January 12, 2016
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Forrest Gump comes to mind in response to today’s text.
“Stupid is as stupid does.”
James is moving us to a place where a variation of Gump’s quote seems apropos, “Faith is as faith does.”
Unless faith moves, it cannot be called faith. We live in the age of “easy believism” where we are quite willing to satisfy ourselves with a mental assent to a stated proposition. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins? Answer, “yes,” and you get a check in the box next to faith. James has two words for this kind of approach: Self deception.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Let’s take it a step further. Reading the Bible and praying and fasting and other exercises of Christian devotion cannot be mistaken for the activity of faith. These are ways of looking “intently into the perfect law that gives freedom,” and they can be helpful in the ongoing process of continuing to do so, aiding us in “not forgetting,” but unless this leads to the action of faith it will amount to nothing.
Consider this example. One of the toys we gave to our youngest child came with those three most dreadful words of Christmas, “Some Assembly Required.” Imagine that Sam and I had read through those instructions every day, talked about them together, looked intently at all of the dislocated parts and pieces in the box and left it at that. Think Sam would be good with that approach? Now imagine we spent hours assembling it after which Sam promptly put it on the shelf and never touched it again. We would have gone through a lot of motions but never moved.
So much of the so-called “Christian faith” these days is just that. It’s a faithfulness to read the instructions, assent to the “truth” of it all, commit the instructions to memory, get together in groups to study the instructions, maybe even go to a conference with a lot of other people committed to the instructions and never putting anything together that goes anywhere. Motions can keep us moving endlessly yet still not making any significant movement. There’s a lot of “activity” but in the end no real action. Don’t hear me wrong, the motions and the activity are important, but unless they are leading to the active “doing” of the subject matter being intently focused on, it’s a waste of time.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
One of the most bizarre practices of our time is the act of standing in front of a mirror while looking at yourself in the mirror, and taking a photo of the mirror in which you are looking at yourself. It’s like a selfie on steroids. I’m not even sure how to think about that other than to say I think James would have a field day with the metaphor. In some ways, it captures the spirit of our age and the religious enterprise of endless devotional activity we have come to equate with the Christian faith.
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Be clear. Let’s not deceive ourselves by creating a false choice between say reading Scripture and taking care of people in need. We must “look intently into the perfect law” and “continue in it” and “not forget what we have heard” and DOING IT.”
1. What do you make of this notion of religious motions but no faith movement? Can you see evidence of this phenomenon in your past? your present?
2. While one’s devotional life fuels one’s faith, it cannot be mistaken for the actual action that faith requires. Do you agree or disagree with this and why?
3. What would it look like for you to make a commitment to never walk away from the Word of God again without some tangible action that you could “do” going forward? What that might mean from today’s reading?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.