I know a gal that can recite scripture from memory as easily as I can say my ABC’s. At this point in my life, it’s hard enough to remember my own name so I was quite impressed when I met her. It was obvious she was in the Word. She went to Bible studies. She listened to Christian music. She went to church every Sunday and raised her hands in worship. She paid her tithe. She chose the political party that Jesus himself must have started. She didn’t work on the Sabbath and volunteered in the children’s ministry. She was a card carrying Christian and claimed it for the world to see.
I also know a lady that harbors bitterness in her heart and is jealous of those around her. She is critical and close minded and doesn’t get close to anyone. She is the first to point out someone else’s faults but sees none of her own. She is selfish and judgmental. She blames others. She says and does hurtful things, even if unintentionally. She is unwelcoming and often thinks of others only as an afterthought. .
These two are actually the same person. It took me a while to see the second set of characteristics in her because it was not what I was expecting. After all, didn’t she know the same Jesus I know?
James 1:22-25New International Version (NIV)
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
For me, a mother of five that loves Jesus and has never set foot in seminary, what James is trying to say here is talk the talk, walk the walk. Don’t get me wrong, we will not ever be perfect. When you’re trying to live like Jesus, you will fail. Daily. That Jesus guy set the bar high. But as a whole, our daily living…the message of our lives should point to Christ. Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
This isn’t about a list of “things you can no longer do” and “things you now have to do.” This is knowing the love Jesus has for you, accepting that love and then pouring it out on others. This isn’t about following rules. This is about the living presence of God in our lives. This is about freedom from our own sinful nature and the freedom to do God’s will. This is about the Joy of Jesus and living out the Gospel story with Him. This is about walking in His light.
Is it enough for you to say to your spouse I love you and to never spend another minute of the day acting in service or love for them? Sure, your marriage might survive but what a difference it is when your spouse says I love you and spends the day with actions that support that. Our love for one another is strengthened by our actions. A thriving marriage and a surviving marriage are two totally different existences. Which do you want?
Is it enough to till up the ground and throw some seeds in the soil or must that patch of planted dirt be watered and weeded and receive the sun to reap the harvest? James wanted us to reap the harvest.
Is it enough to say, I accept Christ? Is it enough for salvation? I think it is, but James is encouraging us to live fully in Christ and there is a vast difference in enough Jesus to get by and the blessings of a life that reflect His.
I believe James is saying sure, you can memorize and recite scripture but the beauty comes when you let it reach your heart. James is saying yes, open your Bible and study it every morning, but open up your life to others. James is saying you can smile and greet people walking in to our church but don’t be a jerkface to the cashier at the grocery on the way home. Sure, raise your hands in worship but please also raise your hand when your neighbor asks who can help. James is saying that becoming a Christian isn’t just about knowing and believing who God is but it’s about inviting Him in to our daily lives. It’s not so much about doing as it is being. It’s about accepting His invitation to reside in our hearts. Emmanuel, God with us.
It seems James is cautioning us. This isn’t about our claim of religiosity or some legalistic rituals; it is about the state of our hearts. It isn’t about how closely we follow the law or how loudly we shout our beliefs. It’s about intimacy with our Savior and as we become closer to Him, our hearts begin to resemble His. James wants us to be the mirror that reflects God’s light to others. We don’t do the work of Jesus because we have to; we do the work of Jesus because we get to. His will in our lives is a natural progression of Christ’s residing in us. Our love for others is an outward flowing of His love for us and ours for Him. I think James is saying listen, learn and live it. James is cautioning us; we are mistaken if our learning doesn’t change our living.