One of the most frustrating things in the Christian life is wanting to change but feeling like you can’t. Have you ever wondered why you’re not growing perhaps as much as you’d like to? You believe the gospel and rejoice in God’s grace, yet you look at the practical descriptions of a Christian in the Bible and it often seems so out of reach. What gives? What’s the solution? The quick fix Christians often turn to is simply acquiring more knowledge. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17)? The truth will set you free right? So you may think, “I just need to do more bible reading, attend a conference or read a fresh book. Get more truth. That’s it!” And while, of course, interacting with the truth of God’s word is the key to all spiritual growth, it’s how you hear and engage with the truth that really matters. It’s the right approach to the Bible that makes the difference. Let me explain.
In the book of James, he urges his readers to “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). It’s easy to hear a great sermon or read a profound book and deceive yourself into thinking that you’ve been changed by it simply because you know something new intellectually. But James points out that you don’t really “know it” until you do it, until you put it into practice. For example, you don’t really know the sweetness of a piece of candy until you taste it. You don’t really know the wisdom of your coach until you put his strategy into play. You don't really know what it's like to workout until you actually exercise. Likewise, you don’t really know the sweetness of obedience and the wisdom of God until you put his word into practice. An expert in mercy ministry is not the person who just hears and reads about the poor; it’s the person who hears and responds by serving the poor. Now, hearing is not a bad thing. After all, “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). James doesn’t say, “Be doers instead of hearers.” Rather, he says, “Don’t be hearers only.” Hearing is not opposed to doing; it’s just not enough. So why do many people settle for being hearers only?
James compares Gods’ word to a mirror and gives an example of a man who looks intently at himself in the mirror, sees something he wishes he didn’t and purposely goes away forgetting what he saw. The word “forget” is in the active tense. The forgetfulness is an active desire to be better than you really are. It didn’t matter that this man looked intently into the mirror. He didn’t like what he saw, so he purposely forgot it. Studying and hearing God’s word intently is simply not enough if it’s not combined with remembering what you saw and responding accordingly. And this can only happen because of the gospel. Christians do not have to fear seeing their sin and areas that need to change because they know Jesus has already dealt with all their mistakes and areas of weakness on the cross. Because of the gospel, Christians can look into the mirror of God’s word and see the blemishes of their life and seek God’s pardon and power to change. Because of the gospel, Christians can clearly see what God wants them to do and know, by the power of the Spirit, that very obedience can take place.
A Christian grows by understanding that God’s commandments and promises are meant to free you, not constrict you. This is why James refers to the Bible as “the law of liberty.” True liberty is living the way you were designed to live, and the secret to experiencing that life is faithfully acting upon what you hear from God’s word. It’s putting God’s truth into everyday practice. This is what the faithful Christians of old would do. It says, “Ezra set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He didn’t study God’s word simply to teach it. He studied to do it and then to teach it. That’s the order. You hear a great sermon on trusting God and giving generously. What should you do? Trust God and give generously. You read about the need to help the poor. What should you do? Start serving the poor in your area. You know that something isn’t right between you and your family. What should you do? Seek reconciliation immediately. Growth happens by taking God’s word serious enough to act upon it immediately. The more you act upon it in the tiniest areas of your life, the more you will grow. You don’t need to be afraid of turning into a legalist by being a doer of the word. God’s grace is opposed to merit; it’s not opposed to works. It’s in this process of hearing God’s word with repentance, faith, and obedience that you are truly blessed. What is obedience? It's a workout. Obedience is working out what God has already worked in. A minor's job is not to put gold into a mine; its to take out what's already there. In the same way, a Christian must apply what he already knows in order to grow. This means that applying what you already know is more important than knowing more. A full pantry doesn't equal a full stomach. Eventually you need to eat what you already have.
James points out that the person who acts upon God’s word will be “blessed in the doing.” Notice, that you are blessed not necessarily for the doing, but in the doing. Many people are disappointed when they put God’s word into practice because they expect they’re somehow going to get pleasurable results immediately. But what was the immediate result of Joseph’s obedience in resisting the temptation of Potiphar’s wife? He was sent to prison. Yet even though Joseph was physically in chains, his spirit was free. He was blessed not immediately for his doing but in his doing. Obedience doesn’t just bring about blessing; it is a blessing in itself. Putting God’s Word into practice is the blessing that James wants every Christian to experience. This is the way you live a blessed life of continual growth and begin to see lasting change. You become a doer of the word.