The Dangers of Self-Deception

This last part of James chapter one is really about the dangers of self deception; we must stop kidding ourselves (James 1:22). If a Christian is deceived by Satan it is one thing, it is something totally different when a Christian deceives himself. Sometimes people are deceived into thinking that they are saved or spiritual when they really are not. Jesus spoke about this in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:22, 23). The immature person claims to be rich and in need of nothing; not realizing his poverty (Revelation 3:17).

Spiritual reality results from a proper relationship to God through his revealed Word. The Bible is God’s truth (John 17:17). James states three responsibilities toward God’s Word, and if we fulfill them, we will have an honest walk with God and others:

Receive the Word (James 1:19-21): here it is the grafted Word, which mean implanted. Jesus talked about the parable of the sower (Matthew 19:1-9, 18-23) comparing God’s Word planted in the human heart.

  1. Test of the Soil: the human heart is compared to the soils; notice the same seed was soil to each piece of ground.
    1. The hard heart did not understand or receive the word and was fruitless (Mark 4:4, 15).
    2. The shallow heart was emotional with no depth and bore no fruit (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17).
    3. The crowded heart lacked repentance and permitted sin to crowd out the Word (Mark 4:7, 18-19).
    4. The fruitful heart received the Word and it took root and produced a harvest (Mark 4:8, 20).
  2. Test of Salvation: fruit, which means a changed character and conduct. Fruit can be:
    1. Winning people to Christ (Romans 1:16).
    2. Growing in holy living (Romans 6:22).
    3. Sharing material possessions (Romans 15:28).
    4. Spiritual character (Galatians 5:22-23).
    5. Good works (Colossians 1:10).
    6. Even praising the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Religious works can be manufactured and have no life in them, and they do not bring glory to God. Real fruit has in it the seeds to bear more fruit.

The Word cannot work in our lives unless we receive it the right way.

  1. Take heed what you hear (Mark 4:24)
  2. Take heed how you hear (Luke 8:18).

Is it the fault of the teacher if they hear yet do not understand (Mark 13:13)? Maybe, but it may be the hearer becoming dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:11).

If the Word is to be implanted, James says we must obey God’s instructions:

  1. Swift to Hear (James 1:19): If someone has ear to hear, let him hear (Mark 13:9). Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Here is a great illustration of hearing and obeying (2 Samuel 23:15).
  2. Slow to Speak (James 1:19): we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes we argue with God’s Word; like the lawyer in Luke 10:29 by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
  3. Slow to Anger (James 1:19): don’t get angry with God or his Word.
    1. When the prophet Nathan told King David, “You are the man,” David confessed and said that he had sinned (2 Samuel 12:7, 13).
    2. When Peter was in the garden with Jesus, he was slow to hear, swift to speak and swift to anger (John 18:10).
    3. Godly anger is not a sin (Ephesians 4:26) but man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20)
  4. A Prepared Heart (James 1:21): James saw the heart as a garden; if left to itself it would develop weeds. Yet when a field is prepared, the Word is planted and takes root. If we don’t receive the Word implanted, we are deceiving ourselves. So how can you prepare for this implanting?
    1. Confess sins, and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
    2. Meditate on God’s love and grace asking him to plow up hardness in your heart (Jeremiah 4:3).
    3. Have an attitude of meekness (James 1:21), which is the opposite of wrath (James 1:19-20).

Practice the Word (James 1:22-25): it is not enough to just hear the Word, we should do it. Hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study is not enough, it is applying and doing what we learn. James give us three ministries of the Word of God as a mirror:

