“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22
We cannot possibly please Christ unless He dwells within our hearts. We cannot act Christ-like unless we have become children of God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. James does not advocate only doing certain things which will please God. He is saying to those already born again: PROVE YOURSELVES. James teaches us that the most important thing in life is becoming a child of God. Only then will you be able to act as a child and obey the Father as a child.
A child who is not your own feels no obligation to obey you as your own children do. A child-father relationship is absolutely essential before we can become doers of the Word. The Law was given to the people of Israel AFTER they were brought out of slavery. Then they were under an obligation to serve the Lord who had given them their freedom. We must first have the incarnate Word in us if He is going to be made manifest through us.
James wants us to become complete in Christ. It is not enough to be born into the family of God. It is necessary to grow.
How Not to Grow
Too often when people are blessed with the privilege of faithful preaching and teaching of the Scripture, they become enamored with their own knowledge of God’s Word. They become self-satisfied with that knowledge and forsake the effort to live out the profound truths that they have come to understand.
I am sure you have dealt with people who have an incredible knowledge of the Bible and the doctrines of the Reformed faith. They can tell you exactly what you are doing wrong and why they are right in everything they do. They are incredibly headstrong but they are frightfully heart-weak.
James tells us that a true believer will not be satisfied by just knowing the Word of God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit will keep convicting him of his own failures until he becomes obedient.
Being a DOER involves our whole personality; our whole inner being: the mind, the soul, the spirit, and the emotions. James speaks of doers of the Word emphasizing what you are rather than what you do. The true Christian is a person whose life is dedicated not only to learning God’s Word but also striving in all that you do to be faithful and to live in obedience to that Word.
Today, one might compare the “hearer” with someone who audits a class at college. When you audit a class, you are not required to write any of the papers or take any of the tests. In fact, you really don’t even have to show up for the class. In other words, you are not held accountable for anything that you have heard in classroom or any of the reading assignments.
There is just one drawback. You do not get any credit and you will not receive a diploma. As an auditor you may have listened very carefully and greatly benefited from what you heard the professor say. However, on the day of graduation you will be sitting in the audience and not among the graduates.
The tragic thing is that there are many people in the church who are “auditors”. They are members who willingly expose themselves to the teaching and the preaching of the Word but they have absolutely no desire to apply anything they hear to their lives. They receive and take advantage of the privilege of hearing God’s Word, but they have no desire to obey it. When that attitude is followed consistently, it proves that they are not Christians at all. They are pretenders.
The sad thing is that people who are merely hearers and not doers somehow get it into their heads that they belong to God when in reality they do not. Hearing God’s Word and applying it to others is not going to save you. No, God’s Word must lead to a genuine repentance; a turning to Christ for forgiveness; rejoicing in that forgiveness and then the faithful application of God’s Word to our day-to-day lives.
Those who fail to become doers will not receive the diploma at the end of their course. They will not hear the Master say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Certainly, salvation is the free gift of God given to us by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, but once you become a Christian, your Christianity is not worth very much if it does not cost you very much.
The Biblical line between a saint and a sinner is very clear. I John 3:10 says: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
Being a “doer of the Word” is not a question of what you experience or what you know. It is a question of how you live in the light of the Word of God.
The character of a person is evidenced by the conduct of that person. The way you behave and the way you treat others is the test of what you are on the inside. That’s because your true nature will express itself outwardly. James certainly is not alone in this way of thinking. Jesus spoke of knowing people by their fruit and said in Matthew 12:34b, 35: “For the mouth speaks out of that which is in the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.”
Finally, James says that if you are just a hearer of the Word and not a doer of it, there must be something wrong with your thinking. “You are deluding yourself,” James writes.
You are not thinking right and you are missing the whole purpose of your life. Maybe you do not want to be a doer of the Word. You think you have more to lose than you have to gain by becoming an obedient child of God and willingly doing that which He commands in His Word. If that is the case, James is right, you are deluding yourself.
Look around. Who are the happiest people in the world? I would contend that it is the person who follows Christ. It is the person who
has the Savior lead him through life and the dangers of this life.
I have been with enough people diagnosed with cancer who have an incredible comfort because they knew the Lord was with them and that He would lead them through. And in the end, they knew the Lord will lead them through death.
I have done enough funerals to know the comfort that comes to a Christian family when a loved one dies in the Lord, and also enough to know the lack of that comfort when a non-Christian dies without the Lord.
Where do you want to be? If you are just a hearer of the Gospel, you are truly deluding yourself and you had better do something about it. You are practicing self-deception.
Listen to the Word! Read the Word! Apply it to your life!
It is senseless for you to place more importance on the temporal, material things of this world that will rot and fade away than on that which is eternal. And you know that to be true. Therefore, prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers of it.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and editor of The Outlook.