Today I’ll be going through the second chapter of James. The epistle of James was written as a guide for Jewish Christians regarding the duties of the Christian life. The letter discourages sins such as speaking falsely, discusses social issues like showing favoritism (as you’ll read today), and encourages demonstrating patience in every situation.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. A-ha! See, I told you we’d discuss favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Judgements fill the human mind: we judge whether a situation is safe, we judge what clothing is appropriate for the day. It’s not a sin to simply make a judgement; however, it’s not Christlike to discriminate among people by only looking at their appearance or their wealth (or lack thereof).
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? Jesus was born to an unmarried woman and a carpenter in the backwaters of the area. But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? As a nation in general, we realize this, but we change nothing! Half of the people believe that our problems are caused by need and too much poverty; the other half believe that our problems are caused by greed and consumerism. In need versus greed, we reach a stalemate, and very few are willing to open their minds and try to do something about the problem!
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. The law is the law. In God’s eyes, a lawbreaker is a lawbreaker. Someone who breaks a law against someone breaks a law against God, because by breaking a Law, we disobey God.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Look at the part in bold. This doesn’t mean that our salvation is defined by what we do. No way! It means that if we aren’t willing to forgive, then we’re not thinking like God. If we’re not with God, then we’re resisting God. If we’re resisting God, then we’re not “saved”.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. We’ll have the Jesus stickers on our cars and the cute little keychains, but does the Gospel do in us if we don’t act it out in our lives? The answer: nothing.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Of course someone will say this.We try to set ourselves apart. The world blows up our self-esteem and tells us everything will be fine and dandy if we’d just “Be ourselves.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. They will know we are Christians by our love. The demons know that God exists. It’s what you do with the knowledge that sets you apart as a Christian.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. See, it’s not works that saves us, it’s faith. But the Gospel is good news that inspires action. If you want to selfishly keep it to yourself, take a look at your priorities and see if you’re hearing the Gospel clearly.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Happy fourth, American readers!