Listen Up, This Is Who You Are! (James 1:17-27)

Text: James 1:17-27

Today we begin our four week journey through the Epistle of James.  In our text, the Apostle James comes against hypocritical Christians.  He is confronting Christians who are hearers of the Word but not doers of the Word.  In other words, he is trying to expose that there are individuals that say that they are Christians, believe that they are walking the Christian life, but in all reality they are not Christians. 

Now, let me caution you right now!  As we talk about this subject, your mind may drift to certain people that you know that might fit this description.  I caution you from letting your mind shift the Words from James away from your heart towards someone else, lest you find yourself in the same boat as them.  You see, it is easy to hear a sermon and thing think, “Wow, this is good, I hope Johnny and Susie are listening.”  When we hear a message and begin thinking about someone else needing to hear it, we are then not hearing it for ourselves.  We become what we condemn. 

Now back to our text.  James is confronting individuals that say that they are Christian but are merely hearers of the Word and not doers of the Word.  In other words, individuals that merely hear the Word and are not doers of the Word range from individuals that are called CEO Christians (i.e. Christmas and Easter Only Christians) to… individuals that attend every function of the church, give tithes, serve on boards and walk the straight and narrow, yet the Word has not been received by faith.  Individuals who are merely hearers of the Word and not doers of the Word come in all shapes and sizes. Some are not very involved in the church and others are very faithful attendees of the church.  More specifically, some of these individuals believe that they are Christians, but deep down they know that they do not believe what is being taught from the Bible.  They roll their eyes at the Bible when it doesn’t agree with their opinion, dismiss the teachings of the church as too dogmatic and old fashioned, yet they hide their disagreement and pretend to be one of the church family.  They are hearers only.  There are
also individuals who hear the Word and agree, for the most part, but it never goes any farther.  They listen, perhaps and even enjoy what they hear, they think it is true, but then 5 minutes after they hear the Word they forget it, leave it and forsake it.   The alarming question for you and me to ponder right now is, “Are you a hearer of the Word only and not a doer?

There is a parable in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus talks about a farmer who comes and casts seed over the land.  In the first scenario the seed falls on the hard soil, but then the birds snatch it up.  In the second scenario, the farmer casts the seed and it takes root in the soil, grows but then it dies because of the thin soil and hot sun.  The third scenario the seed is cast, it grows but then the weeds choke it out.  Jesus says that this is what happens when people hear the Word only and the Word never takes root. This is exactly what James is referring to and confronting in our text.

The problem that James is addressing is that people will hear the Word only.  They hear it but then they are not doing the Word.  But what does James mean when he says that they are not doers of the Word?  It is easy to jump to the conclusion that these individuals heard the Gospel but then they somehow failed to properly perform, that they were not living out the Christian life by doing Christian things.  However, this is not what James is confronting specifically in our text.   What he is confronting are individuals who merely hear the Word and then it does not take root.  They hear the Word without faith.  In other words, to be a doer of the Word means that one does what the Word requires and what the Word says will happen.  To be a doer of the Word means that the hearer will experience repentance of sins, faith in the Gospel and assurance in the Gospel.  The Word is not dead.  It is living and active.  The Holy Spirit through God’s Word of Law brings about repentance of sins.  The Holy Spirit through God’s Word of Forgiveness brings about Faith.  The Word does something to us.  To be a doer of the Word is to be one that not merely hears the Word and then nothing happens.  To be a doer of the Word is to actually hear the Word and have the Word invade us.    To be a doer of the Word is to be one who experiences conviction of sin and faith in the Gospel.  To be a doer of the Word is to possess real living faith!  Keep in mind that scripture says that to do the will of God is to believe the Gospel.  We also think of the Philippian Jailer who says, “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” And Paul and Silas respond by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” You and I are fulfilling the will of God when we believe the Gospel.   

