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James 1:22-25 - Doing the Word

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.


Regarding God's Word, James has already urged his readers, in verse 19, to make sure they are “quick to listen.” However, he clarifies in verse 22, make sure that you “do not merely listen.” Beginning with what seems to be a simple reminder, James offers us great wisdom. It can be a hazardous condition for a believer to merely listen to the Word. Yet, this is precisely what many self-proclaimed “Christians” do today.

If we are not careful and intentional about our spiritual journey, it is entirely possible for us to become very satisfied and feel very self-fulfilled from just listening to the Word being taught or preached. But if after we hear it, we remain unchanged by it, then James says listening is but a useless exercise.

In other words, it’s possible for us to become charmed by what the Bible says without being changed by what the Bible says. One without the other is insufficient. This is what James is saying in verse 22. Hearing the word without action, listening but not doing what it says, is self-deceptive, and James tells us not to deceive ourselves. The deception, or false reasoning, here lies in thinking that we have done all that is necessary by merely listening to the Word, but in fact, that is only the beginning.


James makes an obvious distinction between the listening of the Word and the doing of the Word. “Do not merely listen to the Word …. Do what it says.” Yes, it is vital to listen; in fact, we should be quick to listen (v. 19). But, do not merely listen (v. 22), as it is much more important to obediently do what it says (v 22).


When we sit in a Sunday service being filled with exhortations from the message or participate in a Bible study being made aware of our call to obedience, and do not follow suit with doing what it tells us to do, we are sinning, and as James will soon tell us, we may not even have genuine faith at all. Genuine faith is faith in action. It’s in the doing that we are changed. It’s living out the Word in our daily lives that leads to spiritual maturity and growing in Christlikness.


“Doing” the Word of God is at the very center (precipice) of James’s theology and practical teaching. As we proceed through his letter, we will see him build upon this idea or theme of being a doer of the Word. He continuously challenges his readers to live out Jesus’ teachings and offers very practical advice on how to do so.


Matthew Henry once wrote, “If we heard a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in hearing only, it would never bring us to heaven. Mere hearers are self-deceivers; and self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last.”


To illustrate the point of only hearing the Word and not actively living it, James uses a basic analogy of a person who looks into a mirror, examines himself, and then goes away, forgetting what he sees. It would do us little good if, when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we identify something that needs to be corrected, forget what we saw, and do nothing to fix it. For example, a large piece of spinach caught deep between your teeth after dinner won’t go away on its own. Knowledge of the problem in and of itself will not help the situation.


James relates the mirror analogy to God’s Word of Truth. He tells us that God’s Word is like a mirror. In it, we see ourselves as we really are and as who God wants us to be. God’s Word (like a mirror) reveals our flaws. And just like a mirror, the longer we spend looking, the more flaws we see. Those, however, who only hear the word after identifying problems and sins that need to be dealt with will quickly forget what they see and do nothing to correct them.


How many of us look in the mirror, see a problem…then do nothing about it? I would imagine that not many would be apt to respond this way, as this would be impractical. We would probably all respond very quickly to remove the debris from our teeth immediately upon its revelation.


How many of us look into God’s mirror … see our flaws and sin … then do nothing about it? I imagine a few more would fall into this category. Are you one of them?


Don’t be deceived, James says. Don’t walk away thinking there is nothing you need to do. Don’t go away and just forget what you saw about yourself through God’s Word. Don’t go away and forget where you fall short, according to God’s standard. Don’t walk away thinking that knowledge alone is sufficient. That’s not genuine faith.


Next, James contrasts the quick glance of the mirror-looker with someone who studies the Word – someone who “looks intently into the Perfect Law.” In verse 25, James reveals to us the right response to God’s Word.

An appropriate response begins with looking intently. If, like the mirror, we just glance and quickly look away, we’ll miss the revelation of our sin. If we forget (or ignore) what we see or hear, we are saying that God and His Word are not essential or relevant. For the Word of God to reveal the things in us that need to be fixed, we have to spend time looking into it: reading it, thinking about it, memorizing it, meditating on it, understanding it, and then applying it – or as James says, doing it.


In what are we to look intently? One must look intently into the Perfect Law that gives freedom. Although James does not reveal the details of the Perfect Law, the New Testament speaks repeatedly about it. The Law of Liberty is the Mosaic Law first presented to Moses and ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Those who are in Christ have been set free. We are free from condemnation, free from sin’s control, and free from the reigns of death and hell.  


“You see,” as Alistair Begg so eloquently reminds us in his sermon titled “Do What it Says,” “the freedom is set within the context of the holding on to the truth of God’s Word in obedience to what Jesus has said. It is when we become captives to God’s truth, in hearing and in doing, that we find real freedom.”

So, says James, if a person is going to receive the Bible properly, then they need to be the kind of person who looks intently into the Word… not with a casual glance … like someone who looks in a mirror and quickly forgets what they see…but with a genuine desire to know what it says, with a genuine desire to miss nothing of its truth.

We should look intently to the Lord and His Word continuously, day by day. We must listen closely to what He is saying to us. And then, by faith, become doers of His Word, following Him in active obedience.


This type of response involves a disciplined commitment. Intention and continued looking, with a ready response to action, are the keys to spiritual strength and continued maturity. And the one who does this, James concludes, is the one who will be blessed. He will be blessed “in his doing.”

Don't be hearers of the Word only...DO WHAT IT SAYS!

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Unknown member
Apr 21

Excellent Bible study, Angie! This is such an important concept for our Christian life. Too many people claim to be Christians but don't want to submit to the commandments of Christ. Some go so far as to cheapen God's grace by making it a license to sin. Christians must be doers of the law not to earn salvation, but from a heart of gratitude for the free gift of Salvation in Christ.

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