Unfortunately, we have an unwritten rule in the church: “If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.” Thus, when we are confronted by someone concerning an area of compromise in our life, we hold a grudge rather than receive the word humbly.
Douglas Webster warned that “casual Christianity turns religion into an excuse for self-expression, good intentions and free wheeling opinions.”
James refuses to overlook the attitudes that disrupt the fellowship. He attacks things head on that we try to excuse. For example, we demand church discipline in the case of adultery, but if a church member constantly gripes about aspects of the service, we ignore them. Profanity isn’t acceptable in the church, but gossip, backbiting and a critical spirit are allowed. Drunkenness is addressed by the church, but people who play political games with the church are not.
Deception is knowing the truth and refusing to obey it, in addition to knowing the truth and justifying the pursuit of fleshly desires. This deception ultimately leads to disobedience.
Hypocrisy, as one writer says, is the active ignoring of the obvious application of truth. We put God’s Word regarding marriage, money, meaning and missions to the court of public opinion, pious pretense and personal preference.
If we want to live genuinely authentic lives, we will abide in Christ and His Word because the Word sets us free from self-deception and delusion.
“It’s almost comical—if it weren’t so bad—to watch some people come to church. The worship service might as well be a sporting event. The call to worship and opening hymn are treated like the opening preliminaries of a basketball game before the buzzer. They are so accustomed to running around, arriving late and leaving early that they have no patience for quiet preparation. They make up an audience of busy people who need music and sermons especially designed to distract them from their preoccupations. In the absence of self-discipline and personal devotion, worship is done for people and to people. The extent of people’s willed commitment to worship amounts to showing up fifteen minutes late, rushing to a seat and studying the bulletin.”
So how do we find spiritual direction apart from the deception and delusion?
1) Appreciate the Word (vv. 18, 25).
In commenting on this passage, Stuart Briscoe points out seven essential things the Word does:
2) Assimilate and apply the Word (vv. 21-25).
Unfortunately, the 21st century church is nowhere near what James is calling for, even with 2,000 years of church history, the inerrant Word, the Holy Spirit and the example of thousands before us. We struggle to model authentic Christianity. Eugene Peterson notes, “The greatest danger of Christian discipleship is that we should have two religions: a glorious biblical Sunday gospel…and an everyday religion that we make do with during the week.”
Integrity demands that we do what God says. John Calvin said, “Obedience to God’s will is not always convenient or logical…it’s just required.” We are to listen intently to God’s Word, not to audit what we hear expecting not to act or be responsible for what we’ve heard.
James refers to the Word of God as a mirror that serves three purposes: 1) examination, 2) restoration, 3) transformation. When we see ourselves in God’s mirror, we’ll do something about what He says. Compartmentalized Christianity is self-deceiving; it looks, but it walks away unchanged.
When we stop compartmentalizing our faith, there is evidence that reveal the seriousness we have toward God and His Word. First, we have a controlled tongue. Next, we have a compassionate heart. James reminds us that pure religion consists of caring for widows and orphans. This is certainly not the most glamorous job of the faith, but it reveals the motivation of our hearts. Finally, we live a life committed to becoming stained by this world.
So the ball is in your court. Will you go on deceiving yourself, compartmentalizing your faith? Or, will you allow God’s Word to penetrate your heart and transform you from the inside out?
(Copyright 2008, Michael C. Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.