21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
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.
I must tell you how encouraging it is to see so many people taking notes during the sermon on Sunday mornings. A number of you have commented about how furiously you write to keep up, and I’ve heard several folks talk about having filled up entire notebooks. Your diligence is a testimony to your love for God’s Word.
Years ago I used to study the Word using a Bible with extra-wide margins. I would write as small as I could, trying to keep a running commentary on the material on each page. There were also post-it notes on most pages because I had run out of room in the margin. I wanted so badly to know and understand as much as I possibly could. I desired to master the pages of Scripture. Sadly, I can look back on those years and see that while I was doing my all to master the Word, very seldom was the Word mastering me. My zeal to hear the Word was far more consistent than my zeal to apply it.
James 1:21-25 is a key text for those who love God’s Word. I know from experience how easy it is to allow the intake of the Word to become an end in itself rather than a means to the ultimate end – conformity to the image of Christ.
In verse 21, James exhorts us to put away sinfulness and receive the implanted word. Many believers have that down pat. We listen to sermons. We listen to Christian radio. We listen to the Bible on our mp3 players. We read the Word, memorize it, sing it, pray it, and think it. We have no problem receiving the Word - we can’t get enough of it. But how many of us have moved past the reception of the Word and into v22? But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
The person who hears the Word without applying it is self-deceived. He has deceived himself into believing that his reception of the Word, his knowledge of it, his mastery of it, is resulting in a changed life. He is like someone who knows everything about aviation but who has never flown.
How many times have you heard a sermon or participated in a Bible study and afterwards thought or said, “That was really convicting” – only to then leave that message or lesson confined to the piece of paper on which you took your notes? It is so common for us to think that because we are receiving the Word, learning the Word, and being convicted by it that we are growing spiritually. James would tell us that unless we are being doers of the Word, we are deceiving ourselves.
Vv23-24 contain an excellent illustration: 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. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. The truth of Scripture is like a mirror for the human soul. Biblical teaching and preaching holds up God’s perfect standard and shows us where we are not living in conformity with God’s revealed will. We can stand in front of that mirror and see ourselves clearly, convicted about the change that needs to take place, but if we do not immediately work to apply that truth, the circumstances and pace of life can dull that image so that before long we completely forget the needed change. We forget what we looked like in the mirror – we forget what the text demanded of us.
What benefit is there in learning truth or even being convicted by it if we do not then apply it? Bible knowledge without application is a recipe for pride and self-deception. All forms of Bible intake – preaching, teaching, reading, memorization, meditation – should be done with a view to bringing it to bear in our lives.
So what are you doing with those sermon notes? Here is a suggestion. At your first opportunity after the message – Sunday afternoon, evening, or Monday morning – set aside some intentional time to reflect on the points of the message and how it can be applied to your life. Is there a sin that needs to be confessed to God? Do you need to seek forgiveness from a brother or sister? Should you seek accountability in some area of your life? What changes need to be made? Write down two or three specific things that you can do to apply the truth you received in the message. Then each day of the week, return to those notes, praying over them, and scheduling time to carry out those application points. You could also discuss the message with family members or friends, sharing with each other how you were specifically convicted and helping each other think through the best ways to apply the Word to your life. Pray together that the Lord would give you the desire and grace to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.
James 1:25 gives us a grand promise if we will do that: 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.
May the Lord be glorified and His church be edified as we strive to be intentional about living the Word that we love to learn.
Posted by Greg Birdwell