Put another way, here is the main problem.  Can you imagine looking in the mirror, seeing who you are and then 10 minutes later forgetting who you are, what you are about, what you do for a living, etc…?  Can you imagine taking a good look in the mirror and then 10 minutes later you forsake your whole history, your whole life story, your career, you vocation, your memories, etc…  This is crazy.  People who forget who they are after looking in a mirror are those that we would classify as having a severe case of being scattered brained.   People who forget who they are after looking in the mirror are individuals who may have amnesia, short term memory loss or are in need of medical help.  It doesn’t make sense.  However, this is what so often happens.  This is what James is confronting.  The people that James confronts as well as people in our day and age and even you and me will hear the message of God’s Word.   We will hear of our sin and God’s forgiveness towards us.  We will hear about the price that Christ paid on the cross for us, we hear that the blood stained cross of Christ pays for every single sin that we have committed, that in Christ the wrath of God has been satisfied and then, 10 minutes later after worship or after reading the Bible the circumstances of life, our jobs, our projects, and the things of the world enter in and the message of the Word simply vanishes, it is lost and forgotten.  The Word becomes disconnected.  It goes in one ear and out the other.  This is what it means to be a hearer of the Word only.  This is what James is really concerned about.  The readers of James were like a husband who hears his wife when he is watching football, but nothing of what she says is absorbed, really heard or understood.  The readers of James were like children who hear mom yelling to come and eat but then are completely side tracked by beating level 8 on the video game Halo.  The readers of James were like wives who were pondering the words of their husband only to be distracted by a 30% off coupon to a fashion store.  To simply hear the Word is like someone who looks in the mirror and then forgets what they look like.  There is no lasting memory, nothing lasting about it.  This is James’s concern. 

James is in essence shaking things up calling us to take a good look into the mirror to not only hear, but to also believe, absorb, know and confess what the Word says about us… to know who we are. 

Now this is the point of the sermon where I could turn the dialogue one of two ways.  What I could do is simply give you a list of ways to listen better.  I could give you principles, methods and ways in which you could retain the Word of God and not simply be hearers.  However, my friends, this would be wrong, for I would then be putting the emphasis upon you as a hearer.  Telling a hearer to hear better without giving them something to hear does not accomplish anything.   Rather, I pose this question to you.  What does a hearer of the Word need?  A hearer is one who listens to the Word of God.  To have faith and to be a doer of the Word, you don’t need to be told how to believe but you need to hear what you can believe.    Furthermore, to possess real and living faith in the Word of God, one must hear the Word of God.  For one to hear the Word of God, one must proclaim.  Therefore, in the spirit of this text, I want you to really hear who you are. 

Listen, the Word of God testifies that you and I are created in the image of God.  Listen, you are valued by God not because of some intrinsic worth, but because you were created in the image of God.  Listen, you and I also have inherited a condition, not a medical condition but a condition that is much more severe, a condition that is rooted deeply in our nature.  Listen, the Word testifies that our nature is fallen, that we are sinners through and through.  While we may be able to dig down, through our layers and successfully remove sins, like removing rocks from a field, we cannot remove the thick layer of granite that is imbedded in our nature, this sinful nature.  Listen, scripture testifies that because of this sinful nature, we turn inward on ourselves; we look to ourselves and not our neighbor or God.  Listen, we attempt to be master and commanders of our own universe, attempting to be in control of everything we try to be God ourselves.  Listen, God’s Word also says that if we were left to ourselves that there would be nothing except eternal damnation in hell and eternal separation from God forever.  Listen, we can’t fix our predicament.  Now listen up my friends, God has chosen not to leave you and me in this predicament.  You, who have ears, hear something profound!  God was not content to let His creation be.  Listen, from eternity God had a plan and that plan was to send the God-Man, Jesus Christ to come, live and die for you.  Jesus, took the sin of the world upon himself, his life was like a ransom payment.  Listen, the cross was where Christ absorbed God’s wrath against our sin.  Listen, scripture also testifies that Jesus resurrected and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  Listen up, let me tell you who you are!  Scripture says that because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that you and I who once were spiritual orphans are now adopted as children of God.   Listen up, because of Jesus you and I who were once dead in trespasses and sin have been resurrected to life.  Hear the good news that because of Jesus, you and I who were guilty were justified and declared innocent of sin.  May God grant you faith to hear that your sins are forgiven and you have been given the gift of everlasting life.  May God grant you ears to hear that you have been rescued and salvation is yours.   God has done everything necessary for your salvation, so all that is left for us to do is what?  We get to continually receive the Gospel by faith and in doing so, we are not merely hearers of the Word but doers.