The Marks of a Christian

Bible Book: James  1 : 19-27
Subject: Christian, Marks of; Christian Living
Series: James - Adams

James 1:19-27, "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. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes way and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it,he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Many of you remember that not too many years ago we enjoyed a four-year partnership with a small church in Oriental, Mexico, a village about two hours north of Puebla. Every summer we would do various construction jobs on their church building but our main task was to lead Vacation Bible School. Our VBS in Oriental was always huge,bigger than RBC camp here at Redland. In fact, so many children came that we had to rent a warehouse that was across the street from the church building.

For housing each year our team got rooms in a local motel. It wasn’t anything to write home about but other than a few bed bugs the rooms were clean. Plus it was within easy walking distance of the church. I remember our first year there as we sat down to supper one night I noticed a little boy,the son of the proprietor,watching a move on the TV they had set up in the dining room/lobby. As I watched I could see that the movie was TROY,the one that starred Brad Pitt. And the reason it caught my attention is that TROY had just hit the theaters in the states. I wondered how he was able to watch it on his television in the middle of Mexico and I realized he was using a pirated DVD. The next day we saw a vendor on the streets of Oriental selling these pirated movies,many of them films that were still in theaters.

This week I read that pirated goods or knock-offs or counterfeit goods,whatever you want to call them,are big business all over the world. According to the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau (CIB) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), counterfeit goods make up 5 to 7% of world trade. It is a $600 billion industry including far more than counterfeit DVDS like I saw in Oriental. There is counterfeit clothing, watches, purses, cigarettes, and software. There are even knock-offs of larger things like cars and motorcycles: including Porsches and Ferraris. How would you like to pay a couple hundred thousand for a Ferrari only to discover it was a fake?

The sad fact is people are fooled like this all the time because counterfeiters are very good at making something look like the genuine article. As an example, here is a picture of a genuine NIKE shoe next to its knock-off. Can you tell which shoe is the real deal? Go ahead pick one! JUST DO IT!

The problem with a knock-off is it may LOOK like the real thing but as time goes by it does not PERFORM like one. Your “NIKE” shoe begins to come apart. Your “Ferarri” starts to burn oil. The hands on your “Rolex” stop moving.

Well, unfortunately you can say the same kind of thing about many Christians. I mean, we may SAY we are disciples of Jesus Christ,and look like Christians in that we attend church and tote impressive looking Bibles, but a closer look at the way we live reveals otherwise. Too many times, our lives show that our commitment to our Lord isn’t all that genuine because we simply don’t WALK our TALK. Our performance doesn’t match our profession. And this has devastating consequences when it comes to evangelism. Referring to this the late Brennan Manning once said, “The single most cause of atheism in our world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but walk out of the church doors and deny Him with their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Well this is another issue about which James gives us practical guidance. In fact, the portion of his book I want us to study this morning, he cites three of the behaviors or characteristics that should be found in the lives of genuine followers of Jesus Christ. And the first he mentions is this.

I. Authentic followers of Jesus,growing Christians,are people of CONTROL.

Specifically James says that they learn to rely on God’s help and control their ANGER. Look at verses 19 and 20. James says that Christians must be: “slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Now,we all lose our cool from time to time. We all have melt-downs,but James says this isn’t a regular thing for a maturing believer because walking close to Jesus has taught them the importance of controlling their anger. And,part of learning this lesson,part of controlling this particular emotion,is the understanding that there are two basic types of anger: SELFLESS anger and SELFISH anger.

The first type,SELFLESS anger,is a GOOD thing. Selfish anger is the way we feel when someone intentionally hurts our children or when injustice causes people to go hungry or when an investor like Bernie Madoff steals people’s retirement funds. These kinds of things SHOULD make us angry. The truth is the world would be a sadder place without this form of anger,anger that is motivated by wrongs committed against other people. In fact when this SELFLESS kind of ANGER is disciplined into the service of Christ it becomes one of the great dynamic forces of the world. Think of it this way. God’s anger is righteous, and in a similar way if we allow God to help us control it, our anger can energize us to take actions that are righteous.

So SELFLESS anger is good but the other form of anger, SELFISH anger, is NOT. You see, selfish anger is an anger that is undisciplined and uncontrolled and because it is, it takes away our ability to think clearly and make balanced decisions. For example: Someone cuts us off in traffic on 270 and we get so mad that if we had a bazooka we’d blow them off the highway. Or you get another one of those speeding tickets from the speed cameras and you begin to make plans to PLOW your car into the next one you see.

