Do not err, my beloved Brethren.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be kind of firstfruits of his creatures
~ James 1:16-18, KJV ~
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired by God. … For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil … for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God
~ Moroni 7: 13, 16 ~
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Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) became fascinated with the stories of Native Americans. This started his journey to discover the interconnection between other Ancient Civilizations and their stories. According to Campbell – all stories from human history follow one specific structure. The Hero’s Journey. His central advice “Follow your bliss“. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces describes Campbell’s discovery into ancient myths, legends, and religious and sacred texts.
One will find the concept of the hero’s journey in the movies like: Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Spiderman, Batman and other movies.
The concept of Campbell’s hero’s journey is outlined below:
- Call to Adventure: Begins in the natural and known world where the invitation or call is given
- Refusal of the call: typically there is some ambivalence and resistance to the initial invitation
- Supernatural Aid: When fully committed, there is awareness of a guiding companion or aid
- Crossing the first threshold: Moves from the known world and into the unknown world
- Belly of the Whale: Final separation between the known and unknown world
- Road of Trials: Series of tests, ordeals, and/or tasks needing to undergo that begins transformation
- Meeting the Goddess: Awakening to the divine love that is unconditional
- Temptation: Enticements that may lead someone to abandon their quest
- Atonement with the Father: Facing and confronting the ultimate power in one’s life
- Apostasis: Death of the old self in order to be reborn to a new, spiritual self with divine knowledge
- Ultimate boon: Achieving the goal – completing the quest – final purification
- Refusal of Return: Achieving enlightenment there is a desire to remain and not move out of the unknown world
- Magical Flight: The journey of escape with the boon that may just be as adventurous as the quest itself
- Rescue from Without: Powerful guide to bring the individual from the unknown back to the known world
- Crossing the return threshold: Retaining the wisdom and knowledge gained from the quest and integrating it into everyday life
- Master of Two Worlds: balancing the spiritual and natural self and worlds
- Freedom to Live: Spiritual mastery leads to living free from the fear and doubts of the natural world and self
What does this have to do with James 1:16-18? How is this applicable to the Christian faith and a person’s spiritual journey? How does this influence genuine faith in Christ and our Heavenly Father?
Spiritual Awakening and Spiritual Rebirth
In our previous studies, we learned how genuine faith is birthed in our trials and moments of adversity. We also discovered that genuine faith begets wisdom and divine knowledge. Hopefully we have learned how genuine faith places us in a position of authentic humility before God. And our study in how genuine faith protects us from the various temptations surrounding us that may detract us from spiritual growth and maturation. Yet, where does genuine faith begin? How do we get to a place of exercising our real faith in God? It is through the process of being spiritually awakened and birth that we begin growing in genuine faith.
This is what James is teaching us today. We are spiritually awakened and spiritually reborn through the word of Truth – Jesus Christ. This brings us to our own call of action. The invitation to step out of our understanding and natural beliefs. What we know in the present moment will be challenged. And one of the best classical Christian Literature of all-time helps us understand this. The Pilgrims Progress.
Speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus Christ taught:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.John 3:1-6 (cf: John 3:1-11)
James appears to sum up all the truths of scripture with verses 16-18. These verses focuses on the Divine love and Knowledge of God’s Sovereign Grace and how it is bestowed upon us. Christ is the good gift that has been brought forth from Heaven. Through Christ, we are brought into a new way of living. It is through our Heavenly Father’s loving kindness and mercy that we experience a spiritual awakening and rebirth.
Charles H. Spurgeon makes this observation in his sermon A Kind of Firstfruits:
The benefit we have thus received is described in the next words, “Of his own will begat he us.”That is to say, we have, by divine power, been born again. Our first birth was to us our sensitive creation. Our second birth, our regeneration, is our second creation. We were made once and God made us. These bodies are the wonderful fabrics of His skill and these souls are the emanations of His power. Father of Spirits You are, O God, and we are Your offspring, and Yours alone! But our being made again is as great a work of God, and quite as solely a work of God, quite as entirely the handiwork of God, as our first creation. Of his own will He gave us a new life and made us new creatures. Beloved, are we conscious tonight that we are new creatures? Some, perhaps, have doubts about it sometimes, but a man cannot be a new creature and not be conscious of some sort of change. And there must be times, with the most doubtful of the saints, when they are certain and assured that they are no longer what they were, but have passed from death unto life.
Spurgeon also shares this insight:
It must be a supernatural change, above and beyond all the strugglings and the strivings of the creature. It must be the display of the eternal power of the Holy Spirit, or where God is you cannot come. Happy should you be, my brethren and sisters, who trust that you have a share in this unutterably precious privilege! “ Of his own will begat he us.”
In Moroni Chapter 7 (as a companion study to James Chapter One) – we find that there is the contrast between enlightenment of perfect knowledge and wisdom under the divine Love of God and becoming aware of the nature and disposition of those who are workers of iniquity. It is the awareness and knowledge of Good and Evil.
And since James observes that there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning we are able to develop genuine faith and trust in our Heavenly Father’s divine purpose and love. This divine love and grace sanctifies and purifies us from all unrighteousness.