  1. Examination (James 1:23-25): this is the main purpose of a mirror. As we look into God’s Word, we see ourselves for who we really are. James mentions a couple mistakes we must avoid when looking into God’s mirror:
    1. They merely glance at themselves: this is not studying or examining themselves. A casual reading of God’s Word will not reveal the deepest needs in our hearts.
    2. They forget what they see: if they looked deeply into their hearts, they would not forget what they see. Isaiah had a great attitude toward being in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:5). Peter had the same reaction (Luke 5:8). Even Job (Job 42:6).
    3. They fail to obey: they think hearing is the same as doing. We are good at substituting reading for doing; talking for doing; attending for doing. Our education far exceeds our obedience. Look intently into the Word, not just a quick glance (James 1:25); and blessing comes from doing (literally “blessed in his doing”). Why is the Word called the “perfect law of liberty?
      1. Because when we obey it, God sets us free Psalm 119:45).
      2. Because when we commit sin, we are slaves to it (John 8:34).
      3. Because when we obey the Word, we know the truth and it sets us free (John 8:31-32).
  2. Restoration (Exodus 38:8): the tabernacle had something called the laver or basin (between the altar and the most holy place), where the priests would wash up before going inside.
    1. Washing with the Word is an image of its cleansing power (John 15:3).
    2. The church is sanctified through the Word (Ephesians 5:26).
    3. Christ once and for all washed us clean (Titus 3:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
    4. When David fess up to Nathan, he did not stop there, God forgave the sin and David would not die (2 Samuel 12:13). He was assured of forgiveness and cleansing.
  3. Transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18): let’s not confess sin, accept forgiveness and then go right back out to commit the same sins all over again. Let’s conquer sin. Second Corinthians three is a contrast of the old covenant of the law and the new covenant of grace. The law was external and written on stone; but salvation means that his Word is written on our hearts.
    1. Moses and the veil: he came down from the mountain and his face shone (Exodus 34:29-35). He did not want the people to see the glory of God fading away so he veiled his face; it was a veil to hide.
    2. Jesus and the veil: when he died, the veil in the temple was torn and nothing was between God and man. We are to have an unveiled face, no hiding. Take it off (Psalm 139:23-24).
    3. When a child of God looks into the Word (the mirror), he sees the Son of God, and is transformed by the Spirit of God. This change is metamorphosis, a change that comes from the inside out.

Share the Word (James 1:26-27): religion here means the outward practice or service of a god, used only five times in the New Testament (James 1:26-27, Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, where it is translated, worshiping). Pure religion practices God’s Word:

  1. Speech (James 1:26): the tongue reveals the heart (Matthew 12:34-35). A controlled tongue means a controlled body.
  2. Service (James 1:27): Isaiah saw the Lord and then he saw himself, and then he sought to go to the people (Isaiah 6:8). Words are no substitute for actions (James 2:14-18, 1 John 3:11-18). James mentions two groups needing special attention, orphans and widows. These are the most vulnerable of our society.
  3. Separation from the world (James 1:27): the world means “the society without God.” It is the domain of Satan (John 14:30).
    1. We are to be in the world but not of it (John 17:11-16).
    2. We are sent into the world (John 17:18).
    3. Be aware that friendship with the world (James 4:4) can lead to a love of the world (1 John 2:15-17).
    4. If we are not careful we can become conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) allowing it to squeeze us into its mold.
    5. The result will be our condemnation with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).

Jesus remained spotless (1 Peter 1:19) even though he got involved with sinners and outcasts. When we go out into the world, it is important to go in pairs, like Jesus did with his missionaries (Luke 10:1). There is strength, safety and accountability is numbers.

You and Me Against the World

I know that living in this world is difficult for a believer. The “world” seeks to persecute and ridicule all that we embrace and into which we have put our faith and eternal destiny. I received a call before our Leadership Seminar last night from a woman in tears fearing that Jesus had left her. Her spirit was defeated and discouraged; her world had fallen apart. She had made some mistakes, had a recent breakup with her fiance, was actually involved in a lot of ministry and was quite familiar with the teachings of the Bible. After a while I found her to be a delightful woman who is truly seeking after God. Her story is one that should bring encouragement to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). How passionate are we when it comes to seeking God? (Jeremiah 29:13, 42:1).

She seeks to follow the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and focuses on the command to obey all that I have commanded you. For her, all means all. I love her confident faith and sincerely desire to be an obedient follower of Jesus. Her passion is to be one of Jesus’ sheep, and not be brushed aside as a goat (Matthew 25:32-33). I challenge each of us to read a command of Christ and become obedient to it, and only then move on to another command.

Another issue discussed was the persecution that believers face in the world. There is an evil that seeks to bring the faithful down. I’m not one looking for demons under every rock or the devil behind every mishap, but the Bible is clear when it comes to our citizenship is not of this world (John 18:36, 17:14, Philippians 3:20, James 4:14, 1 Peter 5:10). My study takes aim at the world and how God and we relate to it.

