James 1:18-27New English Translation (NET)"18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James uses three different words to refer to the same thing in this passage. We will look at each usage separately and then all together to discover what it is that James means by "the perfect law of liberty". The three usages are the message of Christ, the perfect law of liberty, and pure and undefiled religion.19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
Let's first look at the message of Christ. In verse 18 James says that the message (some translations the word) is how were given birth. For James, the half-brother of Jesus, birth here would be referring to re-birth--born again. Then, in v. 21 he calls it that message "implanted within you" and "which is able to save your souls." The message that births you, then, is also the one that saves your soul. Not only that, but it is also implanted in you. This message both saves and regenerates and after that it indwells you. This must mean nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, it also means more than that. We see in Jeremiah that the law of the new covenant will be written on the hearts of those belonging to that covenant.
Now, we will look at the law of liberty.
Lastly, we have pure religion.