(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)
Most of the book of James can be summed up by the assertion that the Christian life should be exemplified by an external evidence of one’s internal faith. He’s saying that if a Christian has faith and it is not evidenced to the world then it is a worthless faith (2:17). Basically he is affirming the value of faith, and showing what it should look like. The book of James is likely a response to what has become the church’s false view of the teaching of faith by Paul. Its not that Paul was wrong, but that there were some people who were perverting Paul’s message, necessitating a corrective response by James. Two things stand out in chapter one as that which should be the evidence of one’s faith: perseverance, and hearing the Word.
Most epistles (letters) in the New Testament are written in a conventional letter writing form that was common in the first century, much like how we follow a certain pattern when we write a letter or an email. It starts with the name of the writer, then the recipient, then a greeting, then a prayer or wish or thanksgiving, then the main body, then a goodbye. If you look at the letters of the New Testament you will find that many follow this pattern at least in part. Significance and emphasis can be discovered in how and what a writer puts into these sections. For example, in James, after a very brief greeting, he jumps right into the main section when he mentions trials and perseverance in verses 2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” He wastes no time in getting to the point. This shows that what he is saying here is important. In verse 19 James shifts gears and mentions that in addition to perseverance one’s faith should also be strengthened by the Word. “The Word” used here by James is the Gospel. By this James is saying that now that you have been saved you should strengthen yourselves in the truth that is your purpose in Christ through being saved.
Today, just like when James was written, the church seems to want to obsess over the idea of having only faith and love while the evidence of faith and works are played down or are altogether gone. “How could God want me to DO things when I am already redeemed? I can’t do anything to be redeemed right?” Yup, you’re right. You can’t do anything to be redeemed. But that’s not what James is talking about. He’s not talking about how to be redeemed, or how to be justified. We have that through Christ. We don’t, and can’t, become justified by anything that we do. That doesn’t make any sense. However, once we are justified of our sins through Christ we are, just as James calls himself in 1:1, a “bondservant” of the Lord. This means that now that we are Christians our lives are to be marked by serving the Lord. This is a result of our justification, not in order to gain justification.
Satan always loves to distort the truth of God and His character. Many Christians struggle with the idea of works because they struggle with legalism in the church. Legalism in the church certainly is a reality. Demonic spirits are the cause of many lies that creep up in people’s lives about who God is. One such lie asserts that Christianity must be in a certain form, one that is similar to the truth, but is ultimately a lie. It is the appearance of a form of what Christianity should be, but in reality is entirely false. It is a spirit of religion and legalism. This false view of God turns many people away from the church as a whole because people become disgusted with it.
The way to tell the difference between who Christ is and lies from the demonic is to know Christ, and, as James asserts in 1:19-27, holding strong to the word. Many in and out of the church run from God because Satan presented them with a lie. If you do this then you are letting Satan win. Running into darkness because you don’t want to be legalistic or religious is just trading darkness for darkness, one lie for another lie. You can’t find light in darkness. It’s as simple as that.
But here in the book of James we see something different. James asserts that faith should be evidenced by external practices. James’ message is similar to wisdom literature in the Old Testament, such as Proverbs. There you can find that many of the examples of wisdom serve to be examples of how God’s people should be and act. Also, when one takes a really good look at the Old Testament one finds there that the heroes of the faith didn’t follow the Law because it brought them to God, they followed it because they loved God and wanted to serve Him. They submitted to the Law because they wanted to submit to God. They did it because of God. A similar idea is true here in the New Testament, with regard to what should be the evidence of our faith. James gives examples of what we should DO and BE, not to get to God, but because of Him. If we know God, truly know Him, then we should not go through the great efforts that we do to contain Him and snuff Him out, we should rather let our lives evidence Him, and evidence our faith in Him. If we all did this it would make it much harder for the world to deny Christ because He would be right in its face.
While I’m sitting here writing this I’m thinking about when I was saved. I remember how I went from extreme darkness to the light. It was a drastic change, and I suddenly saw things in a new way for the first time in my life. I had joy, and for the first time real peace. I saw who God was and it was amazing. And in response to this all I wanted to do was to tell people about it. I also really wanted to share in this with other people in the church because they also knew Christ. I wanted to show it to the world because of who Christ is, because He is so awesome. To keep it to myself seemed ridiculous.
But like it is for many of us, that amazingness and feeling close to the Lord when we first get saved does not last forever. The Lord seems to back off and we are left not feeling as close to Him as we were at first. This is not because God is mean; it’s because He is a good Father. It’s like a parent backing off from their toddler so that they can learn to walk. If the parent never did that then the toddler would not seek out the ability to walk. The same is true with our relationship with the Lord. He oftentimes takes a step back so that we will mature. Likewise, like James says in 1:2-4, hard things tend to happen in our lives because we are being shaped, and that the Lord is trying to mature us to be more evident examples of who He is. Our lives should show the evidence of the change that has happened. To do otherwise is to choose ourselves and our own comforts over Christ. It is ridiculous that now that we have been changed to be like Him that we would not show the evidence of that change, and especially the evidence of our faith to the world.