections.
If we see those things and specifically go into James, the Word of God is a mirror into our life. We read and we hear the things we need to change. We read and hear the things we need to do and things we don’t need to do. And if we walk away and be like I’m good and we just forget it, then we’ve deceived ourselves, and we’ve forgotten who we really are.
The Bible shows us things that we need to do and things we must avoid. Yet many people hear the Word, read the Word, and they walk away unchanged. Here’s what David Platt says: the bottom line is this – the Word evokes action. If there is no action, then clearly there has been no acceptance of the Word. That’s hard to hear. But the Word is powerful. The Word is sufficient, and the Word is transformative. For those of us who hear it and have no visible change, the question I would ask is, have we really accepted it? Platt will go on to say that this is this is the essence of faith. We see the reality, and those who have accepted Jesus, obey Jesus.
The very first sermon that I ever preached dealt with this very topic. We looked at a passage from Luke, and we said the first step is you got to come to Jesus. You got to listen to Jesus, you got to obey Jesus. That was the very first sermon I’ve ever preached to you during my trial sermon. And that came after a section where Jesus has given a very hard Word, and I’m going to read from Matthew 7 where He says this. Now listen, because this is where the deceptive action comes in.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven. But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophecy in Your Name? Didn’t we drive out demons in Your Name? Didn’t we do miracles in Your Name? Then I, Jesus, then I will announce to them I never knew you.” Scariest verse in the whole Bible. “Depart from me, you law breakers. Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell. The rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, yet it did not collapse because its foundation was on the rock, but everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed.”
I want you to listen. As a pastor, as a preacher, it is never my intent to call into question anyone’s salvation. In fact, I go out of my way more times than not to make sure I’m not saying something that will make somebody question their decision to follow Jesus. Because, as a youth pastor, I’ve been through that. I’ve sat with students who I know were saved who came up to me and said, I don’t know if I’m saved. I don’t want you to question your salvation. But I need you to hear this Word. If you are not doers of the Word, then have you really received it?
My biggest fear and pastor friends of mine – our biggest fear is this: that our churches, this church, other churches are filled with people who have a false sense of eternal security. A lot of you know the hymn “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” Listen, it’s not talking about your church roll. It’s not talking about your Sunday school books. It’s talking about the Lamb’s Book of Life. Is your name written there? Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? And you might say, well, how do I know that I know? Well listen, you put your faith in Jesus and then you ask yourself, have I humbly received the Word? The next question is if I’ve humbly received it, am I doing what it says? We have to be obedient.
If we’re not doers, we’ve been deceived, and again, I’m so afraid that people are going to stand before God one day and say, I went to church my whole life. I started going to church when I was in the womb. Doors were open, I was there, and Jesus is going to look at them and say depart from Me. I didn’t know you. Because you never obeyed Me. Putting your faith in Christ will lead to action. It leads to change. It leads to transformation. Those who hear only are deceived into thinking that they’re OK when they’re not.
Listen, I know there’s a lot of people and hear me who really struggle with reading the Bible. And I know there are people who approach the Bible as just a list of things to do and things not to do. I get it. And to a sense, it is a list of things to do and things not to do. But we do them and avoid them because we have to. We do them because God has changed us. We avoid the things of our past because God has transformed us where we don’t want to go back. We do the things like forgiving our enemies and loving others. We do those things because God has changed us. You see, Warren Wiersbe puts it like this – “Too many Christians mark their Bibles, they highlight them. They mark them up, but their Bibles have never marked them.” That’s a good word. And so, hearers only are deceived, but
3 – Hearers and doers are blessed.
Verse 25 – but the one who looks intently into the “perfect Law of freedom.” He’s talking about the Word of God. Again, the mirror, and now the Word. He saw the perfect Law of freedom, and perseveres in it, and is not forgetful. But a doer, this person is blessed.
I want you to hear me – the greatest blessing -the greatest blessing of hearing and doing the Word of God is freedom. It’s freedom. You see this person. I want you to get the picture – this person. It is the picture that James is getting is he’s looking over, he’s bending over. You know they didn’t have wall mirrors like we had. They had things that sit on the ground or they would have went to a stream and they would have looked at a reflection from a lake. He would have been bending over, and he was intently studying what he looked like because he didn’t want to forget it. He wanted to make the changes he needed to make. He’s intently absorbing everything he sees. That’s the illustration that James says – when we look at the Bible, we need to do so intently. We need to absorb everything we see so that we can do it and then we will be blessed.
