The Crucial Daily Practice of Obeying God’s Word (James 1:22-27)


The Crucial Daily Practice of Obeying God’s Word

Obedience to God’s Word is an indicator of genuine faith

James 1:22-27–part 2

I will never forget the first time I learned you could actually audit a class. I had no idea. I wished I could do it. I wanted to do it. “Wow, learning with no effort.” Classes with no testing, no papers, no reading, no note taking, and no pressure! It sounded so fun, so perfect, so wonderful–it took all the intensity of study away.

I couldn’t believe there were fellow collegians, even adults of all ages, who’d sign up for a class, pay a nominal fee, then sit through all the lectures and nothing else was required. Everything was optional. Some of them took notes, but they are were not required to do so. Others might read the textbook, but that was non-compulsory. They were not in the course for credit–they were merely hearers of the instruction, but not doers of the instruction.

Auditing a class perfectly illustrates the deadly danger you and I are facing. There are believers who only hear the truth, but do not do the truth. There are Christians who listen to the Word of God, but do not live the Word of God. There are church attenders who even study the Bible, but do not submit to the Bible. And in our verse-by-verse study of the book of James, the half-brother of our Lord now exposes the danger of hearers who don’t do. You can’t audit Christianity.

Open your Bibles to James chapter 1, verses 22 to 27 and follow along with your electronic or paper outline. In the wacky, wimpy and weak Christian culture of our day, there are those who teach that obedience to the Scripture is extra. Some even view obeying the Scripture as legalism. They say because salvation is by grace, when you expect believers to obey God’s Word, it distorts the Gospel.

But the Bible teaches the opposite. Salvation is by grace through faith without works, but when faith is genuine, it will result in works. When a heart has been regenerated, there will be a desire to obey. When the Holy Spirit indwells, you become a doer of the Word. The life that is reckoned as righteous in Christ will practice righteousness. First John 2:3 and 4, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” True Christians desire to live out, to do the commandments of God’s Word.

James began his letter describing different evidences of true faith. In verses 1 to 12, his suffering readers will trust God with joy in the midst of difficult trials. In verses 13 to 18, they will accept responsibility for their own sinfulness and trust God’s character (verse 17), and God’s salvation in verse 18.

Starting in verses 19 to 21, James tells his readers they will seek to apply God’s Word to their lives to conquer the sins they battle with and become like Christ. And now in verses 22 to 27, James goes for the throat–no mincing words. He just told his readers that in salvation, God’s Word is like a seed planted in the soil. The Word of God is actually planted in your hearts in verse 21. If you’re born again, that same seed in your heart will sprout, grow, then produce the fruit of a transformed life.

God’s Word will not merely be in you–God’s Word will live through you. You’ll not merely hear God’s Word, but heed it. God’s Word will grow from seed to fruit. God’s Word will not be something you merely love in your hearts, but the truth will be lived out as you go to work and go to school. God’s Word will not only be observed but obeyed–not merely heard but heeded. Not only learned, but lived–not merely considered, but conformed to. So, is it?

Today, James speaks directly to every heart in this room–from grown up to goober. These verses are a test that separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. This is also the test for every Bible-teaching church. You all need this. A genuine believer will make a practice of obeying and applying God’s Word. This pursuit of obedience proves your faith and protects your walk with Christ.

It is the regular application of God Word which draws you closer to Christ. But any ongoing neglect to apply the Scripture will cause relational distance with Christ. Hearing only is destructive to the genuine Christian and hearing only is damnable to the phony Christian. Your Savior, through His half-brother, says you cannot audit Christianity. You cannot just show up, listen, then do nothing. You cannot coast in your Christian life. James says every genuine believer in this room will make Spirit-dependent efforts, exercising their will–sometimes with exhausting labor and agonizing work, to apply God’s Word to your life, so you become a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer only.

Read aloud with me these familiar verses, as we continue in our study of James and get ready to see this passage accurately–maybe for the first time. Verses 22 to 27, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James teaches these scattered Christians that . . .

#1  Christ DEMANDS Christians to daily PRACTICE obedience to God’s Word  Verses 22 to 25

Today, you must get out of classroom Christianity–stop auditing your faith and move towards the regular application of Scripture. Today, face the reality that learning God’s Word is not living God’s Word. Loving the Bible and listening to the Bible, without living the Bible is hypocrisy. So today, move beyond hearing the Bible to heeding the Bible. Why?

First  Christ commands you to be consistently APPLYING God’s WORD  Verse 22a

Read verse 22a, “But prove yourselves doers of the word.” The first word in verse 22 is a contrast—“but”, In contrast to verse 21 which says, “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”

Verse 22a, “But prove yourselves doers of the Word,” meaning this–yes, in saving you God put His Word in your heart. And with the indwelling Spirit of Truth, God’s truth dwells in you, implanted in you, verse 21. “But”–here is the contrast. Make certain, verse 22, it is not merely in you, but God’s Word sprouts out of you in your lifestyle.

James is concerned that your position becomes your practice–that who you are shows in what you do. That Christ in you becomes Christ through you. That Christ implanting His Word in your heart sprouts into Christlike living through your life. If God’s Word is planted in the soil of your heart, it will emerge into biblical behavior. This contrast here is between what Christ did for you and what you do in response.

