James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” I had read this passage numerous times over the course of my life and felt pretty confident that I knew what it meant…and then I read something a few years ago that gave me reason to believe I had never really grasped the full meaning of this instruction. Quite simply, it is this: there is a world of difference between doing and being a doer, and James does not say “do the word.”
To clarify the difference it may be helpful to think about the difference between running and being a runner. Unless there is a physical disability/limitation, every can run. Not everyone can run at the same speed, for the same length of time, or with the same grace, and certainly not everyone wants to run, but if push came to shove almost all of us could. At the same, not nearly everyone is a runner.
Growing up, I played a lot of sports, but I never much enjoyed running. Not running of any great distance, any way. Baseball was my favorite sport by far, and I could run from base to base just fine; those 60 to 90 foot intervals were no problem, and when I needed to, I could cover those distances pretty quickly. But I would never have considered myself a runner, and unless I was on the playing field I never thought about running.
I have a friend who is a runner. He loves to run. He runs just about every day, and he measures his running in miles, not feet. He likes running so much that marathons are not challenging enough for him; he runs ultra marathons. He runs when it’s hot or when it’s cold; he runs in the morning, or in the evening. He even runs over his lunch break! Because he is a runner, though, his running shapes his entire life. It influences his schedule, his diet, his exercise, his clothing, his choice of shoes, his vacations and travel… There are very few areas of his life that are not touched by his running.
This is the same difference between doing and being a doer. Anyone can do the things the Bible says we should do. But James says it is not enough to do things; rather, we need to be doers. Our entire lives should be shaped by the Bible; God’s instructions should penetrate and touch every aspect of our lives. When it comes to doing only, it can just become another thing on our to-do list. It can become a habit, a ritual, a routine…an obligation. In fact, there were some folks in the New Testament who had mastered the doing, but they certainly were not doers; Jesus reserved His harshest words for these men.
We must not allow ourselves to be only hearers–there needs to be action. But we must not settle for action only, either. The Scripture must transform our lives, it must infiltrate every area. If not, as James says, we are deceiving ourselves.