At TGC’s 2021 Women’s Conference, K. A. Ellis presents a message called, “Whose Story Will You Follow?” from James 1 and 2.
Ellis explains that the Bible is an ancient and true story that God has created for his people. She also speaks of the false stories and idols that we, as humans, are so quick to follow. Ellis, teaching from the Book of James, lays out what it means to choose to follow God’s story, instead of all the other false stories that lead us astray.
The theme she creates is that our “say” should match our “do.” When our words (our say) match our actions (our do), we show the story of the Kingdom of God, but when they do not match, our idols lead us to destruction and dehumanization. Ellis uses James’s words to encourage us to ask which story we are following—God’s true story, or the idols of our hearts.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy
K. A. Ellis: Whose story are you following? Whose story are you following? If you believe the Bible, then there is an ancient and true story, recorded from Genesis to Revelation. And it goes like this.
God has created and is keeping a people for Himself, a people who will run the Christian race well for his purposes, no matter what circumstances surround them. And the Bible lays out a unique narrative, a good and loving God, wired human beings to worship Him to enjoy a harmony and a relationship with Him, and with fellow humans and with the rest of creation. And if you believe the Bible, that you also believe that there are false stories, and they have the power to degrade people, to the image of the false god they promote. And both stories, the ancient story, and the false stories offer a path to change, setting out life goals and priorities, and communities built on those things with purpose and mission.
And these practices and habits and systems either change people into the image of the creator, leading to transformation, and life and shalom, and spiritual freedom and whole identity, or they change people into the images of cultural Gods following different stories. James is inviting us to go underneath our words, and our intentions of our hearts to reflect on which story we follow, is our life giving life defining priority. James wants us to be sure which story we’re following, because our habits and our ethics and our actions are going to be informed by that story. And James knows, we become what we worship, we use its language, we sell and read and write its books. And in doing so if we’re following a false story will tell its stories and its lies.
Or we tell the ancient story, proclaiming God’s goodness until he comes and we tell His truth. So James is writing to a people who on one hand, lived more closely to the ancient story. And also, at the same time to those who were living far from it all in the same little community, the household of God, the body of faith, and he’s writing to a people living under persecution, who had watched brother Steven, be stoned to death. They buried his body. They feared Saul, whose anti Christian rampage brought death and destruction to their region. And he was dragging them off to prison and scattering them hither and yon breaking up families and killing people. And this group, also, in addition to persecution, had joy.
And they took that joy, and they preach the Word of God all in the midst of their suffering. read Acts Eight one through a these were the people of what is known as the great persecution. These are the people James is writing to listen this weekend to James’s voice throughout his letter. And it’s interesting how much James sounds like his brother, the Lord, he serves Yeshua HaMashiach. James sounds like his brother Jesus. Because he walked with him all his life. He lives in the story. His brother’s set in motion at the creation of the world. James sounds like the one he worships and you can hear how his time with Jesus drips all over. This book, he echoes his brother all over these passages in your free time, sometime this weekend, look at the sermon on the mount and compare as you listen to James. In fact, the more you read the sermon on the mount and the book of James, the more these parallels start to emerge. And James sounds like Jesus.
Because he was with Jesus. Oh, don’t you want that to be said of you? You sound like the Savior because you spent time with him because you’re the people of his story. And no one else’s. My mama used to yell I was bad when I was growing up. I really was. My mama used to tell me before I left the house to go out wilding, she used to say don’t just remember who you are, remember who’s you are. Who we worship defines who we are and marks us as God’s set apart people, the people of God who have had the most impact on this beautiful line throughout redemptive history, kept and sustained by God’s promise to keep people to Himself. Those who’ve made a dent in eternity, are not defined by other stories, or by manmade temporal categories, the ones who follow closely to the ancient story, like jays, and distinguished themselves as a part of it. These are the ones who remembered in God’s categories.
