Holiness

When frustrated with the world, its time to take a bath

James 1:21

 A fire broke out in Jim’s house. The fire alarms suddenly alerted him so he quickly ran outside. There he saw two elderly neighbors stopped on the street watching the smoke. Quick, he said to the first one, run back to your house and call 911“Sorry, I have arthritis and I can not run.” Getting more frantic (and figuring they didn’t have cell phones), Jim quickly turned to the other man and said, “walk down the street and yell FIRE so someone will call 911.” “I can’t holler. I have a sore throat and the doctor told me to keep quiet.” So Jim turned and started to run back into his house – that’s when one of the gentleman said, “why are you going back into your home, it is on fire? Isn’t that dangerous?” “Because I want to get each one of you a cushioned chair to enjoy the blaze.”  

Indifference is not an option that God has given to His children. The problems around the world, in our country and around our block are suppose to fire us up inside – because God wants us to be a moral and caring people. We are NOT to be like those elderly gentlemen who just gave excuses for why they couldn’t help. True injustice, unfairness, and inequality are wrong - the remnants of the image of God stamped in each of us rightly want justice. Justice is at the core of God’s character. Likewise when we see true need, the remnants of the image of God stamped in each of us rightly is moved to compassion. Love is also at the core of God’s character. Unlike what activists think, we are not always going to be moved to get involved in the same situation, nor are we always going to agree with what the solution should be – but we have been created to care about others, our country & the world. God didn’t allow small towns & private houses to exist so we could sit comfortably in an easy chair while the world burns around us.  

Now here is the problem. Most of the needs, injustice or moral wrongs that fire us up to action can not be easily or quickly solved. So we get frustrated. “Why do people have to act that way?”  “Why can’t the president or Congress just do this or that?” “Why can’t they work out their problems?” “Why can’t you just help that person?” “Why can’t we all just get along?” What is so special about our passage from the very Word of God today is that it gives us a surprise answer to what we should do FIRST when we get frustrated inside. “When you are frustrated with the world, it is time to take a bath” – that is my summary! When you are frustrated with your family – when you’re frustrated with your boss – when you are frustrated with others, it is time to take a bath.” Let’s read our passage.  READ James 1:19-21 (key v 21).  

PROPOSITION: In times of frustration (when life isn’t going ‘right’), God desires us to first deeply examine & remove any worldly remnants in our thoughts or actions so that His word may blossom and transform us.   

 I.  Situation: Let’s start by reminding ourselves of the situation the readers were in.

           A. Frustrated with what’s wrong around them                            James 1:2, 5, 12, 13, 17

It is clear that they are frustrated with what is happening around them. In v 2 they are facing all kinds of trials. Things are not going smoothly in their lives. They are frustrated because of outward opposition to Christians and they are frustrated because of situations in life. In v 5 we see they are confused. They are not sure what to do. We all know how frustrated we can get when we don’t know what to do next. In v 12 we see that these problems won’t go away quickly – perseverance is needed, that means the problems don’t disappear. In v 13 we see that they are being tempted through all of this. Maybe tempted to turn away from God or maybe tempted to do something wrong just to try to escape (like drugs, drunkenness or sexual immorality). Finally v 17 implies they have lost that sense of appreciation for the blessings God has been giving them during these difficulties.

 So the situation is one most of us here can identify with. They were simply frustrated with what has been going on around them. You may have faced this kind of frustration this week

  •      maybe at work or at school;
  •      maybe it was financial or maybe something immoral
  •      maybe it had to do with actions by powerful figures or maybe frustration with family members
  •      you were frustrated with health problems or things just going wrongs. We know one other area they would have regularly been frustrated with and that was the lack of freedom & the brutality of the ruling Romans.

          B. Our natural inclination                                                           James 1:19-20

Now what is our natural inclination when we are frustrated with what is going on OUT THERE. Isn’t our natural inclination to want to see change? The faster the better! Sometimes we go into activist mode – that is what is being reflected in James 1:19-20. READ. Why are they quick to speak and slow to listen? Because they want change! They want other people to start living “the righteous life God desires” so their own lives aren’t so hard. Other times we can go into a kind of passive/aggressive mode where we start ragging on people – why aren’t you doing something about that? We try to get change by pressuring others to do things for us. Still other times we just internalize it all and get depressed – the problems overwhelm us – we convince ourselves that nothing can be done. While these seem like three VERY different responses, they all share a common element – when we are frustrated, we want something to change OUT THERE. You don’t have to be taught that – it is as natural as breathing. 

           C. God’s call is from the inside out                                           James 1:21

But notice that God’s call for us in these frustrating times is not primarily change OUT THERE. Jesus has something He wants us to do IN HERE. When we get frustrated with the world, God wants us to take a bath.  READ v 21. It will be clearer in a moment when we dig into these words why I can so confidently say this is an “inner cleaning” that is being spoken about. This passage is not saying that those problems out there don’t need our attention – God may well call us to stand our whole life against a particular moral evil of our day until there is change just like God called William Wilburforce to stand for virtually his whole life to eliminate slavery in Great Britain. There are outward actions that we will need to do – BUT THE VERY FIRST STEP is for us to do a personal spiritual cleaning. We need to take a spiritual bath through confession, repentance and actual change.

 II.  Cleaning up (taking a bath) James 1:21: So how do we take this bath – how do we clean up in a way that will make a radical difference in our personal frustrations? READ 1:21.

           A. Recognition

To clean up we need to first recognize the moral filth and evil in our own life. “To get rid of something” we must first acknowledge that it exists. Activists regularly are out trying to “open people’s eyes” to their cause because they know without recognition, there is not going to be meaningful action. In the same way if we don’t recognize that there are still some things in our own lives that need changing, no meaningful transformation is going to happen – we are just going to complain about other people or other situations.

 This week one of the other Barre Pastors shared this story with me. This fellow came to worship for the first time – with his family. It happened to be a week the Pastor was trying to encourage the men of that church to step up and be spiritual leaders in the home. So the Pastor asked each husband there to take his family to a different section of room and then give coming up to the front to get the elements for communion and bringing them back to his family like a priest. He had also asked several older single ladies to be in a place for all those where there wasn’t a Dad or husband and they celebrated together as God’s family. But the one thing he said he didn’t think about was what if an unsaved husband was there. There was only one that week and it was this man who had come to the church for the first time – He wasn’t a Christian and really hadn’t been to any church before. But “when in Rome do as the Romans do” – so this man took his family to a place which happened to be right next to where the Pastor brought his family so the Pastor heard what was said. “God you haven’t heard from me before but this is Joe Frost. (that is not anywhere near his real name of course).  I don’t know what all this being born-again means but I want each person in my family to become one of these Christians before the end of the year.” And so you know the rest of the story, all of them did repent and commit their lives to follow Jesus within the next year – including him. And he is a key part of that church today. Without the recognition that change was needed, there can be no transformation – no real change.

Notice that the time to most effectively work on our own crud is when we are frustrated with other crud – because there is a natural motivation for change.  

          B. Removal           (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:8-10; Heb 12:1; I Pet 2:1-2)

It is not enough to just recognize the moral filth and evil in our own life, we must then cooperate with Jesus in removing it from our lives. READ v 21. “Therefore get rid of”. In your outline you’ll see four other sections of scripture where we are told to “put off” or “get rid” of the wrong in our life. This is true repentance. In confession, we recognize the wrongs – that cleanses the record. But in repentance we not only recognize the wrongs, we take practical steps to stop it. That’s where transformation begins. That’s where living a right life in God now blossoms. Too many people try to just restrain evil thoughts or actions – they try to manage sin so it doesn’t get out of control. We are called to eliminate sin thoughts and actions from our life by cooperating with Jesus. Let me now show you that cooperation.

