This blog has not turned out to be what I originally intended. When I first started posting, I simply wanted to have a collection of memories from my time at the daycare, with smatterings of posts here and there about our family vacations. But as it has turned out, I realize that my blog is now more of a compilation of lessons that God is teaching me through the study of His Word and various life circumstances. I think I like it. How cool (and perhaps comical?) will it be to read through these posts in the future, and note the ways that the Lord has matured my faith in Him, critiqued my theology as I study the Bible and glean wisdom from others, and most amazingly of all, how He has remained faithful to me despite my doubts, fears, questions, and shortcomings! I do hope to do a more thorough job of capturing those precious memories of vacations, exciting/challenging times, but for now, on to what He is teaching me through the study of James!
Oh, James. What a difficult book to decipher, at first glance. Without digging into it, I think many people would walk away from this book and declare that James preached a different gospel than Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-8)! How wrong we would be. The more that I study Scripture, the more that I realize how fluid the text really is– the Old and New Testaments alike declare one core message–Jesus Christ died for sinners. We are the sinners, in desperate need of a Savior. He alone is that Savior! In fact, Jesus put it well (of course He did!) when He pointed out to the Pharisees in John 5:39 & 40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” It is possible to study Scripture and miss the point. What is the point? Jesus Christ! So lately, as I have been spending time with the Lord in His Word, I have been reading it with this focus. And as it relates to the book of James, what I have found is that James preaches the same gospel (as Paul)!
In a challenging passage such as James 2:14-26, he points out that faith without works is dead. Many read this and might think he is saying that you have to have works in addition to faith, but I believe that is a wrong interpretation of the text. For, “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:21)” As soon as we add anything, even one iota, to the gospel message, we lose it. Righteousness is achieved only through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross! Furthermore, if we start with justification by grace through faith in Christ, but then declare that we must have good works to maintain our favor with God, we are also not teaching what is in line with the gospel! The apostle Paul’s response to that doctrine is found in Galatians 3:3- “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness, and He is also the means by which we are matured in our faith! As Tim Keller says, “we never leave the gospel behind. (Galatians For You)”
So what is James saying when he says that faith and works go together? I believe that his point here is that saving faith results in transformed lives. Good works are outward indicators of God’s work, by His grace and through His Spirit, within us.
Does that mean, then, that we will be perfect in this life? No! At different points throughout the text, James reminds us that we are desperate for God, for His Spirit to transform us from the inside out!
- When we lack wisdom, we go to God. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (1:5)” God is gracious to give us what we need (Phil. 4:19)!
- When we are faced with trials, we can rejoice because of what God is doing in us through the trials. “…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (1:4)” God uses trials in our lives to bring about our transformation.
- When we are faced with temptation, we draw near to God. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (4:7)” Temptations remind me that I cannot rely on myself for salvation or holiness, but that I need to rely on and trust in God.
To sum it up, as I reflect on the overarching theme of James, I believe it would include something along the lines of: good works are outward indicators of the transforming work of God’s Spirit within us. And at all times, from suffering to trials to temptations to good works, we rely on the finished work of Christ. When we fail, when we doubt, when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we must run to the cross!
I’m definitely no Bible expert, though I wish I were. My understanding of the book of James is not complete, certainly, but if James teaches us one thing, may it be that we need Christ! If we are going to be the people of God that He desires us to be, we don’t need to simply try harder. After all, that is a form of self-righteousness and not gospel living! We need the Savior. Thank God for His Son!