What Does “Doers of the Word” Mean in James?

“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.” (James 1:22-24)

What do you suppose James meant when he said “be doers of the word?” The most common answer seems to be that he meant obedience to the Bible. This common view states that what James meant was do what the Bible says to do. Obey Scripture. Ligonier Ministries suggests this is the proper interpretation by saying,

“We read in verse 22 that we are to ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only.’ When we look at the Word of God we must look at it with an eye to putting the Word into practice in our lives. Listening to the Word and knowing what it says is not enough if our lives are not changed as a result. For if we only hear the Word of God and never put it into practice, we have deceived ourselves (v. 22).”

This raises a couple of questions in my mind. First, James was probably one of the earliest New Testament letters written which means that the canon of Scripture that we often refer to as the Word of God didn’t exist yet. If James’ letter was among the earliest of the New Testament letters, his was one of the first of many more to follow. Did James mean “be doers of the Bible” before there was a Bible? I doubt it. Or because there was no Bible yet, maybe he meant “be doers of the Old Covenant Law.” I doubt that too. The recipients of his letter were Jewish and familiar with the Old Covenant law of Moses and its requirements for perfect obedience. They had lived under that obligation all their lives. They didn’t need to be told something they already knew so well. I doubt James would say “be doers of the Law” to a group of people who already knew that requirement.

Second, and closely related, James didn’t say “be doers of the Word of God.” He simply said “be doers of the word (λόγος).” λόγος in the New Testament is a diverse word with different meanings, depending on context. For example, λόγος is used to identify Jesus (John 1:1), something God said (2 Peter 3:5), and the message of the gospel, often used synonymously with the phrase “the word of God” by both Paul and Peter:

“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. …. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:9, 13 emphasis mine)

“… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23, 25 emphasis mine)

I think that is what James means here. He’s not making a sweeping reference to the Bible and our obedience to it. He’s referencing the gospel. We see this in the context one verse earlier when he said,

“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)

This begs the question, what is the “implanted word” James is referring to? Is it the Bible? Has the Bible been implanted in my soul, resulting in my salvation? Has the Bible saved my soul? Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible but that’s not what James’ means. He’s talking about the gospel in the same way Paul and Peter did in the passages I cited above. In verse 18 James said,

“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18)

Verse 18 sets the context for us. The “word of truth” which “brought us forth” is the same “word” in verse 22. What brought us new life in Jesus? The Bible or the gospel? Not the Bible. When James says be doers of the word and not hearers only, he means act on the gospel – believe it and be saved, don’t just hear it and walk away. Believe the gospel. Act on it. Be a doer, not just a hearer. Believe. I think we’ve misunderstood this passage and used it to put false guilt and shame on others.

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29)

-Mike


Photo Credit:
jesse orrico

Clash of the Covenants: A Book Review

Clash of the Covenants: Escaping Religious Bondage Through The Grace Guarantee by Michael C. Kapler (2018)

It’s not an easy task to find a good read on the differences between the Old and New Covenants that isn’t influenced or tarnished by denominational, traditional, or religious  bias and preconceptions. But I finally found one in Clash of the Covenants: Escaping Religious Bondage Through the Grace Guarantee by Michael C. Kapler.

In my opinion, Kapler successfully (and brilliantly) illustrates the dangers involved in failing to recognize that the Old and New Covenants don’t mix, were never intended to be mixed, and the Old Covenant has been done away by the New and the Law of Moses has no role in a believer’s life today. He does this in a warm, informal, and easy-to-read style that draws us in and keeps our attention. For example, he accurately notes, “… a mixed concoction of the two covenants together will lead to a diluted message of what was accomplished for us at the cross.” He goes on to add, “Quite often the starting point for covenant confusion is not realizing the Old was made obsolete, removed completely, and replaced with something New.”

