I have always considered James 4:17 to be a very sobering verse. It says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Apparently one can sin by just sitting in a chair doing nothing. A big theme in the book of James is hearing and doing. James makes it clear that hearing and doing are “both/and” not “either/or.” We must hear until we truly understand and then it is time for action, time to put legs on our faith. It is spiritually dangerous to hear only because that is when we fall into the sin of neglect or omission—simply not doing anything.
At the church where I serve, we decided to call our small groups “engage groups.” We didn’t want people to come to church on Sunday and hear a teaching from the Word of God and then go home and commit the sin of omission or neglect—not doing anything about the teaching in their daily life. I remember hearing someone say the simple, yet convicting sentence; “We already know more than we are doing.” Commentator William Barclay says it is perfectly possible for a person to pass an exam on Christian Ethics and get a perfect A plus, but still not be a Christian. Words are cheap, Jesus wants action.
John MacArthur writes about an engraving in a cathedral in Lubeck, Germany that has a powerful message. “Thus speaketh Christ, You call me master and obey me not. You call me light and see me not. You call me the way and walk me not. You call me life and live me not. You call me wise and follow me not. You call me fair and love me not. You call me eternal and seek me not. If I condemn thee, blame me not.”
Recently I have been trying to change some of my “church vocabulary.” I am trying to stop using the word “Christian.” It is a word that has been used so much that it seems to have lost much of its original meaning; “a follower of Christ.” For many the word Christian has come to mean something like “church-goer” or “church member.” I have been trying to substitute the words “Jesus-follower” or “follower of Jesus” for the word Christian.
When James talks about being a doer of the Word, he is talking about following and obeying Jesus. He is talking about not following our own will, but obeying Jesus’ will. He is not talking about following Jesus in small doses or only when it’s convenient. He is talking about faithful, daily obedience. Jesus himself modeled for us in the garden of Gethsemane, just before his death on the cross, what our attitude must be. As he prayed to the Father, he said, “not my will, but yours be done!”
Reflections: Can you think of some biblical teachings you have clearly heard recently, but have yet to put into practice? Create a regular habit where you pause to ask yourself what you are going to do after hearing a sermon, lesson, or Scripture.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves