What does it mean to be doers of the Word in James 1:22?The New Testament epistle of James is a hard-hitting "Proverbs of the New Testament." James gives many practical instructions to his readers and imparts truths about the character of God and the nature of faith. Toward the beginning of the letter, he writes, "Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:21–22). In short, James is saying that knowing God's Word without actually applying it in our lives is pointless. The "implanted word" should transform us (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 4:12–13; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). This "implanted word" relates to Jesus (the living Word of God); the written Word of God (the Bible); and the indwelling Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), helps us understand God's Word (1 Corinthians 2:10–15), and works to conform us to the image of Christ (Philippians 2:12–13; Romans 8:28–30).
James further elaborates on what he means by being "doers of the word" when he writes, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing" (James 1:23–25). The Word of God is of no use to us if we don't actually believe it and live out its instructions. For example, if someone knows what the Bible says about Jesus—how He is fully God and fully human, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for sins, and rose back to life—but doesn't put his faith in Jesus, that person remains condemned (John 3:16–18). James later says that even the demons believe in God—and shudder (James 2:19). Having biblical knowledge and even assenting to its truth does not save and does not give life. We need to actually apply that truth to our lives. We need to trust in Jesus and take Him at His Word. When we really believe God, we seek to do what He says.
James gives a practical example of this when he says, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to hem, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14–17). To be clear, salvation is solely by God's grace and received through faith (Ephesians 2:1–10). But our faith is demonstrated by our actions. When we genuinely believe something, we act on that truth. If we believe the stove is hot, we don't lay our hand on the burner. If we believe a chair will hold us, we sit in it. The same is true with God's Word. If we believe it, we act on it. To be a doer of the Word is to put our knowledge of God and His ways into action.
Again, being a doer of the Word is not about achieving salvation through our works, nor is it about sanctifying ourselves. Rather, it is about abiding in Christ and allowing His Word to fully affect our lives. Psalm 1 says that the person whose "delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night" is blessed (see verses 1–2). "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3). Jesus linked abiding in Him to obedience and to joy: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:9–11). John wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
When we are doers of the Word, and not just hearers, we experience more of the fullness of the life we have been given in Christ. We reflect God's glory more to the hurting world. We better understand and appreciate God's ways and His character. Being a doer of the Word means putting into action the truths God has given us. Of course, we must still hear the Word before we can do it. So we must both intentionally learn the truths of God and be faithful to apply them to our lives.
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