Few directions are more clear than the one we find in James 1:22: ”But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” In other words, it is not enough to hear, understand, know, enjoy, teach, or even have a testimony of the gospel. We must do our very best to live it. In fact, the test of this life is “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).
Most of the Lord’s promises are conditional on our doing. “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). All who receive the priesthood receive “the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.” Part of that agreement is that we “shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:33-44). The most consistent promise of the Book of Mormon is that “inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper...” (1 Nephi 2:20). (See also 1 Nephi 4:14; Mosiah 1:27.)
According to James hearing is not bad, but we deceive ourselves when we are “hearers only”. We should have “ears to hear” (3 Nephi 11:5). But the Lord throughout the scriptures often uses the word “hearken”. What is the difference between hear and hearken? The Guide to the Study of the Scriptures defines “hearken” as “to hear and obey the voice or teachings of the Lord.” So the right thing is to hear and do.
What are the consequences of doing?
Many of us have realized that we learn much more by doing something than by hearing about it, thinking about it, or even studying it. We may make some mistakes, but often these help us learn even more.
The scriptures teach us that we can know by doing. John promises that “if any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). I gained my testimony that God lives by acting on His invitation to “prove me now herewith” and paid my tithing first not knowing how I would survive financially (see Malachi 3:10).
When we begin to live the gospel, we signal to the Lord that we want to learn, we are willing to try, we are exercising our faith, and we want to be guided. He will respond with His help, and bless us with even more guidance (See D&C 50:24).
What we do, much more than what we say, shows what we really are, what we really feel, and what we really know. The Lord said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20; 3 Nephi 14:20). The goal, as Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught, is to become living epistles of Jesus Christ.
Can we really do what we need to do and should do? It is an exercise of faith. Then we can declare as did the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).