When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg five hundred years ago, he emphasized the need for believers to live lives of repentance. Far from being a one-time event, the perpetual practice of repentance and turning from sin must mark the Christian’s life.
We find this teaching throughout Scripture. One verse that clearly alludes to this way of life is found in today’s passage from the book of James. We read that we are to put away all wickedness and receive the “implanted word.” Our lives must be filled continually with repentance and belief in the Gospel that is revealed in the Word of God.
That we are both to repent and believe is clear from the context of this passage. This verse was originally addressed to believers — to individuals that had already put their faith in the Messiah. Yet, even though the power of sin was broken in them (and has been broken in us), sin’s presence remains until the believer receives glorification. Until we are glorified, we must guard ourselves against the old, sinful patterns into which we so easily fall, and put off all traces of wickedness. For as John Calvin says, “We are never wholly cleansed from them [the presence of sinful desires] in this life, but that they are continually sprouting up, and, therefore, he requires that care should be taken to eradicate them. As the word of God is especially a holy thing, to be fitted to receive it, we must put off the filthy things by which we have been polluted.”
A life of repentance and faith in the Gospel evidences itself by the reception of the “implanted word” (v. 21). This word, the commentators tell us, refers to the word of God implanted into our hearts at the new birth. When God regenerates us, He writes the Law on our hearts (Heb. 8), thereby enabling us to obey Him. The presence of sin necessitates that we continually seek this word through the study of Scripture and prayer so that we will obey Jesus as Lord.
As we will explore in the succeeding verses, authentic reliance on Christ alone will produce active obedience to the Word in our lives. When we truly believe, we will obey the Word of God more and more.
Are you continually making an effort to receive the “implanted word” with meekness and humility? Are you being diligent with the tools that help you learn the Word of God such as Bible study and hearing the preached Word? Take some time to take an account of your life, and see what you can do to help facilitate your study of the Word of God. Join or lead a Bible study, and if you are not at a church that faithfully preaches the Word of God, find one and join it.