When asked about my favorite Bible verses, many come to mind. For a long while my favorite passage was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
That passage sums up well how I have faced difficult decisions in my life. I have trusted that God will see me through the decisions and that He has a plan for me and my family. I look back and see myself trusting God, however imperfectly, through every turn.
Over the past several years, however, a new verse has caught my heart: James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Throughout my life I have studied the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Bible. I have a 3-year Master of Divinity degree. The Bible was the main focus of all my higher education. Yet that knowledge is meaningless if I don’t do something with it.
You can have earned degree upon degree, done study after study, gained more Trivial Pursuit knowledge than a Biblical scholar, but James says that if you don’t actually do something with it, you’re deceiving yourself. Without putting your faith in action, without being obedient to Christ, you have tricked yourself into believing that because you have the right knowledge your relationship with God is good. In reality, however, that is not the case.
In chapter 2, James says: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
He doesn’t just say that faith without action is not so great – he actually says that it is “dead.” The Greek word translated dead comes from the word for corpse. There is no mistaking the meaning James has here. If you’re not putting your faith into action – being obedient to all God has called you to – then your faith is dead as a doornail. In other words, what good does a head full of knowledge do if you aren’t living differently because of it?
Do you want to know what God’s will for your life is? Then start doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing! Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs just wondering what his plan is – do something! God has called all of us to do certain things as followers of Christ. We are to love others, take care of the poor, worship, pray, study Scripture, etc. If you’re trying to determine next steps, then do what you already know you’re supposed to be doing, demonstrating your real, life-altering faith. That faith which is lived out, is the only true, saving faith there is. By being obedient to what we already know we are to do, we are proving ourselves to be good and faithful stewards of that which God has entrusted us.
If we truly believe that the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor, then we can’t do that only in our heads. We have to put legs to the gospel. We have to live and act differently. We have to allow God’s Spirit to transform not only our mind, but also our actions and who we are as individuals.
Do not merely listen to the word, do what it says!