As usual in Prayer Week, I want to preach bookend messages — the first (last week) on our life of prayer and the second (today) on our life in the word of God. The reason for this is that praying and meditating on the word of God are the heartbeat of the Christian life. You can’t sustain prayer without the word of God, and you can’t experience the living power of the word of God without prayer. They go hand in hand. They are the lub-dub of the coronary Christian life. And so we bookend Prayer Week with one message on prayer and one on the word.
This message, however, is slightly out of place in relation to next week’s message. In one sense, it belongs after next week’s message. Next week, I plan to pick up where we left off in our series on the new birth. And the next question will be: How are we born again? We have asked: What is the new birth? And we have asked: Why do we need to be born again? And next week, we turn to the how question: How does the new birth come about?
Born Again by the Word of Truth
And one of the most crucial answers to that question is given right here in James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The phrase “brought us forth” is a reference to being created or produced or born. “Of his own will he brought us forth. . . .” And the reference is not to our first creation or birth, but to our new creation or new birth. We can see this because of how James says it happens, namely, “by the word of truth.” “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” This is a reference to the gospel (Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15). So he is saying that our second birth, our new creation in Christ, happened “by the word of truth,” when we heard the gospel of Christ.
This will be crucial in next week’s message which will be taken from 1 Peter 1:23 where Peter makes the very same point that James does here. He says, “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God.” So in one sense, that message should have been preached before this one, because the focus in this message is on verse 21: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” I want us to take very seriously the command “Receive with meekness the implanted word.” That’s the focus today.
The Implanting of the Word
But this assumes that the word has been implanted. “Receive with meekness the implanted word.” That’s what happened in verse 18. “He brought us forth by the word of truth.” We were dead. We had no place for the word of God in us. We did not desire it or love it. Jesus said of the leaders who were trying to kill him: “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:37). The word of truth was not implanted in them.
Be careful how you take this. These leaders knew their Bibles better than anyone. But the word of God “found no place in them.” It was not implanted in them. Before we are born again, our hearts are full of other things that push out the word of God. We are like people who are so stuffed with candy between meals that when the feast is offered we are not hungry. In fact, our stomach turns at the thought of eating. This is how unregenerate people feel about the real meaning of God’s word. They feel no need for it. So it has no place. It’s not implanted in them.
The Word of God: The Gospel
So verse 18 tells us — and we will look at this in a good bit of detail in the next messages on the new birth — that the way God causes the new birth is by the word of God, the gospel. The Holy Spirit carries the word into our dead hearts and causes us to see the truth of Christ as we never have. And we are given life through the word of truth — the word of God, the gospel.
“We are given life through the word of truth — the word of God, the gospel.”
Now verse 21 says that this word didn’t come and go. It was implanted. It took root. It is in us and is part of us. This is amazing. I pray the Lord causes this truth to sink in and grip you. We are born again by the word. And the word stays. Indeed, verse 21 says that this implanted word “is able to save your souls.” Don’t underestimate the power and the importance of the word of God.
It is treated here the very same way that the Bible treats the Spirit of God himself. We are born again by the Spirit (John 6:63), and we are born again by the word of God. The Spirit dwells in us, and the word is implanted in us. This indwelling Spirit is God’s way to keep us and bring us to heaven. The implanted word is God’s way of preserving and saving our souls in the end. You could not say anything more important about the word than this. Don’t misunderstand the power and importance of the word of God.
The Power and Importance of the Gospel
Here is the way Paul talks about this implanted, saving word. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, he says, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” The word of God did not come and go. It did not leave these believers. It is “at work in you.” It is, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “living and active.”
Here is the way John writes about this implanted and active and saving word: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). The word does not come and leave. When it creates life and faith, it “abides.”
So the word of God is “implanted” in us, and “is at work” in us, and “abides” in us, and (James 1:21 says) “saves” us. We cannot easily overstate how profoundly powerful and important the word of God is for our lives. If the word of God does not rank with your most cherished possessions, you need to do a reality check on your life. Nothing apart from God himself is more important and powerful than his word.
Receive the Implanted Word
But here is the amazing part that makes this text so relevant for this message at the beginning of the year. Verse 21 says (right in the middle of the verse), “Receive with meekness the implanted word.” Receive it — this implanted word. In other words, if you treat the word of God like your kidneys, you are making a big mistake. Your kidneys are implanted in you by your first birth. But you do not go on “receiving” your kidneys. They just sit there doing their work, and you rarely think about them. You certainly don’t “receive” them. They are already there — firmly implanted.
But James says, “Receive the implanted word.” It is already in you. And you should receive it. It is rooted and planted in you. It brought you life. It is there sustaining that life by feeding faith in Christ. But it is not there like kidneys. It is there like oxygen. It gives life and in giving life, it makes you breathe, and in breathing you receive oxygen. No one says: “I have oxygen; look how well it is working in me; it makes me alive; I don’t need to receive oxygen.”
The implanted word of God and the external word of God are so united that we live by having it already implanted and we live by receiving it. It is at work in us, as Paul says. And the work it does in us is it makes us want to receive it. Receiving the external word replenishes the power of the implanted word, and the implanted word creates the hunger to receive the external word. And then to make us very serious about this process, James adds at the end of verse 21 “which is able to save your souls.” What saves our souls? The implanted word, which we receive.
