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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

A New Mindset

Yes, we are looking at James chapter 5 again! Last time I said that there may be further opportunity for us to consider the last two verses of James' letter. That is what I want to do. But before we get to them, I believe it is important to remind ourselves of what we have already examined, and to look at the main message that runs through this epistle. There is good rea- son to do this. The whole letter seems to develop towards the conclusion that we see in these last few verses.

Like the other letters in the New Testament, James is writing to believers in Jesus and giving them instructions. James is saying, because you believe this wonderful thing, because you believe that Jesus loved you, and died for your sins, and has given you a new life, now you need to follow these new instructions. The apostle Paul speaks similarly, when he says, 'anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has be- gun!' (2 Corinthians 5: 17 NLT)

Previously, I mentioned that James is teaching us that we need a new mind- set. I used the illustration of a car. If I chose to drive the length of Africa in my 14 year old Toyota, then I wouldn't get far before I had problems. Why? Because its the wrong vehicle for that journey. Equally, to take the mindset that we had, before we came to faith in Jesus Christ, and to think that this mindset will now serve us well in our new life as believers, is completely wrong. It just won't. It is the wrong mindset for the journey that we are now on. Adopting a new mindset is something that believers find really difficult cult. I know I do. It's even harder to maintain it. Our old thinking keeps creeping back in, pushing it's way to the front. Before we know it, we aren't thinking as the bible would have us to think. We claim to follow Jesus, but we don't think like him and, consequently we don't act like he would have us act. We are thinking just like everyone else. And this is what James is ad- dressing, in his letter.

In Colossians 3 (v.1-3), Paul speaks in the following way, 'Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.' The problem with putting this into practice is that, all to often, we are not heavenly minded! But Paul also gives us a really valuable instruction. He says (v.5), 'put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.'

Our old mindset needs to be 'put to death'. But, it isn't easy, our old mindset just will not stay dead. As believers, this putting to death of our old nature, is to be a repeated practice, day after day, year after year, until our time on earth is done. Our old mindset is a most ugly thing to our Lord. It often proves to be a much less ugly thing to us that it should be. If we viewed it like the Lord views it, we would be much more dedicated in seeking to lessen its influence upon us.

Our backgrounds can affect our thinking. Look at how Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, to that body of believers in Corinth. Their previous way of life had been utterly pagan; they worshipped idols and demons, and sacrificed to them. Some of this old way of thinking had reared its head in their new life. The Church was in real danger, because of the error that was creeping into Church practice, out of the background of these people's former lives.

Our pre-conversion background may be one where there was a strong sense of nationalism, or of different social classes. We may still divide up the society in which we live into different groups in our minds, some with more inherent value than others, without barely noticing. Yet, is this a mindset that is in line with the bible? The New Testament divides people into only two groups; those that have a living relationship with God, through Jesus, and those who don't. The bible's thinking is distinct, but is the way that we distinguish, the same way that the Lord distinguishes? And, within the Church, there are no sub-groups, but 'you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3 28).

Even being raised in a religious or morally principled setting can affect our thinking now. It may have given us a strong sense of right and wrong, we may be inclined to seek out natural justice. But, this kind of thinking can be really unhelpful when, in God's providence, we are called 'to suffer for doing good', as 'Christ also' did 1 Peter 3: 17 & 18).

In summary, whatever our mindset used to be, however 'well brought up' we may consider ourselves to have been, our old way of thinking was wrong. Our old mindset needs packing up and putting in the dustbin. Unfortunately, even when we do find the motivation to pack it up, we tend to place it neatly in the recycling stash where, the following day, we can remove it and re-use it ourselves!

James quickly gets to a section in chapter 1 about 'listening and doing'. In the NIV it is titled as such. He tells believers (v.19-20) that they 'should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.' He isn't saying that human anger isn't particularly helpful, or can sometimes get in the way of results. No, it 'does not produce the righteousness that God desires.' This idea of being slow to speak is returned to in chapter 3. There, he tells believers that 'not many of you should become teachers' in the life of the Church. He states that those whose tongues are employed in teaching roles within the body of believers, will be judged more strictly. These are serious things to consider. He then goes on to speak about the tongue. Although it is a relatively small part of our bodies, it has a huge capacity. It can do great harm to our lives. It can do great harm to the lives of others. Back in chapter 1 (v.26) James says that, 'those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.'

Do we try to control our immediate environment with our words? Human be- ings do. We are so prone to trying to control things around us by words. We are often quicker to put together words, than we are to listen to the point of view of others around us. This is the very opposite of what the Christian's mindset should be. We assume that we know the motive and reasoning behind the behaviour of others, and we use words to attempt control of things in a way that suits us. We aren't embarrassed when what we say is wide of the mark, whether it be in our homes, at school or college, in our work settings, or even in the Church. But James continues this theme into chapter 4, where he commands us (v.11), 'brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.'

After James tells us that our 'religion is worthless' if we do not rein in our words, he says, 'religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.' The worldly mindset pollutes our thinking, our language, and our lives. Acceptable religion, according to James, is a re- ligion of doing. He instructs us to look after the most needy. We need to be seeking to do good, rather than to just talk good. Paul instructs the Church, in Galatians 6: 7-10, 'let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers'. Paul calls this 'sowing' to the Spirit. He calls the opposite sowing 'to please our flesh', or sowing to ourselves.