Many Christians talk a good game. They know a lot, they say all the right things, they even agree with other Christians about God’s Word, but then do nothing. They make no changes, take no steps, and apply no truth.  Each Sunday they fill their thimble full of truth, but spill most of it in the parking lot when they leave. This is a huge problem today, as well as when James wrote. James insists that talk about the Word, insight into the Word, and even figuring out application to the Word will not do the trick. All the talk must be turned into walk.

In verse 22, the term “prove yourselves” is the main command of today’s paragraph. Prove yourself to be obedient to God’s Word in everyday life. “Prove yourselves” is actually, the verb to be, to become. James says, this is more than asking you to do something–this is what I want you to become. Obeying the Bible is more than what you do–it is to be what you are. Christ, through James, is commanding you to be this person–that applying the Word is so much a part of your life. It is who you are. Be the doer–become the applier.

The verb “prove yourselves” is continual action, is telling you Christ wants application to be a regular habit, an ongoing behavior, a faithful practice of living out the Word–until it becomes part of your normal, all the time, lifestyle. Literally, it is becoming a doer. It is one thing to fight a couple of days, and another to become a professional soldier. It is one thing to make repairs around the house, and quite another to be a builder. When it comes to applying the Scripture, Christ wants you to be the soldier-builder–it’s what you do. Christ wants you to develop the habit of never reading or listening to God’s Word without applying the truth to your life. This is an ongoing routine–it’s who you are. Application and obedience are to be who you are–become this kind of believer.

James also puts the squeeze on you and me, since the verb “prove yourselves” is not only a command, but written in a voice which calls you to act upon yourself to become this doer. I command you to act upon yourself to apply God’s Word–to grow into becoming the every day, regular, faithful doer of the Word. With this verb, James expects you to exercise your will and pursue becoming a doer. That does not mean you ignore the Holy Spirit, but you depend on the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit as you exercise your will to become the doer of the Word.

James is telling you to develop the habit of application–so much so, you become someone who naturally, normally, and regularly applies the Word. This is who you are. You become someone who responds to reading, studying and listening to the Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit and exercising your will to apply the Word to your life.

This is the only command and the main point of this paragraph. James commands you to act upon yourself to apply the Word of God regularly to your life, in order to prove your salvation and protect your sanctification. Applying God’s Word protects your walk with Christ and proves, or assures you of, your salvation. Those who show up week in and week out, and only hear the Word of God, reveal that they are either phony or fragile. If hearing only is the pattern of your life, James warns it is destructive for the believer, or damnable for the make-believer. This is why . . .

Second  Christ warns you not to DECEIVE yourself concerning obedience  Verse 22b

Verse 22b, “and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James says, you can’t stop with hearing–you must hear the Word before you can do it. But James says you must never stop with merely hearing the truth–you must live it. Do not become the hearer only. The Greek hearer is a word describing the auditor. Don’t be the so-called Christian who says or even models, “I love hearing, but not heeding. I am perceiving, but not pursuing. I want to learn, but not live. I want to sit under the Word, but I don’t want to live according to the Word.”

Hearing only is a Christian disease. Hearing only is a Church pandemic, attacking every spectrum of Christianity and every kind of Christian–each of you here. From the “I want to argue theology”, to “I have a theological hobby horse I want to ride”, to “I want to study the Bible”, to “I want to attend a good Bible-teaching church”, to “I listen to awesome teachers on podcasts”, to “I am in seminary or TC or a solid group”, to all of those and more. James says you must not stop with hearing. If you do–if you merely hear and do not apply, you’re deluding yourself, fooling themselves.

James is really scary here, because the deception described here is that of a lunatic. The term “deluding” means to deceive by false reasoning. In mathematics, it was used to describe a miscalculation. Believers who hear the Word but don’t apply are making a serious miscalculation. It is easy to fool yourself. Just because you understand what God teaches you in the Bible doesn’t mean you’re spiritually healthy, godly, biblical, or mature.

James will prove to you in a moment in verse 26, if you violate the Scripture concerning your speech, or verse 27 if you ignore the Scripture concerning the orphan, widow or the world, you’re deceiving yourself. Meaning, you must live the truth, not merely learn the truth. The person who hears the word without responding is self-deceived. My Christian friends, it is obedience to the Scriptures that will solve your problems. It is putting the truth into practice that transforms your soul, eradicates sin, empowers ministry, strengthens living, and purifies your heart.

James wants his readers to understand what the crazy hearer is like. He wants to make certain you know why James calls the one who only listens, but doesn’t live insane. Why is not applying the Bible regularly a serious miscalculation?

Third  Christ describes the process of SELF-DECEPTION over obedience  Verses 23 to 24

Verses 23 to 24, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” How does the hearer only respond to God’s Word? James says he is like a false believer or weak Christian, who looks in the mirror of God’s Word and is shown his true self, his sin, his violation of God’s Law, an aspect of his life where he’s not submitting to the Bible or following the Lord. It is as clear as day–he sees it, as obvious as a dirty smudge on his face. There is no denying it, sin is exposed, corrections must be made, repentance is called for, application must be pursued.

But as soon as the reading or listening is over, he immediately forgets what needs to change, what needs to be applied, what he must repent of and does nothing at all. He forgets what God’s powerful Word exposed in his life. He neglects to act on what he knows God expects him to do.  He just goes away and does nothing–he is a hearer only.

