Lesson Four: How to be Saved … Again, and Again, and Again!
As New Testament believers, when we hear the word saved we automatically associate it with going to heaven when we die. In that context, salvation is a one-time experience with eternal results. However, in the Old Testament the word saved has a much different meaning. It usually refers to the present benefits and blessings of a right relationship with God that can be lost through disobedience and regained by obedience. For example:
- Psalm 18:3 - I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
- Psalm 34:6 - This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
- Psalm 80:3 - Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved [from God’s chastening and the consequences of their sin].
- Psalm 107:13 - Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses [which were the result of their disobedience].
In this context, an Old Testament believer could be "saved" many times as he obeyed the Word and walked by faith. He could be saved from trials, chastening, and from sin and its consequences.
This is the way that James uses the word saved throughout his letter. Until you understand this, you will consistently misinterpret what he has written. James is writing to believers. In verse 19, he calls them brethren. They already possess God’s gift of eternal life. When James writes that the Word of God is able to save their souls (verse 21), he is warning them that unless they receive the Word and apply it to their lives, they cannot be "saved" from the problems addressed in this section.
James confronts three issues in these verses. The first is hostility. Under the pressure of persecution, some of the believers were giving way to anger. The second is hypocrisy - failing to practice what was preached. They listened to the Word, but didn’t obey it. The third is religion as a habit. Some believers carefully observed all the formalities of worship, thinking that these were all there was to the practice of Christianity.
I. Be Saved From Hostility – Verses 19-21
Anger and hostility are common responses in trying times. When the pressure increases, people tend to "explode." Bosses snap at employees. Parents lash out at children. Believers become impatient with God. And frequently, anger leads to other sins – what James refers to as filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.
In these verses, James gives us advice on how to let God’s Word keep us from angry responses and their accompanying sins.
- A new resolve
- Don’t jump to conclusions – swift to hear
We have all met an angry person who "won’t listen to reason." They have allowed their feelings to close their minds and cloud their judgment. They are quick to jump to conclusions and react to their circumstances. This is what James is telling us to avoid. In times of stress, we need to be mentally and spiritually determined to get God’s perspective on our trials and listen to the wisdom He offers us through His Word.
- Don’t talk yourself into a rage – slow to speak
James also warns against "sounding off" in anger. The more we talk and give voice to our frustrations – attacking, criticizing, accusing, blaming, complaining – the angrier we tend to become. We literally talk ourselves into a rage.
James isn’t suggesting that we say nothing, only that we choose our words carefully. We need to hear from God first, and then we will be better equipped to talk about our trials.
- Don’t yield to angry feelings – slow to wrath
Every part of our disposition needs to be under the control of the Spirit. This is especially true of our temper. The reason for this is that our anger does not produce the righteousness of God.
- Satan often gains a foothold into our lives through angry and bitter feelings. Ephesians 4:26-27
- The person who is quick to get angry makes foolish choices. Proverbs 14:17
- An angry person often creates strife and conflict. Proverbs 29:22
Anger is usually counterproductive. When anger controls our responses, then the Spirit of God is prevented from working in our lives and producing His righteous fruit.
- A new response (Verse 21)
- Reject the sins that accompany angry feelings.
- Too often, we excuse sinful behavior saying, "I can’t help it." "I’ve always had a problem with my temper." "I’m just like my father or mother."
- James on the other hand labels it filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.
- It is behavior to be put off like you would a filthy garment.
- Superfluous means unnecessary or excessive. Naughtiness refers to behavior that is malicious, vindictive, or evil.
- James is saying that spiteful, hurtful, angry responses need to be uprooted from our lives like weeds in a garden that inhibit growth and restrict fruitfulness.
- Receive the truth of God’s Word into your life.
- We are to do this with meekness – realizing our own inability to overcome angry feelings apart from a spiritual work of God.
- We are to plant God’s Word into our heart so that it will take root and produce new fruit in our lives in place of our former, carnal responses.
II. Be Saved From Hypocrisy – Verses 22-25
- A command – Verse 22
- The importance of hearing God’s Word
- We cannot heed what we have not heard; we cannot practice what has not been preached. (See Romans 10:17; Matthew 7:24-27)
- However, we are not to hear merely to analyze God’s Word, but to apply it.
- The imperative of obeying God’s Word
- James states that we deceive ourselves if we think that God’s Word has accomplished its work in our lives simply because we sat through a sermon.
- Chuck Swindoll makes the following observation:
A person would be insane to hear his physician diagnose his ailment as a rapidly growing tumor, and think that just because he had talked with his doctor, the growth would suddenly disappeared … Likewise, just being exposed to the truth won’t make us mature. Nor will it alone – without application – solve one problem. (Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back – page 22)
- A Comparison – Verses 23-24
James compares the person who hears God’s word without applying it to his life to a man who looks in a mirror but walks away without making any changes. Soon, he forgets what manner of man he is. But what he has forgotten is often apparent to others.
- Sometimes people have habits or tendencies in their lives that they are not aware of. We call these "blind spots" because the people cannot see their own problem.
- James is not speaking of these. He is speaking of areas in which the person has heard the Word, been convicted of what needs to be done, and yet he neglects to act on what he has heard.
- This is one of the worst kinds of hypocrisy because it is willful.
- A Contrast – Verse 25
James calls the Scriptures the Perfect Law of Liberty, reminding us that the Word not only exposes our problems, but it points us to the way of freedom. Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The Word of God not only shows us what we have been, but what we have become as new creatures in Christ Jesus. The Christian who looks into the Word and continues therein – appropriating its promises and obeying its commands – he is blessed in his deed. He will have joy in what he does because he is walking in accordance with truth.
Zane Hodges writes,
What the Christian really learns from the Word is to become (in conduct) what he already is by virtue of his regenerate nature. When I am doing something as a natural expression of my true nature, I am obviously enjoying the liberty of just being myself. James, Proven Character Through Testing, page 44)
III. Be Saved From Religion as a Habit – Verses 26-27
- Vain religion
- Our "religion" is vain when it is just a matter of routine.
- The words religious and religion emphasize the outward rituals associated with worship.
- Attending services
- Tithing and Giving
- Praying in public
- Singing in the choir
- James was referring to believers who meticulously do these things as a matter of routine or habit believing that these alone will earn them the blessings he mentions in verse 25.
- When we perform our "religious" works without any practical appropriation of God’s Word, then our works are vain – useless, fruitless, and empty.
- Our "religion" is vain when it is a substitute for genuine growth.
- In chapter 3, James states that the mature Christian is able to control his tongue. It is one of the preeminent marks of a growing Christian.
- James states that the believer who thinks he is mature because he performs perfectly all the prescribed rituals of worship, yet has no control over his tongue is deceived.
- When performance is substituted for authentic spiritual fruit, your "religion" is vain.
- Pure religion
- The word pure refers to something that is honest, sincere, or blameless. God (and man) looks for more from God’s children than just mere routine.
- Our worship is insincere – it rings hollow – when it lacks the qualities of compassion caring and holy living.
- The authentic exercise of the Christian faith must lead to BOTH practical ministering to the needs of others AND personal separation from the sins of the world.
In this chapter, James again challenges us with some tough questions.
- What good is a faith that can’t "save" us from a carnal temper and outbursts of anger?
- What good is a faith that can’t "save" us from hypocrisy and self-deception?
- What good is a faith that can’t "save" us from selfishness and secular values?
James reminds us that God has more to offer us than just a free ride to heaven. He not only wants to save us from hell, but he wants to deliver us from the bondage of sinful habits and free us to experience a life that truly satisfies.