“Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21 NKJV).
When is the last time someone came to your church and begged for a Bible? Most missionaries have people constantly asking for a Bible for themselves, or to give to a friend or family member. Preachers request large numbers for their church members and to give to new converts or special prospects. In most parts of the world, Bibles are in short supply and large demand. And the demand part is certainly as it should be.
Why do so many desire God’s word? There are many reasons. Some are curious, wanting to know what it says and how it compares with the “Scriptures” of their faith. Others have had some exposure and realize its incomparable excellence and worth. But most ask for Bibles because they know the truth of James’ claim – it is able to save their souls.
The Bible is unlike other books in many ways, but the most distinctive is its ability to impact eternity. It contains the answer to the greatest of all questions, “What must we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37). The Bible tells us of the origin of all things, including ourselves: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It also tells us of the ultimate destiny of every person: “It is appointed unto men to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
But James reminds us that the Bible does not save without involvement on our part. First, we must prepare for it – “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.” One cannot be changed by the word until there is willingness to turn from selfish rebellion to trust in God. “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Sin distracts and hinders us from hearing and understanding God’s truth. It must be fought against.
Second, we must receive the word with meekness. Too many modern readers pick up a Bible with cynicism, believing it to be irrelevant to today’s world. Others sit in judgment of its principles, convinced their own philosophical presuppositions are correct and adequate for judging biblical doctrine. James says, “God is speaking, just listen.”
Finally one has only truly received the word when he obeys it. “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). The word has no value to us if we do not believe and follow it. So Paul observed, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Romans 10:16).
The conclusion is that because they did not obey they did not receive the salvation that is promised to all that “call on the name of the Lord” (verse 13). Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Without obedience (works or deeds) faith is ineffective (James 2:14ff). Let us not deceive ourselves. God’s word demands both belief and obedience.