I am not certain you feel the punch of James’ illustration here in verses 23 to 24–the words and verb choices James uses are pointed. When this man looked at himself, he literally looks at the face of his birth in the mirror. You’ve done that–you’ve seen yourself in a mirror and everything seemed fine. But then you go to work and you touch your own face, realizing you missed a big spot when you were shaving. Or someone points out you have a big ink smudge on your face, and you didn’t know it. Or worst of all, you men have some toothpaste still remaining on the side of your mouth, or you gals have a clump of make-up on your face, and everyone assumed you went goth.

But James says here, this is when you look in the mirror and you see the mess in your life. You looked long and hard at the problem–but sadly, instead of depending upon the Holy Spirit. Instead of choosing to act upon your will, then make corrections. Instead, you determine to walk away as if nothing were wrong. God’s Word clearly exposed a problem, you now know what needs to be fixed, but you get busy with life, you choose to give it little thought. You make no steps to dependently apply the Word. Then by Monday afternoon, you have forgotten Sunday’s sermon and unknowingly, cavalierly, you once again close the Holy Spirit’s door of sanctification–possibly even the door of salvation.

Once you ignore it, you’re fast on the path to becoming the forgetful hearer. If you don’t immediately make the necessary corrections when God is impressing them upon your heart, then most often, you’ll never get around to it. You forget what God worked so hard to reveal to you through His Word, and you shut out the work of the Spirit to impact you.

James says, “For once he has … gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” The moment you determine to walk away, or get busy, or ignore the truth, or refuse to repent or to apply the truth but do nothing about God’s Word which has just exposed an area in your life that needs correction—that choice, that refusal to act results in some consequences. What are they?

When you walk away and do not apply the Word of God, it results in a life of forgetting the Lord and His Word. Christians will lean toward forgetting because it is easier than applying. Hearing is easier than doing. If you don’t take steps to apply the Word, then you will be more prone to walk away the next time the Spirit directs you to deal with something. The indwelling Holy Spirit is quenched when you stop applying, so you flatline in your growth. When you refuse to adjust your violation of God’s Law, and when you are not honoring God’s character and don’t apply God’s Word, you’ll find yourself more distant from Christ. And worst of all, if you continue to hear only, you may prove to be a non-Christian.

Some of You need pastor Bob Blunt in your life. He’s related to Roger Rude, Carl Conviction and Frank In-your-face. The next time you’re convicted from God’s Word and share it with Pastor Blunt, Bob won’t smile, Bob won’t thank you, Bob will not act polite–no, Bob will look you in the eye and ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Adopt Bob’s bluntness. Hearing only is a deadly disease, and some of you have caught it. Hearing only is serious for the genuine. But hearing only is fatal to the phony. Do not become the forgetful hearer. In contrast, James says in verse 25, become the effectual doer.

Fourth  Christ describes the BLESSING of those who regularly apply the Word  Verse 25

Verse 25, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” Like the starlet working her face over in the mirror on Oscar night, the diligent doer looks super intently into the mirror of God’s Word, and makes changes to the smudges, blemishes and sins God’s truth exposes in her life.

When James writes this letter, the mirrors of the early first century were made of polished metal and usually laid flat on a table, not hung on a wall. So you would look over and down to the mirror to study your face. That’s why the verb “looks intently” means stooped down. You look at your life intensely through the perfect mirror of God’s Word. And what is God’s Word? James adds, God’s Word is God’s perfect law–the law of liberty. This is what James calls the New Testament–salvation by grace through faith, Gospel truth.

Listen friends, the presence of grace does not imply the absence of God’s law. Because there is forgiveness when we break the law does not mean there is no law. The New Testament is the moral law God wants us to obey. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not set it aside. God’s law is perfect, sufficient and authoritative. God’s law shows us God’s perfect will, so when we pursue His law, we are actually liberated from slavery to sin and able to live pleasing to Christ.

Later, James calls God’s Word the Royal Law, because the law contains the commands of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ, Master Ruler of the Universe. Here, James calls God’s Word the law of liberty, because it is God’s Word alone that frees you from sin. So James says, if you hear God’s law and act upon yourself to live it, apply it, James says abide in it, remain with it—literally to stay in one place, meaning you stick with God’s Word alone as the authority of your life. You have it drive your life. Then great things will happen.

James cautions, as long as you’re not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer–as long as you are not becoming the one who forgets as a way of life, but one who practices the Word as a way of life. Then you, as the applier of truth, as the one who in dependence upon the Holy Spirit seeks to live the truth–that believer will himself become blessed. James’ focus is on the individual Christian. James is literally pointing his finger at each one of you saying, if you dependently pursue applying God’s Word, then you will be blessed. Simply meaning, you will be a Christian who is characterized by happiness and highly favored by God’s grace. Doing the Word results in happiness and favor. But James, what does a religious forgetful hearer or an effectual doer look like?

#2 Christ’s EXAMPLE of religious hearers and doers of God’s Word  Verses 26 to 27

Some of the original readers, and quite possibly some of you, may still excuse themselves. They will boast, “I’m super committed, I go to church, I serve in ministry, I am very faithful to pray and do what is expected–obviously, I must be a doer!” And James says, “Maybe not.” There are those who are religious, who have deceived themselves into thinking they’re doers, when they are actually just hearers.

Listen to James in verse 26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” In verse 26, James takes his concern to a whole new level–James now exposes the self-deception of the religious churchgoer, the one who thinks he is a doer only because he is religious. James already taught that those who hear only and do not do the Word may not be saved. Now he teaches those who do religious things also may not be saved.

