So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:21-27, NLT)
As we draw to the close of chapter one, James makes a conclusive point that believers need to ‘be doers of the word.’ He offers a logical process, beginning with the call to put away the sin and evil in our lives. The phrase “get rid of” is an image used in the Greek language for taking off one’s clothes. This illustrates something we are all familiar with. For example, suppose you worked in the yard on a hot summer day. You mowed, raked, trimmed, and perhaps did an oil change on the car then washed it. Following all of that activity you are covered with sweat, gas, oil, grease, and lawn clippings. Now it’s time to relax! But first, you need to remove your clothes, shower, and put on clean clothes. This simple analogy is the first step in our process of doing the word. We remove the sin and evil, followed by accepting the word which is planted in our hearts. In other words, believers have a heart felt need and desire to wear clean clothes. It is inconsistent with our faith to choose to remain in the filthy ones, and when we metaphorically get a spot on our shirt, we immediately have the desire to change.
Next, James encourages us to remember to apply the word we receive through acts of obedience. Listening, in and of itself, will not produce transformation. Those who fail to do the word, who are hearers only, are guilty of a dangerous self delusion. His call to apply the word echoes the call of Jesus to act upon what we have heard. In Luke 11:28, Jesus said those who keep the word are blessed, and again in Matthew 7:24, he promised that those who keep the word are wise and have stability in life’s storms. We have to be intentional about keeping the word because listening alone, like images in a mirror, are soon forgotten.
The chapter concludes with three evidences that we are doers of the word. This list is not exhaustive, but is a sample list that his original readers would find connection. First, those who do the word are able to control their tongues. Second, those who do the word express compassion in social action to the helpless. Finally, those who do the word pursue moral purity. Again, this is not an exhaustive list. There is more that could be added. But the list illustrates his point that purity of heart will lead to purity of action.