Steadfast, wise, perfect, complete, a whole new set of names. In this passage, James one, the end, and James to the beginning, James isn’t giving us a list of moralistic do’s and don’ts. What he’s giving this community and to us, are the qualities that are needed in times of trial against the church, and will cheat ourselves if we reduce the book of James to a book about moral perfection. This is a book about character. A book about who you worship, whose house you live in, look at Proverbs seven, eight and nine. Are you going to live in wisdoms house on to live for follies house on disruption? And do you sound like the one you worship? So first, James focuses inward on the individual expression. He’s going after the people first before he hits the community. And he’s going to ask them a question.
Does he ever say, match your do if we say we follow Christ, but our actions are not lined up with following him with his ancient story, his purposes, his character, his mission, were self deceived. Say Automatch do the old you people used to say we teach children this in our shorter catechism. the Westminster Confession says What do the Scriptures principally teach the scriptures principali teach that man is what man is to believe concerning God that’s just say, and what duty God requires of man that your do say and do epistemology and ethics. Two sides of the same zipper your ethics how we obey God the things we do and our epistemology what we say we know about God, they should match. So the next time you zip up your little baby girl clothes you say, oh baby girl, this is your this is your epics.
And this is your epistemology, and you zipper up music now they should match. The old people told us say Automatch do And too often, like those who receive James letter are say, what we say we believe and know about God, what we say he’s revealed to us and our do how we obey God do not match. We know that God has come to redeem a people for Himself. But we keep redefining that people according to our own likeness, our own agendas and our own priorities, our own stories. On a personal level, we say we’re about the kingdom. But we spend more time sometimes indoctrinating people into our cultural or social or political position than we do discipling him into the ancient story. So in order for James to ask, this x eight community and us this question, does not same match are do.
He’s going to ask you first. Which story are you following? Who’s on the throne of your heart? And I think it’s worth stopping to note here that in James concern in chapter one and to reveal something really incredible in the midst of persecution. James’s main concerns are doubt, complacency, hypocrisy and idolatry more than the persecution itself. Let me say that again. In the midst of persecution, James feared doubt, hypocrisy and idolatry more than persecution. Why? Because he knows destruction from the inside of us, destroys the community from the inside out, and would do even greater damage to the body and the witness of Christ than those who could kill the body and not kill the soul. James wants us in the midst of anti Christian hostility, to fix our own stuff. First sweep your own front doorstep was how the old people say mind your own business.
Put your house in order. Inner decay and destruction is harder to see than outer decay, hypocrisy, cultural compromise, capitulation. They’re a cancer that rots us from the inside out. So James takes us to the personal first, he’s trying to get in our business. He’s trying to get us together. And he says in James 119 know this, my beloved brothers and sisters, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak slow to anger, but the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Why? After that beautiful discourse, Mary just gave us on wisdom on to life and destruction unto death. Why does James focus on what we say? Here again, he sounds like Jesus. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. James is echoing the words of our Lord. The Lord said No good tree bears bad fruit nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit for each tree is known by its fruit.
Figs are not gathered from thorn bushes can’t get grapes from a bramble bush, the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil four out of the abundance of the heart. The mouth speaks Luke six anger that’s intended to cut and destroy and demean and hurt. Jesus proclaims that our words come from our hearts, our problems with anger, and our problems with our tongues are actually heart problems. And James has told us in 120, that man’s anger doesn’t bring about the righteous life that God desires. Look at Cain and Abel from the earliest days to good church going boys. One was in the choir The other was on the Usher board. The garden boys case. Anger, destruction, death. Energy flows where focus goes. And the life giving force of Christ of the ancient story is a far more powerful force than death and destruction.
If you are speaking death and destruction if we are speaking death and destruction, words that set ourselves and others on a journey to death and destruction. we’ve strayed from the ancient story that brings life. And what does James say is the antidote. What’s the road back to the truthful life giving story? It’s the story itself. It’s the word of God. In Verses one to 2021 and 22. He says, Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampid, wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. And then he gives you say, and do say Automatch do be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves your say, are a match your do.
