21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Coming one verse after James discusses anger, Christians are told to rid themselves of all moral filth. Anger and sin are closely related because so much of what is done in anger ends up as sin. Everyone gets angry at times. In fact, it can be a good emotion when it motivates us to do righteous things. There is such a thing as righteous anger and God displays this at times.
When we discuss anger though, we usually mean the negative side of it. The reason that anger is so bad is that it takes control of us. Anger works much like drugs and alcohol. It changes our mental state and causes us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do because we’re no longer in charge. Instead it is anger that is in control. No matter what the reason, bad things happen when we’re no longer in control because we make bad decisions.
Anger leads to a slew of problems just like drugs and alcohol do. Therefore it is important to ask God for help in controlling your anger and learning ways to become slow to speak. The book of Proverbs is a good place to start as it says a lot about both of these topics.
It is not enough to simply rid oneself of anger however. There are plenty of other sins that are committed when not angry. We should work to rid ourselves of all of these. It isn’t easy and the list of things that are morally filthy are virtually endless.
While we are to get rid of moral filth, we are to replace it with God’s Word. But it is not enough to just hear or read the Bible. It must be applied; it must be acted upon. Simply knowing what God says does not do anyone any good if it is not acted upon.
A good example of this would be a diet. Whether they want to admit it or not, everyone knows how to lose weight. There are two ways to do so, eat less or exercise more. No matter how the weight loss programs are configured, they will incorporate at least one of the two. Even though everyone understands that they’ll lose weight if they eat less, not everyone who wants to lose weight does so. It’s because they are unwilling or unable to apply these principles. It does no good to know how to lose weight if the ideas are not put into practice.
The same comes from living a Christian life. Does it do you any good to know that you have a problem with sin if you aren’t going to work to correct it? The answer is no. In this case, all knowledge does is create guilt. We feel guilty because we know something is wrong but we continue to do it anyway.
God didn’t give us His Word to make us feel guilty. We have the Bible because it is meant to help us live better lives. A lot of people look at God and the Bible as cosmic killjoys that are just trying to ruin their good time. Nothing could be further from the truth however. The rules that God gave are for our protection and are meant so that we might enjoy life to its fullest.
James chastises the early Christians for quickly forgetting what was taught. He compares it to a person who looks in the mirror and then quickly forgets what they look like. This idea seems absurd to us and that is the point that James wants to make. How can a believer hear God’s Word and then so quickly set it aside and forget what they have learned?
But the person who carefully studies and applies God’s law will be blessed in what they do. They will experience freedom while living according to God’s Word because they know that their lifestyle will not cause harm to themselves or others. This alone is a blessing but believers can expect additional blessings from the Lord for following His Word.