A tract written by one of the most extreme defenders of no-lordship salvation seeks to explain redemption: “Even at your best, you can never earn or deserve a relationship with God. Only the object of your faith, Jesus Christ, has the merit.” I agree with that. It is the clear teaching of Scripture (Titus 3:5–7).
But the same tract also says, “Your personal sins are not an issue to God.” When the author attempts to explain faith in practical terms, he says this: “You respond to God the Father by simply forming the words privately in your mind, ‘I believe in Christ.’” 
All of that adds up to a notion of faith that is little more than a mental gambit. The “faith” that tract describes is not much more than a cursory nod of the head. It is bare intellectual assent.
Zane Hodges puts similar emphasis on the intellect in his description of faith: “What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true. That—and that alone—is saving faith.” 
Is that an adequate characterization of what it means to believe? Is faith totally passive? Is it true that people know intuitively whether their faith is real? Do all genuinely saved people have full assurance? Cannot someone be deceived into thinking he is a believer when in fact he is not? Can a person think he believes yet not truly believe? Is there no such thing as spurious faith?
Scripture plainly and repeatedly answers those questions. The apostles saw counterfeit faith as a very real danger. Many of the epistles, though addressed to churches, contain warnings that reveal the apostles’ concern over church members they suspected were not genuine believers. Paul, for example, wrote to the Corinthian church, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Peter wrote, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).
Evidently there were some in the very early church who flirted with the notion that faith could be some kind of static, inert, inanimate assent to facts. The book of James, probably the earliest New Testament epistle, specifically confronts this error. James sounds almost as if he were writing to twentieth-century no-lordship advocates. He says people can be deluded into thinking they believe when in fact they do not, and he says the single factor that distinguishes bogus faith from the real thing is the righteous behavior inevitably produced by authentic faith.
James wrote, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). James uses a substantive (pōietai) “doers of the word,” or “Word-doers” instead of a straightforward imperative (“do the word”). He is describing characteristic behavior, not occasional activity. It is one thing to fight; it is something else to be a soldier. It is one thing to build a shed; it is something else to be a builder. James is not merely challenging his readers to do the Word; he is telling them real Christians are doers of the Word. That describes the basic disposition of those who believe unto salvation.
True believers cannot be hearers only. The Greek word for “hearer” (v. 22) is akroatēs, a term used to describe students who audited a class. An auditor usually listens to the lectures, but is permitted to treat assignments and exams as optional. Many people in the church today approach spiritual truth with an auditor’s mentality, receiving God’s Word only passively. But James’s point, shown by his illustrations in verses 23–27, is that merely hearing God’s Word results in worthless religion (v. 26). In other words, mere hearing is no better than unbelief or outright rejection. In fact, it’s worse! The hearer-only is enlightened but unregenerate. James is reiterating truth he undoubtedly heard firsthand from the Lord Himself. Jesus warned powerfully against the error of hearing without doing (Matthew 7:21–27), as did the apostle Paul (Romans 2:13–25).
James says hearing without obeying is self-deception (v. 22). The Greek term for “delude” (paralogizomai) means “to reason against.” It speaks of skewed logic. Those who believe it is enough to hear the Word without obeying make a gross miscalculation. They deceive themselves.
James gives two illustrations that contrast hearers-only with obedient hearers.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23–25)
“Not a doer” is literally “a not-doer,” or someone whose disposition is to hear without doing. Contrary to some commentators, “looks . . . in a mirror” does not describe a hasty or casual glance. The verb (katanoeō) means “to look carefully, cautiously, observantly.” James’s point is not that this man failed to look long enough, or intently enough, or sincerely enough—but that he turned away without taking any action. “He has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (v. 24). This passage is reminiscent of the unproductive soils in Matthew 13. The person who hears the Word and does not have the proper heart response. Therefore that which has been sown cannot bear fruit.
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