James 1:21-22 reads, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
In the opening portion of this paragraph (verses 19-20), we receive an exhortation concerning right relations with those around us. As a whole, this exhortation indicates that we should deny the ways of selfishness in the manner that we relate to one another. Yet selfishness is the natural principle of our hearts. Thus in order to deny our selfishness and in order to relate aright toward one another, we must be delivered from the natural characteristic of selfishness in our hearts and from the spiritual corruption that flows out of it. Yea, our soul, our inner man, needs deliverance from its own, naturally selfish and sinful desires.
So then, by what means can we obtain this spiritual deliverance from the natural corruption of selfishness in our hearts? James 1:21 gives the answer, saying, “Wherefore lay apart all filth-iness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” The conjunction “wherefore” with which this verse begins connects it directly to the exhortation of verse 19 and the explanation of verse 20. Because self-denial in our relations with others is not natural to our selfish hearts, and because the wrath that naturally flows out of our selfishness does not produce the righteousness of God, we need to be delivered from the selfish corruption of our hearts and to be transformed unto the spiritual character of righteousness. Even so, the closing line of James 1:21 reveals that the Holy Word of God is able to accomplish this deliverance for our souls.
Yet this verse does not specifically refer to God’s Word as the Holy Word of God, but as the engrafted Word of God. In so doing, it indicates that the message of this verse is for those who are already saved eternally through faith in Christ. The Word of God is not engrafted (or, implanted) in the hearts of lost sinners. The Word of God is only engrafted (or, implanted) in the hearts of God’s children. Therefore, the deliverance about which this verse speaks in this context must not be viewed as the salvation of our eternal souls from eternal condemnation to hell. Rather, the deliverance about which this verse speaks in this context must be viewed as the salvation of our inner character from the corruption of selfishness.
Grammatically, James 1:21-22 can be divided into three parts, each providing us with an instruction. First, there is the preparatory instruction to repent of sin – “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” Then there is the central instruction to receive the Word – “And receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Finally, there is the extended instruction to respond in obedience – “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Thus the path of deliverance from the selfish corruption of our hearts and of transformation unto the spiritual character of righteousness can be summarized with three words of instruction – repent, receive, respond. Central to all of this is our relationship toward God’s Word. We must repent of anything contrary to God’s Word. We must receive the truth and wisdom of God’s Word. We must respond obediently to the instruction of God’s Word. So then, in this first part of the message, let us consider the first of these truths – that we must repent.
We must repent of our sinfulness for preparation.
First, for the deliverance and transformation of our souls (of our inner character), we must repent of our sinfulness for preparation to receive God’s Word. The opening portion of James 1:21 delivers the instruction, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” Herein our sinful corruption is described in a two-fold manner. The first description, “all filthiness,” is more general, for the word “filthiness” refers to any type of spiritual defilement and impurity in our hearts and lives. This description is certainly given from the perspective of God’s holiness. In the light of God’s holiness, all sin of any kind is utter filthiness. Thus our sinful character and conduct is a great offense and hateful abomination in our Lord God’s sight. Yea, in His sight our sinfulness rests upon us and defiles us like a disgustingly vile garment. Yet this filthiness does not take hold upon us accidentally from without. Rather, this filthiness flows directly out of the selfish corruption of our own hearts. Indeed, the behavior that comes forth from our selfish hearts is that which truly defiles us spiritually (See Matthew 15:18-20).
The second description of our sinful corruption, “superfluity of naughtiness,” is more specific. The word “superfluity” refers to that which overflows in super-abundance. The phrase “of naughtiness” then indicates the source for that overflowing super abundance. Finally, the word “naughtiness” refers to a malicious spirit that motivates us to behave against others. In fact, the Greek word that is here translated as “naughtiness” is most often translated as “malice” or “maliciousness” throughout the rest of the New Testament. This word “naughtiness” (or, maliciousness) is a word that speaks of motivation and intention in the mindset of our hearts. It refers to a mindset of meanness that strikes out against others and that pursues the harm of others. In fact, this naughtiness overflows directly from the selfish wrath that so often floods our hearts. Indeed, our selfish wrath does not and cannot produce the righteousness of God in our lives. Rather, our selfish wrath produces an overflowing abundance of naughty meanness and maliciousness in our lives.
Concerning this sinful filthiness that flows out of the selfish corruption of our hearts and concerning this abundant naughtiness (maliciousness) that overflows out of the selfish wrath of our hearts, we are instructed to lay it all apart from us. We must strip it off and cast it away like a disgustingly filthy and vile garment. Indeed, this is a common instruction in God’s Word. In Romans 13:12 the instruction is given, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Again in Ephesians 4:22-24 the instruction is given, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Yet again in Colossians 3:8 the instruction is given, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” And yet again in Hebrews 12:1 the instruction is given, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Finally, in 1 Peter 2:1 the instruction is given, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.”
How then do we strip off and cast away this sinful filthiness and abundant naughtiness? We do so through broken-hearted repentance thereof. In broken-hearted repentance, we must confess all such filthiness and naughtiness unto the Lord our God, that through the almighty power of His abundant grace, He might cleanse away the filthiness and cut away the naughtiness. This we must do definitely, immediately, and completely. We must not simply seek for theses selfish, sinful corruptions of our heart to be restrained. Rather, we must seek for them to be removed with a desire that they never return. As Isaiah 30:22 indicates, we must seek that they be cast away from us “as a menstruous cloth,” forcibly saying, “Get thee hence, and never come back.” This we must do, not just concerning some, but concerning all the sinful filthiness and abundant naughtiness of our hearts and lives.
Now, through this repentance of our sinfulness, we prepare ourselves to receive the truth of God’s Word. The contextual order of the instructions in James 1:21 indicate that the repentance of our sinfulness must precede our reception of God’s Word in preparation for it. (In fact, in the Greek the instruction to “lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” is a participial phrase that connects closely with the central instruction to “receive with meekness the engrafted word” and that partakes of its imperatival force.) In like manner, 1 Peter 2:1-2 reveals the same need of repentance for preparation to receive God’s Word. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The truth and wisdom of God’s Holy Word must be discerned spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:14; Psalm 119:18). Yet when sin is in our hearts, we are not in a Spirit-filled mindset, but in a selfish, sinful mindset. In such a mindset, our ears are dull of hearing and hearts are dull of receiving. Therefore, before the transforming work of God’s Word can be effectively received into our hearts, we must remove this barrier of spiritual dullness through the repentance of our sinfulness.
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