The Righteous Life! — James 1:16-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 11, 2014 AM
We live in a day and age where the theologically unaware think that being nice is the same as being good and that goodness is the same as being right with God — nothing could be further from the truth! Just because someone can be nice once in a while does not mean they are good and just because some folks can muster up enough goodness to do a decent thing does not mean they know God. It shocks the politically correct crowd to learn that there will be a lot of good and nice folks spending eternity separated from God where the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48) The truth is a lot of folks who think they are good enough or nice enough just aren’t blameless before God and “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
What is a righteous life? We know it was not being moral or pleasant because if it were Jesus did not have to die on the cross. Rather, rightness with God must be coupled with holiness to be righteous. Rightness with God is only attained through faith in Jesus: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36 NIV) And holy living is only found in walking with Jesus: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4 NIV) So, how do we live the righteous life? James gives us some great advice on just how we can do so. Let’s discover what he teaches about the righteous life…
READ: James 1:16-20
A newborn knows nothing but that everything it needs in life is given to it as soon as it is needed. They innately know where everything in life comes from. Only if this were true for the believer as well! James teaches us that…
I. The righteous person knows where everything in life comes from! (Vv. 16-17)
1. Far too often we can be so ego-centric that we come to believe that everything in life should be focused on us, is for us, and comes from us! It begins with us as suckling children, is pampered on us as teenagers, and fed to us as adults. Some have actually become so self-deluded they think that God is not concerned about what they do! He has bigger fish to fry. This is not new. James just got through describing the effects of sin and how it grows into a repulsive progeny. He continues by bluntly writing, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” James knew that to make God the author of sin, or to charge him with being concerned in tempting us to sin, is a huge theological delusion! It is, in fact, a fundamental flaw, which strikes at the very nature and being of who God is and how he works! It grotesquely stains the perfection of his holiness; it is a personal denying of him; and is a damnable error and heresy that brings swift judgment! It is to be completely guarded against, totally rejected, and utterly detested by all believers! We should know better. Rather, James thought we should understand intrinsically that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights!” A good holy God gives us the best! That which is holy and pure cannot ever have anything to do with temptation! Jesus taught, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV) And while we may change our emotions, faith, and will like the shade moves following the sun’s progress across the sky, God “does not change like shifting shadows.” Hebrews correctly reminds us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV) In fact, we are reminded of the eternal truth, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6 NIV) As the “descendants of Jacob” through Jesus Christ, God does not change in our lives or how he interacts with us! The righteous person knows where everything in life comes from!
EXAMPLE: I laughed when the narrator related that because all religions have the same basic truths, they must have all evolved from a common belief system of fairness. This is so utterly wrong, in so many ways, as to be downright stupid. What this is implying is that mankind wrote their notion of God into a belief system they were finally willing to adhere to. Paul had to thwart this convoluted idea when he stood up and spoke in the Areopagus in Athens. He had wandered around town and found they had fashioned a statue TO AN UNKNOWN GOD, because they thought they could evolve a notion of goodness by themselves without acknowledging there was a One True God. He related to their astonishment, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25 NIV) In fact, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27-28 NIV) James, like Paul, the righteous person knows where everything in life comes from!
Often when we begin to grow we become independent of our parents. We begin to resist their control of our lives. We begin to forget where we came from and who gave us life. This can also be true of the Christian. James also related that…
II. The righteous person is born of God! (v. 18)
1. I believe we are so intensely hungry for a lasting relationship that we actually think we are the ones who decide if God should love us or not! This is not biblically correct. James immediately relates to us, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth”! This is absolutely a wonderful reality for each of us to completely understand. The good and perfect gift God gives us is eternal life, the salvation of our souls through his One and only Son! And notice it was his choice, not ours! As John would say, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10 NIV) We may say we love God, but it is fleeting lip service when we immediately go our own way. We forget that we have become “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”! (John 1:13) We who were once doubly dead in our sin are now transformed and reborn into the children of God! God does not give new life to us because of the good things we do, because we are nice, or because we say we love him – he does it so “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” What does this mean? (Good question!) We are the firstfruits of God’s harvest of those who have placed their faith and trust in his Son! This eternal truth should make us hold our breath in anticipation. Paul gives us a hint what this means when he writes, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19 NIV) Why? Why is the creation of God waiting in this kind of eager expectation? Again, Paul tells us, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it (God), in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God! We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23 NIV) This is why James teaches us that the righteous person is born of God!
EXAMPLE: I cringe sometimes when I see folks who claim Christ live their lives as if they had no clue what that means. This is why Paul would rhetorically argue, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15 NIV) The truth is Paul was not just speaking to relationships; he was addressing how we live our lives. We can wear the Christian moniker with a flippant disregard of who we are and how we were redeemed. God chose to do so while we were still sinners, why would a righteous person then align themselves with people or things that aren’t? James desires to remind us that the righteous person is born of God!
It begins when we are toddlers and becomes full-blown when we enter into adolescence. Just as toddlers struggle with rapid growth and have to learn how to control their emotions, teenagers enter into a period in life whereby hormones rage. They cannot help themselves, but they have to learn to do so. James understood this was true for the believer and tells us that…
III. The righteous person controls themselves! (Vv. 19-20)
1. There are those who believe that because God loves us we can do whatever we want and God must forgive us. Perhaps, we are more easily duped than we would like to believe. We think that we are exceptional in some way and therefore God will overlook our flaws, you know those silly things called sins. With a wink and a nod to God, we smile and say, “It’s my life and I can do what I want, (wink, wink) right God?” But James will have none of it. He writes, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” What James is teaching us is that God desires his children to take control of their lives lived in him. He is not some special fairy, flitting around us, keeping us from sinning for our own good. While God chooses us to be his, we are the ones who decide if we will live for him or not. Paul would write his fellow believers, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2 NIV) Peter would remind us, “As a result, (the believer) does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2 NIV) In fact, Paul teaches, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified (made holy)… that each of (us) should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable… For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 7 NIV) We decide if we will live holy and honorable lives before the Lord. James knew that a “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Allowing ourselves to vent or to do whatever comes to our sinful minds and out of our mouth that ends in ungodly actions is sin! It does not bring about the life God desires his children to live! Paul would declare, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Colossians 3:7-8 NIV) Jesus was correct when he related, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:18 NIV) James knew that the righteous man controls themselves!
EXAMPLE: She pridefully related, “I can’t help myself, others will just have to accept me just as I am. God does.” What the young woman was willfully ignorant of is that while God always loves us, he does not ever accept our sin. God’s love for us does not excuse the ungodly actions we wallow in and then try to either excuse or ignore as being ungodly. Miley Cyrus is without excuse concerning her uncontrolled lifestyle. This is why Paul condemned the ungodly world that thinks it can do whatever it wants whenever it wants when he wrote, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) Like Paul, James knew that the righteous man controls themselves!
The righteous person knows where everything in life comes from, the righteous person is born of God, and the righteous person controls themselves!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.