Observations on James 1:16-18
January 28, 2018 – Highland View Baptist Church
Our pastor preached on these verses during our Sunday morning worship service. They are beautiful words, and he gave an excellent exposition of them. Having studied, preached, and taught James, I decided to review my work to date on this passage and highlight some observations I see from the text.
ESV: “16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
1. Verse 16 may be understood as wrapping up the previous paragraph or beginning this new paragraph.
(1) With vv. 13-15, James exhorts followers of Christ not to be deceived concerning the source of our temptations. God is not tempting us. Don’t attempt to excuse yourself from responsibility for your sin. Neither God nor the Devil made you do it.
As Dr. Doriani writes, “We can view (a test) as a trial and turn to God for aid, so we persevere. Or we can read it as a tragedy, or as a senseless accident, or as a failure—on God’s part—to love and protect us. Worse yet, some who meets trials blame and attack God for them, accusing him of malice.”
(2) With vv. 17-18, James exhorts Christians not to be deceived concerning the character of God. Do not cast suspicion upon His character. God is good and gives good gifts. He is not out to punish His followers. The punishment our sins deserve were meted out on Christ at the cross.
I believe the verse may go either way and maybe that is what James (God) intended.
2. Verse 16 is a command, not an option. “Do not be deceived.” The implication is, of course, that Christians may be deceived. Satan cleverly tricks us into believing God is our enemy, out to get us, and the bad things which take place in our life originate with Him. “Don’t be deceived.”
3. Also, Verse 16 uses language structure implying such deception was already at work. James knows what his readers are dealing with every day. He tells those first-century Christians, “Stop being deceived!” Some were believing the lies of the enemy.
Of course, James is also telling us the same thing. He understands the depraved heart within us (“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”) and knows each of us have those moments when we believe the lie that God is against us. If you truly have faith in Christ but, at this moment, think God is fighting you, punishing you, “stop being deceived.” God is for His children; He is in our corner.
ESV: v. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
1. James gets into the heart of his message for this paragraph. Remember, God is the source of all good things. What are a few of those good gifts?
(1) Salvation, meaning regeneration, justification, sanctification, & glorification. Ephesians 2:8-10
(2) The Holy Spirit in us and with us. Luke 11:13
(3) The Kingdom of God. Luke 12:32
(4) Eternal Life. 1 John 5:11
2. The gifts God gives us do not all arrive at one moment. We may be regenerated and justified at the same instant, but James tells us here these gifts “are coming down”, a continuous flow of gifts from an all gracious giver! God is not stingy. He gives and gives and gives some more. If we do not see the many gifts He has given us, it is because sin or the deceiver has blinded us.
3. James refers to God as the “Father of Lights”. Who, but God, could create the lights in the sky? He is their parent and, as Scripture tells us, calls each of His stars by name (Ps. 147:4; Is. 40:26)! What an amazing thought! My wife and I had difficulty in naming nine children. Yet, our marvelous Creator has a name for each and every star in the heavens, billions and billions of them!
4. Further, he describes the character of God as one who does not change. A. T. Robertson said, “There is no such periodic variation in God like that we see in the heavenly bodies.” There is no variableness or shadow in our Creator. He is not evil one moment, then good the next (which describes each of us from time to time). There is nothing in Him to improve either through addition, deletion, or modification. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is, as the theologians say, “immutable” (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
ESV v. 18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
1. Make no mistake about verse 18. James agrees with Paul and the other New Testament writers, clearly presenting the Reformed understanding of salvation (see also 1 Peter 1:3). It is by the will of God, not our will (decision), that we have been born again. “Brought forth” means to be born. As the King James translates it, God “begat us”. We are new creatures in Christ because God decided we would be. He chose us; we did not choose Him.
2. When we talk of this new birth God has given to those of us in Christ, let us reflect on precisely what we mean.
(1) We were justified by Christ, declared not guilty of sin. But, from where did this justification come?
(2) We were justified by Christ because of our faith. But, from where did this faith come?
(3) We were made spiritually alive, given the repentance and faith necessary to turn from our sins and trust the Lord. But, from where did this spiritual birth come?
(4) It came from God’s work of regeneration. Yes, regeneration precedes repentance. It precedes faith. It precedes justification. Apart from such regeneration, we would never turn from our sins and trust Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-10). He, not we, made us new creatures. “Of his own will he brought us forth”.
Let us forever dismiss the idea that we were the initiators of our salvation. Nothing we said, did, or could have done would ever produce our spiritual birth leading to eternal life (John 10:28).
3. God’s will for our new birth is accomplished through His Word (“the Word of truth”). His Word is always true for He is the God of truth. He does not lie and does not deceive. Therefore, His Word, likewise, does not lie or deceive.
God, in His own mysterious ways, brings about our new birth through the Scripture. Paul notes our faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Again, he writes in Ephesians 1:13, it was by means of His Word. We heard the Word. Perhaps we heard it in a sermon or read it in a book or listened to a friend quote it. Perhaps we heard the Word in multiple ways. But, by the Will of God, He used His Word to give us a new birth.
4. And why did He give us this new birth? Was it simply as a form of “fire insurance”, to keep us from Hell? No! James writes “that”, indicating purpose. One purpose for our new birth is so we may be a “kind of first fruits”, a model of the creative hand of the Almighty. Do you want to see the power and glory of God? Look at a born-again soul. Believer, look at your own life and marvel at the wondrous changes God has made in you.
We are not to merely sit around and await His return. We are to be a testimony, a witness of His love, power, creativity, wisdom, holiness, and forgiveness.
Our pastor noted them Sunday and Manton’s words are worth repeating: “The world are his goods, but you his treasures.”
If you claim to know Christ but you see nothing of God at work in you, you are being deceived. “Stop being deceived!” Repent of your sins and trust Christ to save your soul.