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 a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.
-James 1:22-25 (NIV)
Imagine a guy getting up in the morning and going to the mirror, and spotting this huge, swollen, ripe blemish on his forehead. Right away, he knows that something needs to be done with this thing. It is so big that while he is looking in the mirror, it is the only thing that he notices about himself. He can't take his eyes off of it.
It is so bad that he ponders canceling all of his appointments until it had been dealt with. He begins thinking of different surgeries that he could perform on himself to get rid of it. He'll do anything! He thinks to himself, "how in the world could I ever face another human being while this thing is on my face?!? I'll be nicknamed the unicorn!"
Then he walks away from the mirror, gets dressed and goes to work.
How can this be, you wonder? Well, how can it be that we do the exact same thing?
We go to church or we are hanging out with one of our Christian friends and they start talking about spiritual stuff or maybe, we have even sat down to read our Bible and then it happens. We get a glimpse of ourselves. The word of God, with its soul-piercing ability has cut down deep and we have seen ourselves, the same way a person might look into a mirror.
We don't like what is there. It isn't good. There are some things that need to change, and they are far worse than any blemish that you might have found growing on your face during those awkward years. But instead of dealing with the problem, we walk away and forget all about it.
The really scary thing that is found in this passage is the warning. If you merely listen to the word, and don't do what it says, you will deceive yourself. I don't think that there is anything that I have found to be more alarming than the possibility of self-deception.
The extreme of self-deception is found in Matthew 7, when there are people who get to the judgment, and are genuinely surprised at where they are heading.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
"Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'
"Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
-Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
Notice the surprise of these people. Notice the word, many. Also notice the emphasis on doing, "...only he who does the will of my Father..." Of all of the shocks to receive in your existence, this is the one not to get!
This is why every time we go to the scripture, we need to seek how we can apply it... right now! Don't wait, don't hesitate! As it says in Hebrews 3:7 and 3:15, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..."
If you are hearing and not doing, you will be deceived. And according to I Timothy 4:2, eventually you will stop feeling so bad about those things that need to change. Your conscience will become seared, and you will no longer feel those pricks.
Eventually you will start to feel pretty good about yourself (to a degree). But in reality you will be so far from the Savior whose image you were meant to conform to.
"When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right."
-- C.S. Lewis
If you have read these words and they hit a little too close to home, then start today.
Don't harden your heart.