There are many places in the red letters where Jesus appears to conditionally forgive sins. If you break certain rules your sins are not forgiven. The most obvious of these are sins against the Holy Spirit. I must admit that I don’t really understand that condition as much as I would like. But that is not the only place where Jesus appears to withhold forgiveness. There are many others. Several of them have to do with corrupting children. He in no uncertain terms says that if you cause a child to sin, faith or no faith, you will not see the kingdom of God.
Withholding forgiveness is something that goes very contrary to many evangelical churches who latch totally onto Paul’s words in Ephesians to almost the exclusion of even the words of Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
Did Paul understand this differently than Jesus? If that is not the case then why did Jesus say your sins are not forgiven in certain circumstances therefore requiring works? If there is only faith required without any corresponding actions then not forgiving sin seems meaningless.
Maybe we need to consult a third voice in the matter and that is James, the brother of Jesus. James obviously was around Jesus most of his life and unlike Paul was there during Jesus’ entire three year ministry. In his Epistle James basically said the faith without works is a dead faith and therefore worthless. Enough said…. I am one to take Jesus at his word.
I am going to do something I don’t do often on this blog. I am going to concentrate the next few posts on an epistle. Particularly the epistle of James. Some of the reasons I am doing this is because James, being brother of Jesus, was one of the few people to know Jesus his entire life. (A short sub note here — I have recently read where in Jesus’ time the Aramaic term “brother” was used to include brothers, cousins, second cousins, and many other males in a direct family line. So James being Jesus’ brother might not mean that his mother was Mary but he almost surely knew Jesus from childhood.) He was one of the select individuals Christ appeared to after his resurrection. Paul called him a “pillar” of the church. He was the leader of the Council of Jerusalem. In others words, he was one of the “big shots” in the early church. Being so I am sure his words here were taken with great weight by them.
Another reason I want to study this epistle is that it concentrated mainly on teaching us how to live a Christian life. This made James out of favor with several of the protestant reformers, particularly the words James 2:17 where he says that faith without works is dead, but that is probably the reason I am drawn to it more than most of the other epistles.
Several of the Protestant reformers had problems with James as much of his epistle was about “works” and how to act as a Christian. Martin Luther in particular did not have much good to say of James as his writings seemed to fly in the face of “Sola Fida” (justification by faith alone which I covered in the previous post). He believed that this epistle was not a work of an apostle! He believed it was a fraud or an “epistle of straw” as he called it! In reality I think this is one of those areas that Luther, and some others just got wrong. James was clear that we are saved by grace but he questioned whether grace without works as really grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer later termed faith without works as “cheap grace”.
Ok, let’s dive into this epistle. As I have said before I am just not a chapter/verse type of Christian. I concentrate more on the lessons behind the words rather than where they are in the Bible. I will attempt this study by looking at the words in James and then try to glean in my own terms the lessons I think he is trying to convey. I am doing this primarily for my own benefit but I hope that maybe some of you might get a small insight in to the words too. I am also looking for any insight you can provide me. After all we Christians grow by being together with other Christians. (James’ words are in blue below. Mine follow in black.)
- When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone — So if God is not doing the tempting who is? Of course the answer is Satan. For those who believe that everything that happens on this earth is God’s will this statement flies in the face of that. It is not God’s will that we be tempted. It is not part of his plan for us. Does he use the temptations that the devil throws at us to make us stronger. Of course he does but he is NOT the originator and it is not his will.
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry — This is one of those lessons that I definitely need. I, like St. Peter, am an impulsive person. I often become angry and fly off the handle when I know I shouldn’t! I pray daily that the Lord give me a good dose of patience to listen more and speak less. I know I am not alone in this area. We could all use a good dose of James’ instructions here.
- Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. — To me this is at the heart of what James is trying to convey. Listening and not doing is worse than not listening at all! Anybody, including even Satan, can listen but it takes a true Christian heart to actually put what we hear into action. We can never fully do this as we are sinful human beings that often succumb to Satan’s temptations. But we must always strive to do what Jesus says.
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — This is kind of a strange verse? James is saying that true pure “religion” is looking after those less fortunate than us. Maybe this goes back to the difference between religion and being a Christian. Are they two different things? The second part of this instruction is indeed a constant battle for all of us. Our worldviews have a strangle hold on our very being. Yes, we are all totally indoctrinated with our worldviews even if we don’t choose to acknowledge that fact. Many who call themselves Christian Evangelicals are totally submersed in the politics of the extreme right wing of the Republican party’s worldview. Where that worldview clashes with the Kingdom of God view is a constant battlefield but many don’t seem to see that. This verse is in particular one of those areas.
Next time we will look at James 2 and 3.