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