Our heart problem reveals who we revere and makes us say and act according to the desires and the stories it wants to tell. And we have trouble telling the difference between those false stories and The true one that we say we believe, and the hotter the culture gets around the body of Christ, and the more the polar extremities of cultural identities, pull us and call us. And force us to choose a side, the more that tension increases externally, the more we turn inside, who if we don’t know which story we’re following, and the more footholds those idols find a climb on us to plant their false stories in our hearts. And the more we, those who profess Christ, the more we give into them, the more damage we do to each other, and to ourselves, and to the world around us. And the less our say, matches are do.
So if our ethics is here, what we how we obey God, and our epistemology is here, what God has revealed about himself, and what we say we know of him. If they have to match, then it’s the ancient story. That’s the pull on the zipper. Our union with Christ makes us obedient to the one who has made sense of the world of the dead, He tells us who he is, and we react in obedience in all areas of life. And then we start to long to see others do the same bringing life. James is writing about so much more than just keeping your word or not being angry. He’s writing about the very identity of the church and her steadfastness under hostility, this is what’s at stake. If you know who you are, you will endure. James tells us not to look at our own personal mirrors. You know how we do in the mirror? You find that good angle?
We know our angles, right? Not just on Instagram, but I mean, even in the mirror, we’re like, yeah, that’s a good one. Oh. We can bend and distort and form which way we want to see ourselves. No, James says, He wants you to look in the mirror of the soul, the word of God, because the word of God will not let you walk away and forget what you look like. Or think you look differently than you do. God wants to you to be conformed to one of his so much, that he won’t allow you to distort the image. And so he James invites us into verses 23 to 25. If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he’s like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror. And he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it, not forgetting what they’ve heard, but doing it, say, match do. They will be blessed in what they do. The law of liberty was a radical concept, Law and Liberty to Jewish ears. Those things that that’s not supposed to go together. It set us free from bondage in the house of folly and destruction and open the door into the house of liberty, the House of Wisdom, the house of life, come to the mirror of the soul that shows you not only as you are but about glory. It shows you as all that you are supposed
to be beautiful redeemed, steadfast, wise, discerning, kept, and one day glorify Him in His presence. The way to keep your tongue Tang and your anger in check is to keep your heart clean the heart is a revealer get right in your know and it will drive your do know the God of the ancient story. Know the stories contours, study God’s record, study the stories of how it went for those who follow the ancient story in faithfulness and those who did not and especially follow the stories of those in the Bible biblical record who stray After idols, and yet found their way back for surely James tells us Mercy triumphs over judgment.
And then James takes our internal Look, our individual look, he takes it to the community, because we don’t sin in a vacuum. We don’t live in a vacuum, the way we think affects the people around us, and he starts to talk about favoritism. partiality, you know, partiality is forbidden in God’s economy. And there’s a reason why it’s not only because it’s morally wrong, but because it’s based in idolatry. It doesn’t belong. The church had a problem with idolatry that expressed itself in classism, the haves and the have nots, and I’m going to get some Moors and James is going to strike at the heart of all of the isms through this one class issue.
Because all of these isms that have plagued us since the garden that are found in idolatry, the religion of Cain versus the pure worship of Abel, idols exclude, and they puff up as they push down, contrast that against the pure worship that sacrifices and includes and lifts up, read chapter two, verse 27. He says, religion that is pure and undefiled, before God, the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Now you can imagine this picture. The people he’s writing to in Acts Eight are a very diverse community, ethnically, linguistically, they don’t everybody have been there, their problem was an ethnic issues, their problem was class. Why? Because the folks who were following the ancient story are bringing in these other folks who are social outcasts, and the religious with the heart and the anger and the tongue problem are seeing them come into the community and that clutching their pearls, and you know, how we do, and those who are closer to the story of the people of God are coming into contact with those who are further away from its heart.
