The Word that is Able to Save our Souls
Cantate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 22, 2011| James 1:16-21
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
James encourages us Christians to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Let us consider what this word is, what this word does, and how this word is to be received.
God’s word is unlike our word. We are capable of making mistakes. God isn’t. Our words are often just words. They have no effect on anything. God’s word is different. It is almighty. The Psalmist writes, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalm 33:6)
Not only does God’s word create all things – it keeps everything going. In Hebrews 1:3 we read that Jesus upholds “all things by the word of his power.” We talk about the power of nature, but nature has no power. Nature does not choose to do anything at all. It is under the power of God’s word. Likewise, all nations and kingdoms and powers of men are under God’s power. The Psalmist says, “The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered his voice, the earth melted.” (Psalm 46:6)
We can speak words that are false. God can’t. God’s word is truth, as Jesus said, “Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.” St. James calls God’s word, “the word of truth.” It gives us every good and perfect gift that God has for us. In God there is no variation or shadow of turning. God is not a man. He’s not fickle and unreliable. He doesn’t change from day to day. His word is truth because it was truth when he spoke it and it will be truth forever. His word must be true because he is God.
God the Father sent his Son who is the way, the truth, and the life. God the Son promised the Holy Spirit whom he called the Spirit of truth. He would guide the disciples into all truth. And he did. They faithfully recorded God’s true word for us in the New Testament. We know that the Bible is true because it is God’s word of truth inspired by the Spirit of truth.
God’s word is almighty. God’s word is true. God’s word is written down for us. It is recorded in the Bible for us. The Bible is the word of God. We can read the Bible and know what God says. We can judge the preaching of the preacher on the basis of God’s word in the Bible. “It is written,” Jesus said, as he stood against the lies of the devil. The Holy Scriptures are the only standard by which we judge what is God’s word and what is not.
This is why we cannot have fellowship with those who teach that the Bible contains errors or contradictions. God cannot err. Therefore, the Bible cannot err. When a church teaches that the Bible has errors in it, that church is contradicting Jesus who said that the Scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35) If the Bible contains errors of any kind, it is really no longer God’s word, and cannot be trusted.
Not only must we insist that the Bible is literally God’s word, we must insist that God has nothing to say to us that he has not already said in the Bible. Some claim that God tells them things that aren’t in the Bible. They would have you believe that God didn’t say everything he had to say to the original apostles who wrote the New Testament. But they are wrong. In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus said to the authors of the New Testament: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” The Holy Spirit did what Jesus promised. He guided the apostles into all truth. And what was that truth all about? It was all about Jesus. Jesus went on to say: “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
The almighty word, the true word, the written word of God is always centered in Jesus Christ the Savior. God’s word is gracious. As we read in today’s Old Testament Lesson:
O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For YAHWEH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:1-2)
This is the most important feature of God’s word. Who could rely on the power of God’s word or trust in its truth or read the Bible with any kind of devotion, if that almighty, faithful, written word of God did not direct us to Jesus? The Bible is our comfort because it is the words of the Comforter who points us to Jesus. This is how God’s word is our only comfort in times of sorrow and fear. It reveals to us Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, who was crucified on the cross for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification. He is our salvation.
And that is what the word does. It saves us. As St. James writes: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18) The word of God is the means by which God makes us Christians. It is how we are born again. God doesn’t just zap us as we are walking down the street. He doesn’t speak to us in dreams. He doesn’t reveal himself to us as a result of our own religious exercises and struggles and prayers. No, he speaks to us in his almighty, true, and gracious word. He creates faith in us where there was nothing but a stony heart that wouldn’t, indeed couldn’t, trust in him at all. He creates new spiritual life where there was only cold, dead, ignorant, unbelief. God does this through his word. This is what the Bible says. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23)
The most popular false teaching in the church is called synergism. This is a fancy word that simply means “working together”. Synergists teach that we come to faith and are saved by a cooperative effort between God and us. While synergism is false doctrine, it is very popular among Christians who consider themselves to be Bible-believing. Billy Graham was probably the most popular preacher of the 20th Century. He was a synergist. He taught millions of people that each of us has, even in our fallen, sinful condition, a “free will” which enables us to accept the gospel of Christ. He taught that faith was a decision that we make.
But what does the Bible say? It says in our text for today, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.” (James 1:18) Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16) St. Paul wrote, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
It is by God’s grace alone, by God’s power alone, by God’s word alone that we are brought to the true, saving faith and kept in the faith. It is not our will, our decision, our strength, our love, our commitment, our devotion, our worship, our desire, or anything else in us. It is God’s word. It has the power to create where there was nothing. It is almighty, it is true, it is gracious, and it brings Jesus into our hearts and makes him our Savior. We don’t do it. God does it. God does it through his word and through his word alone.
This is how we know we can trust in the word. And that is, of course, how the word is received: by trusting in it. We simply believe what God tells us. When we believe what God promises us, we have what he promises. This is what James teaches us. He writes, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21) Faith is born in meekness, that is, in humility. Faith is born is silence. We are to be swift to hear and slow to speak. We cannot listen while we are talking.
St. James goes on to describe the opposition between our anger and God’s righteousness. The righteousness that God gives us is his gracious gift. It is the righteousness Jesus won for us by going to the Father by means of his suffering on the cross. But when we trust in our own works we get angry when they don’t accomplish what we want. The humble faith of the Christian comes from being quiet, saying nothing, promising nothing, working for nothing, but simply and humbly, as weak and helpless sinners, receiving the word of God that he has implanted inside of us, that word that reveals Christ to us, that word that speaks God’s pardon to us and sets us free.
I cannot rely on myself. I can only rely on God. If it was by my strength that Jesus became my Savior, then it will be up to me to keep him as my Savior. But if I could do that, I wouldn’t need a Savior. When we rely on ourselves we fail. Can we learn this simple lesson? Why do we need to come to church? Why do we need the body and the blood of Jesus given to us to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper? Why do we need the promises that God has joined to our baptism? Why do we need to hear again and again the message of Jesus bearing all of our sins on the cross and taking them away from us by paying in full the penalty that God’s law had laid upon us? We need this powerful word, this true and faithful word, this gracious, Christ-centered word, because we cannot bring ourselves to God or keep ourselves with God. Only God can do that. And that he does, through his word.
This is why we teach it to our children and make sure that they know it. This is why we confess it without fear or compromise. Without the word of God we are dead. The Bible, the preaching of the Bible, the teaching of the Bible, the Holy Sacraments of the Bible, bear God to us. Just as the Church rightly calls the Virgin Mary the God-bearer because she bore Jesus, the God-man, so we confess the Bible also to be the God-bearer. The Bible is filled with Christ. This is what makes it the word of life, the light for our path, and the wisdom to replace our folly.
Therefore we lay aside all filthiness and wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save our souls. We lay our failures before him whose pure and holy love covers our disobedience and sin. He covers us with the white robe of his righteousness. He sets us before him as blameless and ready to meet him when he returns to judge the living and the dead. Our hearts are fixed where true joys are to be found and we fear neither death, nor hell, nor evil of any kind. Amen