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James was an advocate of practical religion. He believed that knowledge must issue in action. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2: 8-9 that we are “saved by grace through faith and not of works, lest any man should boast.” James enlarges on that subject in his second chapter when he says that faith without works is dead. Salvation by faith is evidenced in the everyday practice of life by a “work of faith, and a labor of love, and a patience of hope.” While we are not saved by works we are saved unto works. In order to emphasize this truth James asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, or destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; not withstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14-17) Paul teaches us in Romans 10:17 that, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” These few verses show us that faithful obedience to the word will result in a work of faith in the life of the believer.
In my scripture text James puts practice above theory and teaches that knowledge alone cannot be a substitute for obedience. He follows with a grave warning that to hear the word and not act upon it will bring about strong delusion and ultimate damnation. He said, “to be a hearer of the word and not a doer is likened unto a man who beholding his natural face in a glass: (the word acts as a mirror) he beholdeth himself and goeth his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was.” The word of God discloses man’s disobedience and depravity. This man, instead of acting through faith on what he hears, makes a decision to go “his own way.” Then follows the deception, “he straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” He received light and rejected it, conviction was lost and delusion set in.
Jesus stated: “Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and beat upon the house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” Once we hear the word we are obligated to obey it or the inevitable end of which Jesus speaks of the house built on the sand will be our lot.
Many come into the house of worship and hear the word of God proclaimed. Paul tells us that “the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” There is an intrinsic power in the anointed word of God that will arouse the attention and move upon the moral sensibilities of the hearer. It is at that moment one is challenged by the Holy Spirit to hearken to the call of God on their heart. Any delay at this point will begin to dull ones moral sensibilities. Many give a tacit approval to the truth they have heard but will not bow in surrender to it. They accept its validity but refuse to bring their lives under its authority. This hesitancy to heed what they heard will soon cause one to go his own way and he soon forgets what manner of man he was. When delusion sets in one epitomizes what the Roman poet Ovid once wrote:
“I know the right, and I approve it too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.”
Paul gives a very graphic picture of such a life of delusion in II Thessalonians 2:10-12. “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
We are living in the full blaze of gospel light. We are more privileged than any previous generation. In the past God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Hebrews 2:1) Here the writer admonishes us to not only hear but heed (act in obedience) what has been heard.
The word of God is a double-edged sword, just as water that can be used to refresh and sustain life it can also be mis-used to drown and destroy life. Like a fire that can warm the body that is chilled can also be abused and consume and incinerate. There is a peril in hearing God’s word and habitually disobeying or not heeding it. The goaded conscience and convicted heart will respond either in virtuous action or in open destruction. James is challenging us not to ignore or be passive toward His word because it will only serve to deceive us.
The deception is very subtle in its nature. It will cause one to believe a lie and begin to think that all is well. Such a one may even maintain many admirable and wholesome characteristics. He may be a faithful attendee to the house of worship and have a strong affinity to holiness preaching and even be emotionally stirred by songs about heaven and have every intention of going there. The delusion will cause one to believe that he is what he knows he ought to be simply because he intellectually agrees with what he has heard. However, hearing and agreeing with the word is not enough, one must act on what he knows and appropriate by faith that knowledge in his heart and life. The longer the delay in one’s response to what he knows the more listless emotions and moral sensibilities become. At that point knowledge alone becomes his motivating conviction because for far too long he has been only a hearer of the word but not a doer of the word. Let us not delay in translating knowledge into action and be not only a hearer but doer of the word.
What will be the end of one who hears and knows what to do but refuses to obey God’s word? What an awakening it will be when such a one stands before God to give an account of his life. It is then that his conscience that he has successfully seared and silenced by “hearing but not doing the word of God,” will come alive in full fury of avenging reproach to condemn him.