KEY THOT: James is not the favourite book of the Bible for those who want to emphasize the election of grace, where a person’s works (action or reaction) does not contribute to his salvation but only God’s sovereign election of him through his own grace. But we forget that grace is activated by faith: "for by grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8). The issue here isn't grace but faith since it is faith that makes grace operative in our lives. The problem starts when we misinterpret faith. NT faith is not just passive believing (like the demons which also believe in God--and tremble. James 2:19), NT faith is always active believing—believing Jesus is Lord AND then submitting to His lordship. The demons believe Jesus is Lord but will not obey Him but disciples believe Jesus is Lord and obey Him as Master.
So James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, DECEIVING yourselves” (v.22). When we are just hearers (giving assent to the truth) but not doers (not practicising it), James says we become self-deceived. The devil does not need to deceive us—we deceive ourselves. Self-deception is worse than demonic deception because a self-deceived person cannot be convinced that he or she is in error. The only way to be set free from self-deception is to practice what we say we believe.
We study God’s word not to increase our knowledge to but to increase our practice of it. Like Ezra in the OT: “For Ezra had set his heart to STUDY the Law of the Lord, and to DO IT and to TEACH his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). We can only teach what we have practiced-otherwise we may be teaching our own self-deception, not truth. The Hebrew concept of education is always learning by doing whereas the Greek concept of education is learning by acquiring speculative knowledge: “Now all the Athenians (Greeks) and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The Word of God condemns the Greek concept of learning because it is focused on telling and hearing but does not result in doing.
Everytime I receive a new teaching, I must ask, “Lord, what would You want me to DO about this?” And everytime I teach God’s word, I must ask what am I requiring the hearers to DO about it. If there are no actions attached to a teaching, then I may be in danger of self-deception, thinking that I have the truth, whereas in reality, what I have is just knowledge ABOUT the truth. It’s like knowing a lot ABOUT God but not knowing Him.
Father, help us to move from increasing our knowledge of the Bible to increasing our practice of it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.