There are over 100 million copies of the Bible purchased each year, meaning that people are buying Bibles almost as fast as the number of children that are being born.
Yet, despite the number of Bibles there are, I’m sure that many of us would agree that the world doesn’t seem to be growing very much in godliness. If it is really true that God’s Word changes Christians, then why do we not see more change in a world where 32% of people consider themselves Christian?
From James chapter one, we can discern that the reason why this is true is because not all Christians are actually changed by God’s Word. In effect, James says that just because you have an open Bible in your hands doesn’t mean that you will listen or obey what God’s Word really says.
Reading your Bible, hearing a Sunday sermon, and calling yourself a Christian all count for absolutely nothing if you refuse to do what God actually tells you to do.
So James gives us two instructions to obey regarding God’s Word.
Hear the Word
Hearing is the way that our hearts and minds receive God’s Word. When we hear, God’s Word becomes meaningful to us, and it produces obedience in our lives. When we don’t hear, God’s Word remains meaningless to us, and we are unchanged by it.
James 1:21 says, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” You may not remember exactly when you first truly heard the Word of God, but at some point, you did. Before you became a Christian, your soul was like a skeleton that died and had decomposed because of sin. When you first heard the Word of God, its power was implanted in your soul, and it brought your soul to life.
My life was forever changed by God’s Word the first time I received it, but as Christians we do not receive God’s Word just one time – we continue to receive it. But this continual receiving isn’t always easy. Our flesh distracts us and makes us “hearing impaired.”
So what can we do to listen to God’s Word better? James gives us three practical applications: repentance, meekness, and confidence.
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
Repentance, turning away from your sins, is the way you strip away the rampant junk that clogs your ears and keeps your soul from hearing God’s Word clearly. It’s identifying what sinful voices you listen to most so you can resist them and make God’s voice the chief voice in your life.
Meekness is sometimes misunderstood to mean weakness, but a better synonym would be lead-ability. To receive God’s Word with a posture of meekness means that you approach the Bible ready to be led in whatever direction it takes you without protesting or finding fault in his revelation at every verse.
Confidence is the assurance that God’s Word is already implanted in your soul and is able to save your soul. With confidence, we read the Bible, hear the Bible, and tell others about the Bible.
Do the Word
James does not want us to be Word-Hearers only but also Word-Doers.
Your church attendance, the mission trips you take, or the money that you give cannot save your soul. But when someone has truly heard God’s Word, they cannot help but put God’s Word into action. This is why James’ second instruction is: Do the Word.
Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, thus deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
Whereas hearing the Word is the way you receive it, doing the Word is the way you know you have actually heard it. James warns us here not to be deceived: Authentic Christians do what they hear God say. Imitation Christians do only what they want God to say.
While it is true that Christians are saved by faith alone in the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to God’s Word authenticates that our faith is indeed genuine. Woe to the Christian who thinks they’ve been saved but picks and chooses what they want to obey in the Bible!
God’s words are not to be taken lightly, and the Christian who truly follows Jesus Christ is the one who is eager to understand and do everything he says.
Be Changed by the Word
How do we know if we are truly being changed by God’s Word when we listen carefully and put it into action? In other words, what assurances do we have that the change we’re experiencing is real?
James gives two signs:
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… If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:24, 26)
The first sign is that you look more like Jesus Christ. The second sign is that you look less like the world.
Authentic Christians do not look at themselves in a mirror for wisdom, they look into God’s Word for wisdom. And when they look into God’s Word, they see the freedom that they’ve received through the gospel of Jesus Christ: freedom from the power of sin to live in a way that is obedient to the Word and pleasing to God’s sight. Authentic Christians can know that their labor is not in vain, and that God will bear fruit in their lives.
Authentic Christians bridle their tongues, meaning they avoid venomous and profane words. True Word-Doers watch their tongues carefully as to build others up, rather than tear them down. You can know that you are being changed by God’s Word if your words point people to Jesus rather than to the world.
Authentic Christians hear God’s Word, do God’s Word, and are being changed by God’s Word. If you see yourself becoming more Christ-like and less like the world, in your obedience, your repentance, your meekness, your confidence, your words, your listening, your wisdom, your care, and your holiness…then praise God.
For this is a mighty sign that God’s Word is alive and active in your soul.