Transforming Faith

Transforming Faith

Humbly Receive the Word of God

I want to ask a question.  You can just do a little show of hands this morning. How many of you have ever played with or are big fans of Transformers? Any fans of Transformers? I see older people with hands up, and I know my son loves Transformers. I love Transformers. I had a whole basket of Transformers, and I thought it was always really cool how you could take a little car or a bumblebee car and turn it into a robot of some sort. I’ll tell you, when I was a kid, I watched the Transformers cartoons, and when I started playing with the toys, I thought the toys would magically transform by themselves just like they did on the cartoon. So, I would lay my Transformers out on the carpet and then I would step back and be like, alright – transform! Anybody do that? Or were you all smart enough to know it? I didn’t, and I would get frustrated that they wouldn’t transform themselves. And so, I learned a lesson that I had to be the one to transform them, right? I had to be the one to go up and move the parts. When I was a kid, it was so much easier than the Transformers that TJ has. I have to look it up on YouTube now how to actually do the transformation. Because now they’ve got a car, a dinosaur – it’s all kinds of different things. But that’s a very important lesson that the Transformers would not transform by themselves. It took someone else going in and doing that transformation.

Now I look around and it’s a beautiful day, and we’re kind of in the middle of September, getting close to October. And you know, we live closer to the mountains than I did when I was in Oakboro, so I’m excited about maybe taking a day trip because what’s getting ready to really transform? The leaves! There’s going to be a beautiful transformation where the leaves turn all these beautiful colors, and I’m no scientist, but there’s a process that goes into that. They don’t just magically change overnight. There’s a process, and the weather’s got to be just right and outside factors have to act on them to do that kind of transformation.

We can look around at the wonderful children and babies, and we see transformation. We see babies transformed to toddlers. I saw Jamieson walking earlier today. Great transformation is taking place from an infant to a toddler to a child and then the greatest transformation of all – because it’s big and you all know what I’m talking about – from child to teenager.  As a youth pastor. I would always try to help parents go through this transformation, but I really didn’t understand it ’cause I didn’t have teenagers. I was just telling them what the book says. Now I have a 12 year old. Those books are wrong. And I actually apologized to one of the parents who I tried to navigate and disciple through that, and I said I had no idea what you were going through. This is a crazy transformation that takes place.

Caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies. You know, transformation is all around all the time. Every aspect of the world we live in is experiencing some kind of transformation. Transformation is a part of the Christian life as well. Transformation is something that all Christians will go through and experience, but it’s important for us to know that we cannot transform ourselves. Just like I have to transform a transformer, God has to transform our lives. God has to do the work in our hearts to transform us.

We’re in a series of sermons through the book of James, one of the most practical, application-oriented books of the whole Bible. James is giving teaching and instruction and command, and we’ve walked through what we do when we’re experiencing trials.

Two weeks ago, we looked at where does temptation come from, and what we saw with temptation is really it’s the desires, the evil desires of our heart, and that when we give into that temptation, we sin, and when sin is fully conceived, James tells us, it leads to death and eternity separated from God.

But we see in James 1:18 that it is by His choice, by God’s choice, He gave us birth. How? By the Word of truth, so that we could be a kind of first fruits of His creation. You see, in the moment we decide to follow Jesus, in the moment that we confess and admit that we are sinners, and we ask Jesus into our hearts, and we make that decision to turn away from the world, to turn away from our sin and follow the ways of Jesus. When we make that decision, we are instantaneously transformed from death to life. We are transformed from an old creation to a new creation as Paul puts it, and that happens immediately when you make that decision.

But in that same moment, another transformation begins, because we have to go through life being transformed to look and be more like Jesus, and that does not happen instantaneously. And everybody if you hear my voice you know this, because you make mistakes. You find yourself giving in to temptations that you know you shouldn’t. But you also, if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you’ve seen how you’re much better and you’re more like Christ today than you were a decade ago or five years ago.

And so, we’re constantly going through this transformation as Christians to become more and more like Jesus, and James is going to give us insight into how that happens and how God works through His Holy Spirit through the Word of God, to create us and mature us and grow us to the people that He wants us to be.

