“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
The “therefore” comes off of the previous verse where James is teaching that we should lead good lives, doing what’s right and pleases God. But then he whips out these strong words—”moral filth” and “evil”. What were they doing that deserved words like these? Whatever it was, wherever it came from, and whatever caused it, he is saying to get rid of it. Walk away from it. Take it off. It’s more than just closed minds, quick tongues, and anger, but all evil things including what you see, what you say, how you act, the thoughts in your mind, your attitudes and behaviors. He’s just calling a spade a spade: moral filth and evil. We’ve learned to make light of sin, but the Bible doesn’t.
If you were born a Christian, you might have a right to rebel against it. Or if someone forced you to do it, you might want to break away. But you chose it, freely, so you agreed to make the commitment as a volunteer. So then do what you chose to do. Get rid of the junk that’s messing up your life.
You see, when you choose to become a believer, the evil that is so prevalent doesn’t go away by itself, or go away automatically. God works with us to slowly and often deliberately make the changes. We have to learn new patterns. We have to teach ourselves God’s ways, and if God says, “Be slow to anger,” we have to learn how to change the way we get angry. You don’t become a person who pleases God because God backs up a dump truck and dumps his character and personality on you. You often have to, in prayer, slowly and deliberately make the changes. You do it. You have to recognize it in yourself and stop acting that way. If you’re quick to anger, you have to change. If you’re quick to speak attacking words, you have to change. But how?
The verse says you have to “humbly accept the word planted in you.” It takes humility because you have to mean it. The pride in you, just as in all of us, will stop just about every attempt at reformation. Pride is what would make you ignore some things in the Word. It would make you say, “Nah, I’m not going to do that,” or “I don’t even want to.” If you really want to grow in the Lord, you have to take whatever it is, whatever the cost, whatever the task—you have to do what God asks. Sut as in “Batman Begins” (2005), you have to be willing to do whatever is necessary. Who cares whether it’s natural for you, or uncomfortable. You have to humbly set aside your comforts and preferences, and by God’s strength knock your pride to the side to accept what God is doing in you. It’s a tall order, and not easy. It’s not like an unsightly stain on your new shirt, or the curdled milk in the refrigerator that you just need to dump down the drain. This is what is naturally and normally part of us. It’s our patterns and habits, what we’ve always done and how we’ve always done it. It’s our favorite pair of jeans that we just refused to throw away, and just keep patching and patching. Stephen Mansfield says, “Nothing can keep my soul in bondage except the forbidden or unclean thing that I insist on holding tight.”
You have to accept the Word. Again, just like the “get rid of,” this is an action you have to take. Even when you’ve given the green light to have Jesus inside, and ask the Spirit to work in you, you have to accept the pieces that he gives and the changes that he is trying to make. Some of them are not user-friendly; some are not easy pills to swallow, and some ask you to make changes you don’t want to make (“Forgive as God has forgiven you,” or “Love those who persecute you”), or to change your character or personality or habits (“deny yourself…”), and you may not want to. So you must be on the alert for what God is doing in you, be sensitive to the Spirit, and accept the word and its impact inside of you. It’s not your will or cultural niceness that rids you of the moral filth and evil that is so prevalent, but the organic, living presence of God in you that saves you and makes it possible for you to be so free. You didn’t put it there; it’s implanted from the outside, but it becomes part of your inner life, and it takes root and grows, fills, and nurtures.
Actually, it’s what saves your life. You don’t do this so you can be a nice person (you do end up being a nice person, but that’s not the point) or even to fill a religious obligation. The point is that only the people who obey God are really saved (John 14.23; James 2.14-26). If you choose it, you have to live it. You have to accept the Word, with humility, and nurture it in yourself (as you would a plant) if it’s going to really be there as life in you (See the Parable of the Sower: Mt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8). You can’t just treat this stuff casually; it’s a matter of life or death.