The Greek word religious has to do with ceremonial public worship–pharisaical worship. The verse 26 churchgoer has the opinion of himself that he’s religious. So James, directed by the Spirit of God, will expose that errant heart. See the phrase, “deceives his own heart”? Heart has to do with internal godliness of heart. James is making a comparison between the external ceremonial actions of the religious and is comparing it with the internal reality of the genuine, regenerated heart.

Here is the point. If someone believes himself to be religious because he is involved with some external rituals, whether temple worship or attending church, but he does not demonstrate a character-driven, internal control over his tongue, then he is deceived and his religion is worthless. You already know your speech, your talk, your words, and your tongue are a very clear window into your heart. Your everyday speech exposes the spiritual condition of your heart.

Matthew 12:34 and 37, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. . . 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” The heart of each one of you is revealed by your words. So James says, “and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” If a so-called Christian’s words are not controlled, his heart is not transformed. So this person’s religion, his faith, his piety, is worthless–vain, futile and useless. The super-committed religious person can also be a phony hearer, not a true doer.

James digs a little deeper into the lives of the religious, to make certain they know what a true doer looks like in verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Pure and undefiled religion is defined by our Lord Himself, according to His standard of love. Not according to your religious standard or religious activity. The terms pure and undefiled are Greek synonyms James uses to describe true faith. And genuine religion, true faith, is demonstrated by sacrifice. Jesus said it in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Why do Pat or I close every service with the challenge to love one another? Because if we don’t sacrifice, encourage, reach out, care, comfort, and sacrifice for each other–then without love, our faith is worthless. Our church is useless and our witness is in vain. And this love is not the world’s idea of sentimental sappiness to make you feel good, but God’s definition of love which is selfless sacrifice in doing what is best for another.

And just as speech reveals the condition of your heart, verse 26, your attitude toward those in need reveals the genuineness of your love, verse 27. Widows and orphans are an especially needy segment of the church family, so sacrificing for them would be a true demonstration of love, and a proof that you’re not merely a hearer, but also a doer of God’s Word–it will show. Widows and orphans were being abused by the wealthy and Christians needed to step up. If you learn the truth of God’s Word, you are to live the truth of God’s Word.

Notice, James says this is the kind of religion, the true faith, that pleases your heavenly Father, “in the sight of our God and Father,” because your God is the protector of widows and the Father of the orphan. God is their father. Psalm 68:5 says God is, “a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows.” Our God is a father to the orphan and the protector of the widow–so when you care for them in the church, you are loving His special children.

James ends verse 27 with, “and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The world James describes is not unsaved teachers, bosses, friends or family. They need Christ–they need you to tell them about what Christ did for them. No, the world here is the evil, fallen system around us that leaves God out, yet it is where we live. Once you are born again, you no longer belong here, though you live here. The Bible tells us to not love this world nor the things of this world, and that friendship with this world means hostility toward God. Christians must not be comfortable here.

And James is telling you to smell like Heaven, not stink like this world. We need to be unstained by the filth and evil of this world. We should appear to be using the soap of Heaven and not be dirtied or stained by this world. When people observe you, do they see the things of this world, or do they see the things of Heaven? Do they glimpse the things of God through His Word lived out? James moves from hearer to doer, then to making certain your doing is genuine, internal purity. Are you a doer of the Word?

TAKE HOME

A  Beware of being Spiritually WEALTHY

To whom much is given, much is required. When Christians are blessed with regular, in-depth teaching of God’s Word, they can become so enamored with biblical knowledge, they become self-satisfied. Subtly, they can begin to neglect the effort to live out the profound truths they have come to understand. A true believer does not remain satisfied with merely learning the truth, but will be prodded by the Spirit to begin living the truth.

The godly man and godly woman will continually ask, “Lord change me, make me more like Christ. Help me put to death this sin, give me wisdom how to live for your glory.” Never allow yourself to remain a hearer only–become the doer of the Word.

B  Cultivate the PRACTICE of applying God’s WORD

Job 23:12b, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” And 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Tackle one book at a time, one paragraph at a time. For some, you need to repent for not doing, others to restart the habits of doing the Word. Learn to read and feed. Learn to ponder and practice. Learn to hear and heed.

Take your sermon notes and blue tape them to your bathroom mirror. Circle the principle you want to practice and leave it on the mirror until you make some lifestyle progress. Take a post-it-note of a key application and stick it on your dash or your workstation. Each day, work at applying the Word from your study, sermons, CG or ministry. Develop the practice of applying God’s Word by each day practicing–be a doer.

C  Test your faith through EVALUATION

At the end of each day, ask yourself–were your conversations consistent with a born again heart? James says, test your tongue. Were you sacrificially loving to the weak, the downtrodden, the orphan and widow? James says, test your love. And did you live as someone who belongs in Heaven or belongs to this world?

James says, test your living by being unstained by the world. The Spirit of God through James will push you to make certain if Christ is in you. He will show through you.

D  Cry out for a new heart that wants to obey–no DOING means no DELIVERANCE

True believers will want to obey God’s Word. You will want to turn from sin, and you will want to grow to be more like Christ. In other words, born again Christians want to obey God. Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

If you do not pursue being obedient from the heart, that means you don’t have a new heart. All born again Christians want to be doers of the Word and will be. If that is not your heart, then ask Christ for a new heart right now. Let’s pray.

