[This entry follows a sermon preached by John Tierney. It is titled "Doers of the Word," and the audio is available here.]
James 1:21-25 is clear. The fate of those who only hear God's Word without doing is self-delusion. As I listened to John preach Sunday, I appreciated the picture of a tourist...it is spot on for this passage. The "hearer only" may take marvelous tours through Bible study and see the sights of systematic theology, but they remain tourists. They will leave the glorious truth they observe once study time is over. This is the great delusion...to think oneself spiritual because of exceeding knowledge of the Scripture. This may be even more true in reformed churches...those places where biblical authority and sound doctrine are critically important.
It is absolutely true that these things are critically important, but they are incomplete when only enjoyed as a mental exercise. Biblical authority is not truly understood as biblical authority unless we are in submission to it. Biblical authority is meant to be both understood mentally and experientially. The same is true for sound doctrine. The pursuit of sound doctrine is not to find its end in a system in which there is a place for everything and everything in its place...as if we have finally achieved putting God in a chart where He belongs. No! Sound doctrine is meant to produce sound lives...that's why it is so critical. There is no sound living before the Lord apart from sound doctrine, and there is no truly sound doctrine that is not expressed in sound living.
So, if we want to avoid being a hearer only, then how do we get started in the doing? The 19th-century theologian Tryon Edwards wrote this, "Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny." Now, whether you want to argue about that exact progression or not, it's hard to deny the importance of the mind. Romans 12:2 warns against being conformed to this world; rather, we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds. One expositor says that the rest of chapters 12-14 are basically an explanation of what it means to live with a renewed mind, and I think there's a lot to that. The bottom line is this...if we are going to be doers in word and deed, then we should begin by being 'doers in thought'. What does that mean? Well, that's what I want to discuss briefly.
The battle for the mind is a strong battle. It is a fierce battle...it is a bloody battle. Our enemy loves to attack our thoughts using secular media outlets, false teaching that masquerades as 'Christian', and even bad thinking within ourselves. Our minds are usually engaged in two different kinds of thought...proactive and reactive. Proactive thinking may be my own attempts to study and understand some area of doctrine...some ethical issue. Reactive thinking is the way I process things as they are thrown at me...when circumstances jump on me unexpectedly.
In both proactive and reactive thinking, we should be doers of the Word. Proactively, as we seek to think about our family finances, ethical decisions at work, how our children will be educated, and many more things like this, we are not reacting to a sudden situation...we are trying to intentionally find what is right and wise. We rightly turn to the Scripture for help and guidance in these areas, and we may hear all that the Scripture says. Too often, however, we come to the Bible with an answer already in our minds, and if we are hearers only, we may think something like, "I know what the Bible says, BUT..." followed by some "logical" reason why it doesn't apply to what you are thinking. The one who is a doer of the Word in proactive thinking will, instead, submit his prior thoughts to Scripture for refining or for rejection.
Reactive thinking seems to reveal more about us than anything else. Events such as getting a negative diagnosis at the doctor, hearing news about potential changes in employment, or being hurt by the words/actions of a friend are mentally processed. We react to these things mentally before we ever do verbally or actively. How will I process unexpected situations? How will I mentally work through life-changing news or events? As I said, the way our minds respond will reveal a great deal about how we think and whether we are doers of the Word.
It would be ridiculous to think that we will have no concern if our child or spouse is diagnosed with "x" or "y". It has to cause us pain when those we love are in pain. However, what will we think about the disease, about the change, about the news as it pertains to God's sovereignty, goodness, justice, truth, mercy, etc.? Doers of the Word must be trained by hearing the Word, so that in these moments, we can think in ways that glorify God. Not neglect real, human emotion and the pain of living in this world...but still thinking in ways that glorify God.
The Scripture is clear that trials and tribulation are not only present but purposeful in the believer's life (see Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). What we fail to remember is that we don't get advertisements in the mail letting us know when the trial will come so that we can prepare. The unexpected nature of life reminds us that we must always be prepared because we must assume they are coming. God means to sanctify us...making us more like Christ...and one experiential way He does this is through trials. Will we think of difficulty in terms of glorifying God and being sanctified to reflect the character of Christ? Or will we just want to escape the trial without the benefit God designs in it? The doer of the Word will do the former...not the latter.
Whether proactively thinking about our lives or reactively thinking about those things that come into our lives unexpectedly, we must be doers of the Word in thought. From doing the Word in thought, we will better do the Word in our speech and action. So, let us resolve to submit our thinking to God's Word...let us resolve to conform our thinking to God's Word...let us resolve to be doers of the Word in thought.