22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 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; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 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. 26 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. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:22-27)
Last time I had the chance to share with you from the book of James we ended in verse 22, which is a command from God – through the pen of James – for all who are believers to prove ourselves to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude ourselves. Today we are going to look at verses 23-25 in which James fleshes out for us this idea of not just hearing God’s Word, but doing it.
He gives an analogy using two pictures. The first picture is of what it looks like when we hear God’s Word and do not respond in repentance and obedience to the Word of God and the Spirit of God who enlightens and convicts us. The second picture is of what it looks like when we hear God’s Word and respond rightly in immediate repentance and obedience.
Here is what he says about this first picture of a hearer only…
23 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; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. (James 1:23-24)
All of us have been around mirrors our whole life and we can take for granted what a useful tool a mirror is. It shows our face exactly how it is at the moment we look into it, so that we may make what corrections we can. I know there are a few vain people who mainly use a mirror to stare at their perceived beauty, but for most of us a mirror is a tool we use to make corrections – checking to see if we have removed all dirt after having washed our face, shaving, and fixing our hair.
A mirror is not like a photograph, which captures our likeness at a specific moment in time, and as time passes the picture stays the same. We are changing, and over time the picture may no longer reflect how we look anymore.
I was spending some time with one of my nephews and he told me his fiancée had seen a picture of me when I was a teenager, and he said she couldn’t believe that was me. I don’t know if that was good or bad? But clearly my face had changed so much from the picture that the picture no longer reflected my current face.
Also, with Photoshop and other software we can now change a picture of our face to make it look the way we wish it looked, and not how we actually do look.
But a mirror is not that way. It reveals the way we look at the present moment without any dishonesty. It shows us what is truly there. The mirror is not trying to hurt our feelings or make us feel good or bad, it just reflects what is there. As James says, the mirror shows us our natural face, our true face. The mirror will reveal every dirty spot and smudge, every mole and wrinkle, every receding hair line or hair on our face that needs to be removed.
The Word of God is like a mirror that shows us our spiritual self, our inner man, which we could not see otherwise. And the Word of God, this mirror to our soul, flatters no man! It reveals to us our sin and all the ways in which we have missed the mark.
Without the mirror of the Word of God, we can fancy ourselves as quite spiritually beautiful. We may fancy ourselves as spiritually attractive, especially as we compare ourselves to others we deem far less spiritually together than we are.
But as we hear the Word of God and look into the mirror of the Word of God, we see ourselves as we really are at that moment. Not spiritually beautiful or handsome, but in need of a makeover.
God’s Word lays bare our soul when we hear it, when we read it, when we meditate on it. It shows us every ugly wart and wrinkle of who we are on the inside. But the Word of God shows us our ugliness so that we will correct it and be made spiritually beautiful in that area of our life.
So in James 1:23-24, the problem is not the Word of God, because God’s Word is perfect in every way, and it will show us who we are if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The problem is with the person who is a hearer only and not a doer. They are like the person who looks into the mirror and sees what needs to be changed and they do nothing about it. They leave Sunday service having heard the Word of God, having understood what God revealed to them about themselves, they may have felt a sense of conviction or remorse, they may even have cried or been pierced to the heart. But here is the problem: they do not respond in repentance and with a commitment to consistent obedience. They had no desire to change.
They hear the Word in Sunday service, and because they have no desire to repent, no desire to change, by Sunday evening or by Monday, whatever the mirror of God’s work had revealed to them about the sin in their life has been forgotten. It is gone from their mind.
And if anyone here calls themselves a Christian, if anyone here believes themselves to be a follower of Christ and does not respond to the Word of God in repentance and obedience, you are deceiving yourself, as James said in verse 22. You have grossly miscalculated what it means to be saved by the very blood of Christ and what it means to be a follower of Jesus our Lord.
Jesus said to His followers, and He says to anyone here today to which this applies, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus asked this question because to call Jesus Lord, to profess Christ as Lord and Savior, yet to have no desire to obey Him, is inconsistent with calling Him Lord. The two do not match. You cannot call Him your Lord and then turn around and ignore what His Word says to you.
Jesus makes this point in the most forceful of terms in John 3:36. He says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.“ These are the words of the only one who can provide eternal life through His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. And He has said that the one who does not obey Him will not see life.
The pattern of life for anyone who has been saved by Christ is to consistently obey Him. Because we have been converted from open and active rebellion against God, to sonship and friendship, and we have come under His lordship.
You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4)
Will you and I follow Jesus and the Word of God perfectly? No. Can we have an attitude of rebellion at times? Absolutely. But the tenor and tone of our life, if we are His sheep, must be to follow our shepherd!
If we hear the Word of God and it reveals to us the sin in our life, and the areas that need to be addressed, and we ignore what the Word of God has revealed to us about ourselves, then we are like the man who looks at his face in the mirror and sees he needs to shave, but does nothing about it, and he walks away from the mirror and quickly forgets that his face is unkept and in need of a shave. Or the woman who looks at her face in the mirror and sees she has some rollers she needs to take out of her hair and does nothing about it, and she walks away from the mirror and quickly forgets that she still has rollers in her hair.
Just like the man and the women who ignored, then forgot about what they saw in the mirror, and everywhere they went everyone else saw what they should have taken care of, but did not, in the same way when the Word of God reveals sin in our life to us and we ignore it and we do nothing about it, and we quickly forget it, the tragedy is that sin is still there and we suffer for it, and those around us see that sin and not only do they see it, but very often they are affected by it, they are hurt by it. Those around us are hurt by our unkind words, or acts of selfishness, or unfaithfulness, or violent outbursts, or fill in the blank on how our sin that God has shown and we did not address hurts those who we love and it hurts us as well.
