But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)
1. Be doers of the word. Is this Law? No, this is living in the new covenant of grace, because anyone still living in the old covenant is unable to be a doer of the word. Look at what Jesus says about being a doer of the word:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)
The first son, who did the will of his father, was a doer of the word, because he not only heard his father, he took in the truth of his father's word in his heart. Even though he spoke with his lips that he did not wish to go, he went anyway, because the truth of the father's word compelled him. Doing the word is not an act of man, but an act of God. Likewise, those with faith in Christ will be saved, because their faith is a penitent faith that comes from a broken heart from sin, a deep repentance that brings them into doing the word, not to earn God's favor but to express gratitude for Jesus saving them. Only sinners can express such gratitude.
2. Looking intently at our natural faces. This is essentially desiring to please man rather than God. We are exercising the original sin of Adam, to live without God and to put ourselves first in all things. See what Paul says here to the Romans:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)
All man-made successes in this life, all philosophies and religions, are futility. It is as if one looked into a mirror at oneself and then forgot himself, because he had denied the truth. All of our operations are a turning away from God. They are futility. Turning to God's truth, incorporating it in our hearts, will turn us away from the mirror, away from ourselves, and turn us towards God's word. Jesus said the truth will set us free, and the truth is found in Jesus himself.
3. What is the Law of Liberty? The best answer for this can be found a little further down in James. Remember, Jesus saves us of his own will and choice. We contribute nothing to our salvation. We did not earn it. How do we react to this truth? With gratitude, with love for God. How do we show and invisible God that we love him? By loving those we CAN see, those whom God has made. James 2:8 reads, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well." Jesus told a parable that really brings love for God home:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)
The unforgiving servant was only a hearer of the word. He did not DO. What does DOING look like? Forgiving his neighbor would have shown the king his love for him. Do you see? God is invisible but our neighbor is not. When we show our neighbor that we love him, we show God that we love HIM. The doing is compelled by the love that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit in all whom Jesus has saved. That is why many will hear the gospel, but only some will truly follow Christ.
4. The Law of Liberty is freedom. Peter summarizes everything I said above with these two verses: Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:16-17) Christ has set us free, from sin, but if we continue in unrepentant sin, then we never incorporated that freedom into our lives. How do we know someone whom Christ has set free? By his love for his neighbor. The unrepentant sinner will only use his freedom as a cover to continue sinning. This one has not been regenerated at all!
Think of your sin. Think of the debt you owe to God. Realize that you will never pay it. Now realize that Christ has paid the price for your sin. You are free, but true freedom is loving your neighbor and not a continuance of selfish living. Being a doer of the word--only through the act of Christ on the cross and the response of love in your heart by the Holy Spirit--will truly set you free.