The Crucial Daily Practice of Obeying God’s Word

Obedience to God’s Word is an indicator of genuine faith

James 1:22-27–part 2

I will never forget the first time I learned you could actually audit a class. I had no idea. I wished I could do it. I wanted to do it. “Wow, learning with no effort.” Classes with no testing, no papers, no reading, no note taking, and no pressure! It sounded so fun, so perfect, so wonderful–it took all the intensity of study away.

I couldn’t believe there were fellow collegians, even adults of all ages, who’d sign up for a class, pay a nominal fee, then sit through all the lectures and nothing else was required. Everything was optional. Some of them took notes, but they are were not required to do so. Others might read the textbook, but that was non-compulsory. They were not in the course for credit–they were merely hearers of the instruction, but not doers of the instruction.

Auditing a class perfectly illustrates the deadly danger you and I are facing. There are believers who only hear the truth, but do not do the truth. There are Christians who listen to the Word of God, but do not live the Word of God. There are church attenders who even study the Bible, but do not submit to the Bible. And in our verse-by-verse study of the book of James, the half-brother of our Lord now exposes the danger of hearers who don’t do. You can’t audit Christianity.

Open your Bibles to James chapter 1, verses 22 to 27 and follow along with your electronic or paper outline. In the wacky, wimpy and weak Christian culture of our day, there are those who teach that obedience to the Scripture is extra. Some even view obeying the Scripture as legalism. They say because salvation is by grace, when you expect believers to obey God’s Word, it distorts the Gospel.

But the Bible teaches the opposite. Salvation is by grace through faith without works, but when faith is genuine, it will result in works. When a heart has been regenerated, there will be a desire to obey. When the Holy Spirit indwells, you become a doer of the Word. The life that is reckoned as righteous in Christ will practice righteousness. First John 2:3 and 4, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” True Christians desire to live out, to do the commandments of God’s Word.

James began his letter describing different evidences of true faith. In verses 1 to 12, his suffering readers will trust God with joy in the midst of difficult trials. In verses 13 to 18, they will accept responsibility for their own sinfulness and trust God’s character (verse 17), and God’s salvation in verse 18.

Starting in verses 19 to 21, James tells his readers they will seek to apply God’s Word to their lives to conquer the sins they battle with and become like Christ. And now in verses 22 to 27, James goes for the throat–no mincing words. He just told his readers that in salvation, God’s Word is like a seed planted in the soil. The Word of God is actually planted in your hearts in verse 21. If you’re born again, that same seed in your heart will sprout, grow, then produce the fruit of a transformed life.

God’s Word will not merely be in you–God’s Word will live through you. You’ll not merely hear God’s Word, but heed it. God’s Word will grow from seed to fruit. God’s Word will not be something you merely love in your hearts, but the truth will be lived out as you go to work and go to school. God’s Word will not only be observed but obeyed–not merely heard but heeded. Not only learned, but lived–not merely considered, but conformed to. So, is it?

Today, James speaks directly to every heart in this room–from grown up to goober. These verses are a test that separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. This is also the test for every Bible-teaching church. You all need this. A genuine believer will make a practice of obeying and applying God’s Word. This pursuit of obedience proves your faith and protects your walk with Christ.

It is the regular application of God Word which draws you closer to Christ. But any ongoing neglect to apply the Scripture will cause relational distance with Christ. Hearing only is destructive to the genuine Christian and hearing only is damnable to the phony Christian. Your Savior, through His half-brother, says you cannot audit Christianity. You cannot just show up, listen, then do nothing. You cannot coast in your Christian life. James says every genuine believer in this room will make Spirit-dependent efforts, exercising their will–sometimes with exhausting labor and agonizing work, to apply God’s Word to your life, so you become a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer only.

Read aloud with me these familiar verses, as we continue in our study of James and get ready to see this passage accurately–maybe for the first time. Verses 22 to 27, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James teaches these scattered Christians that . . .

#1  Christ DEMANDS Christians to daily PRACTICE obedience to God’s Word  Verses 22 to 25

Today, you must get out of classroom Christianity–stop auditing your faith and move towards the regular application of Scripture. Today, face the reality that learning God’s Word is not living God’s Word. Loving the Bible and listening to the Bible, without living the Bible is hypocrisy. So today, move beyond hearing the Bible to heeding the Bible. Why?

First  Christ commands you to be consistently APPLYING God’s WORD  Verse 22a

Read verse 22a, “But prove yourselves doers of the word.” The first word in verse 22 is a contrast—“but”, In contrast to verse 21 which says, “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”

Verse 22a, “But prove yourselves doers of the Word,” meaning this–yes, in saving you

God put His Word in your heart. And with the indwelling Spirit of Truth, God’s truth dwells in you, implanted in you, verse 21. “But”–here is the contrast. Make certain, verse 22, it is not merely in you, but God’s Word sprouts out of you in your lifestyle.

James is concerned that your position becomes your practice–that who you are shows

in what you do. That Christ in you becomes Christ through you. That Christ implanting

His Word in your heart sprouts into Christlike living through your life. If God’s Word is planted in the soil of your heart, it will emerge into biblical behavior. This contrast here is between what Christ did for you and what you do in response.

