“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22-25
There once was a successful megachurch pastor renowned for his brilliant and inspiring preaching. Unbeknownst to those around him, however, he was living a double life embroiled in adultery. When the scandal surfaced, he was disciplined and dismissed from active ministry. Astonished and dismayed, a fellow pastor and dear friend approached him humbly and honestly, “How could you do that? How can you live with that inconsistency where you are preaching the word of God, but living so incongruently? How can you handle that?”
The fallen friend’s sincere response speaks to each of us, “What I was doing was … only studying the Bible for sermons.” Picking up his Bible, he ran his fingers across the pages reiterating, “I was studying the Bible and giving a sermon. What I should have been doing was studying the Bible, applying it to my own heart and life and then giving it to the people.”
In short, he heard the word of God without doing the word of God. Herein lies the secret to self-deception.
Jesus further illustrates this with a parable of two builders—one wise, the other foolish. The wise man built his house on a solid foundation of rock while the foolish man built his on sand. After a fierce storm, only one house remained because its foundation stood firm.
Interpreting this illustration for us, Jesus continues, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock … Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand” (Matthew 7:24-28, emphasis added). Do you see the difference? One heard and did. One only heard. Wisdom is applied knowledge. Unapplied knowledge leads to self-deception resulting in destruction.
No one exemplifies the obedience of faith more perfectly than Our Lady. When an over-eager admirer shouted out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked,” without missing a beat, Jesus responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28). Here Jesus affirms his mother as blessed because she heard, received and obeyed the word of God. Not only did she bear him in her womb physically until the fullness of time, but her whole life bears the marks of someone who incarnated the entirety of his words. She is truly a living epistle. (CCC 148)
How did Mary assimilate the words of her Son into her very being? The key is in her fiat. As the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her, she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 emphasis added).
Mary willingly and obediently embraced God’s invitation to do his will. In that moment of meekness and surrender, the word of the Lord was not merely heard with passive acceptance but received—unimpeded by doubts—and implanted.
Like Mary, when we prayerfully and wholeheartedly welcome the Holy Spirit and say yes to his words, we will also see “a fulfillment of what was spoken to [us] from the Lord” in our lives (Luke 1:45). When we freely and actively welcome God’s word, we begin to embody the obedience of faith rather than merely giving mental assent to it.
The Apostles further confirm this when they insist, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing” (Romans 2:13, James 1:23-26, emphasis added).
The love of God is perfected in those who are obedient to his word (1 John 2:5). The moment we freely receive the words of the Word made flesh found in Sacred Scripture and sacred tradition and resolve to obey them with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, they become implanted in the soil of our hearts, begin to grow and bring forth a harvest of Christlikeness that leads, not to self-deception, but to eternal life.
Lord, I am Yours, let it be to me according to Your Word. Father in heaven, forgive me for the times I have only heard Your word and not obeyed it. Cleanse my heart of its tendency to self-deceive and fill me with the anointing of Your Holy Spirit. I believe that nothing is impossible with You. I surrender my life fully to You, Your will, and Your Word.