22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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 (ESV)
Due to its practical nature, much legalism is unfortunately taught from the book of James in light of believers and unbelievers alike. The above passage and commonly quoted ?faith without works is dead? (James 2:14) has often been used as parameters for or even tangible proofs of salvation.
Firstly, we must note the audience of this epistle. It is believed that the book of James is the earliest writing contained in the New Testament, and was clearly written to Jewish Christians (1:1). We see no intentions of writing to unbelievers in order to lead them to faith in Christ. The purpose therefore is to exhort early believers by both warning against various sins and temptations, as well as instructing believers on various points of morality. It is important to note his (believing) audience, because said faith-works and being a doer of the Word are impossible apart from preceding saving faith in Christ, not a means of salvation.
For believers, we must also be careful how we apply this book in legalistic ways as ?proofs? for salvation as James is dealing with the ethics of Christianity, not doctrine. James? audience of Jewish Christians were facing persecution from non-believing Jews, therefore he felt it very important to exhort them in how their faith might be lived out in practical ways for others to see.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Unlike simply gaining knowledge by reading history books or enjoying literature for pleasure, reading God?s Word demands action. The word be means ?to become? or ?be born.? This is an impossible task for an unbeliever who has yet to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, but we see the transformative (and necessary) nature of becoming doers of God?s Word as a means of discipleship. To not do so would mean deceiving ourselves, or literally ?to be led astray by false reasoning.? Hypothetically ?checking off a box? after dutifully listening to a sermon or reading our Bible (without seeking to apply it to our lives) is the result of faulty reasoning ? thinking God is pleased with half-hearted spiritual disciplines that don?t actually lead to discipleship and action.
23 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.
We may not enjoy spending time in front of a mirror when it reminds us of the bad hair day we?re having or the blemish that just won?t clear up. Similarly, as the mirror reveals our physical flaws, so does the Word of God with our inward imperfections. Our temptation may be to hastily look in the mirror, or spiritually speaking be hearers only but not doers of the Word.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
When we skim over parts of the Bible that deal with sin or selectively listen to enjoyable topical sermons, we are missing vital portions of Scripture which can hold up a mirror to our lives. We can?t afford to look at Scripture and ignore it, just as we wouldn?t have an X-ray taken then ignore the results.
25 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.
There appears to be a progression in this verse in which the NKJV helpfully translates: ?But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it?? The starting point is looking intently (parakypsas) into God?s Word. Only then can we act upon it, and only then will we see God?s blessing as we strive to live according to His Word through our freedom in Christ. It is necessary to clarify that the ?law? James is speaking of is not the Mosaic law, but the law of grace.
The very nature of this passage is application? being doers of the Word. So how do we encourage our congregation to be doers of God?s Word? Everyone wants God to bless their work, so at the most basic level we can remind them that God says He will bless that which we do according to His Word. Secondly, we can exhort our people that our lives (through our words and actions) may be the only Bible some people will ever read. If we are doing that which we learn from God?s Word, then we are demonstrating God?s Truth with our very lives.
Sources: ?Through the Bible? by J. Vernon McGee; ?The Pulpit Commentary? by H. D. M. Spence & Joseph S. Exell; Biblos Interlinear by Helps Ministries