Can you relate? I mean, have you ever lost control of your anger and without that control you said or did something selfish? Let me put it another way. Have you ever said something in anger to someone who hurt you,and at the time you thought your words were just full of wisdom. But then, later when you calmed down and reviewed what you said, you wanted to kick yourself? I have done that. In fact, I can’t think of a time I said something in anger that I didn’t regret later. I’m reminded of the old saying, “Don’t lose your temper. No one wants to find it!” Well, this second kind of anger is something that JAMES says ought NOT to be found in the Christian life because, as he says in verse 19, it “does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

Now, by looking at different Bible translations we see that in this phrase James is telling us two things. The Contemporary English Version translates it this way, “If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.” This particular wording infers that anger is a detriment to the part each of us as individuals play in furthering the kingdom of God. And of course it is. I mean, has your temper ever kept you from getting something GOOD done? Men, perhaps you were trying to fix your car and you lost your cool when your car wouldn’t cooperate and you got angry and stripped out a bolt. Or ladies, have you gotten so angry with your kids that you acted more immature than they did and lost respect in their eyes? You wanted to teach your kids some GOOD thing, but your anger got in the way.

Well, the same thing is true of us as Christians. Our anger can keep us from doing the good that God wants us to do,and this is especially true when it comes to our Christian witness. Lost people look at the way we vent our anger and think, “If that’s Christianity, I don’t want anything to do with it.” Anger can prevent us from doing the good God calls us to do. But that’s not all James is saying here. Listen to how the Living Bible words this verse and you’ll see what I mean: “Anger doesn’t MAKE us good, as God demands that we must be.” Translating this verse like this places James’ emphasis not on what our anger does to God’s kingdom but rather on what it does TO US. And selfish anger can do incredible damage to us as individuals. As an old proverb says, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” That’s pretty close to the truth because uncontrolled anger will destroy us if we let it.

A. One way that SELFISH ANGER hurts us is when we allow it to become a DISPOSITION.

This is why in Ephesians 4 Paul said, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Paul is warning us that if we hold onto anger long enough, it begins to hold on to us. It becomes a settled disposition. We go from being angry to BECOMING angry PEOPLE. Anger burns itself into our personality.

This week I read of an incident in the life of Alison Arngrim, the actress who played Nellie Oleson on The Little House on the Prairie from 1974 to 1981. As everyone of a certain age will remember, in that popular television show, Nellie was a horrible child who tortured the sweet Laura Ingalls in every episode. Alison is still acting, but Nellie Oleson is never too far in the background. Alison was at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds a few years ago, signing autographs inside a tent with other former child stars. In the midst of a long day of meeting and greeting, a woman in her forties made it to the front of Alison’s line. Alison looked up, smiled, and reached for something to sign. But the woman had nothing to sign. She merely stood in front of the table and turned different shades of red and purple. She was shaking, closing her eyes, and swallowing as she tried to compose herself. Allison and her husband grew increasingly uncomfortable, and were close to calling for security, when the angry woman broke the silence with three labored words: “I…forgive…you.” And, just like that, she exhaled, turned, and exited the tent. Alison says that this kind of thing happens fairly often. She had never met this woman. They had never exchanged a single word before meeting at the fair that day. But this angry stranger at the LA County Fair had carried a seething, consuming grudge against a character on a TV show that had not aired in 30 years. We chuckle at how ridiculous this is,but anger that we fail to control such that becomes a settled disposition is just as ridiculous,just as damaging. It has incredible destructive power.

And you know, many times our angry disposition isn’t turned out on others; instead it’s turned inward. Dr. Paul Meier, co-founder of the MINRITH MEIER NEW LIFE CLINICS says that this anger turned inward is probably responsible for 95% of psychological depressions. So if you suffer from depression, there is a good chance that anger is behind it. A good Biblical example is seen in the life of Jonah. You may remember that God asked Jonah to preach His message to the wicked people of Nineveh, and Jonah refused initially. God got his attention as he fled in a boat going the wrong direction. Remember the special underwater condo that God prepared for Jonah in the belly of that fish? Well Jonah eventually went to Nineveh and preached and as a result the people repented and turned to God. But this made Jonah ANGRY because he didn’t like the Ninevites. He was furious with God for not destroying them. He embraced his anger long enough that it turned into a settled disposition and as a result, Jonah became a pouting prophet. Remember? As he sat out in the desert he became so depressed that he asked God to take his life? Jonah’s depression was the result of his anger turned inward.

