Updated: Nov 18, 2022
"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).
You might be familiar with the way Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 2:22-24 explain sanctification as three steps—put off, renew, and put on. James 1:21-22 explains the process the same way. To “lay apart,” as James says, is the same word as to “put off” in Ephesians 4.
What are we to put off according to James? "Filthiness," first of all. Filthiness is the obviously sinful expressions of the lust that lives in our sin nature (1:14); the Holy Spirit and our conscience are sensitive to such obviously sinful behavior as acting in filthiness. “Superfluity of naughtiness,” the second category of behavior we are instructed to put off, is simply the leftover desires of the old man that we are responsible for mortifying in our minds so we don't act on them.
When we give into the impulses or emotions of the old man, in filthiness or naughtiness, we do what verse 16 warns us against: we are “erring,” or being deceived into turning aside from righteousness. However, we are not doomed to spiritual defeat because these leftover temptations of the old man are still around. It’s actually the opposite. Verse 18 tells us, as John 3 and 1 Peter 1 do, that God, in salvation, worked a miracle that only He can do. He “begat” us through the truth. We have been born again. Unless we give ground to Satan, the world, or the flesh, the Holy Spirit can work through us to make short work of those guerilla temptations that try to continue fighting a battle that Jesus Christ has already won.
In fact, remembering and meditating on the gospel victory of Jesus Christ is what it means to renew our minds. If we fall into the trap of thinking that sin is more powerful than our new life in Christ can handle, our situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we come to wrongly believe that the aggressive lies that the world promotes can overwhelm the truth of the gospel, then it becomes easier for us to believe the lies too. If we become convinced of the lie that there are areas of our life, or of others lives, that God can never conquer, then we end up playing into Satan’s hands.
James actually addresses what we believe about God, our enemies, and ourselves in verse 21. Everything is wrapped up in the word “meekness.” How so? A pastor friend of mine tells what is to me the best definition of humility. Humility, he said, is “knowing your place.” Humble people understand the calling and inheritance God has given to them; He is their Lord and Savior, and they are His children, the redeemed. Meekness is simply the action of a humble person recognizing and standing in his proper place.
According to James, meek people put on, or receive, God’s word by recognizing and believing who they are—born again men and women standing in the forgiveness and victory of new life in Christ, but with lingering enemies that can assault but never destroy them. Meek Christians aren’t fooled by the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. They don’t yield to impulses and emotions of sin. They don’t yield to the pressure of the world. They understand Christ is their Master and ignore Satan’s lies. They resist evil because they "receive" God’s words instead.
James 1:21 teaches that meekness saves souls. A sinner who recognizes that he stands under judgment and accepts mercy will be saved from hell. A believer who recognizes he stands in Christ will be preserved from chastisement and heartache. Take some time to consider the promises of God regarding the power of the work of Christ. Be humble by being confident in your Savior and rejecting lies.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is an assistant Pastor at NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Pastor Johnson's Saturday morning Outreach Conference session on temperance.