Abstract background with large title "James" and subtitle "Only You Can Stop Wildfires."

Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires

ave you ever pondered over the distinction between religion and the gospel? It’s a crucial one. Religion often falls into the trap of legalism, reducing faith to a checklist of do’s and don’ts. It can lead us to the dangerous misconception that our salvation depends on our ability to adhere to a set of rules. This perspective, however, neglects the heart of the gospel, which is that our salvation is a free gift given to us through Christ, not something we earn through our own merit.

The gospel, in contrast to religion, offers us true freedom. It liberates us from the heavy burden of trying to achieve salvation through our own works. Instead, it provides the assurance that our salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

At the heart of this discussion is a powerful metaphor found in James 3:1-12, the metaphor of the tongue. This small part of our body holds an immense amount of power. It has the capacity to build up and tear down, to bless and curse, to convey truth and propagate falsehoods. As believers, we must understand and wield this power responsibly, particularly as we discuss and teach about the gospel. As James puts it, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire.”

This leads us to our central discussion: How does our speech impact our understanding and proclamation of the gospel? How do our words reflect our grasp of the truth? As we delve into this topic, we will explore the dangers of distorting the gospel, our roles as teachers, the importance of rightly dividing God’s Word, and the tools we have for discerning truth from error. Join me as we navigate these critical concepts, always bearing in mind the centrality of the gospel message.

The Danger of Distorting the Gospel

In James 3:1, we are all reminded of a powerful truth: we are teachers. Not all of us may stand in a pulpit, lead a Bible study, or pen theological books, but we all influence others in some capacity. Every conversation about faith, every casual comment about God, every shared piece of advice has the potential to shape someone’s understanding of the gospel. Therefore, in some respect, we are all teachers, whether we acknowledge it or not.

With this teaching role comes a significant weight of responsibility. This weight becomes even heavier the greater our sphere of influence. As people listen to us, adopt our ideas, or follow our advice, we must ensure that the gospel we portray through our words is accurate and true.

False teaching is a serious threat that can subtly creep into our words. Even a small distortion of the gospel can lead to significant misunderstandings. It’s like a small rudder guiding a massive ship. If the rudder is slightly off, the ship can veer drastically off course. Similarly, if our words do not accurately reflect the gospel, they can misguide others and ourselves, leading to erroneous beliefs and harmful practices.

This is not a call to silence but rather a call to wisdom, discernment, and intentionality. We are called to use our influence wisely, ensuring that our words align with the truth of the gospel. It is a call to guard our tongues, as James suggests, understanding the power they hold and striving to use this power for the good of others and the glory of God.

The Errors of Legalism and Antinomianism

When we attempt to define our own version of Christianity, we often sway between two opposing errors: legalism and antinomianism. These distortions of the gospel present themselves as minor deviations, but in reality, they are dangerous detours that lead us away from the truth of God’s Word.

Legalism is the belief that our good works or obedience to the law can earn or maintain our salvation. This notion subtly adds to God’s Word, placing unnecessary and burdensome expectations on believers. It suggests that Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient and that we must supplement it with our own efforts. A real example from church history tells of a group that declared, “You cannot be a Christian if you attend a theatre or do not wear plain clothing,” imposing extra-biblical requirements that were more about cultural norms than biblical mandates. Such sentiments are the seeds of legalism. Legalism can be very enticing because it offers a false sense of control and righteousness. However, it obscures the gospel’s truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

On the other end of the spectrum is antinomianism, a belief that, since we are saved by grace, we are not obligated to live a life of obedience to God’s law. This perspective dangerously diminishes the importance of God’s law, leading to spiritual lawlessness. It can be misconstrued as freedom, but in reality, it is a license for sin. This belief neglects the truth that, while we are not saved by our obedience, our salvation should result in a transformed life marked by love for God and neighbor, which is expressed in obedience to God’s commandments.

Both legalism and antinomianism distort the truth of the gospel, leading to either self-righteousness or reckless disregard for God’s commands. It’s critical to understand that our salvation is a free gift from God, not something we can earn or something that allows us to live without regard for His law. As teachers in our respective spheres, we need to be vigilant against these errors, ensuring that our words reflect the true gospel.

As James 3:2-8 vividly illustrates, our words have immense power. Just as a small bit guides a horse or a small rudder steers a ship, so our tongue – though small – can have a significant influence on others and ourselves. It can be used to shape beliefs, spread ideas, and can either build up or tear down. False doctrines and harmful ideas can easily slip in through our speech, showing just how crucial it is for our words to align with God’s Word.

The Inconsistency of our Tongues

Furthermore, James 3:9-12 points out the inconsistency of our tongues. The same mouth we use to praise God can also be used to curse our fellow human beings, made in His image. This incongruity should prompt us to reflect on the importance of consistent speech that reflects our faith and aligns with the gospel.

To ensure we accurately represent the gospel with our words, we need to intimately know the true gospel. In the same way that FBI agents are trained to identify counterfeit money by studying genuine notes, we must immerse ourselves in the study of God’s Word. This way, we can quickly discern truth from error when we come across teachings that do not align with the gospel.

Finally, we should not underestimate the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us to the truth. The Spirit illuminates God’s Word, helping us understand its message and apply it correctly in our lives. We should continually seek the Spirit’s guidance in our journey of faith, particularly as we endeavor to use our words wisely and truthfully.

