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DON’T JUST LISTEN TO IT, DO IT!

It is self-deceit to think that just because we have read something that we know it; that’s in the natural course of things.  James makes much more of it if we are talking about the “word, which is able to save your souls.” The Word of God isn’t just information, like a mirror that shows my tousled hair and scruffy beard but can do nothing about it. The Word of God reveals, promises and gives God’s gifts – life and salvation. To “Do It” is to believe and live in the promises of God’s word.
So, to us upon whom the ends of the world are come, your savior pleads with you, “Don’t just let my words echo in your ears.  Believe my word, trust my promises, live in My love.”

The Lord is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The sermon for The Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant, Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

James 1:22–27 (CSB)
22 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.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus:  Last week James, by inspiration, underscored the importance of hearing God’s Word, of making room for His word in your life, concluding, (James 1:21) 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.

James picks up right there with today’s text and makes the point that God’s word isn’t something that you can just take or leave as mere information, but something that works on the heart, and when it does, then

DON’T JUST LISTEN TO IT, DO IT!

  1. The Self-Deception of the One Who Only Hears
  2. The Blessing of the One Who Does
  1. The Self-Deception of the One Who Only Hears

James uses a picture to illustrate, 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.  Now, what affect does looking in a mirror have?  We look, we see, we go on, and there is no affect or change in us.  A mirror has no power.  But the Word of God is different, for it has a lasting impact.  The Word of God is a living power that gives forgiveness, works faith, changes the heart, and directs the life.  (More on that later.)

But the person who is self-deceived hears God’s word as mere information and goes on with his or her life, unforgiven, unbelieving, unchanged, and undirected – all the while confusing lip-service with saving faith.

Therefore, unbelief isn’t necessarily someone rejecting the information, but someone who doesn’t receive it, who doesn’t repent and does not have the spiritual life of faith. Often, people like this are “cafeteria Christians,” who take this and reject that, subjecting God and His word to their own intellect or emotions. Their setting themselves above God’s word marks them as unbelievers.

A person who only “knows” about forgiveness may think that Christ’s redemption is freedom to sin.  That is self-deception; we all know better!  But one who believes the gospel, is changed in heart, and is free to live for God without fearing that he didn’t get things right enough to please Him.  Such a believer rejoices in forgiveness with every desire to live the righteousness that has been given by faith.

The person who thinks they can receive the all-powerful Word of God without an effect on life is self-deceived.  It’s the mirror thing again: They see something without it having any impact, any control, any power over their own notions. The person who claims to be a Christian, but never worships Christ, the person who claims to cherish forgiveness but never acknowledges her sin, the person who claims to love God, but doesn’t love his neighbor is self deceived.  John says If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20, CSB)

So faith and actions, believing and doing, are indissolubly linked together.

This is James’ point when he says, 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. He is including FAITH as the essence of DOING.

This is true in life, after all.

Why DO you take medicine if you have no faith in it at all?  We live in love toward our family members because of our faith in our mutual connections, our family love.  If we love our country and believe it is a blessing, then we show it in taking part in the political process, even to change direction.  Faith is always linked, however imperfectly, to action.

2.    The Blessing of the One Who Does

And when one takes hold of such rich and wonderful promises as Christ gives, and lives them out in life, there are rich and wonderful blessings.  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.

It is important to note that the phrase, “the perfect law of freedom” is in a series with the life-giving “word of truth” (v. 18) and with the “implanted word which is able to save you. [1] It is not just the law in the narrow sense, but the whole Word of God, Law and Gospel in its full power and grace.

We referred to these blessings earlier:  The Word of God is a living power that gives forgiveness, works faith, changes the heart, and directs the life.

  • It is a living power: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.(Romans 1:16, CSB)
  • Gives forgiveness. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23, CSB)

The promise of Christ gives what it promises, which is why I can assure you of the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.

  • Works faith – “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” (Romans 10:17, CSB)

Through the Gospel the Holy Spirit creates the spiritual life and faith through which we are reconciled to God and receive his gifts.

  • Changes the heart – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17, CSB)

Through this faith a person’s heart is truly changed so that according to our new nature we DO love Him and desire to serve Him.  It is no surprise that one whole category of discussion with God’s people is that they want to know “What would God have me do?  What is God’s will for my life?”

  • Directs the life – For God directs our life through His word, as the Psalmist says, Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105, CSB)

Without this word, a person’s way through life is without meaning or guidance, blown around by the various winds of her own desires, the prevailing group consensus, his conscience – mistrained as it may be – and self-service above all.

With God’s word, we know of the love and concern that our Maker has for us, and how He has brought it to bear in the saving and redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

With God’s word, we know that our journey through this broken world is a short one, ending either in eternal fellowship with God in heaven, or in eternal despair without Him in the emptiness of Hell.

With God’s word we know why this is a broken world, because sin entered into this world and into our lives.  We know what is at the root of broken families, broken societies, all sorrow, all grief, and death itself.

With God’s word we know where hope is to be found – in Christ and in His promises.

With God’s word we understand our place as God’s instruments in the world to death with its hurt and pain and brokenness.

With God’s word as a guide we understand our place in this world, and how, in fellowship with God Himself, we fit into His plans.  So when people give Christ only lip-service it really sounds hollow – as it is.  By His word God wires into our new nature the longing for true service to Him, as James says, as an example, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

We may not have so many orphans and widows, but we have plenty of hurting people.  In preparation for Mother’s Day we are gathering our annual offering for World Needs. If you look, there are countless ways to bring God’s love tangibly to others, and with it the saving word.

And while we serve in love, we are also at war with the world that would pollute us and lead us again to love our sin and forget our Savior.

So, to us upon whom the ends of the world are come, your savior pleads with you, “Don’t just let my words echo in your ears.  Believe my word, trust my promises, live in My love.”

AMEN.

[1]Roehrs, W. H., & Franzmann, M. H., joint author. (1998, c1979). Concordia self-study commentary (electronic ed.) (253). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.