Clash of the Covenants is organized into three main parts:

  • Part 1: Covenant Confusion
  • Part 2: Covenants Collide
  • Part 3: Covenant Conclusion

In each section, the author gives us examples which clearly illustrate his point. Here are a few short quotes to give you the flavor of the book and to whet your appetite for more of the same:

“The Mosaic law could not bring forgiveness of sins, life, or freedom and was never meant to be mixed with what could bring us these blessings.”

“Christians have been on a works treadmill for centuries by mistakenly trying to abide in the works of that law, or a modernized version of it. Since the law was against us, the result was bearing fruit for death instead of fruit for God. But Paul’s good news for his Jewish friends who had been bound to the law is they were now released or freed from it.”

“Religion has taught the covenants as though they were two ships that are in sync, but this mixture becomes more like a sinking ship that leaves people in doubt and fending for themselves while being driven and tossed by the wind and the waves.”

As you read this book you’ll find Clash of the Covenants gives us a refreshing grace-centered conversation about topics such as the Law, the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, The Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness of sin, confession of sin, repentance, tithing, and the new heart, all from a grace-centered, New Covenant point of view.

In my Amazon review of Clash of the Covenants, I called it refreshing and the best-kept secret on Amazon. That was after reading the Kindle version in 2017. Now that the paperback version is available, I am thrilled to see it gaining in popularity. This book is a must read because it puts redemptive history in perspective by recognizing the glory of the New Covenant over the Old and pointing us to Jesus and the grace of God alone. In Kapler’s words, “God is not your parole officer, He broke you out of prison.”

Clash of the Covenants: Escaping Religious Bondage Through the Grace Guarantee, Copyright 2018, Michael C. Kapler. 230 pages.

About the Author

Michael C. Kapler works in the communications industry and has a 20 year background in Christian radio. Since 2005, he has co-hosted the Growing in Grace Podcast, along with Joel Bueseke. This is one of our favorite podcasts!


My wife and I interviewed Mike and Joel on our Grace Cafe Podcast in March of 2018. For your convenience, here’s that interview:

-Mike

 

Does Truth Balance Grace?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:17)

This verse from John is a watershed verse because in a few simple words, it delineates the Old Covenant from the New; Jesus from Moses. In a very clear way, it summarizes the majority of redemptive history by reminding us that there is a difference between Moses and Jesus and the two were never intended to be mixed together.

Unfortunately, mixing them together is what many of us like to do. Grace scares us so we read this verse as though truth is meant to balance out grace. And of course by “truth,” we mean some sort of law. It can be something we pull over from Moses or some rule or principle we find in the New Testament or in our religious culture. Either way, we read this as though grace needs balanced out by some sort of truth as if grace and truth were two opposing forces doing battle with one another because grace needs tempered by truth. It’s interesting that we never view it the other way around, where grace balances out truth. Our default is always a balancing out of grace with truth.

But this verse is a both-and, not an either-or. Jesus is grace AND truth. John wasn’t issuing an ultimatum here, nor was he reminding us to temper grace with some version of truth as though grace is opposed to truth and truth to grace. Grace is not opposed to truth and truth is not in conflict with grace. John wasn’t offering us a set of balancing scales to make sure we’re balancing grace with appropriate amounts of truth. He’s not telling us to keep grace in check with truth. He’s not saying truth trumps grace. He’s talking about the supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old. The Supremacy of Jesus over Moses. Jesus is the embodiment of both truth (John 14:6) and grace (Titus 2:11-12) in their fullness (John 1:14). He’s not grace tempered by truth, but he’s the very fullness of both. This is the gospel – grace and truth in their fullness are finally and fully revealed in Jesus, our substitute and redeemer.

We can throw away the balance scales and enjoy this free gift we’ve been given because “…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. “(John 1:16).

