James 1:13-27—Nothing But the Truth

Do you know someone who is a chronic liar, who lies when the truth would make more sense? They lose track of their stories, becoming increasingly confused about what’s true and what’s false. Eventually they believe their own deceptions, a pitiful state.

Satan loves a liar. Jesus called him “the father of lies” in whom “there is no truth” (Jn. 8:44). He’ll inspire deceit whenever he can. He’s especially pleased when we make his work easy by lying to ourselves. In today’s passage, James talks about three ways in which we may be deceived—or worse yet, may deceive ourselves.

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Hi! Thanks for joining me for today’s study, our third in the series James: Faith Meets Reality. (If you missed either of the previous posts, you’ll find them archived under “Bible Studies” on the menu bar at the top of this page.)

Get your Bible and read James 1:13-27, paying special attention to verses 16, 22 and 26. Do you notice a common word or theme? All three verses use the word “deceive” (or a synonym, depending on the version you’re reading). Yet the Greek language uses three unique words with important distinctions. Let’s take a look. 

• James 1:16 says, “Do not be deceived (Greek planasthe), my beloved brothers.”
• James 1:22 says, “Become known as doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving (Greek paralogidzomenoi) yourselves.”
• And James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue but deceiving (Greek apatone) his own heart, his religion is vain/worthless.”

Why does our English language use one general word, while the Greek language uses three specific words? What are the differences and why do they matter?

Satanic seduction (1:13-18)

James 1:13-15 gives a chilling description of the grotesque “child” (sin) that is born when we allow ourselves to be lured by temptation. In the next verse (v. 16), James chooses the word planasthe—”seduction”—for the trap satan uses to drag us down.

It’s a mindless, illogical process. Picture the movie scene where a breathless couple throws caution to the wind, surrendering to their passion without a thought for consequences. Satan can make sin so appealing that we leap in with abandon, realizing too late that we’ve been seduced. In an effort to save face we may claim that God misled us, blaming Him for our predicament—an idea James debunks in verse 13. Then in verses 16-18, he gives a shining defense of God’s goodness and stability, stating that every good and perfect gift is from our Father.

Though Greek is usually more specific than English, an exception is our two words “trial” and “temptation” which are expressed in a single Greek word periasmos, “test”. Practically speaking, we choose the appropriate definition by our response to any test. If we succumb in weakness, we lose to satan whose whole aim in temptation is to harm and destroy. If we resist in the Spirit’s power, we win in God whose whole aim in trials is to arm and strengthen.

Like he did with Eve in Eden (Gen. 3:1-7a), satan wants to seduce us into believing he knows what’s best for us, and cause us to question God’s intentions. If his ploy works, we don’t see the trap until it snaps. So James warns, “Don’t be deceived”!

Deluded Reasoning (1:19-25)

“I’m a good person. I’ve never murdered anyone or committed a crime. I’m ok.” That was my uncle’s standard response to every mention of a need for salvation, to every moment of spiritual introspection. Gloss it over, reassure yourself all is well, move on.

Many Christians do the same thing. Never has the church been more full of “Christians” who profess to be spiritual but live unchanged lives—all the while murmuring, “I’m ok. I’m a good person.” James says those who hear the word but don’t do it are reasoning wrongly (paralogidzomenoi) and deluding themselves. It’s not enough to hear; what we’ve heard must affect the way we live. Our speech should be cleaner, our reaction under pressure more even-tempered, our morals noticeably different from the decayed world around us. We are to be in the world but not of it.

Claiming to be Christ’s while refusing to be changed by Him is false reasoning that keeps us ignorant of His will. Only when we are remade, transformed, are we able to grasp His good, pleasing, perfect will (Rom. 12:2).

False Impression (1:26-27)

One can give a false impression (apatone) by claiming to be religious. But James says the evidence must support the claim. We can’t just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk. In verse 27, James defines real religion: “This is religion that God our Father sees as pure and undefiled: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” You can’t fake this, and you can’t hide it.

In James’ day, widows and orphans were the most vulnerable members of society. Both still need the love and support of Christians today. Who else might be named in addition? The unborn? The elderly? Don’t wait for a church “program” or “day of service.” Go! Minister Christ to anyone you encounter who needs love. This is religion, part one.

Part two is to stay unstained by the world. I don’t have to tell you how hard this is. Our world is a filthy place; we need vigilance and a moment-by-moment dependence on the Lord to navigate through the filth unblemished. Otherwise, no matter how righteous our talk, the ugly stains on our lives give us away.

Genuine faith constantly lives itself out in practical action with no pretense. Satan is the father of lies in whom there is no truth. God is truth in whom there is nothing false. Will you choose truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

This Week…

• Try to memorize James 1:17 and 1:22. Also review last week’s verses (1:2-3, 12); do you remember them? (Help yourself memorize by writing each verse on a small slip of paper—text on the front, reference on the back. Carry these papers with you for a quick review whenever you have a few spare minutes.)
• Think of a time in your life when you surrendered to temptation, then think of a time when you resisted it. Looking back now, can you see the detrimental effects of giving in—and the strength gained by standing strong? How might your life be different now if you had said no to temptation?
• Read James 2, then reread its first thirteen verses. If you had to give James 2:1-13 a title, what would it be?

© Diane McLoud 2015

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