“Be doers of the word.” If the theme of James had to be condensed to one line, this very well may be it.
[Jas 1:22-25 KJV] 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
A unique and important revelation: constantly hearing the word and consistently choosing not to do it goes beyond just being lazy or rebellious, it actually leads to deception. Any time we read a warning not to be deceived we should take extra care to understand and take heed to that warning. Deception is difficult because it often occurs a little bit at a time. The person doesn’t realize they are deceived until the deception has yielded sin, which yields death.
This is not to say that every time we fail to do what we hear we are deceived. Paul spoke of his constant desire to do what was right and his consistent failure to do so perfectly. This was accompanied by conviction, repentance, and a desire to draw closer to God—responding correctly to our sin is actually “doing the word” in and of itself.
Yet for those of us who frequently hear the word (they don’t just hear, but are hearers), don’t live the word, then go about our business as if everything were normal, James warns that we are deceiving ourselves. Hearing the preaching and teaching of the word will lead to one of three things: 1) A Spirit-lead desire to do what God says 2) A distaste for the truth and a rejection of God 3) A desire for the rewards of God (including appearing Godly or religious) without doing the things God says.
The second category is easy to spot. Their case is simple—they have rejected the word of God for now. When it comes to being “hot” or “cold”, they are cold. They are the ground that the seed fell on and did not take root.
The third category seems to be those James is referencing and is not as easy to identify. The word of God looks good, the Christian faith looks good, heaven looks good, religion often looks good, but the requirements of doing the key things the word of Gods says—faith, repentance, loving others—are too costly. Therefore, rather than suffer conviction by acknowledging their works don’t reflect what they profess to believe, they enter into a state of believing they are something they are not.
Jesus did not want hearers of the word, but disciples. A disciple would follow the teacher and attempt to do what he said. Once again James highlights points from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
[Mat 7:24-27 NKJV] 24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
I imagine these two houses looked quite similar. A house with a faulty foundation will not fail right away. But during the final shaking, the final judgement, one house will stand gloriously while the other will suffer a total collapse. What was the defining characteristic between the two houses? Both heard the word, both built fully-standing houses of works, but only one did the true word (will) of God while the other did not.
Doing the word of God is evidence of 1)Being in the family of God, and 2) Jesus being Lord of our lives:
[Luk 8:21 KJV] 21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
[Luk 6:46 KJV] 46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
While Jesus certainly does not need us to declare him “Lord” to be Lord, when we confess him as Lord we are professing ourselves as slaves/servants to his will—his disciples. To address God as “Father” or Jesus as “Lord” with no intention of doing what God says makes both confessions invalid.
Looking into a Mirror
James uses the examples of a mirror. The mirror reveals what a person looks like. When we look into a mirror and go away we generally remember who we are, what we look like that day, we’re reminded of our age, if we got enough sleep the night before, etc. I don’t look in the mirror and see myself, then go away and think I’m an elderly South African woman and walk and talk as such. If I did that, most people would suggest that I need a physic evaluation. And this is how James points out the absurdity of the person who regularly hears the word, acknowledges that it is the word, then leads a lifestyle that doesn’t follow the word. Something is just not right about that.
In the same way a phycological doctor may evaluate someone who forgets who they were unless they were looking into a mirror, there needs to be a serious spiritual check-up for those who hear the word but immediately forget it when the sermon is over. The word of God serves as a perfect spiritual mirror by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
James Moffat writes:
“A teacher or preacher may give an eloquent address on the gospel, or explain ably some O.T. prophecy about Christ, but when the sermon is done, it is not done; something remains to be done by the hearers in life, and if they content themselves with sentimental admiration or with enjoying the emotional or mental treat, they need not imagine that this is religion.”
The word used in this verse for “hear” was used in Greek literature for those who attended lectures but never joined the groups. What’s sobering is that this group includes those who’ve heard the word more than a few times. It’s possible, and unfortunately, probable, that some referred to here are students of the word; they exegete, examine, memorize, and even teach with more diligence than many of us. The inspect the word with as fine an eye as one would if they were gazing at their own face. Yet when removed from the exercise of observing they are found to be frauds, vessels not useful for the Master. Students of the word? Maybe. Disciples of the Master? Hardly.