And James tells us this story of a wealthy man getting the preferred seat in the assembly, while the poor man is dishonored with the lowest spot in the house. We don’t sin in a vacuum, our personal sins, become communal sins. Our idols don’t let us sin in a vacuum. The false stories don’t let us sin in a vacuum. Just as God is bent on maximum life and transformation, our idols are bent on maximum destruction and dehumanization, not just those around us, but of our own souls. And so James says they are excluding and oppressing them in the world. This is how they behave out there. And here you are in the assembly of God’s people acting just like the world. In other words, James is saying, You’re not acting according to the truthful, ancient story, you’re acting according to the false narrative of out there, and you’re doing it in God’s house. None of our isms belong in God’s house, among God’s people. And I think maybe at the foundation of what James is getting at here is that we don’t need to repent of our partiality and our favoritism as much as we need to repent for the idolatry that drives it.
And if you know God, if you want your say, to match your do, you know, there is no partiality in him. He loves all of His own, and he welcomes all that he calls his own. James frames this in terms of class, rich and poor, in keeping with his earlier thoughts about the rich and poor, being equal at the foot of the cross and in glory. But we love to make our isms. We love to make our little cabals as a funny word, isn’t it? Our little clubs and remove ourselves from others we think are less worthy than us. The people we don’t like we like to be judge jury and executioner over others in the church. Just like Cain and Abel in the garden. What is partiality anyway? It’s judging and grouping people by creaturely standards and temporal loyalties.
And this has been a problem for us since Genesis three probably partiality requires that everybody be like me, think like make me sound like me, walk like me. James is telling us that partiality among God’s people is a stench in God’s nostrils why? It’s not just morally wrong. partiality makes a mockery of the covenantal promise itself, part of which is our role to fulfill. Remember God’s covenant promise to Abraham, the Great Commission. It’s based on that. Jesus didn’t just pull the great commission from out of this ahistorical place, he’s like, by the way, guys, I think it’d be a really good idea if you go and make disciples know, that came all the way from the promise to Abraham, Genesis 17, for behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of a multitude of nations, He has blessed them to be a blessing, mission and commission. And you know what, there are several restatements of the covenantal promise throughout Scripture, you got to know the ancient story.
Jeremiah 31:33, says, The Covenant covers class do have dog he says, from the least to the greatest, I will be your God and you will be my people. Are people not marked by partiality across ethnic, class, linguistic, or tribal lines, all God’s own, were created by Christ. All God’s own fell in Adam. All God’s own were promised in Abraham, all God’s own are redeemed in Christ, and all God’s own, are gathered in glory around his throne. partiality is not a part of the body, because it is not a part of God’s character. It’s not a part of his say, it’s not a part of his will not in this life, or the next. Even Peter clued in on this and x 1034, he opens his mouth and he says, Truly, why man, I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him, say, matching do fear Him, know him, and do what’s right, and acceptable to Him.
When we practice partiality and favoritism, we make False Divisions according to earthly categories. And we prefer some over others for earthly external differences. And we’re least like him, in these moments in our say, in our do, because we forget that we’re all poor. And filthy. filth is not just on us, it’s in us and showing no partiality. He entered into our poverty, and he sat with us in our deadness and he invited us to his table, and He dressed us in his clothes of righteousness. And he bade us in His love that he put us in his hearts. We are all the sojourner, the fatherless, the widow, the orphan and the captive made free. How then can we turn around and do less do worse, the ultimate goal of the kingdom is not to welcome strangers into new social positions, although that’s a good thing to do.