-Mike


Photo Credit:
Pau Casals

Giving Sin a Workout

I spent years in a setting where behavior modification equaled maturity in the faith. Where an outward appearance of good behavior and conformity to the rules and standards imposed on me meant I was sinning less and was applauded as progress in the right direction. But woe unto me if I slipped and messed up. At those times, the solution was never grace, it was more law. A reinforcement and reminder of the rules and laws I was expected to follow. In short, the outside of the cup looked pretty good but on the inside, I was dying a slow death. That’s what law-driven sin management does. When the focus of our faith becomes an obsession with policing sin, our natural inclination is to think imposing laws and rules is the solution. But is it? In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul made this short but powerful observation:

“…the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15:56

Think about it. If the law – any law – is what gives sin its power, then piling on rules and law to curb or avoid sin actually has the opposite affect. It empowers sin and gives sin more muscle. Wasn’t this Old Covenant Israel’s problem all along? They agreed to the terms of the Old Covenant – a covenant of law-keeping and works righteousness – and yet God “found fault with the people.” (Heb. 8:8). Why? Because they couldn’t live up to the terms of the covenant. They couldn’t do it. No one is made righteous by keeping laws or rules. No one. Law-based rule-keeping leads to one of two things: a self-righteous attitude in thinking I’m somehow pulling it off (i.e. the Pharisees), or an eventual crash and burn because living under that kind of pressure is exhausting and makes you give up.

Do you remember Paul’s conversation with the Roman believers in chapters five and six of Romans? It’s there he said:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

Don’t miss this: introducing law as a means to control sin or modify behavior has the opposite effect. It increases sin. How? In the context of Romans 5, the “trespass” refers to Adam’s law-breaking in the garden. Adam was given one command in the garden – don’t eat of that tree – and he broke it. He transgressed it. He sinned and Paul calls that sin of Adam’s a “trespass” in Romans 5. But here’s the rub: when God’s law is Continue reading “Giving Sin a Workout”

Not Under Law

 

I was perusing the web a couple of days ago when I came across a sight that boasted this statement:

The Law of Christ is the law we are under in the New Covenant era.

I threw up a little bit in my mouth when I read that. I haven’t seen that or heard that in a while and it took me by surprise. It’s what I used to believe. Ten years ago, I would have been shaking my head in hearty agreement with this statement. But today, it saddens me. I saddens me because it takes away from the cross of Jesus. It saddens me because it exchanges one moral code (Moses) for another one – a newer one – and it reduces Jesus to little more than a new law-giver, not much unlike Moses. It saddens me because it misses the point of grace entirely. It saddens me because not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, it gives one permission to tie heavy burdens on the backs of those who embrace the idea, believing it to be true. It saddens me because having zealously believed that myself all those years ago, I know those who hold to that belief can’t see the fallacy of it while they’re in it.

To insist that a believer today is under law, any law, goes against the New Testament. Twice in the letter to the Romans, Paul states that a believer is not under law (Romans 6:14, 15). The lack of the Continue reading “Not Under Law”

Flirting With Moses

Let’s talk a little more about our propensity to flirt with Moses. We seem to like to get close enough to Moses to feel like we’ve accomplished something without getting so close that we can’t safely pull back. We like to bring parts of Moses and the Old Covenant into the New – those parts we deem necessary as motivation to guilt others into doing what we think they should be doing. We undervalue grace and overvalue law in that way. So let’s talk about it.

This is an abbreviated version of a longer podcast episode that’s posted on my Ekklesia Podcast. By abbreviated I mean I left in only those parts that talk about the Old and New Covenants as it relates to this blog.

Enjoy!


Photo Credit:
Ben White

A High View of God’s Law

I spent years as a Christian preoccupied with God’s law. Not Moses, but New Testament law. What was commonly termed the law of Christ. I came to the realization in the mid-90s that the Old Covenant was no more and the law of that covenant, the law given to Israel through Moses, was non-binding on the conscience of a believer today. But that didn’t stop me from adopting a new moral code from the New Testament and becoming convinced that my obedience to that code was the test for the genuineness of my faith. I think I understood grace on paper only. The burning question each day was how is my obedience. As I spent countless hours, days, months, and years muscling my way through my sanctification, certain that my obedience was THE barometer for knowing I was a believer and knowing God was pleased with me, I assumed I had a high view of God’s law. After all, I was pulling it off, or so I thought. I was at least doing it better than most of those around me. Or so I thought.

