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What Do You See in the Mirror (James 1:22-25)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 09 March 2014 00:00

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
The word James uses for “hearers” is an intensified noun form of the verb for being swift to “hear” (1:19). He will use it three times in this passage (1:22, 23, 25).
Zane Hodges has pointed out that in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word “hear” can mean either sensory audition or it can also mean “to hear responsively,” i.e., “to obey” (or perhaps “to hearken unto” or “to take heed unto”).
So, in explaining his command to “be swift to hear,” James wants us to understand that the regular hearing of God’s Word in the meetings of the church is not all that he has in mind.
To “be swift to hear,” at its deepest level of meaning, means also, “to be swift to obey.”
To hear, but not to obey (to fail to be a doer of the Word you’ve heard) is to deceive yourself!
James is telling us: Don’t settle for merely auditing the Word when we should be applying the Word of God to our lives. Don’t just be a hearer of the Word, be a doer of the Word!

How do I apply God’s Word to my life? It’s very simple, OBEY it! (Not easy, but simple!)
Let’s connect verse 22 with verse 21:
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

The believer who settles for just auditing the Word when we should be applying God’s Word to our lives, deceives himself if he thinks that will save his life.
If a Christian does not obey His Father’s Word, he will not save his soul, his life from harm.

If you have believed in Jesus for everlasting life, if you have been born from above, if you have received that good and perfect gift from God above, if God has brought you forth by His Word, then your soul, your life has been saved from hell.
James’ concern in this book is for us, as God’s children, that our souls (our lives) might be saved from the harm that would come if we do not rightly relate to His Word.

When we believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, our lives (or souls) were forever saved from eternal damnation. James’ concern for his readers (who have believed in Jesus and are now part of God’s forever family) is that their lives are saved for eternal purposes, saved from eternal damage (loss of eternal rewards).

Jesus told us that “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Satan wants to steal-your hope-in God, your future between now and the rapture or our death.
The enemy wants to kill-your love-for God so that you wander away into the far country of sin.
The devil seeks to destroy-your faith-in God, in His Word, so that your life will not be pleasing to your Heavenly Father, so your faith won’t become quality proven and your life won’t be filled with His blessing, characterized by the joy of fellowship, nor rewardable at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The child of God who hears the Word but doesn’t do what he hears, who doesn’t obey God’s Word, deceives himself if he thinks this will save his life from loss of blessing, loss of fellowship and loss of eternal rewards!

James now goes on to point out, in fact, that hearing the Word without doing it is like looking into a mirror and then forgetting what we’ve seen!
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
This illustrates the folly of hearing the Word but not doing/obeying it.
It is like looking into a mirror and then forgetting what we’ve seen.
It is interesting that James uses the term for a male (man) here!
What is seen in this mirror?
I used to think of the verse this way: My “natural face” referred to things in my life that pertain to the “natural” man in 1st Corinthians 2:14-3:3, my sinful nature. In other words, I look into the mirror of God’s Word and it reveals to me the sins and things that are wrong in my life, but if I forget to do anything about what I see (I fail to confess those sins), then it’s as if I’d forgotten what I saw, and I continue on deceiving myself by being a hearer but not a doer of the Word.
That interpretation seems to work. The application would then be to be sure to confess the sins in my life that the Lord has shown to me when I was reading His Word.

As I’ve studied it, I think the words and context of the passage suggests a slightly different interpretation.
The phrase James’ uses, that is translated “his natural face” (to prosopon tes geneseos autou), could be more precisely rendered as “the face of his birth.”
There is nothing in the context about our physical birth.
But in James 1:18, James had referenced our spiritual birth, which was is given as the perfect example of God’s good and perfect gift from above in James 1:17.
James’ reference to the word which brought us forth (1:18) as now being “inborn” or “implanted” in the soil of my life is a further echo of our experience of being born again, or born from above, or regenerated.
So the forgetful hearer is one who looks into the mirror of God’s Word and sees the reflection of his new birth; he sees all he is in Christ; he sees all he could become through Christ; but then he turns away and lives as though he had never been born again. He lives just as he used to.
“I’m not any different than I ever was,” he says to himself.

James wants us to hearken to/ or take heed to what we hear from God’s Word.
The implanted [inborn] word [God’s mirror] reveals to its Christian hearers the true “face” of their new birth into God’s family. It shows us the face of our new, spiritual, “from above” birth!

It shows us what we truly are in Christ, and therefore, how we ought to behave in keeping with that true image of ourselves.
This approach to Christian morality, to Christian living, is a fundamental feature of the New Testament epistles. The writers begin by recognizing what we believers now are by God’s grace, and then we are commanded to behave accordingly.
An example would be 2 Peter 1:2-4 (our position) and 2 Peter 1:5-7 (our practice) with the and the results (prognosis) for either just hearing the Word, or hearing and doing (2 Peter 1:8-9) it.

Our Position: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Our Practice: 5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.

Our Prognosis: 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is blind, shortsighted, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
9 For he who lacks these things is blind (right now – in the present, we suffer a self-induced darkness), shortsighted (as to the future), and has forgotten (regarding the past) – that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Thus we see again and over and over that God graciously empowers what He commands.
If I, as God’s child, hear the Word, but then I go out and ignore what it has shown me about who I now am in Christ, then I’m truly like a person who immediately forgets what kind of man he is.

