“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
A number of years ago, when I first read John Miller’s little book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church I was struck by one of the phrases that he used. This was that for him faith involved his giving himself to God without reservation, and then taking his courage in his hands and obeying God in everything that God commanded. I wondered just what Miller meant by such a powerful statement. It seemed that he was trying to define for us just what a life of faith looked like. How do we know if we are living by faith or in the flesh? How do we live in the Spirit, being spiritually minded as we live out our lives? We use these expressions so glibly. What does a truly spiritual life look like?
Of all places to find answers to these questions the book of James seems to be an unlikely place. Here is a book that seems to teach salvation by works. At least that is what we think. However, when we take a closer look we discover that James is really calling us to live a lifestyle which is truly spiritual because it has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What does such a life look like?
James tells us that God has willed to give us new birth through the word of truth. He anchors the Christian life in regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us to new life through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ. In the eighteenth century young missionaries like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield discovered this teaching about regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. Their testimony was that as they came to believe in Christ they found, to use John Wesley’s word, “their hearts strangely warmed.” They began to preach this Word throughout the villages and towns in Britain and many thousands came to faith in Christ. They had returned to the Gospel message of the New Testament.
In tremendously practical terms James outlines for us in his letter this message of regeneration. It is characterized by the righteousness of God being created within us. This is not our righteousness it is His given to us through faith. Almost immediately it begins to work itself out in our lives. It produces the fruit of righteousness transforming our speech and our attitudes. It causes us to obey the Word of God. It is almost as if that word is being written into our hearts. In fact that is what two Old Testament Prophets said God would do.
Jeremiah writes, ““The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the Covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my Covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the Covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s words in this way, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
James tells us that Spiritual Christianity is a faith that leads us to obey God’s Word through the power of God’s Spirit in all manner of practical ways. It starts with our accepting by faith the implanted word of God which comes to us in the Gospel.