The Living and Powerful Word of God: Meditations on James 1:21

img5I have never understood the tendency to separate the Spirit of God from the word of God. This unnecessary and unbiblical dichotomy affects preaching, Bible study, and daily Christian living. Christians rave about the power of the Spirit, but practically scoff at the power of the word. Some even prefer their pastors to not prepare sermons and fully “rely on the Spirit” in preaching. This is not only the case in charismatic circles. Even in well-meaning Baptist churches, prayer for the Spirit to move is viewed in connection to worship music or an invitation at the end of a service. There are surprisingly many Christians who believe that expository preaching and careful study of the Bible is unnecessary for the Christian life. Instead, they argue that we need to “experience” the Spirit of God and rely on the Spirit of God instead of the word of God.
In the face of this errant separation of Spirit and word is the witness of Scripture.The Bible conveys a direct connection between the Spirit of God and the word of God. God desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and truth. The Bible speaks of the Spirit granting the new birth (John 3:3-8; 6:63). When the Spirit is sent, he dwells within believers. At the same time, when the word of God comes in the gospel, it is implanted in us (Jam. 1:21). This relationship between the Spirit of God and the word of God greatly aids our understanding of the role of the word of God in our lives. The word of God is not mere text or lifeless revelation. It is a living and moving, breathing and working power that is a vehicle for life and a catalyst for faith.

The Word of God Saves?

James says something that is radically contrary to modern rejection of the Bible. If you question the relevancy of the Bible, heed this word: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jam. 1:21, emphasis added). Notice in verse 21 how the implanted word of God is “able to save your souls.” How necessary then is the word of God for our lives? It is absolutely crucial. It is vital for your salvation, for your perseverance in the faith. The word of God saves us. How are we to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”? How are we to be doers of the word and not just hearers? How are we to practice true and pure religion? We must receive the implanted word of God!

Our souls depend on the implanted word and our reception of it. Rejecting the word of God is like rejecting the very oxygen you need to live and breathe. The gospel demands the life-giving external word of God. Christians suffocate when they stop receiving the word of God. A closed Bible on a shelf is like a closed mouth and nose refusing to breath. When you miss a day of receiving the word of God, you should feel short of breath.

Receive the External Word

But how do we receive the implanted word of God? The implanted word is the message of the gospel that we received at the point of believing in Jesus. God plants the gospel in our hearts in the new birth. This implanted word fuels a desire for the external word of God, which is the Scriptures (Genesis-Revelation). We receive the implanted word through our reception of the external word. The power of the implanted word (the gospel) to save us feeds on our reception of the external word. It is through this transaction that the word of God powerfully works to save our souls.

Receive With Meekness

Now that we have seen that Christians are to receive the implanted word by receiving the external word, we will look at the manner James urges us to receive the word. This is a crucial lesson in Bible study and sitting under preaching. The context of this passage is of hearing the word. James says we should hear the word of God in specific ways; ways that oppose hasty and angry speech and attitudes. We should hear and receive the word of God with meekness. This means we should approach the Bible with humility and be quick to submit to it. When we open our Bibles to receive God’s word, we must do so with a trusting heart. We must ask God to help us to understand and delight in what we read. We must ask God to grant us the grace to willingly and gladly submit to his word. When we approach the Bible in this way, we receive it with meekness.

So, instead of rejecting portions of the Bible you personally find difficult to understand or accept, humbly trust God to teach you and meekly submit to God’s goodness and glory when you fail to grasp a certain biblical text. Remember, the thriving of your life as a Christian is not dependent on your level of understanding, but on an already implanted word (the gospel) that abides in you and is working for the completion of your salvation.


There are at least four important implications to draw from this passage.

Firstly, we can rest in the power of the gospel. The gospel is not a weak and fleeting power that is here today and gone tomorrow like a visiting political power. No, the gospel is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). The gospel takes root in your heart and creates the new birth. Stop trying to earn your own righteousness. Stop trying to give yourself life. Instead, rest in the work of Christ who died to give you new life through the word of his gospel.

Secondly, we need the gospel every day. It is the message of the gospel that was implanted at the new birth. It is this implanted word that fuels faith. In order to sustain your faith on a daily basis as you actively “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” All sin-killing efforts are fueled through meek reception of the word of God.

Thirdly, we must have the gospel on our lips every day. If the gospel is the means of the new birth, then we must actively seek to evangelize our lost friends, family, and even those we do not know. All men and women are both born in sin and dead in sin. Because of this, our only hope of life with God is rebirth. Rebirth comes through the word of the gospel. So, we must go with gospel everywhere we go. In the words of Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Fourthly, we cannot afford to neglect the word of God. James says the implanted word of God is “able to save your souls” (Jam. 1:21). So, the best thing we can do for our souls is to open the word of God and feed our hungry souls the bread of life.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.