You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.
If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.
It goes without saying, but ancient people didn’t take selfies. (Lucky them!) In fact, most people had very little idea of what they looked like. They caught blurry glimpses of their reflection in water from time to time, or perhaps a wealthy friend or employer had a hand mirror (a luxury object, unaffordable for most, and still not very true to life). Most people didn’t see themselves often enough to ever develop a picture in their minds of their own face. Hard to imagine now, isn’t it?
In what is one of the best-known sections of James, the writer uses the mirror as an analogy for those who hear the word but fail to act on it. He says it’s kind of like losing your short-term memory: you listened to that sermon or podcast (or read that devotional!) and thought, “That was great! Very inspiring!” But then you walked away and did, well, nothing. You went right back to the way you were like you never heard it, read it, saw it at all.
James is all about faith in action. Words with nothing to back them are useless. Now, we’re all busy. It’s hard to help in every situation. And it’s a lot to ask that you act immediately on every single thing you learn every day. Not every passage of scripture is going to line up with the situation you’re going through right now.
But the measure of faith is this: do you live it as much as you study it? If not, James says, we may be misleading ourselves about the depth of our devotion. What’s more, we may be missing out on a blessing!
For Pondering & Prayer
Is your biggest challenge not knowing enough about your faith, or failing to apply what you know?
If it’s the former, congratulations on taking the time to read scripture every day – you’re well on your way. Keep going! If it’s the latter, ask God for one concrete opportunity to live your faith today.