There is something worse than ignoring or neglecting the Bible. Professing Christians are in a more dangerous place than outright, unrepentant sinners. The worse reality is to read the Bible and not do what it says. James, the Lord’s brother, wrote, ” Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). And so deceive yourselves. A few verses later James writes again about a loose, uncontrolled tongue leading to “deceiving” ourselves (James 1:26). The word for deceive in verse 22 means to cheat or mislead ourselves and has a slant toward thinking or the mind. The word for deceive in verse 26 has a slant toward desire or feeling. James has already warned “Don’t be deceived” (1:16). Listening to or reading the word and loosely talking about it, but not doing (obeying) the word leads to a comprehensive, permeating deception. Remember, it is a deception. That means you won’t know you have fallen victim to it. If you do know, then you’re not deceived.
Shouldn’t this create an urgent if not meaningful pause in our “use” of the Bible? Isn’t deception the Serpent’s primal strategy to lead to the fall of mankind? Paul reports that Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). The more exposure one has to the Bible and its teaching without a complementary and intentional passion to do what the Bible says is on the slipperiest slope of all. As a pastor I am forever hearing about the slippery slope of this or that or this cultural trend or that theological position. Rarely do I hear Christians admitting that they are in danger of the most horrific slippery slope. Rather, they prance around as if because they’ve read a verse or two and read some moralistic story that accompanies the verse(s) and as an result experience their fuzzy, warm devotional feeling, they are obeying the Word. The last concept that would ever enter their dutiful minds is “deception.” Some read the Bible so they can adroitly debate those who are not Christians or who are “those kind” of Christians; some read the Bible so they can be good, moral, sweet people; some read the Bible to feel delightfully comforted by it–all these are using the Bible for themselves. Could deception be reigning supreme? Because someone faithfully and diligently uses the Bible does not mean he or she is actually encountering the living, flame-throwing, love-lavishing God.
James gets to the nitty of the gritty. “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?…so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:20, 26). Foolish. Useless. Dead. Bummer. James even says, “…a person is justified by what he does, and not by faith alone” (2:24). A Christian who has no engagement with the marginalized of our world (the widows and the orphans in James’ day, 1:27) is living an unjustified life, a kind of faith without deeds. It is not a saving faith. Deception run rampant and because it is deception, we laughingly slide down the slippery slope. Isn’t this fun! And, no, I don’t think James is contradicting Paul at all. At the level of authentic Christian formation, James and Paul are on the exact same page.
What am I trying to say? The very Word we approach and read with ourselves primarily in mind so we can be fed, informed and comforted is the very energizing reality that can deceive. For every degree of knowledge without a corresponding degree of obedience propels us farther into the darkness of deception. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life (see 2 Corinthians 3:6). The Spirit was not given to give us Bible-reading goosebumps, but to expel us into the world of people wandering in the darkness of the fall and sin, the world of anti-Christ values and ways of relating (which the church absorbs in an attempt to be “relevant”), the world of naked, famine-ridden children crying over slaughtered parents, a world of oppressed women beaten to submission in the name of God, the world of people anesthetized to any meaning and purpose by things, things and more things. The Spirit was never given to work for us so we could live a comfortable, American life.
“You can’t reduce this book [Bible] to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, p 66).