But then I discovered through severe trials that a preoccupation with God’s law doesn’t mean one has a high view of God’s law. Quite the opposite. I found out the hard way that my preoccupation with God’s law actually resulted in my having a very low view of it for the simple reason that I thought I could pull it off. I thought God’s holy standard was attainable by my Continue reading “A High View of God’s Law”

Our Love Affair With The Ten Commandments

We have an ongoing affection and preoccupation with the Ten Commandments. Some cheer and applaud statements like that. This is particularly true of Reformed groups and those tending toward legalism and a legalistic view of the Christian life. Many times, those are the same groups.  But I have a different opinion. I think our preoccupation with the Ten Commandments is not only unhealthy, but has no place reigning in the conscience of a believer today.

Let’s interact for the next few minutes with an on-line devotional hosted by Ligonier Ministries entitled, Teaching the Law. The article begins with a quote from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah:

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:8)

The devotional goes on to state the following claim:

God, in fact, wants the Ten Commandments “preached pointedly,” as question 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains. The answer to this question tells us why our Creator desires for His people to understand His statutes.

One thing I’ve come to realize about those who adhere to Covenant or Reformed Theology is their tendency to cite their creeds and catechisms as authoritative as though they were on par with Scripture. They would never admit to that or say it that way, but that’s been my observation. This is one example.  The first piece of evidence provided to us is that God wants the Ten Commandments “preached pointedly” because the Heidelberg Catechism says so. To Ligonier’s credit, they do turn to Scripture after citing the catechism:

First, let us consider the biblical evidence that God wants church leaders to preach and teach His commandments. Today’s passage, for example, records Ezra’s reading of the Mosaic law to the Israelites after they returned from exile. The author clearly approves of this act, as well as the Levites’ explanation of God’s rules to Israel (Neh. 8:1–12). In reading the commandments, Ezra and the Levites fulfilled the command to preach and teach regularly the Mosaic law (Deut. 31:9–13).

I believe this statement is misleading because Nehemiah 8 makes no mention of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the entire Continue reading “Our Love Affair With The Ten Commandments”

A Greater Than Moses

In this post I want to share a podcast episode from my Ekklesia podcast. Ekklesia is a transliteration of the New Testament Greek word most often translated “church” in our Bibles. It’s a podcast I started in order to think out loud about some of the differences I see between many of our institutional churches and the church Jesus is planting. In this episode, I talk about the church’s preoccupation with Moses, the Ten Commandments, and the Old Covenant. We bring elements of Moses and the Old Covenant into the New Covenant and make them binding truths on believers today.

IMPORTANT:  My views on the Law of Moses being abolished have changed since recording this episode. I no longer believe that. I believe that as believers, we have died to the Law, the Law has not died. We are not under the Law, and Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe. I decided to post the episode here anyway because of the other topics I discussed.

Push ‘play’ and join me as we talk about Jesus’ superiority over Moses and the priority of the New Covenant over the Old. You’ll find the Ekklesia podcast on-line at https://ekklesiapodcast.wordpress.com/

Enjoy!

How to Have a Jesus-Lite Theology of the New Covenant

A New Covenant without Jesus? It happens. I’m living proof. “Without” may be the wrong word. A “Jesus-lite” theology of the New Covenant is a more accurate description of what I want to talk about. Twice in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:8), the coming Messiah himself is called the promised New Covenant. He is the covenant. The New Covenant isn’t something outside of Jesus that he brought with him, he himself is the New Covenant. His shed blood is the blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28). He is both the covenant-maker and the mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 6:13-20).

But when our pursuit of the New Covenant becomes more about gathering information than it is about knowing the Person who is the covenant, things get ugly. When our study of the New Covenant becomes more about data mining the Continue reading “How to Have a Jesus-Lite Theology of the New Covenant”