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Am I Deceiving Myself?
The letter of James is extremely practical and helpful for believers looking for specific guidance in the Christian life. He did not address the letter to just one single church, but to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered among the nations (1:1). James was Jesus’ half-brother who came to faith in Christ after Jesus’ resurrection. He became an early leader of the Jerusalem Church and died as a martyr in AD 62 or 69. He was known as James “the Just” because of his exceptional virtue.
Verse 22 in the first chapter of James is probably one of the most famous commands in the New Testament.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
In the previous verse, James encourages his readers to “humbly accept the word planted in you.” James’ concern for the believer is that they live in such a way to demonstrate the reality of their faith in living obedient lives. That’s why he essentially explains that to “accept” the word means to “do” it. It’s not so much that James is against people listening to the word, but that believers should not merely listen. This is what Pastor Dave spoke about in his message in March titled Biblical Meditation. Keeping in mind the importance of application, the SOAP framework (Scripture Observation Application Prayer) is a helpful way of approaching the Bible (God’s Word).
As believers we have received a new heart; this is where the Word is written as we have access to God’s Word (Ezekiel 36:26, Hebrews 10:16). But access does not mean we automatically know and live out the Word. We must be actively engaged in meditating on God’s Word and apply it to our everyday life by the power of the Holy Spirit. With James’ exhortation to do what the word says, we see his pastoral concern and what his brother Jesus had already taught to the masses (Luke 6:46-49);
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.
Jesus calls a people to Himself who not only believe and submit to his Lordship but who do His commands – because of their faith and trust in Him as Lord. James understood Jesus’s teachings and understood that “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). Eternal life and the abundant life Jesus promised does not come by just calling Him Lord but through repentance and faith. A life of repentance and faith is marked by obedience to the Word. The Gospel of Jesus includes both God’s amazing grace in saving sinners and the grateful response of His people. The Word, which is planted in us and saves us, is a Word that must be observed. The evidence of our discipleship is found in the transformation of our hearts and our desire to obey God and bear much fruit (John 15:8). We are not justified by our obedience and “doing”, but by faith alone, that will lead to a life of obedience. We are saved and created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). When we do the Word for God’s glory, enabled by the Spirit, it is a sign that our hearts and our deepest inclinations and desires have been changed by the power of God.
Love and Desire
Our wants are located in our hearts; God wants His people to want Him above all else (Luke 10:27). When we repent and believe in Christ we are born again with a new heart that is capable of following and obeying Jesus’ commands and teachings. This is the beginning of an exciting, but difficult journey of faith; now we need to daily, “…align our loves and longings with his – to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all…”(1) Jesus teaches His disciples about God and gives us the knowledge to fill and renew our minds, but He also forms and changes what we love. That is why God warns us to guard our hearts, for everything we do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).
Nobody likes to be deceived, but James suggests that people are deceived when they hear the Word and do not practice it. The place of deception is certainly a dangerous place to find oneself. In Luke 6, Jesus warns his followers of the consequences of not obeying His teachings. James’ warns us that this deception is blinding us to the reality of our true religious state.
Further on in verse 26, James suggests that if a person fails to do the Word they have not truly accepted God’s Word. The epistle to the Romans tells us that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). The Word that is planted in good soil will take root in and transform a life (Matthew 13:23).
In the Parable of the Sower told in Mark 4, Jesus starts by saying “Listen!” And at least 15 times in scripture Jesus says, “…whoever has ears, let them hear…”, so it is clear that it must be important that we listen to His Word. The word “listen” or “hear” in Hebrew is the word “shema”. Shema is the first word of the daily confession towards God found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Shema Israel “Hear, O Israel” is the Jewish prayer that serves as a centrepiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. We see in Scripture that God equates listening to Him with keeping the covenants made by Him. Listening then, according to the Bible, is to listen AND to obey.
In Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, there is no definite word for “obey”. According to Old Testament usage, to listen and to obey is the singular word of “shema”. It’s one thing to hear God’s Word or read it, but it’s another thing when you actually put it into practice. Easier said than done, but totally possible with the power of God working within us. Hearing or listening according to the Bible, is to listen AND to obey!
Let us listen to the Word and then make sure to do the Word so we do not deceive ourselves. By obeying God’s Word we build our lives on a firm foundation and we can withstand every trial and storm of life with Christ Himself by our side every step of the way.
(1) James Smith. You Are What You Love. Page 2.