Be clear about the audience of this letter. Based on what these people had done to demonstrate a wholehearted surrender to The Lordship of Jesus Christ, there is an assumption that these people had been given eternal life in Christ and were indwelt with the Holy Spirit.
James audience either had comfortable lives as residents of Jerusalem, or had come to Jerusalem about 20 years ago for Pentecost and never went home! Or they came to be part of the ‘Called Out Ones’ in Jerusalem from the surrounding areas of Judea and Galilee more than ten – twenty years ago, but they now find themselves as part of this group that fled Jerusalem during the ‘Persecution’ that followed Stephen’s stoning that was led by Saul, soon to be Paul.
They had been living scattered throughout Palestine for between eight and twelve years. This exemplified ‘Giving Up Your Life For ME’ as Jesus requires of His recipients of Eternal Life:
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? ~ Mark 8:35-37
Luther called this a ‘Straw Epistle’ because the Gospel was not central to the text. Luther missed the historical context I just referred to, he placed the Scripture in his own context rather than understanding the actual context of the Scripture. The Gospel is central to the people James writes to. The Gospel is central to James, more so than perhaps Luther’s experience would allow him to understand.
James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes this as the clearly established leader of the Jerusalem church, 18 – 20 years after Jesus Christ’s Death and Resurrection. His Bonafides are unquestionable and this letter was considered Scripture perhaps before any other new testament book was afforded that status. I love Luther but he was wrong about the book of James.
Last week Jame began this letter with an encouragement to persevere in our discipleship, to let God transform us by walking with HIM through the temptations and trials that HE sees fit to give us. He points out two things that keep us from the kind of relationship God wants for us to have with HIM: Divided Loyalty and ‘Stuff’.
From there James gets right to the heart of the matter: Sin and Salvation.
James Ch 1:13-27
- Biblical Theology: Believing what we do about God based on Scripture
- God’s people have read the scripture in unity for thousands of year
- God has NOTHING to do with temptation to sin or with sin itself.
- This is something Christ followers are not double minded about: Repentance
- This is a crucial aspect of Biblical Christianity: God is BLAMELESS in our sin.
14 Instead each person’s temptation is due to the pull of their own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive. 15 Their own desire takes hold of them, and that produces sin. Unrestrained sin, in the long run means death. 16 Make no mistake about that, my brothers and sisters!
- This is wisdom as to the nature of sin’s source being in each of us
- Sin, rebellion against our Creator, is inherent in every human being.
- Our desires / pride / lust / selfishness consume and capture us
- We have all gone against God
- Each of us needs forgiveness of our sin in order to be in relationship with God
- Our rebellion (SIN), if it is not reconciled, it will end in ETERNAL DEATH
17 But every good endowment that we possess and every complete gift that we have received come from above, from the Father of all lights, with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency. 18 By his own wish he gave us life through the Word of truth that we might be, so to speak, the first specimens of his new creation.
- In contrast to who & what we are; naturally rebellious and evil, God is GOOD!
- HE has proven to be complete and unchangeable in HIS goodness
- There is proof is what HE has done for us, how HE has had MERCY on us
- The proof is that HE has given us life through HIS Word of Truth
- The Word of Truth is The God-Man Jesus Christ and The Gospel Message!
19 In view of what He has made us dear brothers and sisters, let everyone be quick to listen but slow to use their tongue, and slow to lose their temper. 20 For human anger is never the means of achieving God’s true goodness.
- Because we have been humbled by being forgiven, by being given eternal life
- Because of The Sacrifice of Christ for us… PROVING His goodness
- We are to reflect God’s goodness in our relationships (3 specific how to’s)
- Be a good listener. Don’t go shooting your mouth off. Control your temper.
- There is a distinction between ‘Human’ anger and ‘Godly Anger’ (Motive)
- If God has saved YOU from eternal death and indwelt you with His Spirit…
- Here is how you validate the reality of your faith: Listen / Be Quiet, / Chill Out!
21 Be done with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. 22 Don’t only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves.
- Bottom line: renounce evil and in humility fully accept what God has done
- That is what is known as ‘Saving Grace’
- God gives each of us who is to be HIS child the grace to humble themselves
- The reality of how we live our lives is the proof that God has humbled us
- We practice behaviors that flow from the message of Christ, what HE taught
What does this look like, only hearing the message and not putting it into practice?
23 The person who simply hears and does nothing about it is like someone catching the reflection of their own face in a mirror. 24 They see themself, it is true, but they go on with whatever they were doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person they saw in the mirror.
- You see yourself, no problem recognizing that, it is obvious who you are
- There is zero impact of seeing that person, you basically ignore the information
- That information is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless to you
- How crazy: to know of Christ and not respond by surrendering your life
- You have see that Jesus is God and yet you are un-impacted / unchanged
25 But the person who looks into the perfect mirror of God’s law, the law of Liberty, and makes a habit of acting on it, they are not like the one who sees and forgets. They put that law into practice and are blessed by their actions.
- This is a description of one who has come to saving faith in Jesus Christ alone
- This person sees God exactly as HE is: The perfect giver of ultimate liberty!
- This person is wholeheartedly impacted to the point of radical change of habits
- This is opposite of a ‘unregenerate’ person who’s life unaffected by the Gospel
- Practicing the reality of our salvation is who we (Christ’s Body) are meant to be!
- Our actions agree with God’s Will… so blessing flow from them!
- Religion is used here to denote a proper relationship to God (humble servant)
- This relationship is a lie if we don’t grow to honor God with our words
- If we surrender our lives to Christ that includes our words (I Surrender All)
- These are examples of what real Christians do, not meant to be a definitive list
- Two categories of ‘Such Things’ that ‘True Religion’ shows itself in:
- Caring for those who are without family structure to care for them
- Living in ways that renounce what is valued in this world: Riches / Power / Self
- It is a given that this world is trying to contaminate you with it’s disease: SIN
- You must proactively & intentionally counteract the effects of this corrupt world
James calls us to live, make decisions and act on the reality of the ‘Message’
Each of us is born with rebellion against our Creator inside us. We also bear God’s image, though our SIN taints it. God is not to blame for our sin and without God’s forgiveness our sin will ARE Spiritually, Eternally DEAD!
God in His all encompassing goodness has made a way for us to be ‘New Creations’. The Word of Truth became one of us humans, God Himself was incarnated in the man Jesus Christ. God Himself was the sacrifice for each of our sin & rebellion, violently killed by His own creation. And then Christ rose from the dead the and He lives and HE is coming back!
God implants the truth of Christ in all those who are to be new creations and indwells them with His Spirit. This is the Good News, the Biblical Gospel of Jesus The Christ!
When God Biblically converts us to faith in Christ we can now behave in ways that reflect God. We will reflect HIS goodness in our relationships. We will renounce our anger as an affront to God.
Humble submission to God’s will in Christ is the source of our eternal life and we display that in a total rejection of everything that opposes God. We live like the Gospel is our ever present reality… because it is!
Christ -Given salvation is the basis of the Body of Christ. Christ’s people live by standards that are possible only because we have God’s Spirit, that is the way to have ‘True Religion’ as defined by God.
How honest are you about YOU being the cause of your sin? How honest are you about what the end result of your sin remaining unforgiven will be?
In the days and weeks ahead how can you more fully embrace the reality that in Biblically converting to Christ following you are a ‘New Creation”?
What is the connection between humbly accepting the message God has sown in your heart with being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to lose your temper?
If your daily life is not consistently impacted and directed by the Biblical Gospel, is it possible you are not all the way there with surrendering your life to Jesus The Christ?