Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Reading James 1, WCF 19:2
Text: James 1: 25
The law of liberty
James 1New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Testing Your Faith
1 [a]James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are [b]dispersed abroad: Greetings.
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [c]trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [d]endurance. 4 And let [e]endurance have its perfect [f]result, so that you may be [g]perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and [h]without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a [i]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 But the [j]brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like [k]flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with [l]a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has [m]been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted [n]by God”; for God cannot be tempted [o]by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin [p]is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be [q]deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or [r]shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be [s]a kind of first fruits [t]among His creatures.
19 [u]This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all [v]that remains of wickedness, in [w]humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his [x]natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, [y]he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but [z]an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in [aa]what he does.
26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not [ab]bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained [ac]by the world.
The Law of Liberty
Reading WCF 19.2
Text James 1 (25)
Last week we considered the 1st Paragraph of the WCF which took us all the way back to the beginning of time to Adam and the Garden of Eden. And we learned that from the beginning there was a law set down by God which in essence says “obedience is rewarded by life , disobedience is punished by death.”
Why did God make this law? First because all rational creatures are subject to and accountable to God. And second because God created man with the ability to love Him or not. God wanted Adam to love him voluntarily. We know this because Jesus summarised the whole law with the word love. Love is the key word here.
Now before going on, I want to stress that as far as the Christian is concerned God’s love doesn’t depend on ours. He doesn’t love us more or less depending on how well or otherwise we obey the law. His love for us, his justifying us, sanctifying us and glorifying us has been settled once and for all by the perfect love of Christ who died on the cross to take away our sin.
The Ten Commandments when first given to the Israelites were meant to be understood in the same way. Moses prefaced the commandments with the words “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery, you shall have no other gods before me.”
Your see the Israelites had already been saved by God from slavery. So their salvation didn’t depend on their obedience. Their obedience to the commandments was meant to be an obedience of gratitude for his prior love of the Israelites.
As Christians we see also the law in that light. God does not condemn us for breaches of it while there is repentance and faith in Christ. Neither should we condemn each other for our failures and shortcomings. Rather we see the law as a rule of gratitude and a way to express love to God and one another for His prior love to us .
Its in this light that we interpret out text.
James says that the law of God is the perfect law, the law of liberty and the way of blessing.
1. We’ll look at our text in those three parts first God’s law is a perfect law. The Greek word for perfect here is Teleion which comes from the word Telos which means complete, fully accomplished fully, developed without shortcoming , in other words, perfect!
Let me explain that with this illustration. There was once a pastor who was given the opportunity to address a convention of 700 lawyers in a large hotel ball room. For this address he decided to read Psalm 19 as follows; “The law of the Lord is perfect reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure enduring for ever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
By the time he was finished the silence was palpable. Not a sound could be heard in that large crowd of 700 lawyers.
Now-a-days lawyers are taught at law school that there is no absolute standard for law. Laws change according to societies changing norms and customs. The redefinition of the marriage act in New Zealand is a recent case in point. As well as that lawyers are accustomed to plea bargaining, out of court settlements, conflicting agendas with the result that sometimes true justice is compromised.
Contrast that to the perfect law of God and the majestic way its presented there in Psalm 19, it renders the experts in law speechless just as the lawgiver Jesus Christ often left his opponents speechless. God’s law is perfect.
Some of us heard about another example of the contrast between men’s laws and God’s perfect law on Friday evening at the Voice for life meeting. William mentioned that as a pro-life doctor he often meets people in the medical fraternity who are pro-choice. The ‘pro-choicers’ he explained, see love from an emotional and relativistic point of view. It’s more loving and much kinder, they say, to let a woman who has an wanted baby get rid of that tiny baby growing in the womb. This is how they reason. But such reasoning is seriously flawed because often what happens later is far worse than the short term relief from an embarrassing or inconvenient pregnancy. God made us with consciences and law written hearts and so there is often long term guilt linked to the fact that one has destroyed a unique God given life. And then there is the cumulative cost to society of almost 500,000 abortions since it was legalised in the early 1970’s in New Zealand and depriving a mother of the joy and blessing of having that child, not to mentio breaking the 6th commandment! The list just goes on!
According to James regardless of what the issue is,… preferring man’s flawed interpretation of the law results in death. Verse 14 says when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death” one way or another. God’s law on the other hand is as the WCF puts it “the perfect rule for doing what is right.”
2. In the second place the perfect law of God is also the law of liberty. Now we know that ultimate freedom can only be found in Christ. There is no condemnation in Christ. He has set us free from the eternal consequences of our failures and sins. This freedom is ours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ .
However, as it says in Galatians 5:1 & 13 “It was for freedom Christ set us free, therefore keep standing firm and so not be subject again to a yoke of slavery: and “You were called to freedom only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh but through love serve one another for the whole law is fulfilled in one word you shall; love your neighbour as yourself.”