That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;Moses 6:59 – Pearl of Great Price
In answering the question: What does it mean to be born again? Bruce R. McConkie taught:
That is, mortal man, having been cast out of the presence of God—being subject to sin, must put off the natural man and become a saint. (Mosiah 3:19.) He must crucify the “old man” of sin and come forth “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1–10) and become a “new” creature of the Holy Ghost (Mosiah 27:24–30). He must become alive to the things of righteousness and return to the presence of God in the sense that he enjoys the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
C. Richard Chidester also answers the question – How can we be ‘born again?’:
In order to be “born again,” the “natural man” must be put off so that we each can become a “new creature” in Christ (Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 27:26; JST, 2 Cor. 5:16–17). This new creature, “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19), is spiritual in nature as opposed to carnal or worldly. In essence, the driving or controlling forces within us must be altered from carnal, selfish, natural desires and motives to spiritually driven desires and motives. The scriptures refer to this change in disposition, temperament, or character as a “mighty change” in heart (Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:12–14).
All these teachings helps us understand the central truth of the Gospel – Jesus is the Christ by whom we are saved. Salvation comes when we place our initial faith and trust in Him. It comes when we humble ourselves and enter into the waters of baptism for the remission of our sins. This is accomplished when we come to the awareness of our natural state and disposition. Through repentance, we receive the first principle ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
After baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as a companion. We are justified in Christ. From there, we begin the spiritual journey toward perfection. This is the process of sanctification. The process of our spiritual awakening and rebirth begins and ends with Christ. And it is not cheap. It is quite costly.
The Cost of Spiritual Awakening and Birth
In his work The Pursuit of God A. W. Tozer shares this:
The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition. That is the heavenly birth without which we cannot see the kingdom of God. It is, however, not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.
There is a significant cost associated with our spiritual awakening and rebirth. Christ himself declared that to become His disciple – we must be willing to take up our cross daily.
Elder Ulisses Soares spoke at the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 2019. He shared this message Take up Our Cross:
Through this declaration, the Savior emphasized that all those who are willing to follow Him need to deny themselves and control their desires, appetites, and passions, sacrificing everything, even life itself if necessary, being entirely submissive to the will of the Father—just as He did. This is, in fact, the price to be paid for the salvation of a soul. Jesus purposely and metaphorically used the symbol of a cross to help His disciples better understand what sacrifice and devotion to the Lord’s cause would truly mean. The image of a cross was well known among His disciples and the inhabitants of the Roman Empire because Romans forced victims of crucifixion to publicly carry their own cross or crossbeam to the place where their execution would occur.
Like the hero’s journey – there is a great cost and sacrifice that is required as part of transformation and growth. For us, this costs us our presently held worldviews and beliefs. Our perceptions, interpretations, thoughts, and behaviors. It requires we put to death our old self in order to be ‘born again’ with newness of life, meaning and purpose.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer contrasts the difference between Cheap Grace and that of Costly Grace.
In summing up his understanding, and definition of cheap grace, Bonhoeffer says this:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
And defining what costly grace is:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” (1 Corinthians 6:20) and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God
Genuine faith (as we discover in our study through the Book of James) comes from God. It is without variableness, neither shadow of turning. This is because, according to Barne’s Notes on the New Testament, God is the same and unchanging:
With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning – The design here is clearly to contrast God with the sun in a certain respect. As the source of light, there is a strong resemblance. But in the sun there are certain changes. It does not shine on all parts of the earth at the same time, nor in the same manner all the year. It rises and sets; it crosses the line, and seems to go far to the south, and sends its rays obliquely on the earth; then it ascends to the north, recrosses the line, and sends its rays obliquely on southern regions. By its revolutions it produces the changes of the seasons, and makes a constant variety on the earth in the productions of different climes. In this respect God is not indeed like the sun. With him there is no variableness, not even the appearance of turning. He is always the same, at all seasons of the year, and in all ages; there is no change in his character, his mode of being, his purposes and plans. What he was millions of ages before the worlds were made, he is now; what he is now, he will be countless millions of ages hence. We may be sure that whatever changes there may be in human affairs; whatever reverses we may undergo; whatever oceans we may cross, or whatever mountains we may climb, or in whatever worlds we may hereafter take up our abode, God is the same. The word which is here rendered “variableness” (παραλλαγὴ parallagē) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means change, alteration, vicissitude, and would properly be applied to the changes observed in astronomy. See the examples quoted in Wetstein. The phrase rendered “shadow of turning” would properly refer to the different shade or shadow cast by the sun from an object, in its various revolutions, in rising and setting, and in its changes at the different seasons of the year. God, on the other hand, is as if the sun stood in the meridian at noon-day, and never cast any shadow.
God’s divine sovereign Grace is unchangeable. His divine plan and purpose regarding humanity stays the same. The cost to us is to deny ourselves of the natural desires of our hearts. Or, as Moroni 10:32 teaches:
“Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”
In his book The Crucified Life A. W. Tozer shares this insight:
What I mean by the “crucified life” is a life wholly given over to the Lord in absolute humility and obedience: a sacrifice pleasing unto the Lord
Tozer quotes the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20. What does it mean to be crucified with Christ?
- Made right with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.
- We are no longer subject to the penalties of the Law
- Empowered to live for Him that is pleasing to our Heavenly Father through faith
- We become new creations and life a new life
It is a costly venture to take up our cross daily and live through our genuine faith in Jesus Christ. To fully understand this – carefully read Romans 6 on what the true cost of our salvation and faith requires of us.
As you study through James 1:16-18 this coming week:
- How has God’s gift of Salvation enlightened you to live a more genuine faith through Jesus Christ?
- How do your own personal struggles, temptations, doubts, and fears keep you from coming unto Christ?
- At what cost will it be for you to step out in faith to live a more genuine and authentic Christian faith?
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