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The Anchored Christian - James 1:1-8

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the evening service on 12th September 2021.

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James 1 v 1-8 “The anchored Christian”

Intro: The definition of a Christian that I currently use most often when preaching or speaking is this; a Christian is someone who has come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and for a new life of following him. Both of those elements are essential if a person is truly to be saved – you can’t have one without the other, you can’t say, “Yes I will take the forgiveness of sins thanks but I am happy to continue running life my way.” And it wouldn’t make sense to say “I am following the teachings of Jesus but the whole sin and forgiveness thing has never really been the way I think.” No, when God rescues a sinner by forgiving them at the infinite cost of Jesus’ blood, he then gives them a whole new identity and purpose as his loved children and his willing servants. The only way to this new life with the Triune God is by being anchored to Jesus Christ through faith.    

That is James’ (the writer of this letter that we are beginning our sermon series on) own story – he was one of Jesus’ younger brothers and he went from unbelief to belief, he went from a point of trying to drag Jesus away from his ministry and maybe thinking Jesus might be mad to the point of being able to say what we read at the beginning of verse 1; “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James saw Jesus after he rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15v7) and as a result his whole life (his thinking, behaviour, his nature) was transformed (the roots of faith produced the beautiful flowers of faith). And so he writes this letter so that the lives of millions more people might be transformed as well.

After reading through the whole letter a few times (do it this week, it won’t take too long), I think that my definition of real Christianity (“Come to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and a new life of following him”) might get a nod from James but I am pretty sure he would make some comment like this “that’s an ok summary I suppose, but what does following Jesus actually look like? How does a person know that they are securely anchored to Jesus so that their faith will last until Jesus returns?” This is what James’ letter is all about –genuine belief in Jesus Christ will mean willingly having the true God at the very centre of our life so that everything we do and aim for and experience will relate properly to His rule and His character. In short, genuine faith in Jesus Christ that will last forever will show itself in every area of a believer’s life.

 

        1) There is no shortcut to Christian maturity (v1-4)

 

And in verses 1-4 genuine faith in Jesus Christ will allow us to view trials correctly - a person anchored to Christ will realise that there is no other way, no shortcut to Christian maturity. The bible project video for James describes this short letter as “a beautifully crafted punch in the gut for those who want to follow Jesus” and in these verses James rushes straight out of his corner to get into the fight; “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Those 3 verses alone are enough to deeply unsettle the person who might call themselves a Christian because they come to church or do some good deeds or know some of the Bible, but who don’t really have God reigning in their life. Because those verses tell us that trials and difficulties and suffering can accomplish something for a Christian that nothing else will. Trials, as tough as they are, should be considered pure joy because the testing they bring can lead to maturity in the Christian life – only a genuine Christian anchored to the true God will value maturity above comfort or ease or even safety.

The reality of the human condition is this; without trials in a Christian’s life, there won’t be growth in Christlikeness. But when Christians do go through trials, our faith is tested and examined and conditions are perfect for us to be changed, for old patterns of sin and failure to be got rid of, and for new, Jesus-like Spirit-filled character to be formed; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.   

This is particularly important for us to hear, understand and accept right now because of what the last 18 months has shown to be true. (Conditions have been perfect for faith-testing!) For some Christians and some churches, the trials of the pandemic have indeed led to spiritual growth, softer hearts, deeper maturity. But if we are honest, for many people even in “good bible-teaching churches”, the complex trials of Covid have produced resentment, grumbling, coldness and pride, they have shown us to be immature. What has Covid produced in you? Are there flowers of faith that have blossomed this year? Or is everything looking a bit dry and shrivelled up?     

If you are a Christian, anchored to Jesus, then you will want to become more like Jesus, you will desire to be more mature. But we live in a culture of short-cuts, and just like a person who wants a University degree but doesn’t want to study might try to buy a degree certificate off the internet, we somehow want to become and be known as mature Christians without having to suffer. But it can never work that way.

 

You will not meet a mature Christian, a Christian who lives and loves like Jesus, who hasn’t persevered in faith through trials of many kinds. There is no shortcut to maturity (perseverance finishing its work – Paralympics and one-legged cyclists). The truth is many of us are very immature, we lack so much. We need God’s work in our lives. We need to be tested and persevere. We need trials so that we have to put our trust in what God says is true even when we can’t see it ourselves. This is faith (repeat).

 

James is not telling us to suspend our reason and our emotions here and to pretend that trials are in themselves noble or good (it was sin that brought thorns and thistles and sweat and death into this world and when Jesus returns and we get to live in the new creation these will all be wiped away). But James tells us to consider or count going through trials as pure joy because persevering through them produces something eternally valuable. There is no other way, no short-cut to God honouring Christ-exalting maturity in a believer’s life.  

        2) There is no substitute for Christian maturity (v4)

And what we have got to realise is that the maturity, the lacking nothing that verse 4 describes, that is the most valuable thing that could ever be produced in your life or mine. There is no shortcut to Christian maturity, and there is no substitute for Christian maturity.   

If you had to stand up now and a microphone was put in your hand and you had to tell everyone what the most important thing is you think you have ever achieved or contributed to in your life, how would you answer? Might you talk about the wonderful A-level results you achieved or the doctorate attached to your name? Perhaps you started a business from scratch and now it is really successful. Maybe your tireless work for the NHS would be your most prized achievement. Or perhaps your risk-filled journey from another country so you could sacrificially provide for your family in the UK would be number 1 for you? Or maybe you would stand and stutter because you can’t really think of anything impressive to say.

None of those things are going to mean much in a few years time, they will all be forgotten so very soon, they aren’t actually as important as we think. James would point to the Christian in the room who had quietly persevered though many trials over many years and whose character had become more and more like that of Jesus and James would say – “that is what matters. That person is complete and lacks nothing in terms of faith and so lives rightly as a servant of Jesus Christ, lives appropriately in the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. There is nothing in this room to compare to that maturity.”     

This ‘Telos’, this ‘lacking nothing’ is a beautiful creation, a wonderful result of Jesus’ work in a Christian’s life. A person like that is a blessing to the church and the world and is something truly praiseworthy for God. Even better than just that person is loads and loads of Christ-like Christians produced when as a church we walk together down the road Jesus walked, the road of suffering that leads to joy.

When we try to translate this principle into our everyday lives there are two main types of these ‘trials of all kinds’ (or all colours) – ‘trials of all kinds’ that we can’t avoid facing but often resent and ‘trials of all kinds’ that we can avoid facing but we shouldn’t. Thinking properly (no short-cuts and no substitute), and so considering trials pure joy will allow us to react with faith and perseverance in situations where we might be tempted to say “Surely God can’t mean for me to be …”

  • In a black hole of mourning that can’t get out of CIPJ&P
  • In a difficult marriage CIPJ&P
  • Still single even though wanting to be married CIPJ&P
  • Struggling with mental illness and severe anxiety CIPJ&P
  • Treated with hostility by work/family/people who once were your friends (because of Christian witness etc) CIPJ
  • Diagnosed with a terrible illness CIPJ&P
  • Struggling with identity in retirement CIPJ&P
  • Battling strong temptation CIPJ&P
  • Living as a refugee in a foreign country frightened for your family back home CIPJ&P
  • In an awkward Home Group or difficult church CIPJ&P

We must listen to God as he speaks to us here. We must listen because God has saved us to bring him glory. If in these situations you are filled with resentment and bitterness which will lead to disobedience in other areas as well, then you must repent now – maybe chat to someone in your home group after the service and get them to pray with you about it. God knows that the end result of maturity in both your life and in the life of your church family is worth the trials he has ordained for you. The beautiful flowers of faith produced in the lives of Christians who have persevered through many difficulties are worth all the trouble. And that is my testimony as a pastor over the last 4 years – there are some mature Christians in the church family who make it such a beautiful, Christ exalting place to be. Consider it pure joy because nothing comes close to this type of life.

 

           3) There is no way we are going to accept this unless we run to God for help (v5-8)

 

As we finish tonight, perhaps filled with a determination and a desire to live differently in the light of James chapter 1, as usual we must run to Jesus for help in our deep need. And verses 5-8, as well as being extremely challenging, actually are just telling us to do just that. There may be no shortcuts to maturity and there may be no substitute for maturity, but there is no way we are going to accept these things unless we run to God for help.

James is a church leader and he is writing to the scattered children of God (v1). And so James knows that when we do go through painful and sometimes horrendous trials, we are going to feel disorientated and confused and lost. Our faith will take a battering. And when our brothers and sisters in Christ around us try to remind us to consider trials pure joy, and even when our preachers and elders try to speak with authority and pastoral care into our lives, we are still going to find this command really hard. James knows that God has got what we need and so he writes this;

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Christians have got to be a people of prayer, a people of faith. People who approach God humbly knowing that he has got what we need, that he knows what is best, and that in his generosity he will make sure that we are richly provided for so that we can persevere to the end. The cross of Jesus Christ proved God’s love for us and provided full salvation for God’s people. To go to this generous God, the God of Calvary, the God who stooped so low to Raise us so high, and to doubt that he will provide for you in your trials, to doubt that he cares for you in your pain – that is a dangerous attitude to have, that is an attitude that changes the categories in this passage from immature or mature to faithful or double-minded.

The great warning here is that double-minded people will not receive anything from the Lord. A double-minded person has a foot in 2 camps – they will see what God can do for them but if they don’t like that then they will make their own decisions and go their own way. That is the opposite of Christian faith – the faith that believes that what the righteous God says is true and good even when we can’t see it clearly ourselves. The outcome for double-minded people is a terrible one – blown and tossed by the waves, adrift in a world that has no hope apart from the hope that the God of Calvary offers. 

 

So we must finish at the cross of Christ. We must remember that the God who calls us to trust him is the God who has stepped into our shoes, carried our burdens and died for our sin. And as individuals, and church families, with our eyes daily fixed on Jesus, we are to count the trials of this world as pure joy, we are to produce beautiful flowers of faith, knowing that being anchored to Jesus Christ means we are safe and secure not just for now but for all eternity as well.

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