Doers, Not Just Hearers

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (James 1:22).

I think this is at least one of the key verses in this short letter written to the Jewish Christians by James. This is not the James who was one of the original twelve disciples, the brother of John; that James was killed by Herod before this letter was written. The author of the book of James is most likely Jesus’ brother (Mark 6:3), who came to faith after the resurrection and became a leader in the early church (Acts 15:13).

James heard a lot of Jesus’ teaching, yet he did not believe He was the Messiah because He would not declare Himself publicly. If Jesus really was who He said He was, they felt He should show Himself to the world (John 7:3-5). He saw the miracles and heard the wisdom of Jesus’ authoritative teachings, but because Jesus did not meet His expectations of what a Messiah should do, he would not believe.

We can only imagine the relationship Jesus had with his brothers as he grew up under the care of Mary and Joseph. He had to be an unusual child, never getting into trouble, never choosing to disobey. We can speculate that He was perceived as the “favored” child, having a special beginning. We can only assume their parents told them the stories of Jesus’ birth, the worship of the Magi, the flight to Egypt, and the babies that were killed because Jesus might be a promised King. Maybe those childhood issues kept James from seeing Jesus for who He was, but after the resurrection, he could no longer deny the truth. He came to believe, put His faith in Jesus, and spent the rest of his life serving the cause of Christ and proclaiming the gospel as he led the newly formed church in Jerusalem. In the end, he was martyred for his faith.

James obviously had a love for the law; he was called James the Just, and he had high expectations for those who claimed faith in Christ. His letter has been misinterpreted as contradicting Paul’s teaching of justification by faith alone. This is not true, however. James knew very well that the law could not save because he knew it was impossible to keep.

James 2:10 – For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

He goes on to say, mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13) and reminds us that we are judged by the law of liberty (2:12). This is only possible because we are free and forgiven in Christ, who kept the law perfectly for us. We are gifted with His righteousness; salvation is a gift of grace and mercy.

When James says that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone, he is telling us that real faith, alive faith, produces works. Faith that does not produce obedience to the commands of Jesus is a dead faith. We cannot proclaim allegiance as a disciple of Jesus and not adhere to His teachings. Works are the evidence that our faith is alive and real and that we have truly been regenerated.

So, prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (1:22).

James is a challenging book. He calls us out on our tendency to show partiality, to let our tongues get the better of us, to love things more than people. He presses us to be faithful under persecution and see the joy in it as God sanctifies our hearts and attitudes to be more like Him. He confronts us with our own lusts that draw us away from God and into temptation and leaves no room for making excuses. He sets the bar high for those who love Jesus.

Today, I had the opportunity to respond to an email that I disagreed with. Thankfully, James had already reminded me, If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (1:26). I took him at his word and decided to delete the reply I had hastily typed out. I want to be a doer of the word, not just a hearer who deludes myself into thinking I’m more righteous than I am.

I’m sure I won’t always make the right decision, but I’m thankful for James’ obedience in penning this letter and for God’s grace in preserving it for us. We need to be reminded that our faith should be seen in works that glorify God. Faith that consists of words alone might not be faith at all.

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