B. And then, another way that ANGER can hurt us is that it can open a door to greater evil in our lives.

This is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:27 when he refers to anger and says, “do not give the devil a foothold.” He is saying that if we do not control our anger the devil can use it as a “beach head” from which he will launch an invasion into our lives that will lead us to temptation and sin. We see this early in the history of the human race when the first brothers, CAIN and ABLE brought sacrifices to God. Remember? God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s and this made Cain very angry. When Cain got angry God warned him by saying, “Be careful Cain. Watch out, because due to your angry attitude, SIN is crouching at your door.” Cain ignored God’s warning and opened that door and when anger came into Cain’s life the first murder followed.

Richard Walters is a psychiatrist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes, “People will be murdered today because of someone’s anger. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings. Many people die in anger-related auto accidents. While others carry out the angriest act of all: suicide. Countless relationships die little by little as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust. Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us.” It is no wonder that the Bible repeatedly teaches us that anger opens the door to greater evil in our lives. Proverbs 14:17 says, “An angry person does foolish things.” A few chapters later Proverbs 29:22 says, “A hot tempered man commits many sins.” Let’s have a showing of hands. How many of you have ever done something stupid, dangerous, or immoral, simply because you didn’t control your anger!?

Well, fortunately James doesn’t just tell us about the PROBLEMS associated with uncontrolled anger. He also gives us a PRESCRIPTION for this malady. In verse 19 he gives two simple steps to avoiding the selfish destructive kind of anger.

(1) First of all he says that we should be, “SWIFT to hear.”

One translator puts it this way, “Be a ready listener.” You see, so many times we’d never lose control of our temper in the first place if we LISTENED long enough to really understand what the other person was saying or why they were saying it. Perhaps, the old Greek philosopher Zeno was right. He said, we have two ears and only one mouth because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. Just as we should always look before we leap, we should also LISTEN before we speak.

(2) The second thing James advises is that we be “SLOW to speak…”

In other words we must not let our anger cause us to say things that are not Christlike. As I’ve told you before we don’t need to just invite Jesus into our hearts,we need to invite Him into our mouths as well and the sad truth is that many Christians have not done that.

Their contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over.

Their critical tongues have closed church doors.

Their careless tongues have broken the hearts and homes of many of God’s servants.

This is why James says in verse 26 that, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” The fact is,how well we control our tongues is a good barometer of our spiritual maturity. Many times the true test of the strength our relationship with Jesus is not our ability to speak our mind as much as it is our ability to bridle our tongue. James has more to say about this later in his book but to summarize this part, “swift to hear” is a reminder to give the person with whom we are relating time to explain what he means, and “Slow to speak” is a reminder to take time to understand what we mean before we reply. There’s an old saying that goes like this, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool that to speak and remove all doubt.”

The truth is an immediate declaration of our opinion is not always the best approach to take, because sometimes when we allow our feelings to settle so that we can take a more rational look at the situation, we come to realize that our immediate ANGRY reaction was wrong. When you are mad at someone try this. Write them a letter and tell them exactly how you feel. Use paper,not an e-mail draft so as to avoid accidentally sending it. When you finish put the letter away and wait until the next day to look at it again. Usually at this point you decide not to send the letter because time allows you a chance to curb your anger and bring yourself under control.

So, James says that one characteristic that should be found in the life of a genuine Christian is CONTROL. We should be able to CONTROL our anger.

II. He goes on to cite a second quality that should be found in the life of a Christian: CONVICTION.

Now a person of CONVICTION is someone who sincerely believes something,and you see their sincerity in the fact that they live their lives according to their beliefs.