The main verb, the main thought, in this sentence is actually “accept” (or in some of your versions it says “receive”). This “get rid of” is a participle that modifies it that main verb – it is not standing here on its own. Since both the verb and participle are in what’s called the “aorist tense” that means the action of “getting rid of” goes before the action of “accepting” or “receiving”. So the point is this – before genuine transformation happens, we need to do some genuine cleaning. As we will see, God has planted His word deep in our lives. That word is meant to grow and “save us”. As we’ve said often, James is extremely practical – so when he is using the word “saved” it is not primarily in the sense of whether we are going to heaven or not. James is using the word to describe whether we will practically be saved – practically live a righteous life now. In our terms today, the goal is for us to be genuinely transformed so we are able to live a God-honoring life right now.  Now here is the point of my technical discussion. For the full supernatural power of the Word of God to be unleashed in us to transform us, we must first do some “getting rid of” the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent inside us. Another words, we need to first take a spiritual bath. This is not a one time action, but an on-going process.

Before God’s word can produce His righteousness in us, we must renounce and put away the sin that consumes us. That is why people begin to wither spiritually when secret sin is going on in their lives. This is why our spiritual vitality starts to decline when our Christian life starts becoming simply a routine. This is why times of brokenness inside, bring such release and refreshment after. This is why God says when we are weak we are strong. Have you taken a bath lately? A spiritual cleansing that didn’t just confess, but also changed some action or challenged some attitude.     

WHEN IS AN EXCELLENT TIME TO TAKE A SPIRITUAL BATH? When we are frustrated with others or when we are frustrated with the world. In some ways that doesn’t make sense – isn’t the problem out there? On the other hand, I believe God knows what we don’t know – it is at those moments that we are personally most prepared to make a major step forward in our moral & character transformation.  

           C. Scrub deep (greatest turpitude, superfluity of naughtiness, excrescence of vice)

There is one more piece to this spiritual bath. When your mom says “Wash your feet they are filthy”, that is the recognition part. When you go in and wash with soap and water, that’s the removal part. But after a fun day playing outside, you often find that not all the grass and dirt stains come off with a simple wash – instead you must “scrub deep.” That is what this passage is really talking about. Notice the words and modifiers as I read v 21 again. READ.

The word “moral filth” is a unique word used only here in the NT. According to one author it “signifies those lusts which have the greatest turpitude and sensuality in them.” These are usually actions. In simple terms it is any action which doesn’t fit a God honoring moral life. Interestingly the root word is the same as the term used for wax in our ear. Just as that wax build-up keeps us from hearing other people clearly so moral filthiness is a serious barrier to hearing the Word of God.   

The word “evil” focuses more on the intent. Our actions are wrong and deliberately so in God’s perspective. The “evil” may come out in a sinful action or it may just remain a bad attitude in our life. The KJV translates this “superfluity of naughtiness”.  Maybe Carl should have had this on his test of whether something is actually in the Bible for the men yesterday. William Barclay translates this “the excrescence of vice”. That gets your attention doesn’t it. “Greatest turpitude,” “superfluity of naughtiness,” “excrescence of vice”. And I thought I knew English! The Boggle and Scrabblepeople would never let those words gounchallenged.

The modifier of “evil” (perisseuma) usually means “excess” – but it also means remainder – what’s left over. Every true believer has things that have been changed positively because of their faith. But there are also pieces left that haven’t been cleaned out – there are inconsistencies in everyone of us whom skeptics love to yell “hypocrite” at. They are remnants of past wrong thinking or wrong actions and when the light of truth is shown on them, what looked fine before now looks filthy. The call then here is not repentance for salvation or even after a major sin – but a call to take times where we ruthlessly seek to eliminate every piece and every semblance of wrong thoughts and actions in our lives. It’s not that the wrongs we tackle are necessarily new – they probably have always been there. It is not that our eternal salvation is at stake – but it is for our practical transformation to greater godly living now that this “bath” or “deep scrubbing” is so important.

Picture George: He came to the Lord 7 years ago. He was a hard driver in life. Through these years God has softened his edges, given him the ability to be loving towards others and be sensitive without losing his masculinity. Most could see the transformation God was doing. But now things seem mundane – inner change has slowed up. George hasn’t given up on church or spiritual things, but must push himself more. Now George finds himself more easily getting angry and frustrated with the situations around him: the immorality in society, church people not doing all he thinks they should and a general irritability at what his wife and kids are doing. Deep in George’s mind he believes that for things to get better, than society, church people and his family need to change.