We’ll look at these passages in James 1:19-21. So, if you want to turn there or use your holy mobile and click to James Chapter one.  You’ll find notes in your bulletin and on the You-version app. If you have the Bible app from You-version, you’ll find notes there as well to follow along. What I want us to see, my goal for this lesson, is this. I want us to know how we can hear from God – how we can hear God’s instructions, so that God can transform us into the people that He desires us to be. So, here’s what James writes in chapter one, starting in verse 19.

He starts with this gentle phrase. I like that he’s so gentle with his correction.  He says,

James 1:19-21:

19 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.

As we look at the text, there’s really just one insight, one truth that I want you to grab hold of. The main command or the main verb here is found in verse 21.

1 – Humbly receive the Word of God.

If you want to grow in Christlikeness, if you want to experience a life of transformation, it starts with the commandment that you have to humbly receive God’s Word.  James says it is implanted in you. The implanted Word is not something that we’re born with. It is something that God puts in us when we decide to follow Him. James is likely referring to the idea that comes out of Jeremiah 31. The prophet Jeremiah is talking about the failures of Israel to live up to God’s law. They had failed to obey and implant God’s Word in their heart, and they’ve been a disobedient nation, and there have been consequences for their disobedience.

And Jeremiah goes on to talk about that God will create a New Covenant that would enter the world through His people through Jesus. And a key component of this New Covenant is God promises to put His Law in the hearts of His people. He actually says in Jeremiah 31:33 that He’s going to write His Laws on their heart. The repeated failures of Israel to obey the Law of God made it clear that the human heart is not capable of submitting to that Law.

A new interior, a new work has to be done inside of us so that we can be obedient to following Jesus. When you are saved, God implants His Word in you. He’s writing a new story, a new book, a new chapter. Because it is only from the inside that we can be transformed on the outside. Another thing – can you remember? James would have been Jesus’ half-brother and spent a lot of time following Jesus around although he was not a Christian while Jesus was on this earth. But he’s probably referring to a parable that Jesus told about the seed being sown or the parable of the sower.

In Matthew 13, Jesus talks about four different kinds of seed or four different kinds of hearts. There’s the hard-hearted person. The hard-hearted person will not receive or understand the Word of God and no fruit will be bore in their life. The second one is the shallow heart. They receive the Word, but there’s no depth in it. They don’t commit to living their lives, and since it’s shallow, they never grow.  Then there’s one that I think many of us can relate to. It’s the crowded heart. The crowded-hearted person lacks repentance and permits the sin of the world to choke out God’s Word. Or you could say the busyness of life choked out and crowded out God’s Word. We’re all busy.

There are days when I, as your pastor, now they’re hopefully and prayerfully few and far between, but there are days when I wake up and I’m so focused on the task of the day, that I fail to spend the first moments with God.  The busyness of life can choke out and prevent us from humbly receiving the Word.

But then Jesus talks about the fruitful heart, the heart that accepts the Word, the heart that the Word is planted and put deep into. And it just grows and bears fruit. That is how we are to humbly receive the Word of God, to let it deep into our hearts, to memorize scripture, and let God write His Word in our heart so that we can be transformed, but we have to remember – it’s with a humble attitude.

See the other three hearts that I’m talking about, and even what we experience today, is often choked out or the Word doesn’t produce fruit because we are prideful people. Anybody prideful here? Think you know at all? I know I’ve talked about this before, but parents – any of you have teenagers who know it all?  Right, you’re not raising your hands, but I know it.  Pride says that you know everything and you don’t need to learn anything.

Did you know we can approach the Bible that way with pride? Where we don’t need to learn anything, that God has nothing to say to us.  Like the teenagers with pride. And I pick on the teenagers, but adults, we’re just as prideful. We’re just as stubborn and hardheaded as anybody.  I am.

I love this. I found this quote this weekend. Just man, it hits home. Mark Twain of all people said this:  “When I was a boy of 14, my father was ignorant. I could hardly stand to have the old man around.” That sounds about like 14-year-olds. But then he says, “But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Well, I’ve lived that. I used to think I knew more than my dad. I still think I know more than my dad. You know what happens when those situations come up, and I break something, and I try to do it without my dad’s instructions. He’s always right. He’s always right.

The Word of God is always right. And so, how do we humbly receive the Word?

