Sanctification; Christian Living; Self Deception; James 1:17-27
A Dangerous Game!
Pentecost 17, September 24, 2006
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, Mercy, and peace to you dear friends, from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ… AMEN! Our text this morning comes to us from the Epistle lesson, the first chapter of James, specifically the first two verses: 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.
Introduction: In our Epistle reading this morning, St. James has got me doing a lot of thinking, and that’s good. I have been asking myself questions like these: If because of my baptism I have the mind of Jesus, then why do I still think so much like me? If I have the heart of Christ, then why do I still have these earthly hang-ups? If God’s Spirit dwells within me, then why do I still get so angry on the freeway at stupid drivers?
Well, part of the answer is illustrated in a story about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was very rich but also very cheap, so her neighbors were surprised when she decided to finally have electricity in her home.
Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “Well Ma’m, I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows hardly any usage. Are you sure you’re using your power?”
“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
Well this is a picture of a person who’s tapped into the power but she’s living as if she didn’t have it. Her house is connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake? We, too—with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged—may be connected but not altered. We may be trusting Christ for salvation but resisting His transformation. Maybe we occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows, and deceive ourselves with the thought that a little light is just as good as a lot of light.
I. This morning, God’s word speaks to us about deception and truth. About sin and about forgiveness. To live as if we have no problem with sin is the ultimate form of deception; I say ultimate because if we say that we have no sin then there is no truth in us. But there are two more types of deception, which James points out as being more serious than self deception. They are trying to deceive God and deceiving each other.
We practice deception before God when we try to justify ourselves (pretend that God won’t mind or that we can make it up to Him), this type of thinking is outside of God’s plan. We say things like: “I can’t help it; its just the way God made me.” “I know its wrong, but He’ll forgive me.” Or, “God will understand, I make up for my shortcomings through volunteering my time, talents and money.” But these things accomplish nothing, because they are outside of God’s plan. The opening verses of our epistle lesson communicate that plan beautifully: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. (vv. 17-18) You see, God has already provided us with a gift that we could never receive anywhere else—He has declared us perfect through the completed work of Jesus Christ. What’s more, is the fact that He has provided His Holy Spirit to live within us so that we can continue to receive even more gifts such as: unimaginable possibilities of good, lasting joy, and eternal happiness; all this if we will only make use of them according to his will, and it is his will that all should be saved and “come to the knowledge of (His) truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And this is the truth: We can depend on God! Can He depend on us? While we may shift and change like a piece of trash paper that’s being blown around on I-5, He is unchangeable in His goodwill and love towards us. But there is one gift that He has given us that we reborn children of God should never use, and that’s the gift of choosing to reject God’s gifts and living as if they didn’t apply to us. This rejection is the ultimate way we try to deceive God.
Another form of deception that we may entertain is our practice of deceiving each other. Think of the many relationships that God has placed you in and then remember that he has placed you there to be a blessing to others. Instead of being a blessing we may have the tendency to agitate others and sometimes even be a curse. We practice deception before each other when we make a mess out of our relationships through our failure to follow God’s plan for how we treat others. James puts it this way: 19Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. What James is saying is that we must clear the way of anything that might prevent us from hearing and living out the saving Word of God, and anger has a tendency to do that; he is also saying that we must learn to listen to others just as we must learn to listen to God’s Word. A person, who loves to take control of relationships by talking over others, can’t hear God’s Word because he proves that he is a bad listener. In other words, James is saying that just because you like to talk does not mean that everyone else cares to hear all of what you have to say! This is important to remember because there will always be other people, who wish to be heard as well, and they will invariably interrupt your talking, and then there will be a clash of the talkers, with each of you building up to a violent and passionate encounter.
Now these are hard words which God gives us this morning through James. But we must obediently hear them and through the work of the Holy Spirit, accept His Word as authority and then submit all of our habits, attitudes, and emotions to God so that they are under his control. The religion of a man who can’t “bridle his tongue,” or control his temper, is a false religion, declares James a few sentences farther on (vs. 26). The person who justifies his violent temper with the excuse that he cannot help himself is quite likely indulging in a bit of rationalization in an attempt to ignore the clear counsel of God’s Word.