Many Christians talk a good game. They know a lot, they say all the right things, they even agree with other Christians about God’s Word, but then do nothing. They make no changes, take no steps, and apply no truth.  Each Sunday they fill their thimble full of truth, but spill most of it in the parking lot when they leave. This is a huge problem today, as well as when James wrote. James insists that talk about the Word, insight into the Word, and even figuring out application to the Word will not do the trick. All the talk must be turned into walk.

In verse 22, the term “prove yourselves” is the main command of today’s paragraph. Prove yourself to be obedient to God’s Word in everyday life. “Prove yourselves” is actually, the verb to be, to become. James says, this is more than asking you to do something–this is what I want you to become. Obeying the Bible is more than what you do–it is to be what you are. Christ, through James, is commanding you to be this person–that applying the Word

is so much a part of your life. It is who you are. Be the doer–become the applier.

The verb “prove yourselves” is continual action, is telling you Christ wants application to be a regular habit, an ongoing behavior, a faithful practice of living out the Word–until it becomes part of your normal, all the time, lifestyle. Literally, it is becoming a doer. It is one thing to fight a couple of days, and another to become a professional soldier. It is one thing to make repairs around the house, and quite another to be a builder. When it comes to applying the Scripture, Christ wants you to be the soldier-builder–it’s what you do. Christ wants you to develop the habit of never reading or listening to God’s Word without applying the truth to your life. This is an ongoing routine–it’s who you are. Application and obedience are to be who you are–become this kind of believer.

James also puts the squeeze on you and me, since the verb “prove yourselves” is not only a command, but written in a voice which calls you to act upon yourself to become this doer. I command you to act upon yourself to apply God’s Word–to grow into becoming the every day, regular, faithful doer of the Word. With this verb, James expects you to exercise your will and pursue becoming a doer. That does not mean you ignore the Holy Spirit, but you depend on the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit as you exercise your will to become the doer of the Word.

James is telling you to develop the habit of application–so much so, you become someone who naturally, normally, and regularly applies the Word. This is who you are. You become someone who responds to reading, studying and listening to the Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit and exercising your will to apply the Word to your life.

This is the only command and the main point of this paragraph. James commands you to act upon yourself to apply the Word of God regularly to your life, in order to prove your salvation and protect your sanctification. Applying God’s Word protects your walk with Christ and proves, or assures you of, your salvation. Those who show up week in and week out, and only hear the Word of God, reveal that they are either phony or fragile. If hearing only is the pattern of your life, James warns it is destructive for the believer, or damnable for the make-believer. This is why . . .

Second  Christ warns you not to DECEIVE yourself concerning obedience  Verse 22b

Verse 22b, “and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James says, you can’t stop with hearing–you must hear the Word before you can do it. But James says you must never stop with merely hearing the truth–you must live it. Do not become the hearer only. The Greek hearer is a word describing the auditor. Don’t be the so-called Christian who says or even models, “I love hearing, but not heeding. I am perceiving, but not pursuing. I want to learn, but not live. I want to sit under the Word, but I don’t want to live according to the Word.”

Hearing only is a Christian disease. Hearing only is a Church pandemic, attacking every spectrum of Christianity and every kind of Christian–each of you here. From the “I want to argue theology”, to “I have a theological hobby horse I want to ride”, to “I want to study the Bible”, to “I want to attend a good Bible-teaching church”, to “I listen to awesome teachers on podcasts”, to “I am in seminary or TC or a solid group”, to all of those and more. James says you must not stop with hearing. If you do–if you merely hear and do not apply, you’re deluding yourself, fooling themselves.

James is really scary here, because the deception described here is that of a lunatic. The term “deluding” means to deceive by false reasoning. In mathematics, it was used to describe a miscalculation. Believers who hear the Word but don’t apply are making a serious miscalculation. It is easy to fool yourself. Just because you understand what God teaches you in the Bible doesn’t mean you’re spiritually healthy, godly, biblical, or mature.

James will prove to you in a moment in verse 26, if you violate the Scripture concerning your speech, or verse 27 if you ignore the Scripture concerning the orphan, widow or the world, you’re deceiving yourself. Meaning, you must live the truth, not merely learn the truth. The person who hears the word without responding is self-deceived. My Christian friends, it is obedience to the Scriptures that will solve your problems. It is putting the truth into practice that transforms your soul, eradicates sin, empowers ministry, strengthens living, and purifies your heart.

James wants his readers to understand what the crazy hearer is like. He wants to make certain you know why James calls the one who only listens, but doesn’t live insane. Why is not applying the Bible regularly a serious miscalculation?

Third  Christ describes the process of SELF-DECEPTION over obedience  Verses 23 to 24

Verses 23 to 24, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” How does the hearer only respond to God’s Word? James says he is like a false believer or weak Christian, who looks in the mirror

of God’s Word and is shown his true self, his sin, his violation of God’s Law, an aspect of his life where he’s not submitting to the Bible or following the Lord. It is as clear as day–he sees it, as obvious as a dirty smudge on his face. There is no denying it, sin is exposed, corrections must be made, repentance is called for, application must be pursued.

But as soon as the reading or listening is over, he immediately forgets what needs to change, what needs to be applied, what he must repent of and does nothing at all. He forgets what God’s powerful Word exposed in his life. He neglects to act on what he knows God expects him to do.  He just goes away and does nothing–he is a hearer only.