In other words, our souls depend on the implanted word, and our souls depend on receiving the word. If you decide that you don’t need to receive the external word, you are like a person who decides he doesn’t need to breathe. If you are spiritually dead, you can carry through that decision. You can choose not to breathe. But if you are spiritually alive, you can’t. The implanted word is powerful; it produces life and breathing. It takes over the spiritual diaphragm and demands oxygen. It demands the life-giving external word. If the word is implanted in you, you can’t hold your breath forever. The implanted word will sooner or later conquer and be replenished. You will receive the word again. And you will love it.
So my message today has two simple parts: One, receive the implanted word. And two, do it with meekness. The middle of James 1:21: “Receive with meekness the implanted word.” That is our main point today.
Receive the Word with Meekness
Just a word about meekness. In this context of hearing the word of God, meekness surely means something like “teachability” or “readiness to submit” to God’s word. The opposite of receiving the word with meekness would be to receive it suspiciously, because you doubt that all of it is true or good for you; or to receive it partially because you want to reserve the right to pick and choose what parts of it you will follow; or to receive it with the cocky self-assurance that you can understand it and apply it without God’s merciful help.
But James says receive it with meekness. When you open your Bible, say to God: I trust you, I submit to you, I need you to help me. Incline my heart to love your word. Open my eyes to see the greatness of what is really there. Satisfy my soul with the glory of Christ revealed in all of this book. I bow. I yield to the supreme truth and value of this book. In all meekness and lowliness, I look to you. I wait for you. Come to me through your word, my Savior and my Lord and my God and my friend and my highest treasure. That would be a meek way of receiving the implanted word.
Finally, I would simply try to illustrate what it is to receive the implanted word, with the hope of inspiring you to do it every day of this year, so that if you miss a day you will feel like your spiritual lungs are going to burst with desire for another breath.
We Need the Gospel Every Day
When it says in verse 21 “receive the implanted word,” I think there is an implication that the gospel remains the center of the word that we receive every day. It is the gospel — the central message that Christ died for our sins and rose again and gives us eternal joy in God through faith — it’s this gospel that took root in our lives when we were born again.
“The gospel is implanted in us, and we need to breathe it in every day.”
The gospel is implanted in us, and we need to breathe it in every day. You never outgrow your need for the good news of forgiven sin and imputed righteousness and eternal life and God being totally for you — and all of this by grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone. You never graduate to a class where that is not the center of the curriculum. I think this is implied in saying that the word that saved us and is implanted in us is what we should go on receiving every day.
But God’s word, Scripture, is more than just the gospel. And Paul says all of it is inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:17). It is one piece of fabric. The gospel is the supremely glorious design in the center of the fabric. But all of it is woven together as one fabric. So my biblical exhortation is: Every day with meekness receive the word of God. That is, every day be in the Bible. Breathe the Bible. Don’t try to hold your breath from Monday to Wednesday. Breathe every day.
Read to Receive
And don’t miss the implications of the word receive (Greek dexasthe). It means welcome. It’s not receive like you receive a blow on the head. It’s receive the way you receive a feast, or the way you receive a friend, or the way you receive prostate surgery — not always pleasant, but always good or you, always life giving. That’s how we receive the word every day.
So there is a way to read the Bible that receives, and there is a way to read it that resents having to read it and does not receive it. Read it with a passion to receive. Go to it with a cry to God that you will receive what you need from it. Make your time in the word a receiving time.
That happens, the Bible says, by meditating on the word. Listen to the way that you become like a tree that receives all that the word has to give. Psalm 1:1–3: “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” That’s the effect of the word when you receive it. That is, when you meditate on it and ponder it and mull it over and savor it. Receive the word means take it in deeply. Take hold of it, and don’t let it go till it blesses you.
The Triumph of the Word of God: Two Stories
I close with a couple stories of how receiving the word has power at the beginning of new life and sustains new life. I received an email this week from one of you (you will recognize it, but I hope this is no betrayal of confidence). I will make a few adjustments to conceal identities.
My friend . . . made a profession of faith! He and I got together several weeks ago . . . I told him that he needs to be reading the Bible and seeking God. I invited him to join us . . . . He couldn’t come. But a couple weeks later he called me and asked if we would be meeting that night. We weren’t (unfortunately). But then he said, “I believe that Jesus is God. I know it 100%.” I asked him more about this and he told me that since I last saw him he had been reading his Bible everyday. I was with him yesterday and was able to encourage him to continue to read his Bible.
This is the way God causes the new birth. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). We are born again through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
In 1495, Thomas Bilney was born. He eventually became an early English evangelical reformer. What was the key to his spiritual power? It was his encounter and ongoing experience of God’s word. He described one of the early turning points like this:
I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (oh most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Timothy 1: “It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principal.” This one sentence, through God’s instruction and inward working, which I did not then perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that . . . immediately I . . . felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, in so much that “my bruised bones leaped for joy.” After this, the Scriptures began to be more pleasant to me than the honey or the honeycomb. (From a letter cited by Norman Anderson, Gods Word for God’s World, 25)
That is my prayer for us at Bethlehem this year: May we so receive the word of God in meekness that it becomes more pleasant to us than honey or the honeycomb. Lord, open our hearts for this, I pray. Amen.