22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 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 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture; mainly because it speaks directly to me with constant challenge. There’s no skirting around what James is telling us. He says, “YOU—yes, this means YOU—don’t let God’s word go in one ear and out the other. You’re just lying to yourself if you think that does any good. Get up and do what you have heard!” Granted, that’s my paraphrase, but can’t you hear the half-brother of our Lord telling us this? Can’t you hear it in his words? Read this carefully: the reality of what we believe is measured not by our words but by our deeds.
The illustration of verses 23-24 is perfect for this (of course it is, it’s the Bible!): 23 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 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
Let your imagination wonder for a minute: what if you got up and did your normal routine except you never looked in the mirror. What do you think you’d look like? Stretch your imagination a little further and see what it might be like if you went an entire day and didn’t look at yourself in the mirror. How would you look? James is saying that when our actions do not match the faith we claim to profess, we look worse than what we just imagined! If we looked into the mirror and saw ourselves looking like a wreck, would we just walk away and do nothing? Yet, we (including me!) do that with God’s Word: we are confronted by His truth, which challenges our lives, and we walk away from it unchanged.
We have a bad habit of separating our “religious life” from our practical life. It’s been said “our deeds must match our creeds” but the problem is too many of us are “functional atheists”. We have this bizarre idea that we can live in any way we want and let the world around us get more and more rotten while we justify inaction through some level of “tolerance” that Jesus Himself never espoused. Want proof? How did you vote in this last election cycle? I’m not saying there were “anointed candidates” that had the Spirit of God resting on them but was your vote influenced by a desire to put God-fearing leaders and policies in place or something else? “Our deed must match our creeds.”
Why is it we forget so quickly the wisdom of verse 25?
25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
What was the path of blessing? Living like we desire to? Being “religious”? Practicing ritual? Nope. Nope. Nope. Our blessing is related to our continual gaze on God’s perfect law that provides freedom—not chains—and getting up and getting going with what we have heard and been taught. God’s Law does not enslave us. That’s just a lie. So many people think of the Christian life as a series of “do this” or “don’t do that”…what a bad sales pitch we have for the Gospel. Jesus came to give us LIFE, not death (John 10:10). Jesus came to give us FREEDOM, not chains (John 8:31-32). Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Enough in-one-ear-and-out-the-other Christians, huh? I’m talking to myself too! Let’s work at actually doing what God has told us to do. Let’s stop assuming what He wants us to do and actually read it and seek it.
Let’s get up and get going…we have a world to reach.