Ken Wales, an award-winning TV and film producer, started his Hollywood career as an actor. But early in his career Wales chose to turn down a significant role because it conflicted with his faith in Christ. While he was under contract with MGM, he was cast for a film starring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Shirley MacLaine. For you younger people, those are three famous actors from yesteryear. At one point in the script, Wales’ character enticed a young woman to get drunk so he could take advantage of her. Wales described his decision to decline the role: “I had been speaking to a lot of church groups and conventions around the country on the subject of making right choices. So when I read the script I had to meet with the director, Vincente Minnelli, to tell him I couldn’t do it. He told me,‘You’ll do it, or you’ll be out of your contract, you’ll go on suspension, you’ll have no salary for a year, and I’ll see that you never work in this town again.” I told him he’d have to find someone else, and he literally threw me out of his office. I was put on suspension. When the film came out the following year, I was speaking at a youth convention in Denver, to about 600 kids. We took a break at dinner time, and everybody piled out to see a movie and to get pizza. As we started to walk across the street, there was a huge marquee with a sign for the movie I’d turned down. And I thought that was interesting. What if I’d done that film and the kids had gone in and seen it?” Wales went on to say that declining that role propelled him from being an ACTOR into his current role as a film and TV PRODUCER. Since then he has produced award-winning TV series and films, including Christy, East of Eden and the highly-acclaimed movie Amazing Grace.

Well, James would be pleased with Wales because in his book he says that, as Christians, we should be people of firmly held Biblical convictions. Disciples of Jesus Christ must not only BELIEVE the Bible. We must also pattern our lives after it,even if that means resisting the world’s influence such that we stand out, even if it means losing our jobs like Ken Wales. As verse 27 says, we must “keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.”

And I have to say,that’s going to be harder for you young people than it was for me because whereas it looks like we’ve got control on environmental pollution, moral pollution is far worse that it was when I was growing up. It is going to be harder and harder to obey the Bible. Living by your convictions is going to make you stand out. But standing out is what we are called to do. We are to shine as lights in this dark world,we are to show the world with our lives that God’s way is best. This kind of conviction-based life-style is a powerful witness.

In the 2nd century, Trajan, the Roman Emperor wanted to dishonor Christianity and stop its rapid growth so he appointed Pliny to examine the Christians and bring a report back to him. After a thorough investigation Pliny gave this report, “They bound themselves by an oath, not for any criminal end, but to avoid theft or robbery or adultery, never to break their word, or repudiate a deposit when called on to refund it.” In other words, unlike the world around them, the Christians Pliny observed held to their convictions and lived such righteous lives that not even their critics could find fault with them.

Well James is saying that a genuine Christian will be known for this depth of conviction,he teaches that following Jesus doesn’t just mean we BELIEVE but that we BEHAVE,that authentic Christian faith relates not only to THEOLOGY but also to MORALITY. As he says in verse 20, if we truly follow Jesus we will have the conviction to live, “the righteous life that God desires.”

James goes on to say that this involves both GETTING RID of some things and ACCEPTING some things. Look at verse 21 where he writes that a GENUINE disciple of Jesus will GET RID “of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” Now the word picture James uses here is that of taking off a dirty shirt or coat. He says we are to “put away” or remove from our lives THOUGHTS and ACTIONS that are sinful or evil. I like the way the Living Bible puts it. It says, “Get rid of all that is wrong in your life, both INSIDE and OUTSIDE.” In my study this week I found out that the Greek word we translate as “filth” in this verse was also used in James’ day to refer to the WAX that builds up in our ears. So another thing he is saying is that we need to GET RID of everything with would stop up our ears to the truth of God,anything in our culture that would make us deaf to the moral guidance that comes from God’s still, small voice.

But as I said, James doesn’t just tell us to GET RID of certain things. He also says that we are to ACCEPT some things. Verse 21 goes on to say that we are to “humbly ACCEPT the Word planted” in our hearts and minds. So James wisely teaches here that we are not only to PUT the garbage OUT of our lives. We are to put some things INTO our lives as well. We are to GET RID of the world’s way of thinking but we are to REPLACE IT with God’s way of thinking,which He has revealed to us in the Bible. This book is our standard for behavior. It is our moral compass. It defines what is right and what is wrong. And when we do this,when we “accept the word planted” it leads to ACTION. We show our CONVICTIONS in the way we LIVE.

James compares the Bible to a mirror and points out how foolish someone would be if they looked in a mirror, saw that their face was dirty or that they needed to comb their hair or that they had a big piece of spinach stuck in their front teeth but then forgot what they saw in the mirror and went off without washing their face or combing their hair or brushing their teeth. And some Christians are that foolish. They use the Bible but only in a casual manner. They read it, hear sermons from it, attend Bible studies, and catch a reflection of who they are and Who God is. But that’s it,they never do anything about what they see. Charles Swindoll puts it this way. He says, “The church has too many ‘auditors’ of the Word.”

