But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like.
Delusion can be defined as an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument. It is being convinced of that which is simply not so. Here, James tells us that delusion results when one listens to the word of God but does not obey it. But how does disobedience turn into delusion?
When we have heard the word of God, we have heard the truth. Having heard, we are presented with the reality of the state of this world and the state of our souls. We hear of the truth of Jesus, the fact that we need him and the fate of those who reject him. We also learn the truth of how God wants us to live and to what end. Now, having heard these truths, when we determine to live our lives in any other way, we live as if these truths are not so. That is the delusion. To learn the truth of God’s word and live in a contradictory manner is to delude ourselves into thinking that we are living at all. That is death.
Hearing God’s truth without obeying it means that one does not know this truth at all. Like the man who studies his face every time he sees it because He does not remember himself, so is the man who listens but does not obey. Each time he hears God’s truth it is like hearing it anew, having never allowed it to take hold and change him. But the one who hears the word and obeys it is the one who knows it. Father, help us to remain obedient to you, so that we walk as those who know You and know your word without delusion.