“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”
Anyone can listen to Bible doctrine. Some will understand it and still fail to be doers because doing it requires more than mere academic knowledge of God’s Word. Academic knowledge must be converted to spiritual knowledge by faith (believing the doctrine) before it can be applied, which is what is meant by being a doer. Believers who take in doctrine and understand it academically but do not believe it and apply it are hearers.
Here we have an analogy of a nobleman (believer) looking in the mirror and thinking about himself. All of us have some idea as to how we look in the mirror. But no matter what you look like, when you walk away from the mirror and begin doing something else, you can easily forget how you look. The word looks means to give some very serious thought. The word does not mean just a glance; it means to look at yourself thoughtfully and to be able to memorize your own features. Memorizing your own features by looking in the mirror is like the doctrine in the soul. Bible doctrine is literally a mirror into the soul. If you stop looking into “the mirror of the Word of God,” you forget who you are as an advancing believer, which leads to reversionism. And the road to recover is a difficult one.
James is saying that if you stop after you learn the doctrine you are a hearer only. This means you know it and you could repeat it to someone - you could parrot the doctrines. You can’t use them (apply them) but you can parrot them. Why can you do this? The answer is because they are not yet spiritual knowledge. Disregarding Bible doctrine that you have learned academically by not believing it, or failing to apply the doctrine you have converted to spiritual knowledge means you are merely a hearer, not a doer. Remember that the rate of learning Bible doctrine must always exceed the rate of forgetting if you are going to be a consistent doer of the Word.
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.”
Looks is the Greek word “parakupto,” which means to stoop down to examine something from its immediate source, to concentrate, to gaze intently, to look into something with great intensity. It is a perfect word to describe the positive volition of a believer. This verb is used in Luke 24:12 for Peter stooping down and looking intently into the empty tomb of Jesus. Peter uses the same verb himself in I Peter 1:12 for angels bending down and concentrating on mankind in the Angelic Conflict.
The Word of God is described not by the word mirror this time but by “the perfect law of liberty.” The word perfect is the Greek word “teleios”and means something that is complete. The word law is used to describe God’s word. What James is referring to is the complete revelation of God to mankind as it was at the time of his writing, and as it would further come to be as one complete book called the Bible.
The law of liberty is referring to the perfect law. When Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” He was referring to the truth of the Word of God (Bible doctrine). This freedom begins with spiritual freedom at salvation and has the potential to continue if a believer advances to spiritual maturity. Abides by it is the Greek word “parameno” meaning to continue. This continuation is to be a believer consistently examining the perfect law (God’s Word) and consistently applying it. If a believer will do this they will become doers of the Word and not hearers only. And, according to James, this believer will be an effective doer and be blessed in the doing of it (divine production).
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”
The word “religious” occurs only once in the New Testament which is here in James. The word “religion” occurs twice, both in James. James was not advocating religion; he was using the concept of religion to illustrate the fallacy of claiming to be something that you’re not (a doer, when in reality you’re a hearer only). In James’ illustration this person claims to be a person of piety, but fails to refrain their tongue. The implication is that this person is gossiping about others in an attempt to make himself seem “holy.” This same person thinks that he is going to gain God’s recognition by something he does. That is the principle of religion. Religion, then, is a “do-good” system. James was dealing with people who might assume that they are doing the right thing when they are actually doing the wrong thing. They assume that God is impressed by some form of “do-goodism.” In his attempt to perform human good, this person developed a terrible sin: maligning, judging, gossiping, and running down others trying to make himself look better than others around him. This is the way of the “do-gooders;” they have to call attention to how good they are by running down someone else — “not bridling his own tongue.”
Deceives his own heart is a believer in reversionism. A believer is in reversionism because he is negative toward doctrine. This eventually leads to the production of scar tissue on the soul, the emotional revolt of the soul, loss of the edification complex if it existed and therefore reversionism. So to understand deception of the heart it is necessary to have some understanding of the doctrine of reversionism. For believers the pattern is found in Romans 6:16-23; the principle is found in 1 Corinthians 10:12. When a believer gets careless about doctrine he begins to accumulate scar tissue on the soul. This opens up a vacuum and lets in satanic doctrine. This causes emotional revolt and eventuates in reversionism.
The principle of reversionism is also found in Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you is justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.” This refers to Galatians in reversionism. The reason they are in reversionism is that they have the same thinking that we find in James 1:26, they have become religious. “You all [reversionists] have become null and void” is the same as James saying “religious” — useless, powerless, and not productive. Grace is the function of the Christian way of life. Reverionism means to drift away from the grace of God. Mental attitude sins are a major contributor to reversionism according to Hebrews 12:15.
