We concluded our studies last week by emphasizing the importance of ongoing repentance and obedience in our lives. Since the book of James was written to teach its audience how authentic faith displays itself in the face of trials, we ought not be surprised to find James mention the importance of obedience again and again. Today’s passage mentions obedience explicitly, helping to demonstrate that the true reception of the “implanted word” (James 1:21) means that we obey the Word of God.
We read in verse 22 that we are to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” When we look at the Word of God we must look at it with an eye to putting the Word into practice in our lives. Listening to the Word and knowing what it says is not enough if our lives are not changed as a result. For if we only hear the Word of God and never put it into practice, we have deceived ourselves (v. 22).
This is not to say that our obedience to the Word of God earns salvation for us. Only God’s sovereign act of election and regeneration by which He grants us the new birth results in our salvation. The evidence of our new birth is our possession of faith, which is evidenced by our profession and our good works.
Faith is not effectual if it does not produce obedience. This obedience flows from true faith but does not earn our justification. Rather, obedience to the Word of God demonstrates that the faith we claim to have is true faith. This is the point of today’s passage.
In verses 23–25, James draws a contrast between the “doers of the word” and those who hear it only. The hearers are like those who look into a mirror and then forget what they have just seen (vv. 23–24). But the doer is blessed because he looks into the Law and does not forget but acts (v. 25). The contrast here between the hearer and the doer is that the doer remembers the “law of liberty.” Only those who look at the Word and submit to it will be blessed. Those who take only a passing glance at it and are unconcerned with how the Word must inform their actions are like those who look into a mirror and go away, not embracing the opportunity to act upon what they have seen.
“The law of liberty” (v. 25) refers to the whole of the Word of God, more specifically, the old covenant laws and promises and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. How do you look at the Law? Do you go to Scripture with an eye for how it may change your life? If not, you are in danger of being a hearer only. Look at your life today, and begin to take steps to obey the Word in those places where you have not been obedient.