Being Doers of the Word
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22 NAS)
James warns us of the danger of hearing the truth, but failing to apply that truth to our lives. He uses the term “hearers,” which is the Greek word akroates, a word that was used in classical Greek times to describe people who were part of an audience. It has connotations to the modern day equivalent of someone who audits a class rather than taking it for credit. They are simply there to hear the lecture, think about, and maybe even discuss it; but they are not there to be tested on what they have heard. In the ancient Greek world, the akroates, sometimes actually followed their favorite speakers from city to city to listen to their lectures.
The mistake we can make is to assume that our intellectual knowledge of a Biblical truth means that that truth has become part of our life. In other words, we deceive ourselves with the notion that since we know it, that is the same as doing it. The reality is we all probably know more than we live. This is what I call the “sin gap” that each of us must deal with, because the Scripture says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). We must constantly be working to narrow this gap between what we know and what we do.
A.W. Tozer used the word “textualism” (a term I believe he coined), to describe the approach to Christianity some have taken that divorces knowledge from action. A textualist is satisfied in knowing about truths and less concerned with experiencing the truths he knows. In his book, Keys to the Deeper Life, Tozer writes about the impact of textualism:
“Faith, a mighty, vitalizing doctrine in the mouths of the apostles, became in the mouth of the scribe another thing all together and power went from it. As the letter triumphed, the Spirit withdrew and textualism ruled supreme. It was the time of the believer’s Babylonian captivity.
In the interest of accuracy it should be said that this was a general condition only. Certainly there were, even in those low times, those whose longing hearts were better theologians than their teachers were These pressed on to a fullness and power unknown to the rest. But they were not many and the odds were too great; they could not dispel the mist that hung over the land. The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. Not its theological beliefs are at fault but its assumptions.
It assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true for Paul it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired. The Bible tells us how to be saved, but textualism goes on to make it tell us that we are saved, something in the very nature of things it cannot do. Assurance of individual salvation is thus no more than a logical conclusion drawn from doctrinal premises, and the resultant experience wholly mental.”
One of the problems we face as believers today is the fact that we are inundated with teaching. We have books, tapes, radio, television, etc. all feeding us Biblical truth, much of which we have little opportunity to “digest” before we are fed something new. We are given new truth before we have had a chance to do what we have just heard. We move on to the next thing before we did the last thing. Like the overproduction of an assembly line, we soon encounter the problem of being overstocked.
We become accustomed to hearing, and not doing anything with what we hear. We can even fill notebooks full of notes, but never have those “notes” written on our hearts. We need to ask ourselves: Am I listening with a “doing heart?”
As akroates we deceive ourselves in thinking that we will not be “tested” by God on what we have been taught, but God says: “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). The Scripture says that, “Every word of God is tested” (Prov. 30:5). God does not allow anyone to “audit” his classes, we can know with certainty that the tests are coming.