The ultimate goal is to usher Oh, poor, to the table, to the home to the fulfillment of the coven of Abraham blessed to be a blessing to the nation’s he’s not shown partiality and the promise and he has not shown partiality and its fulfillment. And there are people around the world today living this out beautifully. Just like there have been people for 2000 years and more living it where their say matches their do living according to the ancient story. I tell my students all the time to watch this documentary called Mali square amazing story of Molly’s children home in Kenya. They’re living closer to the ancient story, Molly’s children home they’ve taken in 1000s of orphans in this parallel community that indicts the brokenness and deadness of the orphan crisis in Kibera, Kenya, or like single women I know in closed countries who take on the stigma as a single mom in order to rescue unwanted children and a single mom in some cultures are considered morally bankrupt people.
So these women stooped socially to Say, you all know the name Corrie 10 Boom, who brought life hiding people under the Nazis? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more. Adding to the ancient story as God builds his kingdom, faithful saints are all over our historical records. How do we step into that line of people living closer to the ancient story by sacrificially looking after those that the societies and the religious tend to overlook, you know, the religious, religious people have a lot of really big gaseous words about helping those who are overlooked by society. But it’s, it’s really often the people on the ground, doing the actual work. And those who are far from the ancient story, they weep and gnash their teeth. No Damn, Lord, how can they go to those people outside our camp? Anybody but those people. And you know what God says, God says, Watch me build my kingdom. In spite of your arrogance. God’s Mercy triumphs, over the judgments we pronounce over others, for even those we exclude. He has included nothing can thwart his mercy.
James tells us if you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. And if you do this, you’re doing well. Now note that James doesn’t say, Love your neighbor, if he’s like yourself, or if he conforms to you and your group, the royal law is this. Love your neighbor as yourself? How do we love ourselves without worshipping ourselves? The Bible tells us where to think of ourselves with sober estimation, what sober is division, simultaneously knowing who we are apart from Christ, and knowing who we are in Christ. In Christ, we realize that we have both nothing and everything, nothing of ourselves and all of him. And James says, Whoever fulfills the royal law seeing his neighbor with this same two sided lens, come into the ancient story.
James says this person does well. Only the story of the kingdom of God will take us to the vision of revelation seven nine. Only the story of the kingdom of God will cause our say, to match our do all people all places, across all times and from more categories than man can think of as and name. And then some gathered around the name and blood and flesh of the resurrected Jesus Christ, His people, His called out chosen ones. This is the ancient story. false stories and idols always leave somebody out. Where God is no respecter of persons idols are respecter of persons, they like I respect you, but I don’t respect you.
My tribe, my knowledge, my way, be like me, worship me that is their nature. They cannot take you to the end of the story in the grand picture we see in Revelation seven nine. false stories demand the lives of others. Those we exclude from God’s Kingdom invitation. false stories invite you in. But there’s no transformation to wisdom, holiness or Christ likeness. In fact, they encourage you to stay foolish. Live in follies house where her guests are the dead. Idol idols. false stories want us to build everything, but the kingdom of God.
All around the world today. It’s not just here. All around the world, you’ll hear lots of folks speaking from many different circles, about joining one movement or another. For identity, for purpose, for goals set out by earthly based communities, their voices are loud and they’re enticing and some times around the world they’re threatening and their pressure is strong. But the outcome of the ancient story doesn’t rely on the success of any temporal or cultural movement or any earthly nation. A lot of people want to say it’s counterculture, it’s not counterculture, it’s other culture. It’s other culture all together. It’s not a political or anti political. It’s other political. It’s a culture and politics based on the life, death, resurrection, and and glorification of Jesus Christ, not on earthly power. And on the surface, it seems like it’s powerless and weak.
Seems like it’s not getting anything done. But actually it has the power to pull down dehumanizing strongholds. Asked Molly Family Children’s Home, as Corrie 10 Boom, ask the saints who follow the ancient story, and then ask yourself, whose story are you following? James spends this passage telling us what happens when a member of the family of God follows a different story. And even now, I think Christ is calling many of us back to closer proximity to the ancient story, he was the only one who lived it perfectly. He is the ancient story. He’s the author and finisher of our faith in ancient story. But throughout history, there have been people who live closer to it. And people who named the name of Christ and lived further away their say, Mac didn’t match their do. The people that God intended for himself the ones he literally breathed into existence to be in his presence, the ones who existed before partiality, and biting, and devouring and idolatry and categories.
