The Doers Of The Word, And Not The Hearers, Will Be Justified

James 1:22 tells us: “But be doers of the word, and not hears only, deceiving yourselves.” What is the difference between doing the word and merely hearing it? This is a large subject, too large for one modest-sized blog entry written in the exigency of time, as this one is. That said, there is at least a little bit that we can discuss about this subject, based on what we can see from the Bible and experience. Let us examine both to see what we can learn about what it means to be a doer of the wood as opposed to hearing the word only. Then, once we reflect on it, we can determine what we need to do if we wish to be doers and not hearers only.

Jesus Christ, in the parable of the two sons, described the fate of doers and hearers of the word as follows, in Matthew 21:28-32: “”But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.”

We are not generally keen on thinking of tax collectors and harlots as doers of the word rather than hearers. Yet they did hear John (and Jesus Christ) and repent of their sins (see, for example, Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 7:36-50), while the Pharisees and Saduccees did not repent of their own proud rejection of our Lord and Savior, but conspired to kill Him. What makes the first son in Jesus’ parable is that he ended up doing what his father wanted, while the younger son was much more compliant in word but less obedient in action. The connection between the younger brother and the people of Israel is an obvious one. After all, the people of ancient Israel stated that they would do all that God commanded them to do (see Exodus 19:8) but were instead continually disobedient against Him. Likewise, many Christians pretend to be followers of Jesus Christ but do not live as Jesus Christ did or walk as Jesus Christ walked, showing themselves to be the same sort of people as the ancient Israelites when push comes to shove.

There are times when it is better to follow the advice of people than it is to merely honor someone with their lips and their memory. For example, I am reading a book and the author seeks to defend a rational view of scripture, focusing on evidence rather than authority or tradition (among other paths to faiths). Yet the same author who claims to support a rational basis of faith makes the following authoritarian claim: “True to God’s words means that the doctrines being espoused must square with the teaching of God’s revelation, the Bible. Though the Bible presents many teachings about many things, there is a relatively small set of core essentials that every trustworthy church leader will embrace and proclaim without reservation. These include orthodox teachings about God (including the biblical doctrine of the Trinity–that there is one God who eternally exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); [1]” Saying a doctrine is biblical does not make it so. Neither does the authority of the author represent any sort of scriptural warrant for his claims. We may therefore say, in light of the illogical and mystical contradictions of Trinitarian thought (including its contradiction of the biblical doctrine of subordinationism as well as the contradictory nature of such ideas as patripassionism), that it is better to follow the principles of seeking biblical proof than to follow the imperfect example of Hellenistic Christians who rely on mistaken traditions as well as illegitimate authorities rather than biblical warrant.

Likewise, we honor authorities in our own religious traditions more by following their doctrine, by seeking to check what people say according to scripture, rejecting prophetic overenthusiasm or unbiblical authoritarianism, than by claiming to honor such leaders by slavishly following their examples through tradition. If someone says, “Don’t believe me; believe the Bible,” and we take them at their word, we are behaving in honor of their principles and their legacy, however different our approach may be from what has come before. Nevertheless, those who are less evidentiary in nature and more traditional or authoritarian in their approaches will tend to react badly to any sort of claims that what has been received from imperfect human authorities lacks firm biblical warrant but is rather speculation, or that what was thought to be faultless interpretation was instead fallible and, at times, mistaken. It is hard to be humble, especially when we have built upon unsteady foundations, and hard to appreciate those who point out the weaknesses in our own belief and practice. None of us are perfect examples either of understanding or humility in such matters.

In our lives, we are constantly faced with the same dilemma as that faced by Job and his friends. Will we wrestle and struggle with the ways of God and their application in the world, or will we choose pious and sanctimonious stands that allow us to avoid wrestling with life, to mouth words but not to act according to God’s ways. It is easy to affirm that we stand with some kind of truth or justice, but it is hard to treat all with love and respect and to live according to all of God’s commandments. It is far easier to make claims about ourselves than it is to demonstrate our beliefs through our practice. It is far easier to hear and to talk than to do, and to let our actions be our apology before a candid world. Let us therefore be doers of the word, and not hearers only, for it is all too easy for us to deceive ourselves in our attempt to deceive others.

[1] Mark Mittelberg, Confident Faith: Building A Firm Foundation For Your Beliefs. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), 74.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to The Doers Of The Word, And Not The Hearers, Will Be Justified

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Confident Faith | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. When I was nearly nine years old, my parents became members of a church which espoused the doctrinal beliefs of the Bible over the traditional behaviors of the world–when the two clashed. The credo from the very top, the human (and fallible) leader, was indeed, “Don’t believe me, believe the Bible.” I took that phrase literally and to the heart for, having met this individual, I know that he meant it that way. He often told people to “wipe the dust off your Bibles and look it up for yourselves.”

    He practiced what he preached. I was a teenager when the church changed its day of observing Pentecost. The Bible explained the counting of 50 days (seven weeks plus one) to establish its observance. He found, through researching the Hebrew context and consulting language experts, that his understanding was wrong, and he corrected the problem in order to bring the church’s teaching into compliance with the Bible.

    I’ve often thought that listening is the bridge between hearing and doing. In the final few years of his life, Mr. Armstrong–the leader to whom I refer–visited various church areas and would vehemently pound the lectern, sternly scolding those in the audience, warning them that at least half of them didn’t get it (I saw and heard this personally.) He correctly intuited that they were relying on what he was telling them instead of proving things for themselves. Most were simply believing what they heard; they weren’t really listening–and, as a result, they didn’t follow through and do the personal study he had told them to do in the first place. When people hear something that sounds good, they agree wholeheartedly and fix their belief system on that. But if they go no further–as you stated–they are in a precarious state, for their foundation is sand and shifts with every change of the wind. They are easily deceived and, as you can attest to, we have sadly witnessed this phenomenon to a shattering degree.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Know The Heretics | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Pure And Undefiled Religion Before God And The Father Is This: Part One | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Tip The Scales Of Justice | Edge Induced Cohesion

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