Likethe sowing of seed by a gardener, there will be a harvest. I planted some lettuce seeds this spring. I reaped a harvest – of lettuce! Sometimes, we allow our worldly mindset to overtake us and we, perhaps unwittingly, hide our motives under the name of religion. In effect, we re-label the packets of seed that we sow. I could have done that this spring. I could have re-labelled the packet of lettuce seeds and called them cucumber seeds. But, at harvest time, when I came to cut the plant that had grown, no-one would have been fooled. They may have been when I planted, but they wouldn't when I harvested. Likewise, we can claim that our actions are Spirit driven when, in reality, they are driven by our own desires. But, the harvest will reveal the truth. Paul says that sowing to the flesh will bring a harvest of 'destruction', while sowing to the Spirit will 'reap eternal life.'

James wants the Church to do. He wants the Church to do what is right. Not by the standards of the world's mindset, but by the standards of the Lord. James has a lot to say about doing, or what we might call action, or works. James considers our deeds, our actions, as being of vital importance. James confronts an error which must have crept into the early New Testa- ment Church. He says (James 2: 14), 'what good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can faith save them?' At first glance, this could be taken as being very different to the apostle Paul who said, 'we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law', or justified by faith alone, without deeds. This is found in Romans 3: 28. In Romans 4, Paul uses the example of the Old Tes- tament character, Abraham. He tells us that Abraham was made right with God simply by believing that what God had told him was true. Abraham was made right before God, before Abraham did what was right.

James is not saying something different. James and Paul help to clarify each other's words. James also uses Abraham as an example in chapter 2. He points to the fact that Abraham did what was right. He says that Abraham had to do what was right. He says that Abraham would not have been right before God if he had not done what was right (v.21) He says that we have to do what is right. He says that (v.26), 'faith without deeds is dead'.

To understand both James and Paul requires some balancing. Some of the young people will know all about balancing of equations in mathematics. If we put a value into an equation, on the wrong side of the equals sign, the answer that we get will be incorrect. Recently, I came across a spiritual equation, attributed to Evidence Ministries founder, Keith Walker. It is a wonderful thing. It is so important that we put 'doing', or 'action' or 'deeds',

on the correct side of the bible's equation. 'Faith', 'Deeds', 'Salvation' are the things that Paul and James are asking us to balance. We can get this wrong in more ways than one. Some people will tell us that 'deeds' have no value, they have no part in the Christian's life. This is the error that James is deal- ing with. This thinking delivers this result:-

Faith = Salvation

Deeds don't come into it. Others get it wrong in another way. This is the er- ror that Paul was dealing with. This is the thinking that gives us this result:-

Faith + Deeds = Salvation

This is equally incorrect. Deeds are on the wrong side of the equation. Both of these errors will give us the wrong answer. Both of these errors will negatively affect our spiritual thinking. But, with the information supplied by both James and Paul, we can come up with the correct formula. Yes, faith and deeds and salvation, are all present in the bible's gospel formula, and it is this:-

Faith = Salvation + Deeds

Faith is on its own on the one side. With faith alone we are saved. But true, living faith, brings a salvation that is accompanied by deeds, or actions, which are in service to the Lord.

And these works of service are to be 'especially to those who belong to the family of believers', as I've already quoted from Paul's words to the Church in Galatia. And this leads us finally to our text today. It's been a long lead up, and shortly I will have to tame my tongue, and curtail my words. But I hope that the steps we have taken to carefully approach James 5: 19-20 will have helped to bring us to a good vantage point to view their contents, albeit very briefly.

James, in the final steps of his lead up to his epistle's conclusion, speaks of prayer. Prayer is one of the deeds that the Church must do. He uses Elijah's example. Why? Because he wants us to know two things:-

1. Prayer is a 'work'.

2. Prayer really does work!

So, as we've considered before, we should confess our faults to each other, we should be seeking to get alongside one another, we should be praying for the healing that we all need, so that our lives might bring forth more fruit for our Lord. And James finishes with this, 'My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.' James wants us to see the reward for persevering with our brothers and sisters when they fall into error. It is a rescue from 'death' and something which 'covers' over sin.

In normal human life, those who save lives, whether through the role they are employed in, perhaps in the medical world, or whether in reacting spontaneously to danger, are considered as heroes. Rescue is a noble act. Are we willing to do this in Christ's Kingdom? Or will our earthly mindset dictate our words and actions, so that we just count the cost to our own lives, and our own time, and choose to criticise, or ignore, or deal harshly with our fellows, instead? Paul says, again in Galatians 6 (v.1 & 2) 'Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.' He adds this, 'Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.' Again, Paul and James are united in what they say. James speaks (ch.2 v.2) about 'the royal law found in Scripture', which is 'love your neighbour as yourself'. And (ch.1 v.25) he talks of 'the perfect law that gives freedom'. This is the law of love. This should be the rule of life for everyone who professes to follow Christ Jesus as Lord.

Jesus ignored the personal cost of saving a people from 'death'. Paul, in Philippians 2: 1-11, details this for us. Jesus 'humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!' and Paul instructs us in this way, 'do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.' 'In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.' This is the mindset that all of the Lord's people should be seeking.

The pattern of thinking that we were born with is corrupted. If we use it to direct our lives, we will quickly drive a wedge between ourselves and others. We will soon find that we bring division to Church life. But, if we have the mindset of Christ Jesus, then we will be driven closer. More compassionate in our dealings with the weaknesses of others. More desiring of unity with our fellow believers. More minded towards our Lord. More ready to serve and to follow him.


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