21 So get rid of all uncleanness and the rampant outgrowth of wickedness, and in a humble (gentle, modest) spirit receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted [in your hearts] contains the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the Word [obey the message], and not merely listeners to it, betraying yourselves [into deception by reasoning contrary to the Truth].
23 For if anyone only listens to the Word without obeying it and being a doer of it, he is like a man who looks carefully at his [own] natural face in a mirror;
24 For he thoughtfully observes himself, and then goes off and promptly forgets what he was like.
25 But he who looks carefully into the faultless law, the [law] of liberty, and is faithful to it and perseveres in looking into it, being not a heedless listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he shall be blessed in his doing (his life of obedience).
This is a rather long passage, that is often summarized in the simple axiom, "Be a Doer of the Word, not just a Hearer." But, as with all Scripture, there are deeper gems that can enrich our souls. James, the brother of our Lord, makes it clear from the beginning that we are to change our lives and get rid of the ugliness of sin. In modesty and humbleness, we are to welcome the Word, which is Jesus, Himself, into our hearts. By hearing the Word spoken, and accepting it, we have access to the supernatural power that can save our souls.
But James immediately cautions that hearing the Word is not enough. We must obey the message by following and observing (doing) the commandments God has given us. And then James gives us a mini-parable about a man who hears the Word without obeying it; he is likened to a man who looks in the mirror and thinks he knows who he is, but when he looks away, he forgets "what he was like".
It is the purpose of God's laws and commandments to remind us that we have been saved from our sinful flesh, but those commandments must be acted upon. Without active efforts to follow the commandments, we forget what we were like, and slip back into what is natural for our flesh. There must be work done on our part to free us from our past. That involves repentance and an active, physical turning away from our sins... merely hearing the message of God, with no compliance or observance of God's commandments, will only get us so far.
Here, in simpler terms, is the message: Hearers (and acceptance) of the Word will gain eternal life and save their souls (verse 21). But Doers of the Word will gain an inheritance in God's Kingdom (be blessed in their deeds; verse 25).
Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 7:21-27. This is the familiar Scripture in which our Lord says, "Not every one that says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father, which is in heaven." He then goes on to give a short parable of the Two Builders. Our Lord teaches that the man who hears His sayings (the Word) and does them is like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. That house withstood all that beat against it, and it didn't fall. But the man who hears the Lord's sayings and doesn't apply them, or do them, is like a foolish man, whose house is built upon the shifting sands. When the storms of this life came against that house, it fell. And Jesus says, "And great was its fall."
So let me ask you, "What is the house?" It is the temple of our soul and where the Holy Spirit resides within us. If we only hear the Word, and thereby accept it, we are assured our eternal salvation. But Jesus and our Father want more for us. They want us to experience the freedom that the Law and Commandments afford us. Think about it ... just hearing that the Lord commands us to keep the Sabbath holy does not provide the blessings that actually keeping the Sabbath as a holy day will do for us. Simply knowing that the Sabbath is a holy day does not please God. He wants to see us observing that day as holy, by dedicating it to Him with prayerful study of His Word and seeking Him through time spent with Him. That's where the blessings come from!
And, I don't know about you, but I take seriously the cautious word from our Lord that the foolish builder's fall was "great". That tells me that, although he heard the Word, and was saved, he missed out on so much more that God wanted to give him. I know this for sure ... I not only want to hear all that Jesus and the Holy Spirit want to impart to me, but I want to be a faithful doer of His Word and commandments, so that I may receive all the blessings that my Father in Heaven has in store for me. I don't want to miss out on a thing!
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