Summary: We can be hearers of the Word and deceive ourselves, or we can be doers of the Word and be blessed. James calls each Christian to be a doer of the Word, receiving the blessing of doing what God commands.
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL…
“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.”
The Word of God has been likened to a mirror for the soul. The idea likely finds its origin in our text. Whether read or whether heard through sermons delivered by men of God, the Word of God exposes the true person who lurks inside. The tragedy of this analogy is the human condition itself, for just as the reflection we see each morning in the mirror has little impact on the course of our day, so we receive the Word, rush into the busyness of our lives, and forget what was reflected back to us.
This is not a new condition that afflicts only those living in this modern age. Failure to permit the Word to have its perfect work has plagued Christians since the earliest days of the Faith. In fact, one of the earliest letters to be included in the canon of the New Testament addressed this very concern. Join me in exploring James’ warning to pause whenever the Word is presented, permitting it to work effectively on the soul.
THE ADMONITION — “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Hearing the Word without doing the Word is a form of self-deception. Within our churches are a disturbing number of people who treat the Faith as passive. They give assent to the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection and assume all is well. However, the Word presents a vigorous Faith in which the believer is transformed by the Spirit of God dwelling within; the child of God cannot remain unchanged. Let me emphasise this truth: if your faith has not changed you, you need to change your Faith.
The Word of God is demanding. The Gospel anticipates a response. This is the reason I conclude almost every message with an appeal. There are no demands placed on you when you read literature, or science, or history. You do not need to take any action if you read a recipe. Merely acquiring knowledge does not demand that you act. However, God’s Word, whether delivered as a sermon or whether read, demands action. The message of Christ the Lord is “repent” [MARK 1:15], “come to Me” [MATTHEW 11:28], and “believe.” The Gospel of Christ demands belief, and belief anticipates transformation as the one believing is changed into the likeness of the Risen Son of God.
Our churches are filled with people who know the language; these self-deluded individuals know the words but they don’t know the melody. They are received into membership much as though they were joining a service club. They tolerate the occasional foray into the auditorium of the church where they endure some religious talk so long as it does not demand anything of them, and then they return to the “real world” to conduct their lives as they wish. The issue of living as they want is so vital to them that they will seize control of the church in order to ensure that they are not disturbed.
What you profess to believe is of no value if do not possess the Faith of Christ the Lord. How you live reveals your faith; all else is mere talk. If you possess the life God promises, it will be revealed through the way you live. The presence of Christ the Lord in one’s life cannot be hidden. Likely you have heard someone say at one time, “Your life is too loud for me to hear what you are saying?” More people are turned away from considering the claims of Christ by the godless and phoney lifestyle of professed Christians than are ever deterred by stern demands for righteousness. However, Christians continue to look for a way to make the demands of the Gospel palatable.
Paul identified the Corinthian Christians as his “letter of recommendation, written on our hearts to be known and read by all.” He continued by stating that these Christians were “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” [2 CORINTHIANS 3:2, 3]. The world does not much care what we say, but it is mightily impressed by how we live. We need to remember that the only Bible many people will ever read is our lives. Someone has expressed this truth in poetic form.