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The "Word"

When James exhorts us to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save our souls” (James 1:21), what does he mean by the word “word”? I think there are two things in his mind. Continue reading . . .

When James exhorts us to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save our souls” (James 1:21), what does he mean by the word “word”? I think there are two things in his mind.

First, look back for a moment at v. 18. There James describes the experience of being born again, the new birth, or what theologians call regeneration: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (v. 18a). The “word of truth” is unmistakably the gospel of Jesus Christ. When you were born again, when you experienced that incredible transition from spiritual death into spiritual life, God caused it to happen by means of “the word of truth.”

The apostle Peter said much the same thing in 1 Peter 1:23 and 25. There we read:

“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pt. 1:23,25).

So the “word” through which a person is “born again” is the “good news” that was “preached” to us or that we read in a book or a tract or that was shared with us by a friend or our parents. That “good news” or “gospel” is the message of what God has done for sinners in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to secure the forgiveness of their sins and to reconcile them to himself. In some mysterious way that we don’t fully understand, the Holy Spirit uses that truth as the instrument or means by which he opens our eyes to see the beauty of Christ and enlightens our minds to understand the glory of God’s grace. It is the instrument he uses to impart to us new spiritual taste buds so that we might enjoy the sweetness of who Jesus is and how he has made provision to deliver us from the judgment and wrath of God that we so richly deserved. The “word of truth” is the means by which the Spirit enables your soul to experience and enjoy the satisfaction that only God can provide. So, that is one meaning of the term “word” in James 1:21b.

But it is also clear that “word” has in view the collective revealed truth about who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. So, it may refer both to the spoken words of Jesus as well as the written Word of God that we know as the Bible. The “word of truth” in v. 18 and the “implanted word” in v. 21 both have in view God’s revelation or disclosure of himself, the totality of what he has made known regarding who he is, what he is like, who Jesus is, and how we are to live our lives.

Sometimes I can’t believe what I hear when certain individuals declare that we have moved beyond a “word-based” Christianity to an image-driven spiritual experience. Aside from the fact that it takes “words” to make their point (!), the Bible simply refuses to let us so easily and casually dismiss the urgency and importance of truth: spoken truth, written truth, truth that is communicated in both speech and print. This truth (the Bible).

Before I leave this point let me say one more thing about the “gospel” as the “word” of God. I think James would have us understand that the “word of truth,” that is, the “gospel” that is implanted within us is something from which we draw strength every single day. You never, ever outgrow your need for the gospel. The gospel is not just for non-Christians! Just because you are already a Christian and have already, in the past, believed the good news of the gospel doesn’t mean it no longer plays a role in your approach to life. You never, ever graduate from the “elementary school of the gospel” to the “Ph.D. program” of greater truth. The gospel must forever remain the gravitational center of your life. Let me give you but one example of what I mean.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

So this “word” of truth concerning the gospel by which we were saved is never to be thought of as something we move beyond or the need for which we outgrow.

To be continued . . .

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