We have a case of reversionism in James 1:26 — “but deceiveth his own heart.” The word deceives is the Greek word “apatao,” which means to deceive, to seduce into error or false doctrine. The soul of this believer once contained doctrine in the frame of reference, in the vocabulary, in norms and standards, and in divine viewpoint. Now he has gone into reversionism and he seduces his own heart into believing a lie.
So the comment now from James: “This man’s religion is worthless” shows the end result of a “do-gooder” trying to please God by human effort and self-righteousness. The Greek word for worthless is “mataios,” which means empty.
This verse describes the believer who fails to function under God’s power system. By failure to take in and apply doctrine he develops scar tissue of the soul. A vacuum is opened into the soul and satanic doctrine and concepts infiltrate. This passage emphasizes that such a believer develops self-righteousness and at the same time ignores both mental attitude sins and sins of the tongue. Therefore he places emphasis on overt human righteousness and human good. He adopts some form of spirituality by works, some form of spirituality by legalism. Therefore he is a retrogressing believer and at first doesn’t even know it. Why, because he considers himself to be devout, to be a spiritual giant, and to be right.
“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
The people who demonstrate their “religion” are those who do so by doing good works such as visiting orphans and widows and keeping themselves unstained by Satan’s world system. Remember that human good can actually be turned into divine good if done under the filling of the Holy Spirit with the right motivation.
Three times in this verse and the next we have the word “religious or religion.” There is no doubt about the fact that religion is found as the subject of this passage but not in the complimentary sense since religion is the devil’s ace trump. The greatest attack upon God’s grace, God’s plan, is inevitably the principle, the concept, and all that is involved in religion. When the devil wanted to find a way to try to derail the plan of God he came up with the concept of religion. He didn’t try to deny the existence of God, since he could not. His objective was to try to overcome God. What greater way to try to overcome God than to use the principle of religion. So from the time of man’s fall, right down to the present moment, religion has always been a factor in the human race, a factor of great evil with a facade of human good. Take, for example the Church Age, the dispensation in which we find ourselves. The Word of God says that once the Canon of Scripture was completed and apostles no longer exist that each local church is to be independent or autonomous of the other. This means that no one has the right to rule over churches as a bishop or a pope, etc. Instead a pastor-teacher is the spiritual head of each local church. These churches are to be founded upon the principle of Bible doctrine, the Word of God, and each church is to be composed of believer-priests. That means that every person who is under the authority of the pastor-teacher is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way the Church Age began. However, once it got a start in this direction it became obvious that churches began to fall into spheres of influence. There were basically two spheres. One had its headquarters in Constantinople and more or less gravitated to the Eastern Roman Empire. The other had its headquarters in Rome and gravitated to the Western Roman Empire. This was the beginning of religion which eventually infiltrated the church and took over. Religion is the worst thing that ever happened to man. The devil is always trying to persuade people that you need the strength of each other and therefore you must unite and form one organization. This is the story of the National Council of Churches, this is the story of the World Council of Churches, and this is the story of many organizations. This is a trend that has always existed and will exist until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is very interesting that these world organizations are always compared to prostitutes when it comes to biblical analogy.
The glory of His grace, the riches of His grace, on behalf of the grace of God you are enriched, full of grace, grace for grace — these are phrases that eliminate religion from Christianity. (Ephesians 1:6-7) Christianity is definitely not a religion. Religion is a system of works. Christianity is a relationship. The word “religion” comes from two Latin words, “re,” which means “back” and “ligio,” which means “to bind.” Combined, they mean “to bind back.” This is exactly what religion teaches - that we must bind ourselves back to God. However, the Bible teaches that it is impossible to bind ourselves back to God. The exact opposite is actually true - God binds us back to Himself through Christ.
Christianity begins at the Cross by a personal decision to believe in Jesus Christ. Everywhere you turn in the Word of God, and especially in our dispensation, there is one word that stands out and that is grace. Grace is the antithesis of religion. Religion is legalism; it is man seeking to gain the approbation of God by his own works. Religion in our passage is even defined in another way. We have two Greek words found in James 1:26-27 both of which have the connotation of being afraid of God, and doing something to try to make sure that God doesn’t lower the boom on you. This is religion. You can be hindered even as a Christian if you allow religion to control you. A mature believer has absolutely no “religion” in his soul. Religion is the greatest enemy to the grace plan of God.