This is the ancient line that’s existed from the beginning of time and continues through history. Through a line of now redeemed saints whose ethics and epistemology match better than others who professed Christ in history. Do we dare believe in this day of only criticism of the church? from any side, that there has always been a line of God’s people despite our history books, records of real time flagrant offenses on one group or another, do we dare to believe that a line of people living closer to the ancient story has always existed?
Do we dare to believe that those people have passed the kingdom ball forward to us and others around the globe in this day and age to pass it forward? Well to the next generation. In order for our say, to match our do our idols have to fall. In order to join their line, we have to come back to the ancient story. And I’ll tell you right now, you will not be liked or admired for confronting and tearing down your own idols, you will not be loved by the world for wanting to hug close to the ancient story that transforms us from destruction to life from being under God’s wrath to God’s mercy, you will not be loved but you will be free. You will be truly free. The Spirit of God can reveal our idols far better than I can. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you you need to repent to this you need to repent of that summon all your courage, and then ask him Is there an area of my life where the Holy Spirit is whispering? My say doesn’t match my do?
Is there an area of my life where I’ve begun to deviate from the ancient story, the story that says God is keeping a people for Himself from every tongue, tribe nation in history, and that those who come to him even if they hate him at the outset, they can be transformed away from foolishness and destruction to life? Is there even a hint of an idol taking hold of our hearts and our tongues and our minds and our lives that has nothing whatsoever to do with the hope in advance of the kingdom of God never mentions it doesn’t care for it, couldn’t care less about it. Ask God to reveal it to you and then let him kill it.
Come home, to the ancient story. times in which we live, globally and locally, are demanding that we choose this day whom we will serve. And I’ll tell you movements and counter movements will come and go. But true, will always Outlast new. And there’s something out there far better than tribes, earthly tribes, and more satisfying than the populist right and the progressive left it’s called the kingdom of God. Amen. It’s the place where Mercy triumphs over judgment. I love that the passage ends here. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy triumphs over judgment in the garden, when man and woman decided to be the arbiters of good and evil over others, and they should have been sent to die. But Mercy triumphs over judgment. When we should have been left sleeping in our graves dug by our sin in our rebellion, Jesus went to the cross and defeated our death, and declared for all the world to see what James has written at the end of this passage, Mercy triumphs over judgment.
When Paul ravaged this x eight community, murdering and pillaging and scattering and imprisoning the people of God, God called him by name and changed him and Mercy triumphs over judgment. And so it is with James’s little axe eight community, they thought they could exclude those they considered undesirable or less than from the best of their assemblies. And God said, No, My Mercy triumphs over your judgment. And it brought them joy. And it made them hungry to share that word, and the story despite the consequences, and oh, God, let it be this way with us. Mercy triumphs over justice. dethrone your idols, comeback to the ancient story. God will direct you from there, I don’t have a book to sell you. I can’t monitor where you go and what you do after this conference. God will direct you from there.
Yes, there is struggle in the ancient story. Yes, there is persecution and hardship and anti Christian hostility, but there is also joy, joy in the work of the Kingdom and peace, knowing that your say matches your do that you live in the ancient story, and in the very presence of God whose story are you following? Heavily Heavenly Father when the church is so dead, that it can do nothing but come to life God, this is a good thing. This is your work. You’re the potter we’re the clay help us confront our idols regularly. So that our say matches our do. God full stories are so sneaky. Help us tear down our preference and our partiality and our comfort. Give us courage, God to face this new season you’ve appointed for your purposes so that we can see many souls know that your great Mercy triumphs over our petty judgment. Thank you, God for your mercy. And we ask this in the matchless name of Mercy himself, the one who say, always matches his do. Jesus the Christ, my Lord. Amen.