I want to give you a loving warning this morning, as I give myself, if this first picture describes you. Please know that if you are a son or daughter of God He will not leave you in this condition. He will not let you be content with just hearing the Word and not addressing the sin He is making you aware of. If you will not respond in repentance and obedience, you will receive the discipline and correction of the Lord. Hebrews 12:6 says that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
How about just responding in repentance and obedience today instead of going through the discipline of the Lord, which can seem so sorrowful? How about repenting and obeying today and enjoying the fruit of righteousness?
And if you are here today hearing the truth of God’s Word, and maybe you have been to church and heard His Word preached many times before, but you have refused to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you have refused to humble yourself and confess your sin and repent of your sin, if you have refused to turn away from your sin, do not be deceived – you will not be found innocent if you neglect so great a salvation. Let me remind you today, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)
But you have been shown the greatness of God’s grace today because you have been given an opportunity to not just be a hearer of God’s Word, but to become a doer by confessing your sins to a Holy God, turning away from your sins and turning to Jesus to provide forgiveness and the payment for those sins.
Today James has also given us a picture of what it looks like to respond rightly to hearing the Word of God. He says…
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 1:25)
James tells us if we are going to be doers of the Word of God, it starts with our attitude toward hearing the Word.
As believers, are we coming to church on Sunday and to our daily time of meeting with God through prayer and study of His Word with a desire to hear and understand everything God has to say to us about Himself and about us? Are we listening intently to the Word being preached, humbling ourselves so we can peer into the Word and what is being said in order that we may apply God’s Word to our own heart? When the Word is preached or taught and you are shown your sin in the mirror of God’s perfect law, do you repent immediately, on the spot, not waiting until later to address it? Are you coming to His Word with a sincere desire to be shown your ugliness so you can confess it to God and cry out for His forgiveness, mercy, and grace so that you can be changed by the power of His Word and His Spirit?
The verses that you hear preached on Sunday, are you reading again Sunday afternoon or Sunday night looking intently into the perfect and complete Word of God so you can be shown where you are not perfect and not complete, so you can cry out to God for His help in changing? And on Monday and Tuesday are you going back to those verses and crying out to God that by His power and might and all the spiritual resources He has given you, that you would be successful in changing? Turning from that area of sin and following Him in obedience.
Is that the attitude we have when we come to church on Sunday?
If it is not, here is a perfect opportunity to confess that to the Lord and repent. And commit to come to church with a heart that is prepared to see every sinful spot and blemish God wants to show you about yourself so you can respond quickly by turning from that sin.
Loving obedience has always been what God requires. Starting with Adam and all throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, God wants a people for Himself who will follow Him. And obedience starts with choosing to obey. That may sound simplistic, but it is true. Have you come to church today with the attitude that you will obey the truth that you hear? That you will turn from your sin the Word exposes?
Psalm 119, throughout the whole psalm, expresses this firm commitment that we as believers must have every time we hear His Word. A commitment that we will obey Him! Here are two verses for us to consider and meditate on…
I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, even to the end. (Psalm 119:112)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. (Psalm 119:33)
We see in these verses and in the whole psalm an attitude of a loving heart that desires to follow and obey God, an attitude that is committed to following the Law of God continually all of his life. And that must be our attitude as well.
James says that the law is not only perfect, but it is also the law of liberty. And what is this perfect law and what is this law of liberty? It is the entire moral law of God from the Old and New Testament.
Thomas D. Lea, in his commentary on James, explains it this way: “The Law is perfect because it provides a full, complete disclosure of God through Jesus Christ. It provides freedom in that it gives liberty to those who submit to its authority. This liberty provides a victory over the bondage of habits and attitudes which can overpower human will. It also provides freedom in that the power of the Holy Spirit becomes available to strengthen believers to a new quality of spiritual life.”
In other words, the perfect law of God through Christ is able to give us victory over sin in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can become more like Christ.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
The law of God is liberating because it makes available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, the life we were created to live. No one is more free than when they are living the life they were created to live by obeying the Word of God. We will only live in this freedom if we are quick to obey, not putting off repentance until later. If we put off repentance until later, for most of us later never comes. Because as James says, we forget.
As we hear the word of God and it exposes to us our sin, if we do not immediately repent and purpose in our hearts to turn from our sin, the sermon ends, or our time of personal devotion is over, the cares of life enter back in, the point of conviction is gone, and we remain a forgetful hearer.
But the person who pays close attention, looks intently at the perfect law of liberty, and does the work of obedience, and does not forget what he has heard, this man will be blessed in what he does. The Greek word for “blessed” here is the same as when Lyndon preached through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The meaning here for “blessed” is “happy.”
So if we are paying close attention, looking intently at the perfect law of liberty, and if we immediately repent of our sin and do the work of consistent obedience, not forgetting what we have heard then we will be happy in what we do. Because what we will do, our actions, our behavior, will be in line with the character and purposes of God. And we will be moving forward in becoming more like Christ!
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. (Psalm 119:2)
The most enjoyable, happiest, and most fulfilling way to live life is by lovingly obeying the Word of God who created you!
As we close, I’d like to ask a few questions for you to meditate on, consider, and ponder…
How will you respond this morning to any sin the Lord has brought to your attention?
How will you respond to the verses we have read this morning? What will you do with them? Will they be forgotten when you leave service today?
Is there cause in your life right now to praise God, and have you been praising Him for victories over sin He has given you?
23 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; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 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 1:23-25)