“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” — James 1:21
There’s a great word “superfluity”. A big word which actually even means a big thing. We could replace that word with “overabundant supply” and not change the meaning of this verse. So then, James is admonishing the reader to basically get rid of the enormous amount of naughtiness that, as humans, we all have in our heart — that fleshly (carnal) nature.
You see, when you back track a bit in this 1st chapter of James you can see that James had just finished talking about temptation and he gave a great explanation of what happens in the heart of man when he is tempted. Take a look and the passage just prior to today’s verse:
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. 13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:12-20)
Let’s look a little closer at verses 14 & 15. Let me draw you a picture:
When Man is Tempted (enticed by lust)
—-> He is Drawn away (from God)
—-> Then He Sins (against God)
—-> Then He Dies (the wage of sin)
Sound familiar? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). The good news is that James does not leave us with no remedy (just like Paul back in Romans 6).
The remedy, as we see in today’s verse is to “receive with meekness the engrafted word”, that word “which is able to save your souls”. That Word is Jesus. We know this because John tells us about this in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” You see that uppercase “W”? That means it is a proper noun … another name for someone. We can see who that someone is when we drop down to John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” This is Jesus, the same Jesus the Christ who walked this planet over 2000 years ago. So the Word is Jesus and the Word is God’s words, the Bible.
So James tells us that temptation leads to death, but he also gives us a way out of temptation. He tells us that we must receive the word (Word) and that it will be “engrafted” to us and is able to save our soul.
The only way to turn our thoughts away from sinful behaviors is to replace our carnal thoughts with something better. Since all goodness is based upon how God defines goodness then our mind needs to absorb His goodness. Since God no longer speaks to us in person during this age, we need to trust His written word, which communicates His truth to us. I know that the Bible tells us:
- When we read these things and hide them in our hearts we will not sin against God (Ps. 119:11).
- When we allow the Word of God to be our focus we will walk with God … down His path (Ps. 119:105).
- It is the meditation upon these words that allows us to change our behaviors (Ps. 19:14).
- It is the meditation and memory of Scripture that causes us to do the things that please God; we will see what those things are because we know what God’s word says (Ps. 19:8).
So then, if we are not reading and studying our Bible regularly we cannot know what it says. We must be daily in the Word.
Better yet, we don’t have to rely upon our own strength to know what God wants from us. As believers we have the Promise. He is the power that will help us to choose the good thing. He is the One who empowers us to produce that good fruit (Gal. 5:22-25). That Promise is the Holy Spirit which indwelt us when we believed the gospel of our salvation (Eph. 1:12-14). It is He that seals us and keeps us until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). It is He that keeps us from temptation when we listen to and follow Him because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).
We can avoid that superfluity of naughtiness that James speaks of by trusting the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to lead us down the right path. In and of ourselves we cannot be good. It’s not about trying so hard to be good — it’s about yielding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that every true believer has. Just let Him lead you down the right path and then follow.
Things to Think About and Do
1. Where else in the Bible do we read about our behaviors before and after salvation (hint: Paul talks a lot about this)
2. Where in the Bible does Jesus teach about engrafting? (hint: do a search on the word “vine”)
3. Memorize this verse: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalms 19:14