Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
There was, even in the time of the first century church, controversy surrounding the subject of whether one is justified through faith alone or whether that is not sufficient on its own. Many Christians of Jewish heritage believed that one must first become a Jew (come under the Jewish laws) before becoming a legitimate Christian. Today we have similar sects within the church that believe justification comes though a combination of faith and works.
There is no biblical support for this view. To the contrary, the Bible tells us that Jesus died once and for all (Romans 6:10). To add requirements for salvation is to cheapen the cross. James’ argument in the New Testament (James 2:14-26) is not that works are a requirement for salvation but rather that salvation through faith in Christ results in good works.
The bad news is that there is nothing you or I can do to get into a right relationship with God. The good news is that because of Christ Jesus we don’t have to earn our way into God’s favor. Justification is found through faith in Christ alone. This is a wondrous, glorious truth. God loves us so much that He sent His Son because He knew that otherwise we could never be good enough (Romans 5:8). We just need to put our faith in Him. What an awesome God we serve!
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ
To be sure, there are a lot of “spiritual” people and things out there today. Take a look around your Christian bookstore and you’ll see a wide range of products all claiming to be spiritual. As Christ followers, we have to be on our guard against false doctrine. It’s out duty to be mindful of what we’re bring taught about the gospel.
Paul warned the Colossians of such things, drawing attention to those that teach a deceitful philosophy and keep our attentions on worldly ideas rather than the things of Christ. There are more than a few wolves posing as sheep, just waiting to catch us in their snares. Some even believe that they’re correct in their doctrine. They don’t necessarily have nefarious motives, they’re just wrong. False doctrines can seem harmless, even wise. They can feel right to man, but in the end, they lead us away from the one true God.
We shouldn’t fear these deceptions, rather we should seek godly wisdom. Discernment acquired through the Holy Spirit keeps us on the right path. Such false teaching will be obvious to us if we walk in truth. We won’t have to sniff out false teaching if we’re truly familiar with Truth. For those who belong to Him know His voice (John 10:4). We won’t be inclined to follow another if we know the One who is Truth personally.
James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
What do we do with the Word once we’ve received it? We’ve put aside our sinful nature (Ephesians 4:22) and we’ve opened ourselves to receive from God. But now what? Church on Sundays? Maybe a church function now and then? Bible reading? What?
There’s no question that as disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we’re to read the Scriptures, studying them and learning all we can. We’re absolutely called to attend Sunday worship services with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), taking part in corporate worship, listening to a sermon, and sharing life with others. Quiet study and prayer done in solitude are vital to the life of a Christian as well.
But James takes things a bit further. Being doers of the Word is to live out our beliefs. Jesus taught us to “love one another” and we must do this, not just think about it. He called us to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This too requires action.
For more examples look no further than a few verses later in James’ writing. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). This, of course, does not limit us to only looking after orphans and widows. James makes his point that true faith leads to action. Action beyond our church campus, out in our communities, amongst our neighbors. True religion puts hands and feet to work, doing God’s will.
James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
If we are vessels belonging to God then we must be empty, ready for Him to fill us. That means abstaining from filling our lives up with the junk this world offers. The apostle Paul teaches that even some things that are permissible are not good for us or helpful to our growth (1 Corinthians 6:12) because for every moment we focus on self a moment passes that we are not focused on Christ. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have fun. There’s a time for it, but it’s not all the time.
What this does mean is that nothing should be placed in importance before Christ. Nothing should be such a priority that it keeps us from Him. As wrong as it may sound, even our families should not be considered as important as Jesus. As James says, we must put aside other things, especially those that are sinful, and receive what God is giving us. His gifts feed our souls and lead to His glory. In order to receive all that God has in store for us, we must be open to Him. That requires making Him first, placing Him above all else.
Place God first and receive the Word that He has revealed.