I am not certain you feel the punch of James’ illustration here in verses 23 to 24–the words and verb choices James uses are pointed. When this man looked at himself, he literally looks at the face of his birth in the mirror. You’ve done that–you’ve seen yourself in a mirror and everything seemed fine. But then you go to work and you touch your own face, realizing you missed a big spot when you were shaving. Or someone points out you have a big ink smudge on your face, and you didn’t know it. Or worst of all, you men have some toothpaste still remaining on the side of your mouth, or you gals have a clump of make-up on your face, and everyone assumed you went goth.

But James says here, this is when you look in the mirror and you see the mess in your life. You looked long and hard at the problem–but sadly, instead of depending upon the Holy Spirit. Instead of choosing to act upon your will, then make corrections. Instead, you determine to walk away as if nothing were wrong. God’s Word clearly exposed a problem, you now know what needs to be fixed, but you get busy with life, you choose to give it little thought. You make no steps to dependently apply the Word. Then by Monday afternoon, you have forgotten Sunday’s sermon and unknowingly, cavalierly, you once again close the Holy Spirit’s door of sanctification–possibly even the door of salvation.

Once you ignore it, you’re fast on the path to becoming the forgetful hearer. If you don’t immediately make the necessary corrections when God is impressing them upon your heart, then most often, you’ll never get around to it. You forget what God worked so hard to reveal to you through His Word, and you shut out the work of the Spirit to impact you.

James says, “For once he has … gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” The moment you determine to walk away, or get busy, or ignore the truth, or refuse to repent or to apply the truth but do nothing about God’s Word which has just exposed an area in your life that needs correction—that choice, that refusal to act results in some consequences. What are they?

When you walk away and do not apply the Word of God, it results in a life of forgetting the Lord and His Word. Christians will lean toward forgetting because it is easier than applying. Hearing is easier than doing. If you don’t take steps to apply the Word, then you will be more prone to walk away the next time the Spirit directs you to deal with something. The indwelling Holy Spirit is quenched when you stop applying, so you flatline in your growth. When you refuse to adjust your violation of God’s Law, and when you are not honoring God’s character and don’t apply God’s Word, you’ll find yourself more distant from Christ. And worst of all, if you continue to hear only, you may prove to be a non-Christian.

Some of You need pastor Bob Blunt in your life. He’s related to Roger Rude, Carl Conviction and Frank In-your-face. The next time you’re convicted from God’s Word and share it with Pastor Blunt, Bob won’t smile, Bob won’t thank you, Bob will not act polite–no, Bob will look you in the eye and ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Adopt Bob’s bluntness. Hearing only is a deadly disease, and some of you have caught it. Hearing only is serious for the genuine. But hearing only is fatal to the phony. Do not become the forgetful hearer. In contrast, James says in verse 25, become the effectual doer.

Fourth  Christ describes the BLESSING of those who regularly apply the Word  Verse 25

Verse 25, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” Like the starlet working her face over in the mirror on Oscar night, the diligent doer looks super intently into the mirror of God’s Word, and makes changes to the smudges, blemishes and sins God’s truth exposes in her life.

When James writes this letter, the mirrors of the early first century were made of polished metal and usually laid flat on a table, not hung on a wall. So you would look over and down to the mirror to study your face. That’s why the verb “looks intently” means stooped down. You look at your life intensely through the perfect mirror of God’s Word. And what is God’s Word? James adds, God’s Word is God’s perfect law–the law of liberty. This is what James calls the New Testament–salvation by grace through faith, Gospel truth.

Listen friends, the presence of grace does not imply the absence of God’s law. Because there is forgiveness when we break the law does not mean there is no law. The New Testament is the moral law God wants us to obey. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not set it aside. God’s law is perfect, sufficient and authoritative. God’s law shows us God’s perfect will, so when we pursue His law, we are actually liberated from slavery to sin and able to live pleasing to Christ.

Later, James calls God’s Word the Royal Law, because the law contains the commands of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ, Master Ruler of the Universe. Here, James calls God’s Word the law of liberty, because it is God’s Word alone that frees you from sin. So James says, if you hear God’s law and act upon yourself to live it, apply it, James says abide in it, remain with it—literally to stay in one place, meaning you stick with God’s Word alone as the authority of your life. You have it drive your life. Then great things will happen.

James cautions, as long as you’re not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer–as long as you are not becoming the one who forgets as a way of life, but one who practices the Word as a way of life. Then you, as the applier of truth, as the one who in dependence upon the Holy Spirit seeks to live the truth–that believer will himself become blessed. James’ focus is on the individual Christian. James is literally pointing his finger at each one of you saying, if you dependently pursue applying God’s Word, then you will be blessed. Simply meaning, you will be a Christian who is characterized by happiness and highly favored by God’s grace. Doing the Word results in happiness and favor. But James, what does a religious forgetful hearer or an effectual doer look like?

#2 Christ’s EXAMPLE of religious hearers and doers of God’s Word  Verses 26 to 27

Some of the original readers, and quite possibly some of you, may still excuse themselves. They will boast, “I’m super committed, I go to church, I serve in ministry, I am very faithful to pray and do what is expected–obviously, I must be a doer!” And James says, “Maybe not.” There are those who are religious, who have deceived themselves into thinking they’re doers, when they are actually just hearers.

Listen to James in verse 26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” In verse 26, James takes his concern to a whole new level–James now exposes the self-deception of the religious churchgoer, the one who thinks he is a doer only because he is religious. James already taught that those who hear only and do not do the Word may not be saved. Now he teaches those who do religious things also may not be saved.

