Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
While working on Bible translation, a missionary in Africa had difficulty finding a word in the local dialect for “obedience.” Then one day as the missionary was walking through a village his dog wandered off. The moment the missionary noticed the dog’s absence he whistled for it to come to him. Hearing the whistle, the dog rushed to his side at top speed. An elderly native sitting by the roadside was deeply impressed by the instant obedience of the dog. He exclaimed, “Mui adem delegau ge!” which literally translated means, “Dog yours, ear is only.” In other words, “Your dog is all ear.” That gave the translator the word he needed for obedience – “to be all ear.”
Which reminds me of some of the people who fill our church pews. They believe that if they hear a good sermon or attend a Bible study they’ll grow in maturity and get God’s blessing. Wrong! Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re only kidding themselves if that’s what they believe. For it’s not enough to receive the Word, we must act on the Word. Any response to the Word other than faithful, unqualified obedience, is self-deceptive. For it’s not the hearing of God’s Word that brings blessing, it’s the practice of the Word. As it says in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
That’s the bottom line. Hearing is not the same thing as doing. There can be no substitute for service. We have to act on the precepts of God’s Word. It’s no good marking our Bibles if our Bibles don’t mark us. God didn’t give us His Word to be simply learnt, but to be obeyed and applied. As Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples.” And, as it says in Psalm 119:1, “Blessed are they … who walk according to the law of the Lord.”
In other words the distinctive trait of the true Christian is not a momentary feeling of compliance or short term commitment, but a long and consistent obedience to Scripture. On a moment by moment and day to day basis the real believer proves his faith by being a doer of the Word. He’s a person whose life is characterized by what one commentator refers to as “holy energy.” Which is another way of saying that a person who is truly saved manifests behaviour corresponding to the standards of God’s Word.
Yes, if a profession of faith in Christ does not result in a hunger and thirst for God’s Word, and a desire to obey that Word, then the profession is merely that – a mere profession. John puts it this way, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” 1 John 2:3-6 (cf. 1 John 3:10).
Thus it’s not a question of what one claims to have experienced but of whether or not we imitate Christ (cf. Philippians 2:1-7). It gets down to whether or not we’re “all ear.” As Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 7:21.