How are you doing on your doing?1
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25.
We reformed evangelicals pride ourselves on the supreme place God’s Word has among us. We read it often. We encourage one another with it. We quote it to each other so seamlessly that it has formed part of our language. We gather around a Sunday sermon as if it’s the most important 45 minutes of our week. And so it should be. God’s Word is undeniably supreme, and God speaking to His redeemed people is the central moment of every week.
But like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a person who on one hand so esteems hearing God’s Word and on the other is not being changed by it. The simple fact that James wants to get across here is that hearing God’s Word and not putting what you hear into practice is an absolute waste of time. It is better to not listen, than to listen and not act. I’m sure that we can all agree that it’s better to not go to a mirror than to go a mirror and instantly forget what you saw. What was the point?
It’s wonderful dear saint that you are spending time discussing God’s Word. But do those discussions lead to action on your part? Often we say that a certain sermon or passage convicted us. But it shouldn’t end there. There should be practical steps put in place to turn what we have heard and discussed into meaningful change in our lives. It’s wonderful that you have surrounded yourself with many books that help you understand God’s Word. But can an observer draw a correlation between the amount of knowledge you have amassed and the Christlikeness you show in your actions? We must never make the mistake of thinking that knowledge is the measure of maturity. Rather, being a consistent doer of the will of God is.
There needs to come a point in a believer’s life where your life is marked by obedience. Not by intentions to obey, but actual obedience. The Lord Jesus said that only those who do the will of the Father (Matt 7:21-23) will inherit the kingdom. Not those who are well versed in what the will of the Father is. Not those who make plans to obey it but forget. Not those who feel bad that they didn’t obey it. Those who obey. Those who grab a hold of the means of grace and apply God’s Word to their lives in an active manner.
Take the faithful example of the Corinthians (no, you didn’t read that wrong, I definitely said faithful). They were caught in sin. As a church they were marked by disobedience. But then Paul wrote them 1 Corinthians. And another letter that is now lost to us. And what was the outcome? 2 Corinthians 7:10-16 details how they received God’s Word and put in to action Paul’s directives. That’s a group of people that were alive. It’s not how we begin, it’s what we do after God’s Word has confronted us. When we hear God’s Word, especially as it speaks to us in very practical ways, we must not delay. We must tremble (Isa 66:2) and obey.
So as we continue in this letter in the days to come, James is going to confront you. He is going to lay bare some of the attitudes in you that need changing. What James requires of you – as you listen to him – is obedience. He is not writing God’s Word so that we can wallow in sadness and self-pity at how horrible we are. He is writing to people who have been made holy before God by the Lamb’s blood. Therefore, he calls us to apply all our energy in the doing of God’s Word. Set this apart in your heart: I will commit to hearing God’s Word. And I will commit to doing it. And as you do so, may the blessing of obedience that James mentions in verse 25 be yours in Christ Jesus.