The Greek word religious has to do with ceremonial public worship–pharisaical worship. The verse 26 churchgoer has the opinion of himself that he’s religious. So James, directed by the Spirit of God, will expose that errant heart. See the phrase, “deceives his own heart”? Heart has to do with internal godliness of heart. James is making a comparison between the external ceremonial actions of the religious and is comparing it with the internal reality of the genuine, regenerated heart.

Here is the point. If someone believes himself to be religious because he is involved with some external rituals, whether temple worship or attending church, but he does not demonstrate a character-driven, internal control over his tongue, then he is deceived and his religion is worthless. You already know your speech, your talk, your words, and your tongue are a very clear window into your heart. Your everyday speech exposes the spiritual condition of your heart.

Matthew 12:34 and 37, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. . . 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” The heart of each one of you is revealed by your words. So James says, “and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” If a so-called Christian’s words are not controlled, his heart is not transformed. So this person’s religion, his faith, his piety, is worthless–vain, futile and useless. The super-committed religious person can also be a phony hearer, not a true doer.

James digs a little deeper into the lives of the religious, to make certain they know what a true doer looks like in verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Pure and undefiled religion is defined by our Lord Himself, according to His standard of love. Not according to your religious standard or religious activity. The terms pure and undefiled are Greek synonyms James uses to describe true faith. And genuine religion, true faith, is demonstrated by sacrifice. Jesus said it in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Why do Pat or I close every service with the challenge to love one another? Because if we don’t sacrifice, encourage, reach out, care, comfort, and sacrifice for each other–then without love, our faith is worthless. Our church is useless and our witness is in vain. And this love is not the world’s idea of sentimental sappiness to make you feel good, but God’s definition of love which is selfless sacrifice in doing what is best for another.

And just as speech reveals the condition of your heart, verse 26, your attitude toward those in need reveals the genuineness of your love, verse 27. Widows and orphans are an especially needy segment of the church family, so sacrificing for them would be a true demonstration of love, and a proof that you’re not merely a hearer, but also a doer of God’s Word–it will show.

Widows and orphans were being abused by the wealthy and Christians needed to step up. If you learn the truth of God’s Word, you are to live the truth of God’s Word.

Notice, James says this is the kind of religion, the true faith, that pleases your heavenly Father, “in the sight of our God and Father,” because your God is the protector of widows and the Father of the orphan. God is their father. Psalm 68:5 says God is, “a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows.” Our God is a father to the orphan and the protector of the widow–so when you care for them in the church, you are loving His special children.

James ends verse 27 with, “and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The world James describes is not unsaved teachers, bosses, friends or family. They need Christ–they need you to tell them about what Christ did for them. No, the world here is the evil, fallen system around us that leaves God out, yet it is where we live. Once you are born again, you no longer belong here, though you live here. The Bible tells us to not love this world nor the things of this world, and that friendship with this world means hostility toward God. Christians must not be comfortable here.

And James is telling you to smell like Heaven, not stink like this world. We need to be unstained by the filth and evil of this world. We should appear to be using the soap of Heaven and not be dirtied or stained by this world. When people observe you, do they see the things of this world, or do they see the things of Heaven? Do they glimpse the things of God through His Word lived out? James moves from hearer to doer, then to making certain your doing is genuine, internal purity. Are you a doer of the Word?

TAKE HOME

A  Beware of being Spiritually WEALTHY

To whom much is given, much is required. When Christians are blessed with regular, in-depth teaching of God’s Word, they can become so enamored with biblical knowledge, they become self-satisfied. Subtly, they can begin to neglect the effort to live out the profound truths they have come to understand. A true believer does not remain satisfied with merely learning the truth, but will be prodded by the Spirit to begin living the truth.

The godly man and godly woman will continually ask, “Lord change me, make me more like Christ. Help me put to death this sin, give me wisdom how to live for your glory.” Never allow yourself to remain a hearer only–become the doer of the Word.

B  Cultivate the PRACTICE of applying God’s WORD

Job 23:12b, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” And 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Tackle one book at a time, one paragraph at a time. For some, you need to repent for not doing, others to restart the habits of doing the Word. Learn to read and feed. Learn to ponder and practice. Learn to hear and heed.

Take your sermon notes and blue tape them to your bathroom mirror. Circle the principle you want to practice and leave it on the mirror until you make some lifestyle progress. Take a post-it-note of a key application and stick it on your dash or your workstation. Each day, work at applying the Word from your study, sermons, CG or ministry. Develop the practice of applying God’s Word by each day practicing–be a doer.

C  Test your faith through EVALUATION

At the end of each day, ask yourself–were your conversations consistent with a born again heart? James says, test your tongue. Were you sacrificially loving to the weak, the downtrodden, the orphan and widow? James says, test your love. And did you live as someone who belongs in Heaven or belongs to this world?

James says, test your living by being unstained by the world. The Spirit of God through James will push you to make certain if Christ is in you. He will show through you.

D  Cry out for a new heart that wants to obey–no DOING means no DELIVERANCE

True believers will want to obey God’s Word. You will want to turn from sin, and you will want to grow to be more like Christ. In other words, born again Christians want to obey God. Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

If you do not pursue being obedient from the heart, that means you don’t have a new heart.

All born again Christians want to be doers of the Word and will be. If that is not your heart, then ask Christ for a new heart right now. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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