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. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25
If the theme for the book of James is faith in action, then the passage above is where many people see a conflict between James and Paul’s teaching on Grace. If we are saved by Grace alone (Ephesians 2), how can James require that we be “doers of the word?” Isn’t he making the case for a legalistic view of salvation?
I don’t see a conflict here because James speaks of our dependence on God’s mercy and his teaching on doing reflects the expected response of a person who truly receives Mercy and Grace. It is not as if Paul was in favor of a life that did not “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
James provides us with a vivid word picture of a person who only hears the word. Imagine looking into a mirror and noticing your face is dirty, but you turn away from the mirror and go about your day without taking action to clean up your face! So it is with the person who hears the truth of the gospel and it doesn’t impact his daily life. For him, God’s word is information with no application.
I once spoke with a man about the Gospel who asked if I earned points for telling him about Christ. His faith tradition viewed all “works” as an attempt to by “doing” as somehow earning God’s favor. Many faiths take that same approach, but that is the difference in the life of the follower of Christ.
We recognize that we can not add to His work on the cross and His resurrection. So, the “doer” described by James responds to God’s mercy with a grateful attitude that wants to live a life that honors God in every scenario.