For those who think that reading the Bible is an unpleasant chore, a list of do’s and don’ts, I want you to understand. I’m not being legalistic, that’s the fear, isn’t it? That every day it’s this check, check, check, that no, no, that’s not what James is saying. He’s saying that when you truly grasp this, when you’ve truly received the Word, you’re not going to obey out of duty, but a desire. And it’s not burdensome. God does not intend to restrict you from having a good time. He doesn’t say don’t do this or do this to – I’ve heard recently the No Fun League, the NFL, right? The referees are throwing flags just on any celebration now cause the “no fun league,” and a lot of Christians see the Bible as that way. It just takes away all my fun and joy and doesn’t let me do what I want to do. That’s not what the Bible does – the Bible gives you freedom.
Listen, when you become a hearer and a doer, when you accept Jesus, you are set free from the from the bondage of your sin and the burden of the law. You’re set free from that burden. The greatest blessing is that you are saved. The greatest blessing is you are set free. Here’s what Jesus says – “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” He says that if you are my friend, do what I’ve commanded you to do. Do what God’s Word says. And then you’ll get to the destination that God wants you to be at.
But again, the danger is legalism. The danger is that we become judgmental. We’ll talk about that next week as James expands even more on this transforming faith.
But today my challenge to you is very simple. Hear it and do it.
The action steps I want to give you are very similar to last week. You can go back to last week’s sermon to see some very practical action steps, but here’s what I want to give you today.
Tonight before you go to bed, grab your phone or if you use paper and pencil, do a calendar. A phone’s really good, because you can set an alarm. Pick a time tomorrow. Whatever time works for you – wake up 30 minutes early or whatever. Whatever time works for you, set your alarm to go off, maybe multiple times a day. And when your alarm goes off. Stop everything you’re doing. Pick up your Bible and read it. Now that’s hearing.
Reflect on it.
As you read a verse or two or a paragraph, reflect on what it means. Reflect on what it’s saying, and then here’s the big one.
Respond to it.
Read, reflect, respond. Now I find one of the best ways to do this is to journal. Write down the verse, write down your reflections, write down your response. But once you write down a response, get it off the paper and do it. Your response is based on what God’s Word is saying. This is how I’m going to be transformed. And as you’re praying and reflecting through this, listen.
If you read a passage that talks about patience, and you write down – I need to be more patient. Within 24 hours, I promise you’re going to be put in a situation that’s going to require you to be more patient, right? And you have to do it. If you’re reading about forgiving somebody else, somebody that stabs you in the back or loving your enemies, you write it down and you say I’m going to respond by forgiving that person. Within 24 to 48 hours, you’re probably going to be reminded of or put in a situation to forgive somebody. And your human nature is going to be to say they don’t deserve my forgiveness. Well, they might not. But God’s Word says to forgive them 7 * 70. That’s what it means to do the Word. Do what it says, and allow the Spirit of God to transform you.
Maybe you’ve made the decision to follow Jesus. Maybe you’ve said that I’ve accepted Him in my heart. He’s the Lord and Savior in my life. Maybe you’re there. But listen, the next step, the Bible says, is go public with that decision and get baptized.
Maybe you’re at a place in your life where you’re ready to walk down here and say I’m ready to take the next step. I’m ready to do more than just hear, I ‘m ready to do. I’m ready to be baptized. If you need to do that today, then you just walk down here. We’ll pray together. Don’t be afraid – I won’t bite. We’ll pray together and the church will celebrate the public decision that you are making.
But maybe there’s some here who can hear my voice. You are still searching for meaning. You are searching for purpose. You are searching for significance. You’re searching for life. Maybe you’re searching for freedom. Maybe the Spirit is speaking to your heart right now saying you’re just a hearer. You’ve never been saved. And that’s a decision I will gladly pray with you through and walk you through. That’s a long conversation, but maybe you’ve never made that decision. You’ve never came forward. You’ve never decided to follow Jesus. You’ve never been set free from the bondage of sin or the burden of the Law.
And I want to tell you today you are here for that reason, and you know it because your heart’s pounding. Your palms are sweaty and you are ready to respond. Don’t leave here without securing your eternity. Don’t leave here without admitting that you are a sinner and saying Jesus, You are my Savior. Forgive me and transform me. Don’t leave here without going from death to life. This church will help you take the next steps after that decision.
Respond however the Spirit is leading you to respond.
Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you for your Word. We know that there are parts of this that are really hard to hear. There are things that we read in James that may contradict things that we have been taught our whole life. But it is Your Word, it is true. And we know that the Spirit of God is working in our hearts and our lives. So help everybody here to listen intently and then do what you’ve called us to do, to avoid what you’ve called us to avoid. It’s not easy. The temptations are going to be there, but You give us the power and the strength, and that’s what we pray for – lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. Change us. Change us from the inside. Get rid of all that filth in our hearts so that we can live the life that You deeply desire for us to live. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.