“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.” James 1:22-24
There is a lot to cover in our first week’s study (chapter one)! It begins by directing us to read the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7) and to let that soak in, let the Holy Spirit–our Interpreter–speak to us through God’s word. Then to re-read and note all the times “righteous” or “righteousness” is used; by doing so, we learn that the main theme of the Sermon on the Mount is the righteous lifestyle of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. The key verse (according to our study) is Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” What does that mean? My interpretation of this is that even if we follow all the rules, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, our hearts may still be hard and our souls may still be polluted. Jesus said the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but full of rotten things on the inside (Matthew 23:27). It’s what’s in our hearts that truly matters.
Many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to be saved from eternal damnation, but we want the “best” of what the world has to offer, too. In my own experience, I’ve lived this. I professed my belief in Christ and was baptised as a believer, but then spent more years than I care to mention doing what Jamie wanted to do. I believed in God, but the “fruit” I produced did not match up to what I claimed to believe. But true Christianity will give us the “want to”, as my pastor puts it. If our hearts have been changed by Christ, we will be willing to leave those things behind and make a total commitment to Christ: to doing whatever He says. There will be some who claim to know Jesus as Savior, but they will be like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Their “fruit” will not match up with what they claim to be.
Hypocrisy: it’s one of those buzzwords that many non-churchgoers use as the excuse to not attend church. But it’s not just those in the church who are hypocrites! A hypocrite is anyone who “wears a mask.” The word originally was used for Greek and Roman stage actors who wore exaggerated masks to show emotion. Based on that definition, are you a hypocrite? Is there ever a time you pretend to be someone you’re not? Is there ever a time you paste on a happy face so no one sees the turmoil or difficulty in your life? Do you act differently with church friends than you do with coworkers?
Though the Sermon on the Mount seems like an impossible standard, it’s not if we allow Christ to rule our lives. "I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)