Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
We believe and value the words of Scripture and we want to grow. But we little consider the gap between our hearing and reading of God’s word, and our actual doing of it. That can be a world apart, and while we know better, we also often take it for granted as being just the way things are. That there’s a gap in this life seems inevitable. After all we will never arrive to completion and perfection in this life. So on those grounds we pay lip service to what James says here, but in our hearts and lives, we sadly know we’ll fall short.
James would seem to accept none of that. His blunt words don’t allow for any such gap. You either hear the word and do it, or you hear it and don’t. The former are blessed; the latter are not. And the entire book carries this tone. Given our theology in which we see grace as covering our inevitable shortcomings, what are we to make of this?
Once again we have to go back to the plain words of Scripture. We let it speak for itself and critique not only us, but our theology. Reading all of James along with the rest of Scripture will help. James talks about confessing our sins to each other, and praying for each other. So he certainly does not deny God’s grace available for ongoing forgiveness. We endeavor to do what God’s word tells us. We do so perhaps in a clumsy way. Not feeling like we’ve arrived. It’s a work in progress, even as we are. And yet that is our goal. To become aware more and more what God’s will is for us in Jesus. And do it.