As most of you know, last week JOHN SMITH (name changed) was baptized. JOHN was a Muslim but thanks to the witness of people like Robert Kennedy he began to attend Redland and eventually decided to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. JOHN told me several times that one of the main things that made him want to become a follower of Christ is the fact that at Redland he saw people who lived out their faith. He saw people whose walk matched their talk,people who didn’t just hear the Word but obeyed it. He saw Christian convictions actually lived out. For example:

He heard testimonies about our Shine the Light projects.

He found people to give him a ride to church

and others to help him with his legal and financial problems.

He found someone to help him fix his computer.

He even found a dentist in our church who would fix his teeth.

I don’t want to give you the “big head” but that’s wonderful! Our convictions SHOULD lead to behavior. If they don’t people won’t believe we are walking very close to Jesus.

Okay,to review,James says that we show how authentic our faith is as Christians if we LIVE by our CONVICTIONS and if we CONTROL our anger. A third characteristic he says should be seen in the life of a Christian is this:

III. True disciples of Jesus we will be people of COMPASSION.

As verse 27 says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” In other words James tells us that if we really follow Jesus,if our religion is pure and faultless,we will be MOVED by the pain and distress of others. We will be known as people who help the needy of this world.

A young school boy came running to his teacher one day shouting, “Teacher, two boys are fighting and I think the one on the bottom would like to see you.” Well, those people of this world who are on the bottom in the struggles of life would like to see those of us who call ourselves by the name of Jesus Christ lend a helping hand. The Bible teaches over and over again that we should do this,we should care for the tangible needs of human beings. This is part and parcel of genuine Christianity. In the Deuteronomy 15:11 God says, “I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in you land.” Proverbs 14:31 says, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” In Matthew 25:40 Jesus brought it even closer to home by saying: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.”

Now did you catch what Jesus is saying in these familiar words? He is saying that He cares for the hurting people of the world like a parent does for his own children. Well, parents how do you feel when someone helps your kids? To me it is as if they are helping me,don’t you agree? And that is what Jesus is saying here. When we are moved to action by our compassion for others,Jesus says it is the same as if we were helping Him. The poor and needy,the victims of this world are that important to our Lord. And this means that when action-oriented compassion toward others is absent in our lives, it is a tell-tale sign that something is spiritually amiss. You see, when we are in a growing relationship with Jesus, the things that matter to Him matter to us. The things that concern Him concern us. If we walk closely with Jesus we will look at the people around us with His eyes. We won’t see the needy as an annoyance because that is not how Jesus sees them. As Matthew 9:36 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds,hundreds of people in need,He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” James 5:11 says, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” And because He is Colossians 3:12 says that if we are His authentic disciples we will, “clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness.” We will be recognized as Christians by the way we care for the hurting of this world.

In Eternity magazine Olga Wetzel tells of a time she was riding a bus from Flagstaff, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico. They stopped at a small wayside station in the middle of nowhere and a young Indian boy got on and took the seat next to her. It was a bitterly cold night and in the warmth of the bus the little boy soon fell asleep. After about an hour he woke up and walked to the front and asked the driver if they were near his destination. The driver angrily snapped back, “No. We passed that a long time ago. Why didn’t you get off?” The little boy said, “Well, stop the bus and I’ll walk back.” The driver said, “No. It’s too cold. You’d freeze to death. You’ll have to go into Albuquerque and then get a ticket to ride the bus back.” When he came back to his seat disappointment showed on his little face. He told Olga that his sister was waiting for him back at the stop and that he was afraid about finding the right bus back and didn’t think he had enough money for the ticket. She said, “Don’t worry. You stay with me and I’ll help you get on the right bus.” Then she went up to the driver and asked him to make sure the return driver would not charge the boy. The driver reluctantly agreed. Then she put her arm around the little boy and said, “Everything will be alright. You don’t need to worry about anything.” They rode on for a few minutes and then he tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Lady, are you a Christian?” Has anyone ever asked you that question? I mean, have you ever shown so much Christ-like compassion to someone, that they connected you with Jesus? What a compliment that little boy paid Olga Wetzel that night!

Okay, I’m done. But before we close, let me ask: how are you doing as a disciple when it comes to CONTROL and CONVICTION and COMPASSION? Would you say that your life gives evidence that you are an authentic follower of Jesus Christ?
Let us pray.