Doers of the Word
Become doers of the word. (James 1:22)
Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the major architects of the French Enlightenment and consequently the French Revolution, was born in Geneva in 1712. He grew up in a Calvinist home and attended church regularly, later converting to Roman Catholicism so that he could stay in the good graces of his adulteress. Geneva, of course, was the home of John Calvin, the great theologian and pastor who had such a profound impact on Europe in the sixteenth century and beyond. Rousseau, however, rejected the faith of his fathers. His life ended in utter ruin. He fathered numerous illegitimate children and abandoned each of them. His writings moved people further and further from God, and closer and closer to anarchy.1
James is all about our growth in holiness. He calls us to more and more godliness as we progress in this life. He tells us in chapter one of his epistle that the Word of God is vital in promoting Biblical holiness. He brought us forth through the word of truth (verse 18). In humility receive the word of God implanted which is able to save your soul (verse 21). And now he tells us that we are to become doers of the Word. The New American Standard Bible translates this prove yourselves to be doers of the word, but the Greek verb is more accurately translated become doers of the word. This is a present tense, middle voice, imperative mood verb – meaning this is a command which we ourselves, not simply other people, are commanded to do all the days of our lives. There is no option. To become doers of the Word has the idea of progress, of teachableness, of correctableness. James is not negating the importance of hearing the Word of God. By all means, we ought to read it, study it, memorize it, and meditate upon it. We ought to listen to sermons and we ought to read good Christian books that help us grow in holiness, that inspire us to walk in the ways of Christ. But to stop here, to not move forward to obey what we know, is the height of folly. He says that a man who is not a doer of the Word is one who deceives himself. The Greek word here means to deceive by false reasoning, and was used in the secular culture of James’ day to describe a librarian who made wrong use of written documents.2
James illustrates his command by saying that a man who is only a hearer of the Word is like one who looks at his natural face in a mirror. Once he has looked at himself and gone away he immediately forgets what kind of person he is. The emphasis here is folly. How foolish for a man to do that! A few weeks ago I awoke one morning, looked in a mirror, and found unsightly bumps on my forehead, the left side of my face swollen, and my left eye swollen shut. I could have said, ‘That’s a bit unusual. Oh, whatever.’3 The Word of God is a mirror that shows us our condition before the Holy One of Israel. When it shows sin, when it commands a particular action, then it is utter folly to hear the Word and walk away, not acting on what we know. We are to heed the dreadful example of King Saul who twice was spared his life by David, who promised great things when seeing his sin, but who continued on the path to destruction (1 Sam. 24, 26).
God is telling us through James that we are to obey all his commands. By all means, become hearers of the Word of God. Study your Bible. Memorize and meditate on Scripture. Read and listen to God-centred, Christ-exalting sermons. Read good Christian books, especially biographies of great Christians. These always inspire me. But don’t stop there. Become a doer of the Word. There is a real sense in which you should not read another chapter of the Bible, memorize another verse of the Bible, read another Christian book, or listen to another sermon until you obey what you already know.
To be a mere hearer of the Word, to neglect the call to obey it, is sheer folly. I once had a slight case of malaria while in Africa. We did not have mosquito nets then, but now we do. What folly, then, if I neglected to take my anti-malarial medication and chose not to sleep under a mosquito net. Not acting on God’s Word is a far worse folly! Are you presently a hearer of the Word only? Are there areas in your life in which God is speaking to you, and you are not acting upon them?
And what is God commanding you to do? The commands are many and, of course, can be boiled down to the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20; Deut. 5), or even further to two commandments “” to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). Whenever you read the Scriptures or a Christian book, I suggest you use the acrostic SPECK to ask yourself five questions:
- Is there any sin to avoid?
- Is there any promise to claim?
- Is there any example to follow?
- Is there any command to obey?
- Is there any new knowledge I need to heed?
Then what? The commands of God, though we are called to obey them, are impossible for us in our flesh. Clearly the unbeliever cannot do them, though he is commanded to obey (Ezekiel tells the people of Judah to make for themselves new hearts, Ezek. 18:31); and it is also true of us. Paul says the very thing he wants to do he does not do because of sin that indwells him (Rom. 7:20). What must we do then, to obey all the commands of God? You must abide in Christ (John 15:5-7). You must draw near to God (James 4:8). You must seek the Lord (Isa. 55:7). But how do you do these? Your soul is like a bucket with holes in it. When you keep your bucket under the river of God’s grace “” a river filled with the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:8-10) and the living water of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38) – then you are filled with the Holy Spirit and you can obey God. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:2). The spirit gives life to your mortal bodies (Rom. 8:10-11). In other words when we do not resist the Spirit, when we do not quench him, when we are filled with him, then he overcomes the power of indwelling sin and temptation. Your indwelling sin and the temptations of the world are simply too much for you if you are not abiding in Christ. How do you keep your bucket under the river of Christ’s blood and the Spirit’s living water? You do so by faith. Francis Schaeffer wrote that true spirituality is living in Jesus moment by moment.4 As you go through your day, pray, think on God, ask for his presence and power, confess and repent of your sin as the Spirit brings these to your mind. Call out to Jesus, asking him for his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
The entire earthly life of the Lord Jesus was marked by obedience to his Father, of becoming a doer of the Word (He learned obedience from things which he suffered, Heb. 5:8). The ordeal of Gethsemane was far more horrid that we can imagine. Many believers and unbelievers have died heroically. Socrates took the hemlock without complaint. Ridley was burned at the stake for his faith. So why then was Jesus fearful of dying? Why did he wrestle with his heavenly Father over it? Because it was a death unlike any other in history! He was taking the wrath of God upon himself. He was experiencing the divine dereliction.5 He obeyed and took the wrath of God upon himself so that our just condemnation would be removed. You can obey, you can become a doer of the Word because you have the indwelling Holy Spirit. You have the new life in Jesus. Keep your bucket submerged in the river of his grace, flowing with the blood of Jesus and the water of the Spirit. As you do, you will become a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.
- For a fascinating and sobering look at where Rousseau’s thinking took him, see Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals. There are numerous other stories of men who similarly made shipwreck of their lives by their militant unbelief.
- The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testamen, by Moulton and Milligan, page 487.
- For the record, I had a slight case of shingles. The Lord was very gracious to me. I did not suffer like so many others I know.
- True Spirituality: How to Live for Jesus Moment by Moment, Francis Schaeffer.
- A phrase used by Geoff Thomas in a sermon entitled ‘Gethsemane’, www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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