To be a mere hearer of God’s truth is to forget (as 2 Peter 1:9 says) our true identity as born again and justified children of God, and to behave as though we were not.

As we see in the next verse, when I am doing something as a natural expression of my true nature, I am obviously enjoying the liberty of just being myself!
25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues (abides) in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work (a work-doer), this one will be blessed in what he does.

The contrast to the forgetful guy, who does not obey what he hears from God’s Word, is the person described here in verse 25.
There is no article in the Greek before the word “work.” The Greek (poites ergou) implies the more general sense of a “work-doer,” rather than, (as the English implies) referring to a specific (the) work.
This is James’ first reference to good works. It stands here in the first of a series of sections which lead up to James 2:14-26.

So – Who is the work-doer?
He is introduced in this verse as someone who looks into the perfect law of liberty.

What is the perfect law of liberty?
It is the spiritual mirror (1:23) into which a believer looks when he hears the implanted word (1:21)
Since the commands of this Christian law are in accord with his innermost nature as a born-again person, they are not in any way a form of bondage but rather are a law of liberty (freedom).

What the Christian really learns from the Word of God is to become in conduct what he already is by virtue of his regenerate, new nature. When I am doing what is the natural expression of my true nature, I am obviously enjoying the freedom of just being myself! Truly liberating!

So then, a Christian who looks into … and continues (abides) in God’s Word is a person who submits to divine authority (law), and yet in so, doing finds himself truly free!
It is almost as if James had in mind what Jesus had said to those who had just believed in Him for eternal life in John 8:30-32, where in vv 31-32 He says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Such truly free obedience to God is the secret of “saving our lives” (1:21) and of enjoying every other benefit God chooses to bestow on our Christian experience.

The doer of … work (or work-doer) of 1:25 – not the mere hearer of the Word (1:22), is exactly the person who will be blessed (1:12) in what he does (in obedience to God’s Word).

The word for “doer” is the same (poieo) for “doer” of the word in verse 22, and work-“doer” (“doer” of the work) and this one will be blessed in what he “does” (in his “doing”) in verse 25.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues (abides; parameno) in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will
be blessed in what he does (lit., in his doing).

What is one specific kind of work-doing that James has been talking about that we are to be doing when we encounter various trials?
1:4 But let endurance (patience) have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation (trial); for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
The commands (imperatives) in the “perfect law of liberty” that we have seen so far in James:

James 1:4 … let endurance have its perfect work …

James 1:5 … let him ask of God …

James 1:6 … But let him ask in faith, with no doubting.

James 1:9 … Let the lowly brother glory (boast) in his exaltation…

[James 1:10 also implied by way of contrast … but the rich (brother) in his humiliation]

James 1:13 … Let no one say when he is tempted,

James 1:16 … Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

James 1:19 … So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak,
slow to wrath;

James 1:21 … receive with meekness the implanted word …

James 1:22 … But be (become) doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
What “Law” is a Christian to Obey?

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues (abides) in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work (a work-doer), this one will be blessed in what he does.
In contrast to the believer who is self-deceived because he fails to be a “doer of the word” (James 1:22), James describes the “doer of the work” as someone “who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues (abides) in it.

Do these concepts of doing good works and living in conformity to the Word of God remind you of something our Savior taught? The words of Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount, recorded for us in Matthew 5:16, may have been on James’ mind as he penned his epistle.

James would not disagree in the least with Paul that “we are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Nor would he disagree with Peter that the Old Testament law was “a yoke … which neither our fathers nor we are able to bear (Acts 15:10).

In fact, James’ concept of the Christian life as a “law of liberty” implicitly sets it in contrast with the Old Testament law and is analogous to Paul’s statement that we are to fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

The Old Testament law was a yoke of bondage precisely because it could not change the heart to which it was addressed. It could impart no inward, spiritual incentive to obey it, though it might produce fear and guilt.

This leads Paul to affirm that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Therefore, the Old Testament law was fundamentally “a ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7).
Righteousness could never come by the Old Testament law of Moses (Galatians 3:21), But under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), God works from the inside out.

He regenerates the sinner by His Word (James 1:18), thereby making it an “implanted/inborn” Word, to which it is natural for the Christian to respond obediently (“for I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” – Romans 7:22).

Therefore, living the Christian life involves being dead to the Old Testament law and being married to a risen Savior and Lord (Romans 7:6). This means that now our service to God is carried on in “the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).

Such an experience of life is indeed and obedience to God’s commands, but it is lived in the experience of the freedom of the Spirit (Romans 8:2-4).

This life is now an obedience to the commands of the New Covenant (the New Testament commands) and thus is an obedience to what is truly “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).
That is why John would concur in 1 John 5:3-4: “For this is the (our) love of (for) God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome, for (because) whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
There is true freedom in being who we were created to be and in doing what we were created to do as a natural expression of who we have become by virtue of our birth from above! We get the vision of who we are and what we are meant to be and do as we observe the face of our (new) birth in the miraculous mirror of God’s Word. As we continue/abide in His Word, as we behold as in the miraculous mirror of God’s Word the glory of the Lord, and we are transformed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).





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