Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. ~ James 1:21
Explanation of the Text: In light of James’ warning against anger, he calls upon his readers to set aside all moral filth and evil and instead to receive the Word. This particular verse is full of imagery, thoughtfulness, and profound calls to commitment if we unpack its depths.
First, James issues a call to repentance telling readers to set aside all moral filth and evil. These descriptive words convey the horribleness of sin that we sometimes overlook. Outwardly, the word choice employed by James indicates something that is not merely dirty but is stained and contaminated. Cleanliness requires intentional effort to expunge the impurities. Incapable of ridding ourselves of the permeation of sin, it necessitates a humble acknowledgment of who we are before the Lord and a request to Him to forgive us and free us from the burden of sin.
Upon repentance, James then issues the call to humbly receive the Word. This Word has two characteristics: it is implanted and has the ability to save souls. To implant something prompts memories of Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23 in which the seed that yields return is the one planted in good soil. In the same way, the Word is to be implanted in the hearts of those who follow our Lord (cf. Jeremiah 31:33). But how can this word save the soul? There is some disagreement about whether this refers to one’s initial salvation, which comes by the word of the gospel or at the return of Christ in which one has persevered in the Word and receives salvation through the ultimate gift of eternal life. Recognizing that it is not the Word itself that saves, but a means by which the Holy Spirit initiates, develops, and sustains life, then we must consider the words of John MacArthur when he says the following:
We have been saved (justified) through the power of the Word of God; we are kept saved (sanctified) through the power of the Word; and we will be ultimately, completely, and eternally saved (glorified) through the power of the Word (1)
Examination & Application of the Text: There is a common attribute necessary for the active engagement of this verse in the lives of believers: humility. Noting first the role of repentance, humility is a key ingredient for its genuineness. Without humility, one is unable to evaluate his or her life in the light of God’s truth, always being blinded by personal pride and thus deceived about his or her true condition. Additionally, without humility, confession is a meaningless repetition of words meant to avoid punishment. Instead, genuine repentance requires genuine humility which compels acknowledgment of our offenses before the Lord as horrendous works of unrighteousness and results in the admission of a need for His righteousness.
The second role of humility is noted in the reception of the Word. In the same way that it is required for repentance, humility is necessary if we are to receive the Word. God’s truth is challenging, causing us to conform to his image. Without humility, we respond to the challenge of His Word with confrontation (much how we respond to any challenge apart from humility).
Humility is not something that I can write to you and say, you need to be humble and that’s all it takes. Humility is something that comes from deeper within as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, which means that one must incline themselves to God through a relationship with His Son.
Questions to Consider:
How does humility impact our relationship with God? Our relationship with others?
In what ways are you proud? What needs to change to be more infused with humility?
Take some time to reflect on humility and its role in your life. Consider some ways in which humility could be more prominent in who you are.
(1) John MacArthur, James, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 75-76