“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV).
“Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it” (CEV).
The Word of God has not been truly received until it is put into practice. This is a consistent theme in the New Testament. Paul warned the church in Rome: For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (Romans 2:13). Our Lord Jesus himself stated the same truth: Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28).
The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears. He can’t stand because he has no feet. He cannot do anything because he has no hands. Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes. And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.
Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing. Profession of faith in Jesus means nothing without a practice of that faith; learning the Bible is useless without living it; and acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up. Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives.
The danger is that we have the potential to deceive ourselves into thinking we are okay just because we know the right things and believe the right things. Christianity is a vital love relationship with Jesus, and, so, is not merely a matter of hearing and affirming orthodoxy; it also involves orthopraxy, that is, having right practice, the doing of truth.
True hearing leads to true response. When my firstborn daughter was still in the womb, I constantly talked to her. I was in seminary at the time, and I would come home and read her fairy tales in Hebrew. I spoke to her when I got up in the morning and when I went to bed. I told her all about how God was going to bless her and do great things through her. I told her of Jesus and his love for her. I practiced my sermons and Sunday School lessons on her – all before she was born.
When the day came that God graced us with her birth, the nurses took her and she cried and cried. She cried so much and so hard that I finally said to them, “Let me hold her.” The minute I held her, I began speaking to her, and what happened next got the attention of everyone in the room: little baby Sarah immediately got quiet. It was like that the entire time she was in the hospital. The only time she was happy was when I was speaking to her. It would be no surprise for you to know that Sarah has always been a Daddy’s girl.
We respond to God’s voice when we recognize it. If we are not in the habit of responding to God’s Holy Word, it is likely that we do not know his voice. Baby Sarah did not need a lesson on how to respond to me; she knew exactly who I was: her father. Do we know our heavenly Father? Can we distinguish his voice? The greatest need that we all have is to be servants of God who hear his voice and respond to it, and not soakers who just sit and hear without any response at all.
Whenever we refuse to love the unbelievers around us, we are not hearing God and doing his will. When we listen to the gospel, but then have no intention of sharing that same gospel with others, we are being disobedient. When we hear about how God forgives us in Jesus’ name, but then we insist on not forgiving another person, we are not being doers of the Word. When we read the Holy Scriptures as an end in itself without the expressed intent of doing whatever we find in it, then we merely hearing.
The Bible is only boring and irrelevant when we read it with no intention of doing what it says. This is why whenever we read it we need to write out what action we are going to do after having read it. This is also why the church needs to corporately and collectively covenant together to act on what they hear from God’s Word as they examine it together. Without this, we are only a random collection of individuals listening to a talking-head preacher. We go home and forget what we just heard. Instead, let us act in unity and purpose to do what we find in Holy Scripture. Can you imagine even just one church who devotes themselves to such a sacred task, and what impact it would have in the world?