As mentioned before James doesn’t waste time getting to subject matter. And it’s not easy one to deal with. Notice in introduction of issue of trials/temptations doesn’t explain everything about them. Limits his discussion to where they come from, what our response should be. Trials/temptations only one half of the equation; Word of God is the other half. In v.18, beginning work of the Word is introduced; remainder of chapter deals with centrality of God’s Word as source of wisdom and instrument of sanctification.
James’ target audience: the church. Even so, didn’t take some things for granted, didn’t make sweeping assumptions about knowledge base. Especially important for those who have grown up in the church, who perhaps can’t remember what it’s like to not be “a Christian”. Good time to review some fundamental truths about human nature and human need.
A. need for regeneration
James has already introduced two concepts that require regenerate mind to accept, much less comprehend. First, “count it all joy”. Second, “ask of God… in faith”.
Even renewed minds have hard time grasping idea that all which comes into our lives is from God and is good, therefore to be met with joy. That being true, should be evident that unrenewed mind can’t get it, mostly doesn’t want to get it. Also true that renewed minds regularly gravitate toward reliance on human wisdom, have to make effort to seek wisdom from above and then use it. James couples asking for wisdom with faith – no faith, no answer to prayer for wisdom. More basic, no faith, no recognition of need for godly wisdom, desire to seek it, or ability to use it.
Let’s begin at the very beginning. We all come into the world with cardiosclerosis – hardening of the heart. It’s actually completely hardened, described by God as a “heart of stone” (Eze. 36:26). God doesn’t bother with the AED – automatic emergency defibrillator; no angioplasty, stents or bypasses. There’s only one fix, a transplant. Some of you experienced heart surgery – it changes your life. Multiply that change by astronomical amount – that’s what a heart transplant does when Lord Jesus is the cardiologist.
God doesn’t ask permission, wouldn’t matter if he did: remember, we’re dead in trespasses and sins(Eph. 2:1). He begins that good work in us by performing the transplant through his agent, Holy Spirit, and scalpel, the Word; God is committed to completing the work he began. If the heart is the spiritual center of our soul (In Scripture the heart is the spiritual center of the embodied human soul. Krabbendam, Sovereignty, 61), then it is the command and control center of our life (Prov. 4:23). First result of heart transplant is repentance and faith quickly followed by hunger for forgiveness and thirst for holiness. God has designed the rest of our life to satisfy that hunger and thirst.
B. ground of regeneration 18a
James doesn’t dance around the issue, just spits it right out: our regeneration / rebirth / being born again is result of God’s initiative. God is the author of our salvation, not simply in sense of writing the book. He is the one who brings it about, or to use James’ terminology, gives birth to us. Happened according to his will, not ours: Paul said “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” (Rom. 9:16)
Here we see God’s desire giving birth to those who experience eternal life. Just a few verses back James speaks of man’s desire giving birth to that which ends in death. Makes it pretty plain what is necessary if we are to have life: God’s plan, not ours. Mankind from beginning has succeeded only in destroying himself. Requires act of God to reconstruct us, something he purposed to do as part of his eternal plan. Within realm of our experience, regeneration is only Act 1 of God’s work of reconstruction; further essential elements are justification, adoption, sanctification and eventual glorification.
In all of this we see God’s sovereign love demonstrated to fallen man as he exercises sovereign grace to bring about his sovereign plan. God sovereignly pursues those who want to keep him at a distance, directing his sovereign and effectual power toward them to draw them to himself as he follows his sovereign strategy to accomplish his sovereignly designed result. Consequently our regeneration, our justification and our sanctification are wholly dependent on God acting as God, not on man or his efforts. Which is good: it means our salvation is certain, something we could not be assured of if any of it depended on us. Also is reason for adoraton and worship of God.
C. instrument of regeneration 18b
God as omnipotent ruler of universe has ability to cause things to occur with or without use of means or instruments. However, God nearly always does use means to bring about his purpose. Here we see first use of “the word of truth”, “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23), the Bible. Jesus himself said “The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) To follow Jesus’ logic, without the Spirit and the word, we will never have life because human nature is unable to help in the process.
It is Holy Spirit acting as God’s agent who applies truth from God’s Word to individual, giving them ears to hear and eyes to see its beauty. Once the Spirit does that, individual comes to life and immediately responds to what the Spirit has made plain to him. Take either element – Spirit or Word – out of the picture, no life. Both together, proclamation of Gospel truth accompanied by effectual working of Holy Spirit, result is regeneration. It is this which should inform our view of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God: the Word gave us life in regeneration, maintains our life in sanctification.
Two additional points: “word of truth” can be transmitted to an individual in variety of ways. Through pages of Scripture, by Word heard, as part of other written or verbal communication. However, it is the Word that gives life; there is absolutely no substitute which we can count on to accomplish regeneration. Second, gives great confidence to us that when we proclaim God’s Word in hearing of others and it is accompanied by Holy Spirit, people will be born again. We can be assured that our evangelistic efforts will produce fruit according to God’s good pleasure.
Word of God, then, has dual function for the individual – the Gospel found within it is instrument of regeneration when applied and exercised by the Holy Spirit. The implanted Word, characterized as “the perfect law of liberty” accompanied by the Holy Spirit accomplishes the believer’s sanctification. Two functions can be distinguished but cannot Scripturally be separated – using the Bible as an operation manual will never bring about sanctification in an unbeliever; regeneration must come first. True regeneration will always be followed by growth in holiness as seed of the Word takes root in the believer.
D. goal of regeneration 18c
God is not nor has he ever been content with regeneration for its own sake and nothing more. An important first step but only beginning of process with particular goal in sight. Here’s how this portion of text ties preceding and succeeding sections together. Trials/testing are part of God’s plan to reach God’s goal for individual believer by taking them along God’s path found in God’s Word.
If God has plowed ground of our life by means of trials for purpose of planting seed of “perfect law of liberty” found in his Word, there will assuredly be a crop produced. The seed of the Word is intended to result in a kind of firstfruits. Two things about firstfruits: they are the best of the crop and, as such, belong to God. Wholly reserved for and devoted to his use, consecrated to him. Regeneration thus is designed to produce a people fully owned by God and dedicated to God who are committed to pursuing a life of holiness. Fact is, God has double rights to us: A little boy who had lost his toy boat found it for sale in a store, and when he bought it, he took it in his hands and hugged it, saying ‘My little precious boat, you are now twice mine; once I made you and once I bought you.'”
Firstfruits are also beginning of harvest, implying that saints in first-century church were merely down-payment on the whole, the first of many more. Paul alludes in Ephesians 1 to believers as trophies of God’s grace. Be prepared to be blown away by the jaw-dropping proportions of God’s trophy case! This is but one more encouragement to evangelism through personal witness and missions – God intends for his trophy case to be full.
Goes without saying that God far surpasses any earthly father or employer in resources and commitment. God calls his people to holiness, starts them on road to holiness by regeneration, moves them along the road by means of trials, directs them how to stay on the road by wisdom and Word, providing everything necessary for their sanctification and perfection. As firstfruits, we should thankfully offer ourselves to God – thankful for his love and grace and goodness and provision. We should further demonstrate our thankfulness and devotion to him by trusting him for wisdom and direction to pursue the holiness he has planned for us. So when we put it together:
“Under the canopy of God’s immutability the regenerate-by-the-will-of-God, and only they, may rejoice about the personalized and unquestionably good made-to-order trials they received from their God and Father, and may eagerly anticipate the perfect made-to-order wisdom of the Word of his God and Father en route to a harvest of godliness.” Krabbendam