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 a man 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. —James 1:22-25
Many people think their spirituality is based on how much they know about the Bible, not on how obedient they are to the commands in Scripture. I know many people who have superior knowledge of the Bible, but it never changes them. It never impacts their lives. They are just not growing. They look into the mirror of God’s Word, but they never do anything about what has been revealed to them. We must become a doer of the Word, not simply a hearer. Spirituality is not based on what we know; it’s about what we do with what we know.
Look at verse 22. The command is clear, “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Too many Christians are hearers and not doers. They focus on hearing, reading and learning the Word rather than doing what God says. They come to church to hear the Word, but do they go home to live the Word?
James says do not just listen, but act upon what you have heard. There are many people who sit under the ministry of the Word, but they are deceiving themselves. The deception comes from thinking they have done all that is necessary to obey God when actually hearing what the Bible says is only the beginning.
It is not sufficient to simply hear the Word of God; we must respond to it in active obedience. We must become or keep on becoming a doer of the Word. Just as the person who has no interest in hearing the Word of God is horribly deceived about his spiritual condition, so too is the person who is content to only hear what God says and not obey Him. We must apply God’s Word to our lives.
Sometimes when we talk about hearers and doers, we think the hearer is the man who sits in the back row at church. If you ask him to tell you what the service was about, he doesn’t have a clue. Rather than giving God his full attention, he is preoccupied thinking about what he wants for lunch. Or maybe, it’s the person who has no idea what the pastor is preaching about.
That is not what James is saying. He is not saying the hearer is the person who is clueless of what the Bible says. Instead, he is the person who sits in church and when he hears the Word of God, he sees himself as he really is. He hears a message and says to himself, “I’m not the husband I need to be. I don’t share Christ with my friends like I need to. I don’t love my neighbors as I should.”
These are the perfect people to give a testimony. Why? Because they realize something is wrong and needs to change – they should be doing devotions more, they don’t love God and others with their actions, they have anger issues, they have any number of things they realize need to change in their lives.
Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If a person thinks he is spiritual just because he hears the Word of God, not because he does the Word, he is deceiving himself. It is not hearing, but doing that brings blessing and maturity in Christ.
To drive home the importance of obedience and application of God’s Word, James likens it to a mirror. But there are different ways to look in a mirror. James describes two types of people in our text:
The Forgetful Glancer:
“Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (vv. 23-24). This is the person who reads the Bible or hears his pastor talking about a sin issue in his life and he understands. He’s listening; he sees himself as he really is; he gets it. He knows he needs to change, but he does not do anything about it. Why? Because he is a hearer and not a doer.
Anyone who has any familiarity with Scripture knows that the Bible is indeed a mirror. We cannot look into it for very long without seeing ourselves for what we really are. God’s Word tells us the truth about ourselves.
What does it reveal to you when you look into it? Does it tell you that your life is not what it ought to be? Does it tell you that your love for Christ has grown cold? Does is tell you that you are not making your hope public to the world around you. What does it say? How will you respond? Are you going to act on the Word or are you simply going to hear what God says and walk away?
This is the deception James is talking about. It is thinking something spiritual happens just because we hear the Word of God. Somehow, because I paid attention, because I listened in church, because I got it, because I know how it impacts my life and because I see myself as I really am, I think something spiritual happens. But James says, “You’re deceiving yourself. Spirituality is not about what you hear; it is about what you do.”
I have spoken to many people over the years that have come to me for counseling. I have showed them what the Bible says about their sin and we have prayed together. But that’s it; nothing about them ever changes. The person who listens to the Word of God, but does not change is like a man who glances at his face in a mirror and then forgets what he saw.
The main purpose for owning a mirror is to be able to see yourself, to make yourself look as clean and neat as possible. We depend on mirrors to tell us what is wrong with our appearance. A man does not want to go out in public with blood on his collar after shaving. A woman doesn’t want to be seen with lipstick on the end of her nose. So we look in the mirror.
But what would you think about a person who looks into a mirror, sees a problem and then fails to correct it? You would say there was absolutely no point in that person ever looking in the mirror to begin with. Looking in the mirror only works if it leads to action. Otherwise, it is useless.
The Word of God commands us to take action, but many people seem to be waiting for something to happen to them—some great spiritual experience—that will force them to do what they ought to do.
Meanwhile, the Bible tells us to take responsibility for ourselves. It tells us to not wait for a feeling, but rather to deal with those things in our lives that have been revealed to us. There is no more urgent business before us than addressing those matters which the Word of God has called to our attention. How sad is it that many people refuse to do so!
The Thoughtful Gazer:
“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” (v. 25). This is the person who hears the Word of God and it has such a profound impact on his life that he changes. Doers are people who allow the Word of God to change them and make a difference in their lives.
To look intently into the mirror of God’s Word involves an obligation. The word “looks” in Greek speaks of stooping down to see an object more clearly or to know it better. It suggests far more than a casual glance. It has the sense of looking carefully, closely or seriously at something. It implies a searching inspection. The purpose of the ongoing, penetrating gaze into the mirror of God’s Word is to put it into practice what has been revealed to us.
It amazes me how many believers there are who spend all kinds of time in church and know a lot about the Bible, but they deceive themselves into thinking they are spiritual just because they know deep theological truth. They know facts about the Bible, but those truths do not change them. God’s Word does not impact their motives and attitudes. It doesn’t impact the way they treat their neighbors. It doesn’t impact the way they approach and respond to situations. It doesn’t impact anything in their lives. If we are spending time in church, but the Word of God is not changing us, then something is wrong.
Being a doer is taking the Word of God and allowing it to have an impact on my life, so it changes me. It changes the way I speak, think and live. It changes the way I treat my spouse. It changes the way I act in business. It changes everything about me. If I am to use the mirror of God’s Word profitably, then I must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. I must examine my heart and life in the light of God’s Word. This requires time, attention and sincere devotion. Five minutes with God each day will never accomplish a deep spiritual examination. Perhaps one reason people glance into God’s Word instead of gaze into it is that they are afraid of what they might see.
After seeing ourselves, we must follow through and obey what God tells us to do. The blessing comes not in hearing, but in the doing. The emphasis is on action and application. If we stop with hearing, we will miss the full benefit of the mirror ministry of the Word. Life-change and transformation (2 Cor. 3:18) is what needs to happen.
Too many Christians confess their sins and claim forgiveness, but they never really grow spiritually. We must put into practice what the Bible says and become a doer of the Word, not simply a hearer. God commands us to apply His Word, but too often we stop at accumulating Bible knowledge instead of putting into practice what we have learned. Exposure to God’s Word must lead to obedience. Applying God’s Word is a vital part of our relationship with Him.
The mirror does not change. If we seem out of line with the Word, it is we who have changed, not the Word. A mirror is useless unless we use it – so we must use the mirror of God’s Word. We may not like what we see, but we need to look intently into the mirror and do something about it. This is necessary if we are to grow in Christ and live a godly lifestyle. We need to do what God commands in His Word.
Satan works very hard to portray sin as the greatest freedom and God’s Word as the greatest bondage, but the very opposite is true. To be a doer and not simply a hearer is to apply the Word of God to our lives.
Jesus said, “Hold to My teaching, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” —John 8:31–32
Do you love God with all your heart? Is your love for God demonstrated by what you are doing? Are you a doer or simply a hearer of the Word?