This tells us that while we are free through faith in Christ we can foolishly enslave ourselves to sin all over again if we disregard the law of love and carry out the desire of the flesh. True freedom is found within the boundaries of God’s law. That is where we are safe, living in the environment God designated for us to live in. Soon as we cross the boundaries we start to be become slaves to sin again.
So James encourages us in the way of freedom by paying close attention to the law of God. By looking intently at it rather than just giving it a fleeting glance. In verse 22-24 James likens that to looking at yourself in a mirror
You know how it is, we need to look into a mirror before we go out to make sure our hair looks OK, teeth and face are clean and the tie is straight. But once you’ve checked your appearance, you go out and get on with your day. You don’t keep thinking about how you look. You forget about that and just get on with the business at hand.
Well, some look at the law of God like that but James says that that is not how it should be! We ought not go to church listen to sermons or read our bibles and then forget about the things we’ve heard or read, as though God’s word has no relevance for everyday life; or as though there is a divide between our life of faith and all the other parts of our life. Such a person is according to James a ‘forgetful hearer’. The word of God hasn’t yet penetrated the heart. It isn’t making a substantial difference to the forgetful hearer’s life.
Sometimes it can arise as a result of bad theology. For example the fear of legalism has caused some to become antinomian. The antinomian sets aside the law altogether claiming it has no place in the believer’s life. For others the problem is that they have simply not thought things through carefully enough. For example I’ve observed from my own experience that Voice for Life meetings here in New Zealand are generally only attended by representatives from two denominations. Where are the representatives of the other churches? Do they not uphold the sanctity of human life from conception to the grave?
Another example is seen in the observance of the Lord’s day where many so called evangelical Christians say it doesn’t matter whether you observe a Sabbath since it says in Colossians 2: 16 “let no one judge you with respect to a festival new moon or Sabbath.”
But to use that as an argument against observing the Lord’s Day really is bad theology. Resting one day in seven is a Creation Ordinance; that we rest as God did. A second purpose given in the Bible for observing the Lord’s Day is worship. Deuteronomy 5:15 says wrt. the 4th Commandment , “you shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm . Therefore the Lord Your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath. So we are commanded to use the Lord’s Day for rest and worship.
Now the sincere Christian who confesses with his mouth “Jesus is Lord and believer with her heart in the resurrection” is not condemned for having the wrong interpretation of the law. We are not saved by the law.
But we are urged to look intently at the perfect law. God wants us to know it and apply it so that we become effectual doers rather than forgetful hearers or blind interpreters. James wants us to enjoy the freedom God’s perfect law provides.
Christians who ignore what God’s law says or who are careless about the law are going to hurt themselves or someone else. Whoever is careless and unthinking about the 8th commandment may become a thief. Those who ignore the ninth commandment may fail to bridle his tongue. According to James 3:5 a loose tongue will do a lot of damage, like an out of control fire.
On the other hand careful attention to the law , learning it, remembering it, doing what Jesus did with it in the Sermon on the Mount , applying it, extending it, not just obeying the prohibition do not kill, but going the extra mile to bless your neighbour affords the Christian the greatest freedom.
So the laws is perfect, it liberates……
3. And,…. in the third place it provides greater happiness. James says “the one who abides by the law and is an effectual doer of the law shall be blessed in what he does.” The Greek word for blessed is makarious which can also be translated as happy. Why is the person who keeps the law happy? How come the Psalmist says “the precepts of the law are right, giving joy to the heart?”
Lets think for a moment about the 4th commandment again.
Some argue that every day is the Lord’s day and that it doesn’t matter whether we keep the Sabbath or the Lord’s day or not. Well would such a view and practice of the Lord’s Day make a person happy? I would say no for the following reasons. What happens with such a denial of the Lord’s Day is that worship would become a negotiable thing. It simply takes its place as one any many possible activates one might do on a Sunday such as swimming., gardening, shopping, eating out, studying (if one is a student) or whatever your hobby might be. Sunday will begin to look like any other day of the week and we would start to march by the drum beat of the world rather than the rhythm of the church.
And if that was the case and we pleased ourselves on the Lord’s Day then we would also lose the enjoyment and happiness the Lord’s day provides.
Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. The Lord’s Day was given for our benefit and enjoyment. God has graciously provided us with a day of rest and worship
Hebrews 4:9 call it a foretaste of heaven.
And listen to what Isaiah says about it in chapter 58: 13-14
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing what you please on the Sabbath
If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s day honourable.
If you honour it by not going your own way not doing as you please or speaking idle words.
Then you will find your joy in the Lord! I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
On the strength of that scripture let me share with you this simple little poem by Alister Begg.
A Sunday well spent brings a week of content and strength for the toils of tomorrow. But a Sunday profaned whatever is gained is a certain forerunner for sorrow.”
This is just one example of the blessing which obedience to God’s law provides. I trust it makes the main the point clear. The effectual doer of God’s law will be blessed in what he does.
Certainly the law shows us our sin and drives us to Christ.
But as well as that God’s perfect law; this law of liberty makes us effective as Christians. It blesses us and make us a blessing.
With it we bless God and one another. Amen.