Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.James 1:22-25
Just listening to the word of God and not doing what it says is a form of deception. It make us feel religious without actually demanding that we take up our cross and follow Jesus. The illustration of the mirror that James uses here seems purposeful. Listening to the word and yet not doing it can lead to an identity crisis. We forget who we really are in Christ. We suffer from a kind of identity amnesia.
There are two prevalent errors out there in the American church right now with this as its root cause. One group loves the word of God and loves learning about, studying, and listening to preaching from the word of God but often stops short of doing what it says.
There is a falsehood that is perpetuated in this group that believes an increase in biblical knowledge automatically leads to spiritual maturity. What is forgotten is that intimacy with Jesus, not information about Jesus, is what leads to spiritual maturity. Obedience to the word and not just the accumulation of facts about the word is how our spiritual muscles grow. This kind of error tends to happen in more conservative parts of the church.
The other group doesn’t hold scripture in high regard and so listening to the word, studying the word, and looking intently into the perfect law that gives freedom is not a high priority. Yet, they spend a lot of time “doing.” They are actively attempting to imitate certain parts of Jesus’s life, especially care for the marginalized, without actually submitting to the word of God.
Often in these circles there is a continual attempt to reinterpret uncomfortable passages of scripture in light of cultural norms. So whatever our culture deems to be normal takes authority over scripture. This tends to happen in more progressive parts of the church.
The first group looks into the mirror and walks away immediately forgetting what they look like. They are setting themselves up for a spiritual identity crisis. The second group has a mental picture of what they look like and uses that to get ready without ever looking at a mirror. They are setting themselves up for deception.
We are called to intently study the word and then actually do it. We are called to hold scripture in high authority both by studying it deeply and by practicing it regularly. It is in doing both that we experience the power of God. Both conservative and progressive groups often lack any experience or demonstration of the power of God because they have chosen to express one side of a false dichotomy.
The Sadducees came to Jesus with a question about scriptural interpretation. They wanted to know whether Jesus’s interpretation would fit with the cultural norms of the day, norms that they wanted to preserve for their own comfort. Rather than playing their game of interpretation manipulation, Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”(Matthew 22:29).
If we do not trust the scriptures and do not live out the scriptures in our life, we will forfeit the power of God. We will find ourselves comfortably smug in our “rightness” and completely void of the power of God. Our ministry and church will have very little resemblance to Jesus’s ministry in the Gospels or the early church’s ministry in the book of Acts. “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do“(James 1:25).