Don’t Kid Yourself
But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth].
Just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make us a car, sitting in church doesn’t make us real Christians. But when we experience a genuine regeneration through Christ, it changes everything we are, everything we do, and everywhere we go.
How many times do we sit through a church service, only to forget all but one or two points when somebody at lunch asks, “What was the message about today?” Many of us don’t absorb what we hear because we haven’t made a previous commitment to act on what we will hear. The commitment to obey sharpens our minds and galvanizes our wills to put truth on action.
In Christ’s day, the religious leaders taught about God, His laws, and His ways, but they failed to live by the basic tenet of loving God with all their hearts and their neighbors by themselves. They were satisfied- in fact, they were proud- of words without actions and platitudes without commitments. They deceived themselves, believing that words were enough.
The decision to absorb truth so that it transforms our behavior is made before we walk through the church door or put in the CD of the talk. We resolve to be disciples, men and women who represent the heart and message of Christ each and every day. To fulfill that commitment, we know we need all the help we can get, so we listen intently, take notes, talk to friends about specific applications, and make plans to make a difference. That’s how we become “doers of the word and not hearers only.”
The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.
T. S. Elliot
I suppose one could read books about life and never really live or books about travel and never go anywhere or watch programs about how to do things and never do anything, but the question would be, what’s the benefit of learning about all these things and never enjoying any of them. That’s what James is telling us when he says there’s no value in just hearing God’s word and never putting it into practice. James also tells us that faith without works is dead. Again, he tells us that true faith produces action because when we hear the Word of God and believe it, we act upon it. It is one thing to give mental assent to the promises of the Bible but it is totally another thing to actually believe and act with faith on those promises. Yet that’s the core of Christianity. We aren’t just people who listen; we are people who act on what we believe.
Sometimes we sit through a church service and our minds are a million miles away. Our thoughts are about a million other things, worries, and tasks, and plans for the upcoming week. Although we may have sat through a service, we have received little help because we weren’t engaged. In truth we begin to prepare for church service before we arrive. Hopefully we’ve taken time to engage with God in prayer, clearing out the cobwebs from our week and preparing our hearts to receive what God has for us. As we sing and give God praise, we begin to engage our spirits with the Holy Spirit. We listen carefully to the sermon, hearing God’s promises and instructions and we resolve to act on what we have heard. This, James says, is being doers rather than just hearers of the Word.
I’m convinced that most people who attend church know a lot more about God’s will and desires than they are putting into practice. Paul says that there are those who are always seeking to learn something new but never come to the knowledge of truth. It is a great thing to be a lifelong learner but if we never utilize what we learn, never demonstrate or practice or teach others, then all our learning has no value. Those who are considered wise are those who learn and live what they learn. Daniel tells us that in the last days there will be people of God who are wise.
“Those who are [spiritually] wise will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, [will shine] like the stars forever and ever.”
What a great benefit we could be to the world if we paid careful attention to the teaching of the Bible and made the decision to actually live out our faith. It would make such an impact on the church and the community that would almost be beyond belief. The world has heard many words spoken but has seen very little in the way of example. It’s easy to talk about the peace of God but to live in that peace especially in times of adversity is quite another thing. It’s easy to talk about loving others but it’s another thing to actually love the difficult neighbor.
John’s Gospel connects the Word of God with the Person of God:
“In the beginning [before all time] was the Word ( Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. And the Word (Christ) became flesh, and lived among us; and we [actually] saw His glory, glory as belongs to the [One and] only begotten Son of the Father, [the Son who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, who is] full of grace and truth (absolutely free of deception).”
Do you see that the Word is more than something we hear for the Word is action. John tells us that “all things were made and come into existence through Him( the Word). In Genesis we read that God spoke and creation was the result. In the same way the Word of God spoken to us ought to result in something being created or made new in us. There is no such thing in Scripture as the Word of God being spoken and nothing happening. That means it is impossible for us to hear the Word and that Word having no effect on us. Every time we hear the Word spoken, whether through preaching, teaching, or even in a conversation with another Christian, we respond. It either convicts us, convinces us, and draws us nearer Christ or we ignore it, disobey it, and we become drawn away from Christ.
It is a serious matter to consider. We each must choose how we will respond when we hear the Word of God. Paul tells us in Romans that hearing the Word can give us faith to believe the promises of God. As a matter of fact, he implies that faith must be based the Word of God.
So how will we respond the next time we hear the Word? Will we give assent to its truth but never allow it to transform us or will we embrace it with our whole hearts and let it take root in us bringing about change? One day when we stand before the Living Word, we will all give an account not for what we heard but for what we did. And the Bible says that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Every time we hear the Word given, we have the privilege and the duty to let it transform us. Please don’t take this as a heavy weight sitting on us but in truth a freedom and liberty for it was Jesus who told us that “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” The Word of God is designed to liberate us, to bless us, to help us and to empower us to live a life of victory because we receive, we believe, and we act on what we have learned. Living out the Word brings joy unspeakable and peace that passes all understanding for we know that God’s way is always the best way and that He has always the best interest for us. God wants us to enjoy the life He has given us to the fullest and through His Word, He provides promises and instructions. When we actually act on the Word, we find that life becomes more simple and more full. When we try to circumvent the Word, to seek exceptions to the Word, or ignore its instructions, we find that life gets complicated and more empty.
One contemporary artist says it this way:
Nothing in this world can satisfy
Jesus You’re the cup that won’t run dry
Your Presence is heaven to me.
When we see that Christ is the Word and the Word is Christ, following its instructions and letting it direct and guide our lives becomes more than mere hearing and then quickly forgetting what we heard. It becomes the source of life for us. As we prepare to gather as the people of God, would you even now purpose in your heart to hear, receive, respond, and act on the Word you hear. Even if the preacher has nothing to say if you’ll just listen when the Word is read, you’ll get something to live by. Make the decision to glean everything you can from the Word. It’ll change your life and perhaps the others that know you.
Dr. John Thompson