One could rightly summarize the Epistle of James in two words: “Faith works.” James argues for a kind of Christianity that acts on what it knows in terms of right speech and behavior.
An important transition occurs in vv. 19-27 of the first chapter. It revolves around the word of God. Just as God uses His word to regenerate us – he brought us forth by the word of truth (1:18) He continually affects our salvation by implanting the word in our hearts through effective teaching (1:21). True faith responds eagerly to the word of God. Such a response has three characteristics.
First, it humbly receives the word in the heart (19-21). Rather than react with anger, which rarely works the righteousness of God, James says to receive with meekness the implanted word. We are to have a receptive, humble, broken-hearted disposition when the word comes to us in any variety of formats. That will look like a quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger kind of reaction (v. 19).
Second, it faithfully applies the word in the life (22-25). Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Yes, you need to hear and be attentive to the word, but if you stop there you are, as James puts it, deceiving yourself (v. 22). He uses a word picture in the rest of the paragraph to drive home his point. Hearing only and not doing is like gazing in a mirror only to walk away and not attend to the problems you saw with your face in that mirror! On the contrary, those who gaze into the word like a mirror for their lives and persevere in their obedience are blessed (v. 25). Blessed is far better than self-deceived!
Third, it zealously infuses the word in the religion (26-27). The word for religious refers to the outward ceremonies of the Christian life. Liturgy and its components are a meaningful part of the faith. But if that’s all there is to your experience as a Christian, you have a problem. James proposes a very different litmus test as to what comprises what he calls pure and undefiled religion before God (v. 27). It bridles the tongue. If it doesn’t, it’s worthless (v. 26). That hurts! You can’t get more basic than that. If your anger gives way to an out-of-control tongue as a rule, you don’t grasp true religion in the biblical sense. Furthermore, true religion visits widows and orphans and keeps oneself unstained by the world. It requires charity to the needy and purity in the world.
Now there’s a checklist by which to measure the validity of our Christian experience.