Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
James had been discussing how to live as Jesus would have us live in our day-to-day lives. How to react when hardships come (1:2-4). The need to pray with faith (1:5-8). The need to be humble regardless of one’s financial status (1:9-11). The key to persevering under trial which is to focus on the eternal reward (1:12). Understanding why we are tempted to sin (1:13-15). The reminder that every good thing in our lives comes from God (1:17). The reminder that God’s Word is how the Father made us Christians, setting us apart from the rest of His creation (1:18). The need to listen instead of speaking, and the need to avoid the anger of man (1:19-20). Now he is telling us to “put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness” (1:21a).
We will not be able to do any of the above unless we first “receive the word implanted” and do so “in humility” (1:21b). James stresses that God’s Word is “able to save (our) souls” (1:21c). Thus, our salvation hinges upon us “receiving” God’s Word in such a way that it is “implanted” within us. The Psalmist would agree. He wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!” (Ps. 119:11), and, “The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip” (Ps. 37:31). God has always wanted His Word to be within us (Ps. 40:8; Deut. 6:6; Is. 51:7; Jer. 31:33; Rom. 7:22).
Yet in order to have the Word of God “implanted” within us, we must “prove (ourselves) doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22). I’m listening to a John Grisham audiobook these days. In it he wrote of his characters going to church and “ignoring” the sermon, with one thinking about the law cases which were before him at work and his wife daydreaming about remodeling her living room. Grisham then specifically said that they “lied” to the preacher as they left when they told him they appreciated the sermon. Christians, James is telling us that we are far below the mark if all we do is hear God’s Word, that we “delude ourselves” by being hearers only. Are some of us – you, me – not even hearers? Do we delude ourselves even more by thinking God is pleased with us simply by sitting in a pew and thinking about worldly matters instead of focusing on Him and His Word?
And if we do actually pay attention, what good does that do by itself if we don’t choose to be “doers of the word” (1:22), those who “look intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abide by it” (1:25a)? God’s Word is like a mirror; it shows us who we really are (cf. Heb. 4:12). Yet if all we do is listen without deciding to put into practice what God teaches us from His Word, then we are like the person who sees his reflection and then immediately forgets what he looks like (1:23-24). Imagine looking in a mirror and seeing bed-head and an unshaven face…and then immediately forgetting all about it and going off to work in that condition! That’s how we are when we listen to God’s Word and yet fail to put it into practice in our daily lives. If we want to “be blessed in what (we do),” then we will not be “forgetful hearers” who by Monday morning have forgotten what the sermon was about on Sunday. Instead, we will be “effectual doer(s)” (1:25).