“A healthy person looks in the mirror to do something, not just to admire the image. Even so, a healthy Christian looks into God’s Word to do something about it, not just to store up facts that he will not put to use by being a doer of the word.” – David Guzik
Looking into the Law of Liberty
One might expect verse 25 to say “but he who looks into the word/scripture/bible and continueth therein…”, but it does not. James instead exhorts us to look into the “perfect law of liberty”, and continue in that.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The word for “look” here literally means to “stoop down” (it was used when John stooped down to examine Jesus’ empty tomb), metaphorically here it means “to look carefully into, inspect curiously, of one who would become acquainted with something.” These people are doing more than just hearing, they are intentionally evaluating.
What is the perfect “law of liberty”?
Liberty, or freedom, is what the believer has been saved in to. Here are some other uses of the same Greek word:
[Rom 8:21 KJV] 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty[G1657] of the children of God.
[2Co 3:17 KJV] 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.[G1657]
[Gal 5:1 KJV] 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty[G1657] wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
[1Pe 2:16 KJV] 16 As free, and not using your liberty[G1657] for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
The law that sets us free is the law of Christ. Christ’s law is the only “perfect” law. Sin, while falsely being painted as “freedom” by the world, is the purest form of bondage. The “law” of Christ is the only form of true freedom. Paul also speaks of “the law of faith”(Rom 3:27). Christ’s law can be summed up by the two great commandments 1) Love God with everything, 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
James again references this when he says “the royal law” in chapter 2:
[Jas 2:8 KJV] 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
Through Christ we keep the righteous requirements of the law, hence are made free from the law of sin.
[Rom 8:2-4 KJV] 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Because Christ has made us free (who the Son sets free… Jhn 8:36) from the law, in him we are held to the highest standard; Jesus’ new commandment to us was:
[Jhn 13:34 KJV] 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
“…as I have loved you”. We are now called to base our lives around loving others the same way that Jesus did, a much higher standard indeed!
Why did James decide to use this particular phrase here?
One thing I’ve received from this most recent study of James is the importance of “doing” the word of God with the intent of fulfilling the royal law. In other words, whatever I set my mind to do, especially when it comes to religious works, let me first “look into” (examine, see) loving God and loving others in the same sacrificial way that Jesus did. For one can hear the word and go through the actions of doing what appears like the word, but if the works are not done under the law of Christ, they are dead works.
Take heed of the examples of those who did works in God’s name but found out on judgement day that those works were outside of God’s will! Hearing the word and not doing it doesn’t mean one hears the word than just sits around. Sometimes, one will hear the word and immediately go about doing many religious works. But they have not truly “looked into” the law of Christ. God, what are you saying to me relationally in this word? How do you want me to love you and others according to this word?
[1Ti 1:5 KJV] 5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
When beginning this study on what James calls “doers of the word”, I expected it to be more action oriented. Perhaps you’ve heard preaching that sounds something like this, “Ya’ll confess Jesus on Sundays, but where you put your time and money throughout the week says otherwise.” Then there may be an exhortation to get more involved with church activities. And this can be the case, and that type of preaching isn’t wrong, but James says something far more important that has little to do with how many hours a day are devoted to external religious activities.
In order for us to not be forgetful hearers, to not be houses built on faulty foundation, to not be deceived, we are called to zealously examine the law of Christ—love God and love others—and continue therein.
Note again how James words this:
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
To look intently into Christ’s perfect law that sets us free, then continuing in that is what makes us doers of the word. The works will follow. And they will be true works because the foundation is sure.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, just before the story of the two houses, Jesus gives a startling truth:
[Mat 7:21-23 KJV] 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Let us take heed. We can do many works without doing the will of God. And the end is damnation.
Don’t just hear the word—hear, receive with meekness (1:21), all while looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing therein. If you do this, your life will be blessed; your works in the present will be blessed, and your eternity will be blessed.
 Thayer’s Lexicon