ILLUS: There once was a young man, maybe you’ve known him, who had developed the habit of becoming extremely angry with his mother to the point of becoming embarrassingly disrespectful. He tried to excuse his behavior by saying that he just naturally had a hot temper. When he was asked if he ever lost his temper with his teachers at school or his friend’s mother, he thought about it quickly and replied, “No”. “Why not?” he was asked. “Because I wouldn’t want them to dislike me,” he answered. I think that you will agree that this young man took advantage of the love of his mother, expecting her to forgive him and to like him no matter how abusive he became. She must even love him, because she is his mother. But because this young man had to win the affection of his teachers and his friend’s mother, he kept himself under control. This story proves the old proverb true, “Familiarity does breed contempt.” And this is one reason why marriages grow cold, friendships die and Christian brothers and sisters refuse to work together for God’s glory.
If we as Christians live with the desire of having God’s approval, then that desire can not help but restrain our sinful outbursts, simply because we know that God can not approve of that kind of conduct. If we are honest with ourselves and take council from God’s word, then we will admit that anger is usually evoked by a clash of wills, a conflict of selfish interests, and a struggle for power and recognition. God’s righteousness is impartial; his justice includes the good of all; not just our own good. God is not arbitrary or arrogant or vindictive. But pride and spite are the fuel which feeds the fires of man’s wrath. There is a Chinese proverb, which states, “The man who is losing the argument strikes the first blow.” This man lets his temper go, not because it is uncontrollable, but because his pride is piqued. “Love,” wrote Paul, “does not insist on its own way”; therefore it is not easily provoked.
II. Now, the opposite of theses hindering deceptions and their painful results is meekness, or a person who is content to be humble and gentle. The sad truth is that this godless world despises the humble person and admires the bold, masterful man who can intimidate others with his arrogant will; but our Lord Jesus has elevated the humble position as being one of the great spiritual qualities to seek after and cultivate with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is why James writes, “Receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
So now, we return to the “good news”, the gospel which James declared in the very beginning of our epistle reading, and that is this: God has sent the “gift” from above, and our dangerous game of deception is over-we’re right with our creator. This is done through the gift its self, Grace! Now I know that you hear this word grace very week, and for some you speak of it every day, but it bears being defined for us constantly so we we can appreciate the importance of the gift! Grace is simply God’s act of setting aside your sinfulness and declaring you clean and perfect just as you are. He has saved you from eternal punishment, not because you deserve it but because His only Son Jesus Christ has paid your penalty for you. So you have been saved for Christ’s sake and not on account of your own efforts. But the gift comes with something far more important than just an accomplished fact; it comes with the ability to believe that this is true for you; we call this faith.
Faith dear friends, is the gift that God gave you through His Word and at the Baptismal font. It’s the very thing which allows you to believe that Jesus did not just die for the sins of the world, but He died for you specifically. Faith is also the very thing that creates in you a desire to believe in and know God more deeply and more intimately. And there is only one way that we can increase that faith, and that is through hearing the Word of God, both the sharp edge of the Law and the ever pleasing ointment of the Gospel. But just hearing God’s Word is not enough, for we must also listen; we must internalize it and know that when it is read and when it is preached it is for us! When His living Word cuts to our very hearts and reveals our sin, we must along with the saints before us declare, “God have mercy on me, a pitiful sinner!” But now friends, listen carefully to what is said next; when we confess, we must also believe that God who is the creator of all good things has heard our plea for forgiveness and has had mercy on us for Christ’s sake. He’s completely forgiven us and sends us on your way happy to live out this truth!
For most of us, at times this whole struggle to repent and improve by God’s grace can seem like a merry-go-round, or as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like dejavu all over again,” but God isn’t ignorant of your struggle, and he has not left you as orphans, helpless and with out care. He’s with us, directing us in our daily living with Him and with others, not in game playing which leads to sorrow and heartache, but in integrity, wisdom and truth. And this is how the Holy Spirit works: He works through our hearing of His Word; He works through our doing of the Word or putting the Word into practice; and He works through His Holy Supper, which strengthens our faith in the fact that God has forgiven our sins. This belief then creates within us the desire to continue hearing and doing His Word.
Friends, the good news is this, God is eternally saving our whole person (spirit and body) for himself! Why does he do this? Because He is lonely without you and He wants you to be eternally with Him! He wants to see us in community with Himself and with our fellow Christians. And He wants to serve us through His Word and Sacraments and in turn send us out to serve others.
Conclusion: When we are right with God this will be expressed in how “right” we are with our fellow man. This expression of this rightness is what we call religion, (vv. 27) and it is expressed within our families; our homes, our Church, and then out into our community. May God continue to richly bless you with these truths and with His grace, for the sake of Jesus Christ… AMEN!