So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. – James 1:21 (NLT)
One thing I took away from last month’s fast was a deeper conviction that knowing and believing the promises of God is critical to living an effective Christian life, especially in times like these. I was recently struck by the power of the verse above in this regard.
People have a lot of trouble with James and his book. Martin Luther considered that the whole thing should be struck from the Canon of Scripture. James was the half-brother of Jesus and maybe living in the household of the Messiah taught him to speak bluntly. After all, his half-sibling called the church leaders of his day a brood of vipers sired by the liar, Satan, himself. When Jesus was informed that his family was waiting at the door asking for him, he denied they had any claim on him greater than those present for ministry. How ever he acquired the tendency, he does not mince words. The verse above is a good example of this. James was a good leader, but his teaching style was terse and to the point.
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand was more explanatory and gentle. He went into lengthy expositions. He said, “therefore,” a lot, trying to convince us of the fact that we should obey and serve Jesus because of his great love and sacrifice.
James is all, “SHAPE UP!”
Getting past his demeanor, though, I see similarity between James’ admonishment and Paul’s statements in Philippians 4:6-7(NLT):
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.“
Both passages encourage us to put away our own understanding with its emotional responses of fear and doubt and believe God. When we do this, we will find the calm we seek.
Some of the trouble with James’ version of this command is our modern Christian-ese interpretation of some of his terms.
Romans 12:2 (NCR) says, “Do not be shaped by this world: instead be changed within by a new way of thinking.” “Filth” and “evil” are synonyms for the world’s point of view. James is telling us to get rid of our worldly attitudes just as the writer of Roman’s has done.
We also have a limited view of “the word God has planted in your heart.” The Gospel message is too often restricted to the idea that Jesus died for our sins and when we accept him as Lord, we exchange our hell-bound ticket for one to heaven. The message that we ultimately win is intended to help us white-knuckle it through this life in anticipation of that great day.
There’s so much more to it than that.
This is a huge topic and many books and ministries have focused entirely on evidence that when Jesus conquered sin, he freed us to receive all his blessings. The word salvation encompasses healing, provision, protection, and more. The gift of the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus said he came to give us a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10 NLT).
When you change your mind, believe, and receive God’s gift of salvation for all areas of your life, it will save your soul. Your soul is not the same thing as your spirit. I’ve heard it said that you are a spirit, you have a soul, and you live in a body. Your soul is your mind, will, and emotions. Your spirit was reborn at the moment you accepted Christ’s outstretched hand and it was sealed by the Holy Spirit—vacuum-packed and perfect. This is true no matter how you feel. Working out the salvation of your soul requires renewing your mind to God’s truth. If you continue to believe the “filth and evil” of performance-based acceptance, your soul will be in torment. It is that way with all the promises found in the Bible. “Doubt and do without,” is the way it is frequently stated.
Repudiating ideas contrary to God’s word will save your soul: your mind, your will, and your emotions. If the news and events of these crazy days has ever made you think you are losing your mind, this is a picture of that process. The world will take your soul. Believing God will save it.
How? How? How?
First, you must believe that you can direct your thoughts. You don’t have to ruminate on whatever falls into your head. James 1:21, Philippians 4:6-7, and Romans 12:2 are just a few of the verses that explain the path to a victorious life. It comes down to the thoughts you allow to dominate your mind. Romans 8:6 (NLT) states it powerfully, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”
It takes patience, time, and determination. Pray and ask God to show you strategies, but you can start by making time to read the Bible. Meditate on what you have read. Listen to good teaching. Engage with other Christians who are in pursuit of God. Another hard saying of James’ is found in the very next verse, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22 NLT). If we give mental assent to Paul’s instruction to think on things that are “pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” and never turn off the news or YouTube commentary, our souls will remain in turmoil.
It is simple. But not easy. Capturing 6,000 thoughts every day is quite a chore! But don’t give up. I won’t. You and I can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13)! (And keep reminding yourself of that every time the enemy contradicts you!)