Sermon by Pastor Tom Brown · Mar 07, 2021 · True Religion Series

A man once told his pastor after a church service that he preached a good sermon. The pastor replied, “that remains to be seen.”

What he implied is that the measure of a sermon cannot be determined until the message of the sermon is applied in the lives of its listeners.

Last week I gave a sermon on anger, looking at James 1:19. On the way home from church we had a little ruckus in the van – tempers were rising – and one of the boys remembered James and made a decision to deescalate the situation rather than give vent to his anger.

At that moment, it was a good sermon.

This morning we continue in James and the topic is the relationship between knowing and doing the Word of God. Let’s read James 1:22-27.

You know the phrase, leap of faith? We’ve all heard. It’s most often used in reference to the supposed need for Christians to ignore evidence, shut the eyes of their mind and leap into a belief that is not reasonable.

The man who made the phrase famous was Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and Christian who wrote about faith in the first half of the 19th century.

The concept of Kierkegaard’s leap was very different than the traditional interpretation. The Denmark of Kierkegaard’s day was considered a Christian nation, much like modern America. What he observed, however, is that the term Christian had very little meaning in his country. To say, “I am a Christian” was about as meaningful as saying, “I was born in Denmark.”

Kierkegaard saw a Christianity that had no power, no life. It took no risks. It was a Christianity of knowing but not doing.

“Today’s Christianity is a matter of being elevated for an hour once a week just as in the theater. It is now used to hearing everything without having the remotest notion of doing something.”

Kierkegaard called Christians of his day to a different way of living the Christian life, a way of risk and commitment. He called for a leap from endless talk and rationalizing into action. He longed for a Christianity that converted not only the intellect, but also the will.

This was Kierkegaard’s leap of faith.

The book of James comes from a kindred spirit. James called Christians to lives of action and commitment. In our passage this morning, we’re going to see a challenge to action, followed by an illustration and some practical application of that call.

First the application.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

It’s straight forward, isn’t it? If you are going to call yourself a Christian, you must be someone who does the Word and not merely a hearer.

The word ‘hearer’ had a technical usage in the Greek. In the philosophy schools that proliferated in ancient Greece, students gathered around teachers and enrolled in programs of learning. In addition to the students, the schools were attended by hearers who were not enrolled, but were interested in the lectures. These were hearers.

The modern equivalent is the person who audits a class. Interested people can audit a college course without the commitment of enrolling in a degree program. There’s no homework and no tests, but you can sit and listen to the lectures.

There is no auditing in Christianity. When you become a follower of Jesus you take on a commitment to enroll as a disciple. You move from hearer to doer.

It’s a concept that you can see throughout the gospels in the teachings of Jesus.

After the sermon on the mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Matthew 7:24


After the last supper:

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:17

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15


In the Great Commission:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20


There are no hearers among Christ’s followers, there are only doers.

If you stop at hearing, James tells us, you are deceived. You may be a theological scholar, you may have read hundreds of books and listened to hours of podcasts. You may consider yourself to be very godly, but unless your knowledge is translated to action, you are deceived.

When we are deceived we don’t know it. That’s the point, right?

As a senior in high school, I was shopping for shirts and I saw a big puffy, purple silk dress shirt. I believed that the shirt would make me a magnet for the ladies, so I bought it. I was deceived.

Some of us may be deceived this morning in believing that our knowledge has made us godly.

The challenge from James to be doers is followed by an illustration.


23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

We are very familiar with mirrors. Most of us will spend thousands of hours in front of a mirror in the course of our lives. Why is that? A mirror shows us what we look like. It shows us our face.

It shows us the hair that is out of place. It shows us the spot on our chin. It reveals the blemishes on our skin. A mirror allows us to make adjustments to our physical appearance and achieve the best version of our physical selves.

Now, imagine, James says, imagine a person who looks into a mirror and is so distracted and disengaged from the moment that they turn and walk away immediately forgetting the clump of hair dangling from their nostril and the matted bedhead and the little bit of jelly on the corner of the lips.

That person has missed the point of the mirror. They have wasted their time. And they have gone out into the world with a face full of blemishes.

That’s what we’re like when we sit in church on a Sunday morning or read our Bibles on a Monday morning and walk away without taking any action.

James is teaching us something about the purpose of the Bible. Like a mirror, the Bible reflects our appearance. But rather than our physical appearance, the Bible shows us the state of our souls. The Bible reveals the divine image, the ideal of humanity. And it reveals sin and the corruption of that image. When I look into the pages of the Bible I see myself into those images.

Last week we saw that the ideal man, the divine woman is person who is quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Some of us saw in that passage of the Bible a reflection of ourselves that has some blemishes. That’s good. That’s what the Bible is for. When I see the shortness of my temper reflected in James 1, I have the opportunity to make adjustments to my spirit.

But if I am only a hearer, there are no adjustments. My time listening to the Word is wasted. And I go back to walking around with spots of sin on my character.

James moves from this illustration to three practical examples for application.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

The first application is our speech.

The Bible tells us that our words are very powerful.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21


Our words can give life. This week some family were visiting and I was impressed by the maturity of a niece. Towards the end of the day I walked over to her and complimented her on the care and love she showed for her siblings. I thought she was going to float for a moment she was so happy.