With that being the main verb, the things that are before it in verses 19 and 20 help us to understand how to humbly receive the Word. There are two things I’m going to combine into one subpoint. It’s this – be a good listener.

Be a good listener. 

Now there are some personal applications to this and our relationships with each other. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak, but when you look at the text of what James is doing, he’s referring to how we approach the Bible. When we approach the Bible, we need to be good listeners – quick to listen to it and slow to speak.

When I first became a father, Larson was little bitty, and she had this day where she slept all night in her crib. Just one, and I remember that night. I couldn’t sleep at all. I mean she was sleeping through the night, and it was fantastic, and I couldn’t sleep because I was intently focused on listening to that baby monitor. I was intently focused on listening to every breath, every sound, and if she rolled out or she wouldn’t roll over at that age, but if she would just have twitched, I wanted to hear it so I could run and check on it.

That is the kind of listening that we need to have when we approach God’s Word – intently focused on hearing every truth that God wants to communicate to us. Every sound, every Word can be applied to our hearts. We have to intently listen to it. Like Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I struggle with adult ADD. I have a hard time focusing. And so, my reading of any book is usually like 2 sentences and then I’ve got to do something else. And then I go back to it. It’s a struggle. Many of us don’t have ADD, but we still struggle sitting down and reading God’s Word, but Psalms and James says you need to be still and know that He is God. Hear from Him.

But I’m afraid that many of us approach the Bible the same way we approach things in our culture – with a pride that says I know what’s best. I’m not going to be quick to listen because I’m going to go to the Bible and be quick to speak. I want to speak into the Bible. I want that verse to mean what I want it to mean. I’ll just tell you a little secret about the Bible. Every Word from Genesis to Revelation means exactly what the author who God inspired every Word wanted it to mean. It does not mean what I want it to mean. We cannot read or speak a meaning into a text. There is one interpretation of every passage cause it means exactly what God wanted it to mean.

Now it takes work. It takes study. It takes listening to discover that meaning. Now applications can be abundant. I can apply a Word different than you apply a Word, but it means exactly what God Who inspired the authors wanted it to mean. So a lot of people, they come to the Bible, and they try to read meaning into the text.

Or maybe you’ve done this. I’ve done this. We’re in an argument, right? Maybe it’s a theological argument. Maybe it’s a worldly argument and we want to use the Bible to prove our point. So we Google what the Bible says about it and we can get a text. It’s called a proof text. We can get a little verse that supports our idea. But that verse doesn’t mean that. See that is being quick to speak into the text where we’re trying to use the Bible in ways that God didn’t intend it to be used or we go to the Bible, we read the Bible, and then we close the Bible and we still go live our lives however we want to.

When we approach the Bible, be a good listener – slow to speak, quick to listen. But then James says

Be slow to anger. 

Again, this is talking about how we approach the Bible. There’s a lot of people who read the Bible and they get angry. They get angry at what it says. They get angry when the Spirit of God works in them and confronts them with a sin. They get angry when they realize that they’ve been living their life contrary to God’s way.  Here’s what this looks like – somebody who loves you, goes to church with you, comes to you and says listen, I’ve been watching you live your life.  I’ve been watching you make mistakes and I just need to speak truth into you.

We, as a church, we need to hold each other accountable, but oftentimes we don’t receive the accountable instructions. Somebody comes up to us – a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, a friend, they say listen, the Bible says you got to stop doing this. And you get angry and say I’m not going to let anybody tell me what to do. The Bible is not going to tell me what to do. That’s quick to anger.

Listen, David, experienced this. We all know David is considered to be a man after God’s own heart. But, David was a man who committed adultery. He’s a man who organized the murder of somebody else. He planned it. And when he is confronted about his sin, the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 shows up. Nathan tells a story about somebody who stole a lamb. And the king gets really angry when it’s talking about somebody else. The king gets furious that somebody would go and do this. And then Nathan the prophet looks at David the king and says this story is about you. So, we can be quick to anger when it’s somebody else, but when it’s about us. David goes on to confess his sin. In fact, I’ll quote him in 2 Samuel 12, where he looks at Nathan. He goes, “I have sinned.”

