I like to study theology. I like to read through the bible to see what I can learn about God, about human nature and about His mission for the Church. I love it when I’m able to bring together passages from different parts of scripture to gain a deeper understanding on a topic.
Sometimes, though, the mind of a theologian can miss a foundational element of bible reading: application. As someone who likes to piece together doctrinal puzzles, it’s too easy to make knowledge the end goal in bible reading. Often the bible isn’t complicated and you don’t need to study Greek or go through cross references to understand what God wants to teach through His Word.
The week, my small group from church looked at James 1:19-27. This week was the final week in a series we had been going through challenging some of our perceptions on how we engage in church. It had been a good series and we talked a lot, which tends to happen in small group bible studies. We’d shared a lot of insights and personal application points and had great conversations. In this last week, we were challenged not to let it end as a good conversation, but to apply what we had learned.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25
It’s surprisingly easy to be a hearer of the word, isn’t it? We get good advice, interesting facts, answers to questions and ammunition for theological debates. Sometimes we hear the word and see where we’re not living right and rejoice in conviction. “The word really rocked me today.” So what?
It’s really easy to dream about being a doer of the word. “Imagine what my life would look like if…” The future is a glorious place where we get to envision our potential, fantasize about fulfilling our calling, maybe even visualize life without certain sins or shortcomings. Someday…
To be honest, I don’t always want to be a doer of the word. Specifically, I don’t want to grow in being a doer of the word. It’s hard. It requires me to deny myself, go out of my comfort zone and admit that I’m not all that. I’d much rather sit back and remind everyone of all the ways I’m already doing the word. Then they can admire me and say good things about me and I can feel good. And when I’m challenged to grow, I can “theologically” rationalize why it’s not necessary for me to do anything too difficult. I like deceiving myself.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. – Philippians 3:12-15
I’m challenged by this statement: “Let those of us who are mature think this way”. The longer one is a Christian and the more a person grows in Christ, it becomes more tempting to sit back and admire the past. But Paul uses words like “press on” and “straining forward” in speaking to the mature believer. If Paul is straining forward towards greater growth, what excuse do I have?
So what does this look like for me? What can it look like for you? Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out. Part of the journey in walking with Christ is allowing His Spirit and His Word to guide us in knowing His will for us, moment by moment. I do believe the book of James gives some ideas to start with.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:26,27
A couple of questions I ask myself:
- How can I be growing in watching what I say? For me, this is definitely a good place to start
- How can I practically serve and care for the oppressed, marginalized or weak in my context?
- What I am doing to keep myself from taking on the mindsets, attitudes and sinful behaviours of the world around me?
I’ve had a few days to think about these and have come up with a few resolutions for myself. I’ll be sharing them with a few close friends and inviting them to help keep me accountable. I encourage you to do the same. Theology is great, but it’s not enough to simply hear and know the word; we must become doers.