Words can give life. They can also destroy, can’t they?

A father who is loves his son, but is frustrated with his sons lack of motivation, says in a moment of impatience, “you’re never going to do anything with your life.” Those words are powerful aren’t they?

James tells us our tongues are like a horse. In a natural state they are powerful, but uncontrolled. A bridle and a bit can bring control and direction to the natural power of a horse. The same is true with our tongues.

Here are a few wild expressions of the tongue that need bridling:

  1. Harsh and critical words (Proverbs 12:18)
  2. Gossip and slander (Proverbs 26:22, 11:13)
  3. Grumbling and complaining (James 5:9)
  4. Cursing and foul language (Ephesians 4:29, 5:4)
  5. Deception and dishonesty (Leviticus 19:11)
  6. Flattery (Proverbs 26:28)

As doers of the Word, we should take action and bridle our tongues.

Second, James tells us that those who know the Word should do good deeds for those in desperate situations.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:25


In the ancient world widows and orphans were the greatest victims of the economic situation. Widows most often received nothing from the loss of their husbands. If they had no family to take them in, they had literally nothing. The same was true of orphans. Refugees were a close second.

If you look for it, you will see God’s concern for these oppressed people throughout the Scriptures:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.

Exodus 22:22

And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

Deuteronomy 14:29

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:17

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Psalm 68:5


Our world has changed in two thousand years, but we have not eradicated poverty. We have not solved our social problems.

The hard question we have to ask ourselves is “who are the widows and orphans in our world today.” And more importantly, “what am I doing to help them in their need?”

If you are godly, you will put into practice the Bible’s repeated commands to remember the poor and the suffering.

You and I made a risk coming here this morning. We have heard the Word of God. Now what will we do about it?

The final application from James relates to purity.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:25


When the people of Israel left Egypt to travel to the promised land, God gave them a warning – do not be tainted by the idolatry of the cultures around you. Do not join them in the impurity of their practices and their worship.

Today we don’t worship Molech and sacrifice children on fires, but we worship other idols, don’t we? We have our idols of money and sex and power. Worship is all around us. It’s in our neighbors, it’s on our screens and in our music.

We must fight to stay clear of the stain of idolatry as we journey through this world towards our homeland. We must be careful about what we watch and how our relationships affect us.

We must be doers of the Word. If we stop at hearing, we are deceived and we waste our time. We must commit to action – to bridle our tongues, to care for the poor and to maintain purity in our worship.

What is the tone of James? Does this sound like a burden to you? Does this sound stifling and soul-sucking?

There are two words that are critical to understanding the tone of James in this passage. Both are in verse 25.

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 1:25


The first word is liberty. The laws which James wants us to do is not a law which stifles life. It is a law which gives freedom. How is that?

We need to understand what James means by the law. The word has different meaning in the NT.  In Judaism, the law referred to the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the Old Testament which revealed the laws of God for his people. For Paul, the law was the system of laws which convict the soul of sin, condemn the ungodly and lead us to Christ for grace. It’s hard to nail down James’ use of the word.

Bible scholar Douglas Moo concluded that for James, ““law” does not refer to the law of Moses as such, but to the law of Moses as interpreted and supplemented by Christ.” The perfect law is the law of Jeremiah 31, which is implanted in the hearts of God’s people and frees them from the external constraints of obedience.

Through Christ, the perfect doer of the Word, the law is fulfilled in the gospel of grace. It becomes a living force which works in us from the inside out to produce a godly life.

This law gives freedom.

It gives us intellectual freedom.

It gives us emotional freedom.

It gives us religious freedom.

It gives us freedom from condemnation, guilt and shame.

It gives us freedom from the power of sin and addiction.

Doing the Word is practicing freedom.

The second word in James is blessed.

Jesus also promised a blessing for the doers of the Word:

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Luke 11:28


It’s a blessing to follow instructions isn’t it? Last month Cody and I built a structure at my house. When we were done we found a pile of parts on the floor. After consulting the instructions we realized we had missed a critical step and had to take the whole thing apart to start over. It’s a blessing to follow instructions.

The Bible is the instruction manual for the human life.

Parents who do the Word, who are careful to discipline and train their children, who are careful to know their hearts and not exasperate them, they are blessed in their home life.

The couple who does the Word, who practices forgiveness again and again, who is careful to show love and respect and not let the sun go down on their anger, they are blessed aren’t they?

The believer who bridles their tongue is blessed with the fruit of peace and friendship. The believer who is generous with their time experiences the blessing of shared humanity and reciprocity. The one who resists the temptations of this world and shows self-control in their entertainment and screen time is blessed with peace and a clear conscience.

There are many blessings for the doer. There is the blessing of a faith proven genuine by action. There is the blessing of an engaged and active life, lived in the present moment. There is the relational blessing that God bestows on those who do His Word.

Through the perfect life of doing Christ lived on our behalf, through his death and resurrection – the law has become liberty and a blessing.

It is not a law that condemns every failure, it is a law that stoops in mercy and grace to strengthen the weak hands and provide power for change.

Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown