Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
—James 1:22 (ESV)
When it comes to the Christian life, what matters most isn’t how much we know (or think we know), or how good we are at saying the right things. It isn’t how much of God’s word we’ve read, or how much we’ve studied, or even if we have a degree in it. What matters is how much the word of God has changed us and how much God’s character and will are expressed in our lives. Are we people who just hear the word of God and then go on about our business, or are we doers of the word?
James tells us that if we say we believe the gospel but it doesn’t change how we live, we don’t actually believe it. If you listen to the preaching of the word and you nod your head and say, “Good sermon” but you don’t go out and put it into practice, you don’t believe it. If you read the Bible and understand what it’s telling you but it doesn’t affect how you spend your time, you don’t believe it. It’s not enough to say the right things, sing the hymns, or think all the right thoughts. If you read the Bible but you don’t live it, you’re missing something. You might be saved for later, you might have your ticket to heaven punched, but if all this never leaves your head, if it never reaches your hands and your feet, then you aren’t living God’s life now.
The phrase “doer of the word” underscores this point, because it’s an odd one. While James is writing in Greek, he’s thinking in Hebrew. The Greek verb there is poieo; the cognate noun, poiēma, is the word from which we get our word “poem.” Poieo can mean “to do,” but its basic meaning is “to make.” In typical Greek, this phrase would have been read as “maker of words”—in our terms, “wordsmith,” or “poet.” Whether intentionally or otherwise, James created a profound piece of wordplay. As Christians, we’re called to be in a very real way God’s poems. Our mission is to write out his words with our lives, so that people who look at our lives can read his message to them in us.
We are called to incarnate the word of God—to wrap the flesh of our lives around the bone of his will and his commands until we become walking examples of his teaching. As we follow Jesus, who was the Word of God incarnate, we are called to be “little Christs.” That’s what “Christians” means. We’re called to be copies of Jesus walking around in this world. The Bible is the word of God written, presenting us with Jesus Christ, the word of God made flesh. Our part in this work is to become the word of God acted out in 21st-century America. It’s true, as many have said, that you are the only Bible many people will ever read. It’s also true, says James, that that ought to be enough. If you are the only Bible people have ever read, that ought to be enough to tell them who God is, and who Jesus is, and why they should follow him. That’s what it means to be a doer of the word, not merely a hearer of the word. That’s what it means for your life to be a poem for God. That, says James, is what it means to be a Christian.
(Excerpted, edited, from “The Poem of Your Life”)