But that’s not just confined to the Old Testament. Peter, a disciple after my own heart – ’cause Peter is my man – Peter made a lot of mistakes, and I relate to Peter. In the garden, as Jesus is being arrested, Peter is quick to anger and almost kills a man. He actually cut his ear off. And Jesus has to gently instruct him not to do that.

So if we want to receive the Word of God, we have to be good learners, good listeners. We have to be slow to anger.  Let me just say one more thing about anger. This occurred to me this week. I was listening to a sermon by somebody else on another passage, and I find myself saying, man I wish – I’m not gonna name names – I wish so-and-so could hear this sermon. You ever done that – where you’ve heard a sermon and you’re like well, I wish Sally Sue, or maybe Sally Sue is sitting there, like I hope she’s listening to this. It’s about her. Anybody done that? We all have. As a pastor, I’m like I hope my whole congregation can hear this one and then it occurs to me – it’s talking to me.

That’s another aspect of being slow to anger. When I’m pointing my finger at you. There’s three of them pointing right back to my heart. So, we have to humbly receive God’s Word.

I want to give you some very practical steps that you can take today. You can go home, start them today, that will help you be a good listener and slow to anger. The first one is this.

Commit to reading God’s Word daily. Now many of you do that. But don’t just advance a bookmark. Don’t just check a box on a Bible reading plan. Really study it. I had a buddy of mine who lives down in Wilmington. He uses the F260 plans just like I do, just like I want you to do. He did the read the Bible through a year plan, and then he told me a few months ago that he started it three years ago and just finished it. It took him three years to read the Bible in a year and I looked at him and said, “That’s great. That’s OK, that’s good because you stuck with it. You didn’t just advance a bookmark or check a box. You saturated your soul with the scriptures.”  I mean, it’s OK to not – if you try to read the Bible in a year, that’s a lot of verses in a day. It is OK to slow down and to listen. The goal is to get it done. It doesn’t matter how long, but to let God work in you, here’s another one.

Slow down and make time in your schedule to listen to God. Maybe it’s waking up 30 minutes early or staying up 30 minutes later.  Maybe during your lunch break, you take 15 minutes of time to study the Bible. Slow down, put it in your schedule.  And here’s one I think that’ll help you with the anger part –

Limit your time on social media and other media outlets. Often the noise of the world keeps us from God’s Word. Instead of listening to talk radio in your car, pull up your smartphone, go to the Bible app, hit play. Listen to God’s word speak into your life instead of staying up and watching the news at night. I mean, I honestly don’t watch the news because it makes me angry. And it’s all false anyway. So, I take time to spend with my family or I read the Bible. Take things out of your life and put the Word of God into those slots. A fourth one is this –

Get involved in a Sunday school class and actively commit to attending a worship service.  And I know that it doesn’t have to be Sunday school. Find a small group environment where you can get with a small group of people and discuss the Bible where people can hold you accountable. And then attend worship. Commit to being at worship every Sunday.

And those are just a few things that you can do that will help you be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger.

Now James is going to transition to verse 21. And this is important. Another way you can humbly receive the Word is to have a prepared heart.

3 – Prepare your heart.

He says rid yourself of all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent. That word “ridding” could be rid yourself of. It should be taken as a command. It literally means take off the garments and put on new ones. Take off your old, filthy, spiritually dead garments and put on your new ones. When he says, I don’t want you to miss this – this word – moral filth – that word “filth” is going to show up in chapter 2. When that same word shows up in Chapter 2, it’s talking about the clothes that poor people are wearing to the church services because it’s a section on favoritism, and what James is saying in using this word in two places. He goes, it’s ok what you wear on the outside. He’s not concerned about your outer garments. He’s concerned about the filth that is in your heart. Get rid of the filth.  Don’t worry about what you wear on the outside. Worry about what’s on the inside. I’ve known a lot of wonderful people who can dress to the tee, and their hearts are dirty.

