Summary: This passage says something that seems obvious—don’t just listen the Word; do what it says. We all know we should do that, but how? This passage teaches the keys to getting what you hear into regular practice in your life.
James 1:22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works-- this person will be blessed in what he does.
One of my favorite moments in Old Testament history is the response of the people of Israel when Moses first gave them the law of God.
Exodus 24:3 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” … 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “Everything the LORD has said we will do; we will obey.”
We will listen, and we will obey. We have been studying verse by verse through the book of James, and we left off last time in 1:21, where James talks about humbly receiving God’s Word. We found that your spiritual life and health and growth and even your ultimate salvation on the last day all depend on a lifestyle of receiving the Word – welcoming it into your heart and letting it penetrate. Now, starting in verse 22, James is going to remind us that there are two crucial parts to receiving the Word: listening and doing. You have not received the Word until you have done both of those. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make in their effort to receive the Word, is that we get so wrapped up in learning the Bible that we do not put nearly enough energy into putting what we learn into practice. So James tells us, “Devote yourself to receiving the Word…
James 1:22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only
In verses 22-25 James is expanding on what he said in verse 21 about receiving the Word. If you want spiritual life and health you have to receive God’s Word. But receiving is more than just hearing. It is more than hearing and understanding. It is more than hearing and understanding and agreeing. Receiving God’s Word means hearing, understanding, agreeing, and doing. And if it stops short of the doing, it is worthless.
Suppose one of your friends convinced himself that he is doing well by just gathering information about the gym – even though he never actually goes and works out. He gets the address, phone number, directions, costs, rules and regulations. But he never actually does any exercise. You would tell him, “Look, if you think that will get you in shape, you’re kidding yourself.” The information in Scripture is the same way. If it does not result in you training yourself to be godly, what good has it done?
Now, this is a really dangerous moment in the sermon right here. Because if you are a Christian then you already understand that. You might be sitting there thinking, “Of course I need to both listen and obey. That’s obvious.” Every Christian knows that or they couldn’t be a Christian. If a person never put any of God’s Word into practice, that person would never come to Jesus and repent of his sins, never trust God, and so he would never be saved. So every Christian knows this, and yet, James is speaking to Christians here. The message of this passage is for believers. So don’t look at this passage and say, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me. I already try to put what I learn from the Bible into practice every day.” All Christians are putting some effort into doing. James is not speaking here to people who do absolutely nothing that the Bible says. He is giving a basic wisdom principle that can be applied in varying degrees. Every Christian is trying to put God’s Word into practice to some degree, but one of the most common errors we make as Christians is to get out of balance in this area. We get so caught up with the studying and learning and reading and listening to sermons and going to classes and reading articles and books, and we keep packing more and more information into our skulls, that we fail to give adequate effort to putting it all into practice.
When we do that, James wants us to know – that actually does damage to your soul.
22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Every time we listen to God’s Word and do not put it into practice, it has a deceiving effect. It tricks you into thinking that mere listening has some value. When you learn something from the Bible about a change you need to make in your life, it seems like spiritual progress. And so each time that happens, but you don’t actually make the change, it ends up deceiving you into feeling like you are growing when you’re not. That is why there are people in the church whose character is right where it was 10 years ago, and yet they think they are doing pretty well spiritually. The sins in their life are not any different from what they were 10 years ago, but if you ask them about their walk with the Lord, they will say, “It’s going pretty well.” And they think that, because they keep on learning and learning and learning, and they have deceived themselves into thinking that is spiritual progress.