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. (NLT)
Back in April 1912 a man sat in a small radio office onboard an ocean liner. He received some messages about icebergs in the vicinity and so took notes of the warnings and passed them on to the appropriate officers. It seems they didn’t act on these warnings and so the great Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic when it struck an iceberg.
Apparently, the ship had the information necessary to avoid the hazards. It could have taken some action on the basis of information received. It was not lack of information that doomed the Titanic, it was failure to properly act on the information.
We might shake our heads at the foolishness of this. But we too receive lots of valuable information without acting on it. We read the Scriptures just as we might cast a passing glance at a mirror. Whatever the mirror tells us doesn’t affect us. We haven’t looked intently enough. We are preoccupied with other things.
James is simply echoing what Jesus has said: do what God says, don’t just talk about it, don’t just treat it as interesting information. James and Jesus both tell us that right belief involves right behaviour. It is practical obedience, not just orthodox faith, that ensures we don’t strike icebergs.