What you wear on the outside with your physical appearance is not as important as what is in your heart. Jesus puts it like this in Matthew 23. “Woe to the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, you are like whitewashed tombs. You appear beautiful on the outside, but the inside is full of all the bones of dead, the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity.” The same way on the outside you seem righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

God desires a pure and prepared heart. Things like anger, human anger, not the anger we’re talking about that we get mad and then lose our temper, things like malice. That word malice is just deliberate ill will. Things like selfish ambition, dissension, envy, drunkenness, idolatry, sorcery, jealousy, promiscuity, sexual immorality – all those things are listed in Galatians 5 as being fruits of the flesh. We’ve got to get them out of our hearts. We’ve got to get rid of them and instead put on the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

So, get rid of the old, filthy garments that are on your heart and put on the new ones. And I know it’s hard. And I know you can’t do it by yourself. And some of you are thinking that I desperately want to do that. I desperately want to be transformed. I desperately want to rid myself. I desperately want to get rid of all that filth, but it’s a struggle for me. Don’t be discouraged because the Spirit of God is working you through the Word of God to help you do this.

You’re not by yourself. In fact, apart from God, we’re not going to take these garments off. You have the power living inside of you that can help you transform into who God wants you to be.

But this word “filth” has another interesting meaning that fits our context really well. The word “filth” could mean earwax that must be washed away to give good hearing. Think about if your ears are clogged up, you can’t hear a thing. You cannot prepare your heart if your ears are clogged to the Word of God.

And again, I want to give you some very specific application points to this, too. You prepare your heart by

Confessing your sin and repenting of it, turning away from it.   You prepare your hearts again by

Meditating on the Word of God.  You prepare your hearts through

Daily prayer. Ask God to plow up the hardness of your heart. You prepare your heart by

Guarding the kinds of music you listen to.  You don’t have to cut it out of your life, but some of it you do. Some of it, some of the stuff that I hear teenagers listening to, is filth. And we can be honest with you –  what you put into your heart is what’s coming out of your heart. That’s why I like to say we want to get into the Word so the Word gets into us so the Word comes out of us.

Guard what TV shows and movies that you watch. 

Guard what you’re looking at on social media. 

Those things can prepare your heart. Why is all this important? I mean, why have I been talking to you for about 20 minutes about receiving the Word? Because of the last thing that James says – “It’s able to save your soul.” Now, this is not talking about Salvation as far as we are saved and will spend an eternity in heaven. This is this is talking about the transformation process. You see, when we are saved and when we give our heart to Jesus, we’re justified, meaning in that moment we are not guilty. We are guaranteed to go to heaven and spend eternity with God. But the process is a word we use called sanctification, where we are continuing to rid ourselves of the filth through the work of the Spirit of God working in us through the Word of God.

So we are on a journey of being better tomorrow than we were today. We’re saved from the penalty of sin when we decide to follow Jesus, and we are being saved as a continuous process from the power of sin in our life. You do not have to keep doing what you’ve been doing. When I was a youth pastor, I stressed this to teenagers all the time because they felt like they were Christian so they could live their life however they wanted to. That’s not the Christian life. We have to change. We have to let God change us. And it’s possible if you would humbly receive the Word of God into your heart.

It is the Word of God, the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God that gives you the power to say no to that sin. And one day, one day when we stand before God in heaven and we’re worshipping in that great throne room, we will be free from the presence of sin and we’re not going to have this struggle in heaven. But while we’re here, God is working in you. And so the more you dive into God’s Word, the more your character changes, the more your conduct changes, the more your attitude changes.

Let me end with this – it’s a children’s song. It’s something I learned as a little kid, and I heard it this week. It says, “Read your Bible, pray everyday, and you’ll grow, grow, grow and you’ll grow, grow, grow, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.  Read your Bible pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow. “  If you’re ready to be transformed, read your Bible, pray every day.

But let me invite you this morning. If you’ve never made the decision to follow Jesus, if you’ve never confessed your sins and given your life to the Lord. If you’ve never been baptized, I’d invite you to come – I’ll pray with you, and we’ll talk about it. We can talk about it after the service. But what I Invite you to do today is to respond the way the Spirit of God is leading you to respond in your heart.

So humbly receive the Word of God.  Let’s pray together.

Father, I am so grateful for the Truth in this scripture. I am so grateful that you have communicated to us Who You are and what You’ve done. I’m grateful that the Word is powerful enough and sufficient enough and authoritative enough to transform us and to change us. So help me as the pastor to help the church to humbly receive the Word. And Father, work in our hearts so that we understand it, and so that we apply it to our life. We ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.