One of the repeated points of emphasis throughout the New Testament which runs counter to the majority of modern denominational dogma is that Christians are expected and demanded to be doers of the work. James wrote, “…but whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (1:25, KJV). The term “doers of the work” clearly teaches that followers of Christ are to be active in their faith, an ideal foreign to and staunchly opposed by numerous modern “faith alone” devotees. “Doers of the work” clearly indicates that faith or belief in God is not in and of itself sufficient and “works,” so to speak, are an indispensable facet of the Christian walk.
This is the kind of verse which Martin Luther would have opposed quite adamantly. According to Mark Woods in his April 6, 2016, article “Should James Be In the Bible? Martin Luther Didn’t Think So” in Christianity Today, it was Luther who referred to the book of James in its entirety as an “epistle of straw.” William Barclay wrote in his Daily Study Bible’s section on James 1: “This is the kind of passage in James which Luther so much disliked. He disliked the idea of law altogether, for with Paul he would have said, ‘Christ is the end of the law’ (Romans 10:4). ‘James,’ said Luther, ‘drives us to law and works.’ And yet beyond all doubt there is a sense in which James is right. There is an ethical law which the Christian must seek to put into action. That law is to found first in the Ten Commandments and then in the teaching of Jesus.”
The modern term “doer” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one that takes an active part. Thus, a doer — whether it be in athletics, business, or in a church — would be a person who actively participates to the best of his or her ability. A doer is not lazy or apathetic, and contributes heartily to the overall team effort and the success of the organization. Applying this to the body of Christ, a doer is one who takes an active part in following and promoting Christ in every way possible.
According to Strong, “doer” comes from the Greek term poietes. The website http://www.preceptaustin.org’s comments on James 1:22-24 say that it means “to do, to make, to accomplish…describes one who does something as his occupation such as a producer, a poet or an author. The other sense describes a doer or a performer, speaking of one who does what is prescribed, such as one who keeps the law.” The term poietes or a derivative of it appears six times in the New Testament (Acts 17:28; Rom. 2:13; Eph. 2:10; Jas. 1:22, 23, 25; 4:11).
“Doing,” or being a “doer,” is also addressed specifically by Jesus as a prerequisite for obedience (Matt. 12:50; John 13:17). James shows both the demand to be a “doer” and the fallacy of NOT being an active poitetes for Christ in James 1:22-23: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass…” This verse cannot be more specific as to what the expectations are for us as followers of Christ. “Doers of the word” clearly denotes that Christians are to take on and assume a proactive stance towards their Christian duties. “Not hearers only” would indict much of modern-day Christendom, where untold masses perhaps attend services a couple of times a week, drop a few dollars in the collection tray, and otherwise give negligible, if any, thought to their faith at any other time throughout the week.
The first chapter of James even provides specific examples of what we as Christians are to “do.” He says, “If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (1:26-27). He also specifies that if a person know to do what is good and then fails to do it, it is sin for him (4:17).
Edmond Heibert wrote in his commentary on James: “Wholehearted acceptance of the Word must result in active obedience to the Word. Such obeying of the Word constitutes the essence of a living faith. These verses express James’ central concern. James 1:22, 23, 24, 25 state and illustrate the need for active obedience to the Word, and Jas. 1:26, 27 portray the true nature of religious obedience.” This quote very accurately represents the tenor and intended meaning of James 1:25, yet also highlights another key component in obeying this verse. “Active obedience to the word” is a phrase which cannot be ignored. Obedience and obey are terms which Jesus Christ Himself specified on multiple occasions in regards to His commands as directives towards those who follow Him (John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 5:3). Obedience to the Lord is mandatory. Following the commands of our Father is not optional. Obeying involves action on our part, further affirmation that we are to be “doers,” and not merely “hearers” of God.
E.L. Flannery wrote in his piece, “What About Baptism, Faith, And Works” in the March, 1960 issue of Searching the Scriptures, the following: “Salvation is not by the works of the old law, the law of Moses, but it is by works (obedience) on man’s part, in obeying the law of the gospel of Christ. This is clearly taught in Ephesians 2:8-10; James 1:25. Man cannot merit salvation — he must be saved by grace. But he can manifest his faith by doing what God asks of him.”
JC Choate wrote in his article, “Truth is the Truth,” for Voice of Truth International: “The Lord’s word, the truth, is said to be the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). We are exhorted to be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). Christ says, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). His word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35) and in the last day all will be judged by His word (John 12:48).”
Each of us without exception need to be “doers of the Word.” We need to live according to the guidance and instruction of the Word of God. The writer of Hebrews said, “The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Obeying Christ and following His gospel should be the focus of our hearts, our minds, our activities and our passion. Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17). We deceive ourselves at our own eternal peril when we fail to do what God commands of us. As James said, we delude ourselves by veering away and relying upon our own wants and desires, choosing to live our lives believing it is sufficient to know God’s Word even though we do not live according to God’s Word (1:22).
Paul wrote, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). Jesus likewise condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they would “say, and do not do” (Matt. 23:2-4). They were mere “talkers, but not “doers.”
Being a “doer” flies directly counter to the theological stances of many, yet James 1:25 is not isolated in its meaning. Paul said that God “…will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:6-11).
Doug Post, an evangelist of the Lord’s church in Salisbury, MD, said, “For many, the Bible is a book about grace and ‘faith only,’ and Romans 2:6-11 destroys that concept. God will render according to each person’s ‘deeds.’ Most translations use ‘deeds’ instead of ‘works,’ but the Greek word ergon means ‘works’ and is translated elsewhere by numerous translations. It seems many translations wanted to lessen the blow to their ‘no works’ doctrine by using the word ‘deeds’ instead. We will be judged according to our works, according to our obedience (doing or being doers of the law…of Christ).”
Matthew 7:24-28 perfectly summarizes the timeless importance of not only hearing God’s Word, but also doing God’s Word. These are the words of Jesus Himself, and cannot be more clear: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Each of us are constantly presented with opportunities to “do” in the name of the Lord. Each of us can invite people to church, support or participate in mission efforts, conduct Bible studies with non-Christians, or assist in outreach programs designed to promote the gospel to the lost. All of us can “do” something which will help promote the gospel, regardless of how lacking in talents or abilities we might be. Let us each strive to relentlessly and unendingly focus on sharing the gospel with this largely apathetic and at times hostile world around us, while avoiding slipping into apathy and indifference ourselves. As James 1:25 urges, let each of us be “doers” for Christ in every way which is presented to us.
Tim graduated from ACU in 1990. He preaches and teaches at various churches of Christ in West Texas, and is a member of the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene.