Spend some time in a traditional church building or setting, and you will inevitably come across James 1:22. This famous scripture verse encourages us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

When I was younger, I was told that this scripture meant that I should be working hard to please God and to honor Him, and it created a form of bondage in my mind. Whenever I wasn’t working for God, I felt like I was letting Him down or that He was displeased. At deeper levels, such ideas could even cause a person to question their salvation.

So today we are going to have a discussion regarding what it means to be a doer of the word, and the answers we find may not be what you expect.

What is The Word?

The basic foundation of this kind of discussion would obviously be defining what precisely the word is. Most people think that they already know the answer to this question, but have you stopped to think about it? Some would say that “the word” is the bible itself, others would say that it is the spoken words of God.

Answering this question is essential to understand what James was actually saying in verse 22 of chapter 1. First, let’s read the verse with some context. Join me in reading James 1:21:25:

21 Why lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

24 For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was.

25 But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

Words are important. Without terms and definitions, the ability to communicate and understand falls flat. A perfect example of the importance of clear and concise language can be been in verse 21. A religious person with a legalistic performance mindset will read verse 21, and see it through their own lens of performance, behavior and self-works.

Yet as we closely study and consider the verse, we can see that receiving the engrafted word is able to save your soul, and it is contrasted with filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. So we need to know what these things are and define this terminology.

First, we need to know what “the engrafted word” is. Once we figure that out, then we will be able to have much more clarity about the rest. Thankfully, we don’t need to go very far to find our answer, check out John 1:1-4:

 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

These first four verses of the book of John, define precisely who the Word actually is. Please notice that the Word of God is not a what, the Word is not a thing, but the Word of God is a person – and that person is Jesus Christ!

Verses 1 through 3 make it clear that the Word has always existed, was there from the beginning, and was involved in creation. Verses 3 and 4 highlight the personhood of the Word; that the Word is not an object.

Then finally, verse 4 finishes by letting us know that in Him (the Word) was life; the very light of mankind.

The Word of God is not a thing, nor is the Word of God the scriptures themselves. I know that many people confuse and interchange the Word of God and Jesus, but they are not the same thing. The scriptures always refer to itself as the writings, Moses, or the scriptures. The Bible never refers to itself as the Word of God, that title is reserved solely for Jesus Christ.

This fact is actually confirmed for us in Revelation chapter 19, where Jesus is being described, and in verse 13, we see this:

And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.”

So this leaves no doubt about the Word of God being a title for Jesus Christ, Himself.

Being Grafted into The Vine

With this understanding about The Word of God being Jesus, we can begin to understand our verses from James 1:21-25. To reiterate, in verse 21, we read: lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

I invite you to look at the call of this verse for what it is saying, James is talking to unbelievers here, calling them to receive Christ! Jesus Christ is the Vine to which we all must be grafted into. Let’s take a closer look at this, and ask a few fundamental questions.

The first phrase, lay apart, is quite interesting! It literally means “to put off like a garment.” And it’s useful to notice that the verse specifically says to lay apart all filthiness, not just some, or as much as you can in your own strength. The directive is a total and complete removal; a complete shedding of the old way… sound familiar?

Furthermore, the word for filthiness in the Greek used here is defilement, complete dishonor. Consider with me the fact that it is spiritually impossible to be a re-born new creation in Christ, washed by His blood, made right with His own righteousness, and to simultaneously be defiled and dishonored!

Likewise, the word naughtiness in James 1:21, literally means “evil” – and again it is impossible for a re-born, righteous, child of God to be evil! In Christ, you are completely clean, because that is exactly what He has made you.

The people who James is addressing here in these verses are not believers, that is why he is encouraging them to receive the engrafted word that is able to save them! James is making a passionate plea for them to receive Christ!

 

Don’t Be a Forgetful Hearer of Christ

This is the key to understanding James’ warning about being a doer of the Word, and not merely a hearer. Remembering that the Word is Jesus, James is telling his listeners to not simply hear the Gospel and then dismiss it the very next moment, but to hear the good news about what Christ has done, and own that new identity in Christ. James makes this clear in the proceeding verses of 23-25:

 

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

24 For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was.

25 But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

Let’s look at these verses carefully. James says that if anyone merely hears the Word (Jesus), without being a doer, is akin to someone looking at their natural face in a mirror, and immediately forgetting who they are.

And this analogy that James uses here, is what helps to bring all of this into focus, because remember, the foundation of all of this is Jesus Christ and His finished work.

These people were hearing the Gospel message, they were hearing how Jesus Christ had made the payment for their sin, making them righteous, redeeming their life… and then immediately forgetting that wonderful truth, forgetting the truth that they had just heard, and going back to their works.

Verse 25 makes this abundantly clear when it says, but whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty…

My dear friend, the perfect law of liberty is not the law of Moses, not the law of the old covenant system of dead religion, condemnation, guilt, and fear. The perfect law of liberty is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

It is in Christ that we are to abide and remain, and as the end of verse 25 says: the one who is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work will be blessed.

Is James contradicting himself and promoting self-works here? Nope!

Doing the work of Christ revolves around one single thing… belief on Him! Specifically belief on His finished work for you, and what He accomplished on His cross, personally for you.

 

Does that seem too simple? Does that sound too good to be true? Please do not take my word for it; read Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in John 6:28-29:

28 Then said they to him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.”

 

Conclusion

As we have seen today, the often misunderstood scripture of James chapter one, is not something to be afraid of, nor is it a sledgehammer of condemnation. Rather, like every other scripture, can paint a fantastic portrait of Jesus, and remind us of His glory.

I encourage you today, to remain steadfastly focused on Christ, to not get trapped in a spiral of self-works, guilt, and fear, but believe fully on Christ, and rest in His finished work for you, and the perfect law of liberty which He has brought.

 

Be blessed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*