James 1:21–27 (NKJV)
After instructing the readers to be aware of the seduction and danger of temptation, and after instructing them on how to receive good from God and deliver good to others, James moves into an instruction to shun sin and to do the word, not just hear it or know it.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.James 1:21-27
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James tackles several issues in this passage. He starts by warning the readers of the need to shun evil. He tells the believers to “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.” This is an extensive instruction, using words like “all” and “overflow” to describe the extent of the laying aside, and “filthiness” and “wickedness” as the things to be laid aside. This is the extent of the distance and complete separation God wants between the believer and the evil that comes about when one succumbs to temptation. Instead of being drawn in and enticed by temptation, receive the Word of God, which saves the soul. Be meek and listen to the Word of the Lord.
Then James moves to the very-well-known admonition to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only….” The deception of knowing the word without doing it is like looking in a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what the reflection looked like. If you hear the word, but do not do it, you are forgetting the sin in which you live and you continue on as if the sin does not exist. This deception can lead to a seared conscience and a false sense of guiltlessness. One who looks into the Word of God (the perfect law of liberty) and continues in it is a true doer of the Word. This person will be blessed in all that he or she does. Listening is the first step in righteousness, but is incomplete without the doing.
James then finally offers a contrast concerning true religion. One who does not bridle his tongue and deceives his own heart is not religious. There claim to be religious is useless and false. However, one who visits orphans and widows in their trouble and keeps oneself unspotted from the world actually has true religion, a religion that is pure and undefiled. In this comparison, the falsely religious may gossip or criticize, and has no restraint of speech. In contrast, the purely religious does not talk about others, but finds a way to help those in need, the most vulnerable among society. This is a faith that involves doing, not just listening and walking away in a sinful lifestyle. This religion reflects the heart of God for those in need. Be sure that your religion is pure, without deceit. Be a doer of the word, one who takes what he or she hears and puts it into action for the better of others and the Kingdom of God!