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I. Trials, Temptation, and True Religion (James 1:1-27)

1:1 James, the half brother of Jesus, greets his readers as a servant of God and . . . Christ. He wants them to know he’s writing in submission to his Master’s agenda.

1:16-18 Don’t be deceived (1:16). When faced with temptation, you must shift your focus. Focus, first, on the goodness of God: Every good and perfect gift is from him. Look to all the kindness God has shown you rather than at the temptation confronting you.

Second, focus on the faithfulness of God’s character: he’s the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (1:17). God never changes and always shines. Why does a portion of the earth become dark even though the sun always shines? Because earth keeps turning. God is consistently shining forth his goodness, truth, and grace. Turn to him, not away from him.

Third, focus on God’s Word: he gave us birth by the word of truth (1:18). For many, the Bible is like the queen of England. It’s held in high esteem but wields no power over them personally. What Scripture accomplished for your salvation, though, it can accomplish for your sanctification. Face temptation, like Jesus (Matt 4:1-11), with the spiritual power of the Word. After all, if the living Word needed the written Word to defeat the enemy of the Word, you certainly do.

Finally, focus on God’s plan: you are the firstfruits of his creatures (1:18). The Israelites gave God the firstfruits of their crops, flocks, and herds. They demonstrated how they valued him by giving him the first and best of what they owned. As God’s “firstfruits,” you are of highest value to him. You are a son or daughter of the living God. Don’t succumb to temptation and lower your dignity.

1:19-21 If you are saved and sanctified by the Word of God, how should you approach it? Be quick to listen to God’s thoughts on a matter, slow to speak your own point of view, and slow to anger (1:19) should you not like what God has to say in contrast to your own human perspective. God’s Word will confront you, but getting angry with him will not achieve his righteous plan for your life (1:20). So instead, put aside moral filth and evil by confessing and repenting of your sin and humbly receive the implanted word. Through it, after all, God has implanted in you a new nature. You have everything you need for spiritual growth. But you have to receive it, humbly placing yourself under its authority so that it can save you (1:21)—that is, deliver and transform you.

1:22-25 Without application, there can be no spiritual transformation. Therefore, we should be doers of the word and not hearers only (1:22). You can read the Bible and listen to sermons all day without it having effect. But to be a hearer and not a doer is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror only to go away, and immediately forget what he looks like (1:23-24). A mirror shows the reality. It exposes what you look like, but it can’t change you. It won’t comb your hair or brush your teeth. To look in a mirror is a call to action.

We must look intently into the perfect law of freedom. The Bible calls us to true freedom, which is submission to God’s perfect Word. To live this way requires going to the Word intently—not casually—in prayer and meditation. The one who submits to transformation by the Word and is a doer will be blessed (1:25).

1:26-27 James is an in-your-face apostle. He doesn’t want to know the words you heard on Sunday unless they resulted in action on Monday. If anyone thinks he is religious, his Christianity must be practical (1:26). Vertical worship must have horizontal expression. Your faith must be seen in your conversation, your compassion, and your conduct.

First, your conversation ought to demonstrate mastery of your tongue (1:26). Talk less and bless more. Second, if your religion is to be pure and undefiled, it must express itself in compassion. Look after orphans and widows. Provide for those who can do nothing for you in return because that’s what your heavenly Father did for you. Third, practice an in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world religion (see John 17:15-16)—that is, in your conduct, keep yourself unstained (1:27). Don’t let the world rub off on you. Instead, rub off on the world and leave behind a trace of grace.

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