Our relationship to this sinful world:

How we relate to the world:

  1. We are in it (John 17:15, 2 Corinthians 10:3)
  2. We are strangers in it (1 Peter 2:11)
  3. We are not of it (John 15:19, 17:14, 16, James 4:4)
  4. We must not adopt it’s standards (Romans 12:2, Titus 2:12, James 1:27)
  5. We must not love it (2 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:15-16)
  6. We must be crucified to it (Romans 6:6, Galatians 6:14)
  7. We must overcome it (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4-5)
  8. We must proclaim the gospel to it (Matthew 24:14, 28:19, Mark 16:15)
  9. We will one day judge it (1 Corinthians 6:2)

How the world relates to us:

  1. The world hates us (John 15:18, 17:14, 1 John 3:13)
  2. The world persecutes us (John 15:20-21, 2 Timothy 3:12)
  3. The world has false prophets (1 John 4:1, 3, 2 John 7)

God’s relationship to a sinful world:

The Father:

  1. He loves it (John 3:16
  2. He sent the Son to save it (John 3:16, 17, 17:18, 23)
  3. He reconciled it through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19)
  4. He holds it accountable to him (Romans 3:19)
  5. He will judge it (Psalm 96:13, 98:9)

The Son:

  1. He is the light (John 3:19, 8:12, 9:5)
  2. He takes away it’s sin (John 1:29)
  3. He is it’s Savior (Luke 2:10-11, John 4:42, 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 John 4:14)
  4. He gave his life for it (John 6:33, 51)
  5. He has overcome it (John 16:33)
  6. He will judge it (Acts 17:31)

Application: We are truly to be in the world but not of the world. We are set apart, sanctified for a greater purpose.

  1. How have you embraced the mission of Christ as your own?
  2. What areas of temptation are aimed at derailing your life and witness?
  3. In what ways do you need to get the world out of your life?
  4. What is holding you back?
  5. How are you investing in another man, or is another man investing into you?
  6. In what ways have you been persecuted for the sake of the gospel?
  7. What worldly standards have you allowed to creep into your life, marriage or family?
  8. How will you combat this tendency and stand strong in your faith?

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Paul and His Vow

I love that game Trivial Pursuit; you know the one that has players bursting forth with tidbits of random and otherwise useless information. The writer of Acts, Dr. Luke, throws in one item of what seems to be useless trivia, that when Paul left Corinth, he had his hair cut off because of a vow (Acts 18:18). I wonder why Luke thought that bit of information needed to be included in the narrative? Know for sure that the point is not that Paul needed a haircut, but the reason for the haircut.

Paul was deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and coming to Christ did not make him forget that heritage. Luke was referring to the Nazirite Vow (Numbers 6:1-8). Note the purpose as revealed best in the NIV: “If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the LORD as a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2).

  1. Using the word wants: it was voluntary
  2. Using the word special: not only was it voluntary but it was for men and women.
  3. Using the word separation: it was a vow of consecration to the Lord, to be distinguished from all others.

If you know the writings to the Corinthians, this church was in the midst of terrible depravity in a sexually explicit society. The most extreme pagan practice involved the cult of Aphrodite, full of lust and sexual immorality as a part of their worship.

The haircut is not the beginning of the vow but the end of it (Number 6:5). Practically speaking, Paul entered this wicked city with the intention of setting himself apart, to remain pure in the midst of impurity, committing himself to the only One who could ensure victory (2 Corinthians 2:14).

The vow involved abstinence (Number 6:3) from wine and strong drink. I abstain from alcohol not for biblical reasons but for social reasons. I see what alcohol does to our society and choose not to support that industry (drunk driving, road deaths, broken families, ruined marriages, abused children). I know alcohol is not forbidden in the Bible, but for me it is a distraction. It is a voluntary decision I have made. I do not believe that I personally can consume alcohol and be a truly devoted follower of Christ. I’m sure that Satan would use it as a trap for me, so I have made a vow of separation.

A visible sign of someone taking this vow of separation was uncut hair (Acts 18:18). If someone forgot about the vow they made, they could easily look into a mirror and be reminded of their commitment. Once Paul no longer needed this sign of extreme devotion to God, he cut his hair leaving Corinth. I am impressed with Paul’s example.

Paul had insecurities, weaknesses and temptations like all of us, but he dealt with them with wisdom. Jesus told us to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Had Paul not taken precautions, he could have gotten into serious trouble.

He took another precaution, he purposely did not take any money from the Corinthians; he got a job. A Macedonian church sent him money so he could preach freely without being a burden to the Corinthians (Acts 18:5, 2 Corinthians 8:1-2, 3-4). He also found a couple new friends, Aquila and Priscilla, who were also tent makers (Acts 18:3).

Application: Men, it is time to consider taking the vow… it’s not about letting your hair grow, but separating yourself from the world and consecrating yourself to the Lord. How do you keep yourself pure in a society that elevates sensuality, drunkenness, impurity and promiscuity? Do you go out into the world unprotected or worse, with a belief that you would never fall to any of these more grievous vices? Hear the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” In short, that is what we call accountability. We can stand better together.