“Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
God wants you to know whether your faith is genuine or not.
Our studies this month center on James 1:19–2:26, which deals with the issue of true faith—a most important consideration indeed. Knowing your faith is genuine is a wonderful assurance, but thinking you’re saved when you’re not is the most frightening deception imaginable. In Matthew 7:21–23 Jesus speaks of those who call Him Lord and even do miracles in His name but aren’t redeemed. Second Timothy 3:5 speaks of those who have “a form of godliness” but deny its power. They’re religious but lost. Sadly, many people today are victims of the same deception. They think they’re Christians, but they’re heading for eternal damnation unless they recognize their true condition and repent.
Deception of that magnitude is a tragedy beyond description. But you need never fall prey to it because James gives a series of tests for true faith. This month we’ll be applying one of those tests: your attitude toward God’s Word. That’s an especially crucial test because the Word is the agency of both your salvation and sanctification. The Holy Spirit empowered it to save you, and He continually works through it to conform you to the image of Christ. That’s why Peter said, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. … [Therefore] like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 1:23–2:2).
Jesus Himself characterized believers as those who abide in His Word and obey His commandments. They receive the Word with an attitude of submission and humility. However, unbelievers resist and disobey the Word (John 8:31, 43–45). Psalm 119:155 says, “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Thy statutes.”
As you study this test of true faith, ask yourself, Do I pass the test? I pray that your answer will echo the words of the psalmist: “I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes forever, even unto the end” (Ps. 119:112).
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God for clarity and confidence about your faith in Christ.
For Further Study: Read the book of James, noting the instructions he gives regarding Christian living.
1:22 It is not enough to receive the implanted word; we must obey it. There is no virtue in possessing the Bible or even in reading it as literature. There must be a deep desire to hear God speaking to us and an unquestioning willingness to do whatever He says. We must translate the Bible into action. The word must become flesh in our lives. There should never be a time when we go to the Scriptures without allowing them to change our lives for the better. To profess great love for God’s word or even to pose as a Bible student is a form of self-deception unless our increasing knowledge of the word is producing increasing likeness to the Lord Jesus. To go on gaining an intellectual knowledge of the Bible without obeying it can be a trap instead of a blessing. If we continually learn what we ought to do, but do not do it, we become depressed, frustrated, and callous. “Impression without expression leads to depression.” Also we become more responsible to God. The ideal combination is to read the word and obey it implicitly.
22. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
In the next four verses, we see the following parts:
A direct command
The command has a negative and a positive part. “Do not merely listen.… Do what it says.” Here is a more literal translation of the text: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (RSV). The New International Version reverses the order because in actual experience hearing comes before doing. Also, the phrase and so deceive yourselves applies only to hearing. Therefore, the choice to place the words do what it says separately at the end of the verse is commendable, for it shows emphasis.
First, let us look at the term hearers. This expression is closely linked to the word disobedience in the Greek. The writer of Hebrews joins the verb to hear and the noun disobedience in the same breath. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For … every violation and disobedience received its just punishment” (2:1–2). James also warns his readers to pay attention to the Word of God. If they neglect to hear God’s message, they deceive themselves. They merely listen to the preaching of the gospel and at the conclusion of the worship service walk away as if the Word of God has nothing to say to them.
Next, to all of us James says, “Do what it says.” The Christian faith is always active and stands in sharp contrast to other religions that practice meditation and general inactivity. In one of his epistles, John delineates the Christian’s duty to be active. Says he, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18; also consult Ezek. 33:32).
22 In 1:22–25 James comes to the heart of a major problem among those he addresses (see 2:14–26) and a point eminently relevant to the church of any age. There are, of course, various ways a person can interact with the word of God. Yet here James asserts that listening to the word without actively applying it to life is deficient interaction. Thus he exhorts his readers to become doers of the word, not only hearers. His concern is strikingly similar to Paul’s concern in Romans 2:13: “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (NASB). The point is clear. If one merely listens to the word taught and takes no action to incorporate it into the patterns of life, this does not constitute true receptiveness. God’s word should change behavior, not just stimulate the mind. The concept of doing the word is Semitic and anticipates the discussion of “faith and works” in 2:14–26.
In fact, those who hear the word without acting on it “deceive themselves” (paralogizomenoi [GK 4165] heautous). The word translated “deceive” can carry the meaning “cheat” or “defraud,” but based on the analogy to which we will turn momentarily (1:23–24), deception, or the idea of misleading, clearly is in view. Paul uses this term in Colossians 2:4 of being deceived by persuasive arguments. So the sense of James’s assertion is comparable to one saying, “If you think it is OK to listen to the word without acting on it, you are fooling yourself!”
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 165). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, p. 60). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 226–227). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.