What God is presenting to us here is a challenge. GEORGE, GO TAKE A BATH. Those frustrations may be true but for you to truly be spiritually growing as you seek change out there – you need to first do some additional work deep in here. Look closely for any thought or action on your own part that would not be pleasing to me as your Lord and Savior. Be ruthlessly honest. There has been a marvelous change so that you love others, but there is still that deep bitterness towards Aunt Gertrude. George you have changed from thinking only about yourself, to being concerned by witnessing and missions, but you still watch too much TV and thus don’t serve in a practical way at the church each week. Your church is not as strong as it should be without your regular help. George it is so wonderful that you are now committed to only have sexual relations with your wife, but there are times you dabble in pornography. The list can go on, but do you see the picture here. George can not keep growing without ruthlessly eliminating these from his life – they aren’t the main sin he use to have but almost like residue from them or remaining item that needs to be cleaned up. Since God has already worked in Georges life this is not something he does on his own, but it is a matter of cooperating with God and removing more of the garbage inside. A time we absolutely know is effective to do this is when we feel frustrated with things around us and want them to change.

           D. Receive (preparing the soil)

Now we get to the main verb “accept” or “receive”. READ v 21. Receive the power, encouragement and direction of God’s word. We are to do this humbly. The original Greek word used here for humble doesn’t have a good English equivalent. It is NOT inactivity or passiveness. Aristotle defined this word as the center point between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness. Rhodius said it was to control emotion with reason. Plato called it the temperament where everything is mixed in right proportion. I tend to define it as “strength under control”. In simple terms this is a much more active word than it sounds. Grab hold of God’s word – it will transform you, empower you, direct you and encourage you. Be teachable.

That word has been “planted” in you. James is very practical person. This is not just talking about the Bible as a book. This word “planted” is again only used here in the NT. It refers to something “planted” in the ground, rather than “grafted in”. Here we are reminded of the awesome work of God when we commit to follow Jesus in all His ways. God takes some of the truths we hear or read and causes those truths to be planted deep in our being. The Holy Spirit supernaturally causes them to grow. These become the truths of God we really know – confirmed by the Bible, good doctrine and our very conscious deep within. Our part is to ACCEPT these as true even though it means we must change some things in your actions and attitudes.

Several commentators commented that the picture is that our life is like a garden. Over time the weeds start growing & taking over the garden. At a certain point it slows down the good growth – in fact, over time, it can completely stop good growth. So God is encouraging us to pull some weeds in our life so that the plants God has ALREADY planted in our life can mature and bring abundant fruit to our lives. How do we prepare the soil of our hearts for God’s Word? First, by confessing our sins and asking the Father to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Then, taking some very practical steps to live different in one of these areas ruthlessly getting rid of an action or temptation. And finally by embracing God’s ways as good, right and important for our life – worthy of making these life changes. I’m going to ask each of us to consider this in just a moment as we go to communion.

 III. Value God’s ways and commands

         A. in heart                                                                                 “humbly accept”

          B. in mind                                                                                 “which can save you”

 Let me share one last illustration. The Nike corporation, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s had a slogan “Just Do It!” This slogan was used to promote any item with Jordan’s likeness on. The reason for this slogan was Jordan’s attitude to life. Even though he had become the best basketball player, it wasn’t easy. As a student in 9th grade, Jordan was cut from the 9th grade basketball team. The coach said pointed to Michael’s lack of speed, size, and overall ability. While he could have just shut down or coasted when the coach cut him – He didn’t – He went to work. He let that motivate him. In the same way God is asking us to let our frustration with life or the world or other people motivate us to do a deep evaluation in our own life and to then put some effort into eliminating that which is morally filthy or evil in thought. That unleashes more of God’s power, encouragement and direction in our lives. Which is what we really need if we are going to see genuine change around us. As James will say later in this book “Submit yourselves to God…Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail… Humble yourselves before the Lord AND He will lift you up.” This is the path to freedom and transformation.