Chapter 1:22-25, Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only
Are you ready for judgment day? It’s coming soon! Jesus said, “Behold I come quickly.” Indeed, the “end of all things is at hand.” The events of today’s world in the light of the Scriptures speak clearly of Jesus’ swift return in judgment. There is the obvious, gradual moving together of the nations, the awakening of primitive peoples, as for example on the African continent. The Gospel is being preached all over the world. There are signs in God’s creation: earthquake and famine in divers places. The false Christs and false prophets—some even doing signs and wonders—saying, “here is Christ or there,” are on every side. There is abounding lawlessness. All this means, the Bible tells us, Jesus is coming. Are you ready to stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps you wonder what all this has to do with the passage we are treating. The answer is, it has everything to do with what James speaks of here. The sacred writer speaks of being doers of the word and not hearers only. That is, of course, a further explanation of what was said before concerning our calling to receive the implanted word with meekness; but, what is more, only doers of the Word will enter the Kingdom of God. The Bible everywhere emphasizes that all men shall be judged according to their deeds. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28, 29). In the parable of the last judgment, Matt. 25:31 ff., the sheep are judged worthy of life; “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.” The plain fact of the gospel is: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat, to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:10, cf. also Rev. 22:12, 13). Is it any wonder then that the inspired writer says: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves?”
James speaks of being doers of the Word. The Word is the “word of truth” (vs. 18) as well as the “implanted word” (vs. 21). These concepts we have already expounded in previous articles. In brief, the Word of which the text speaks is the Holy Scripture as preached. That Word is further defined in these verses as “the perfect law of liberty.” Now, James is not merely referring to the ten commandments, but to the entire Word of God from the point of view of its being the law of liberty, i.e., the revelation of the will of God for His redeemed children. That law described as “perfect.” We met this term in verse 4 and saw that it means; “complete” and comes from a root which means, “goal or purpose.” The idea is that the Law (Scripture) was not complete in the Old Testament age of type and shadow. It was no more than “the schoolmaster to lead Israel to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). But now the Law is complete having been fulfilled in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the cross and exaltation of Christ the Law has reached its purpose or goal.
This is why the Scripture describes the Law as, “the Law of liberty.” Jesus said it to the believing disciples: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31, 32). The Law of liberty then is the Word of truth, the word of Jesus Christ which proclaims the glad news of freedom God’s elect. It is the Word which proclaims Christ crucified and raised. The freedom from guilt of sin and from the prison of death—the freedom to love God and the neighbor and thus to live in the Spirit rather than walking in the works of the flesh (cf. Gal. 5) that is the Law of liberty.
Of that Word, the Law of liberty, we must be doers and not hearers only. James describes the one who is a hearer but not a doer by using a simple figure. He is like (or pictured by) “a man beholding his natural face (the face of his birth) in a glass” (vs. 23) This man gazes intently or fixes his eyes upon the face of his birth in that mirror, “and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” (vs. 24). Applied the figure is obvious. This man beholds himself in the mirror of the Word, the Law of liberty and this means that he considers himself attentively, he perceives himself. In other words, he knows what he sees in that mirror. He knows that the mirror of the Word pictures him as a depraved sinner with no worth before God. He knows that he needs the grace of God in Christ Jesus to be saved. He hears the Word preached and he understands it also as it applies to himself. But looking into the mirror and seeing himself he goes his “merry way.” He takes repeated looks at himself in the mirror, hears sermon after sermon “and goeth his way”—he simply leaves.
And, straightway—this word speaks volumes! “Immediately,” he forgets what manner of man he was—literally translated, “what manner of man he was continuing to be.” He deliberately, willfully, wickedly leaves the mirror of the Word. The point is, he rejects the Word in unbelief. That’s the meaning of “forgetteth.” It means, “neglecting to care.” He knows the truth, he can even detect heresy in its most subtle forms, but he does not care. It’s in his head but not in his heart! When the Word calls him to repentance an faith toward God, admonishes him to seek his refuge in the cross of Christ, lays before him the way of freedom and exhorts him to love God and the neighbor, seek the Kingdom fast, deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus—this hearer who is not a doer neglects to care! He is a CARE—LESS hearer and not a doer. He goes his way of disobedience and sin and leaves the Word where he heard it, within the four walls of the sanctuary. He couldn’t care less!
But, and here’s the contrast, the doer of the Word is different. He, “looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein” (vs. 25). This man looks, i.e. he takes a long, serious, careful look into the Word. “And continueth therein,” that means “remains near” to the Word. When he goes his way, leaves the house of God to go out into his work-a-day world, he remains near to the Word. He carries that Word in his heart wherever he goes. This man, says James, “being not a forgetful (careless) hearer” is “a doer of the work.” He is a performer of the work of the Word, the perfect law of liberty. He performs those works which are the fruit of a true and living faith, performed according to the law of God, and thus are to the glory of God. He is the spiritual man, born again with the Word of truth, the one who receives the Word with meekness. And, what does he do? The first work of the law of liberty which he does is repent, and he does that daily. He knows that the doctrine of total depravity means that he is the sinner, that the doctrine of sovereign, gracious election means that he has been set apart by God to reveal His glory in all his life. The Word of God really governs his everyday living. He thinks according to that Word, acts out of that Word. His desires and decisions are motivated by the Word. The Word guides him in his home, his work and his play.
(To Be Continued)