This post is a continuation of my study of the epistle of James. Today we will study chapters two and three. As before James’ words are in blue and mine are in black.
- For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. — Of course this was the constant mantra of the Apostle Paul too. We need to constantly be reminded that the Law is there to show us our sin and therefore our total need of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Does this fact invalidate the law? No it doesn’t. We still need it to show us what is right and wrong.
- What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? — This is the particular verse that many of the reformers had difficulty with. On the surface it seems to say that works are an integral part of our salvation. Luther and Calvin in particular were totally offended by this verse. Of course that had something to do with the indulgances that the Catholic church was handing out but that is another post. In reality most of us realize that what James is asking is “do you have head faith or heart faith”. Head faith is just saying the words but not really believing them in your heart. This is kind of like Pascal’s wager http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager . To paraphrase it says what harm is their in saying you believe in God. If he exists you gain heaven; if he doesn’t exist it doesn’t matter as we will all go into nothingness. Heart faith on the other hand is totally committed to trying to live out our lives as Jesus taught us. That is to be more Christ like every day. When we do that we obviously effuse good works from every pore of our being.
- Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. — This is another of those life lessons from James. It goes back to his early teaching to do what Jesus says. Faith without actions is dead and worthless faith. This is a hard lesson for us to learn. There is, or at least should be, no such thing as a shallow or greedy Christian. Of course all of us are on different paths to fulfilling this teaching.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. – James does not mince words in Chapter 2. Faith without deeds is useless and man is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. This verse is most often used to discredit Sola Fida of Protestantism. I can certainly see where Martin Luther had to claim that this epistle did not belong in the Bible!
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. — This teaching goes to the heart of the fact that Jesus wants us to love God and to love each other. When we publically praise the Lord but then turn around and curse/criticize/judge others we are not speaking truthfully. God wants us to love everyone. Even our enemies.
- Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. — This like most of the previous verses tells us to live a good life of deeds. But it also adds do this humbly and wisely. Don’t do it in a showy or shallow way.
Next time I will close out my study of James with a discussion of Chapters four and five. These chapters move away from his focus on works to teach us other lessons.