The gospel is a beautiful symphony of grace, faith, and the unique work of Christ. It is a message that brings us from death to life, from enmity to reconciliation, from bondage to freedom. Yet, the beauty and power of this message can be distorted when we start adding to it or taking away from it through legalism and antinomianism. As we’ve explored, our words hold great power in communicating and shaping beliefs about this crucial message.

When we align our words with the truth of the gospel, we articulate that salvation is entirely a gift of grace, received through faith, and secured by Christ alone. This truth lifts the burdens that legalism imposes and corrects the laxity that antinomianism promotes. It brings us back to the heart of the gospel – that we are saved not by our works, but by the completed work of Christ.

Take a moment to reflect. Are your beliefs, your words, and your life aligned with this true gospel? Are you tempted to add to or subtract from the Word of God? Are you caught up in the snare of legalism, trying to earn or maintain your salvation through good works, or are you falling into the error of antinomianism, neglecting the transformative power of grace that leads to a life of love and obedience?

In Christ Alone

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection invites us to reject these distortions and to embrace the true gospel. Trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Rest in His finished work. Let His grace transform your life and guide your words. And remember, in the profound words of the Apostle Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The gospel is not about religion; it’s about a relationship with Christ, made possible by His grace alone. Embrace this truth, and let it resound in every word you speak.

In this journey through James 3:1-12, we have been confronted with the power of our words and the influence they can wield. We have discovered the dangers of distorting the gospel through legalism and antinomianism and the pivotal role our tongues play in either advancing or obscuring the truth of the gospel. We have realized that we are all theologians and teachers in some capacity, and therefore, have a solemn responsibility to align our words and beliefs with the true gospel.

As we conclude this exploration, it’s a call to action for all of us to reflect on the gravity of this truth. Let’s not take lightly the power we possess to shape beliefs and steer hearts toward or away from the true gospel. Let’s remember that our words can bless or curse, build or destroy, heal or hurt. In a world where distortions of the gospel are prevalent, it is essential to be deeply rooted in the truth. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

For this reason, it’s critical that we deepen our knowledge of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for discernment. Remember the analogy of the FBI agents and the counterfeit money; the more intimately familiar we are with the truth, the better we can discern and reject falsehood.

May our words be a reflection of a heart transformed by the gospel. Let us not merely speak of grace, faith, and Christ, but let these truths resonate in our daily lives. As we speak and as we live, may we glorify God, echoing the five solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (through Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). This is the true and unchanging gospel that we are to proclaim. May we do so faithfully, in word and in deed, for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.

Sermon & Sandwiches

Discussing a sermon after it’s given provides a valuable opportunity to digest and process the teachings more deeply. It helps to reinforce the message, spark personal reflections, and can inspire actionable steps in our spiritual journey. Here are some conversation starters to facilitate these discussions:

  1. “What part of the sermon had the most impact on you, and why?”
  2. “How does the concept of our words being powerful tools resonate with your day-to-day interactions? Can you think of a recent instance where your words had a significant impact?”
  3. “The speaker mentioned the dangers of legalism and antinomianism. How have you seen these play out in your own life or in the lives of others around you?”
  4. “The importance of rightly dividing God’s Word was emphasized. How do you ensure that you’re accurately understanding and applying biblical teachings?”
  5. “If our actions and words are a reflection of our understanding of the Gospel, what do you think your life currently communicates about your understanding of it?”
  6. “How can we ensure that the grace and freedom we receive through the Gospel are not leading us into antinomianism, a disregard for God’s laws?”
  7. “The point was made that we all have influence and thus are all teachers in some respect. How can we better guard our tongues to ensure we are reflecting the Gospel accurately?”
  8. “Thinking about the metaphor of a small fire setting a forest ablaze, how do you feel the words we use can have a similar impact in our lives and the lives of others?”

The Daily Devotion

  1. Monday: Scripture Study – Read through James 3:1-12. Write down the key points you observe in these verses. How do they apply to your life? Reflect on the power of the tongue and the importance of using our words wisely.
  2. Tuesday: Understanding Legalism – Study the concept of legalism. Reflect on how legalism can subtly alter our understanding of the gospel. Identify any areas of your life where you may be tempted to fall into legalistic thinking. Seek scripture that emphasizes grace and faith rather than works for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9 is a good start).
  3. Wednesday: Antinomianism in Focus – Study the concept of antinomianism. Reflect on the dangers of disregarding God’s commandments. Look for Bible passages that call for a transformed life marked by love for God and neighbor, expressed in obedience to God’s commandments (Romans 6:1-2 and Romans 12:1-2 can guide you).
  4. Thursday: Reflect on the Gospel Message – Spend time reflecting on the core message of the gospel: salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. Write a personal reflection on what this means to you. Consider how this understanding should impact your daily life and interactions with others.
  5. Friday: The Five Solas – Study the five solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (through Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). Reflect on each one and write about how these principles can guide your faith journey and your understanding of the Gospel. Commit to one action point for each Sola to apply in your life over the next week.

Kid’s Connection

Introduction: Kids, did you know our words are powerful and can impact people in big ways? Today, we’re going to talk about a special book, the Bible, and the message it has for us about our words and about God’s love for us.

The Power of Words

Explanation: Our words can do a lot of things. They can make people feel good, like when we say, “I love you,” or they can hurt feelings, like when we say something mean. God wants us to use our words to share love and truth.

Questions: Can you think of a time when someone’s words made you feel really good? What about a time when someone’s words hurt your feelings?

Activity: Let’s play a game of “Pass the Compliment.” We’ll sit in a circle and take turns giving the person next to us a kind word or compliment.