There are some hard, kick-you-where-it-hurts passages in James 2. The words are downright blunt and nothing if not sobering.
But, as someone who believes that Bible is true, perfect, and God's Word, I've got to deal with Chapter 2. It'd be easy enough to skim over it.
Here's what stuck out to me:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10
Marla calls this a classic "we're all screwed without Jesus" passage. Totally true. I step one toe out of line - one harsh word, one moment of pride - and I've failed God's high standard. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
What's especially convicting to me about James 2:10 is that, if I truly believe this, I have no business being judgmental. Why think of others are their sins when mine are just as bad? We all are guilty of breaking all of the law. It's so easy to think of "big bad sins" and "little somewhat-passable" sins. That's nonsense.
I'm praying God protects me from pride and judgment as I dig back into James. Just because I happen to be spending a little time in my Bible doesn't mean I'm better than those who aren't. Any sin of mine puts me on completely even footing with every other person on earth... screwed without Jesus. Small moments of time with Jesus have nothing to do with that.
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. James 2:15-17
The second part of James 2 was the real kicker for me this week. At least four times it mentions that faith without action is dead/useless/no good.
These verses are really easy to misunderstand. Don't put the cart before the horse. James is not saying that a bunch of good works/obedience/mercy-toward-the-poor makes for salvation, or a relationship with God. Nope, that only comes through a relationship with Jesus. [See above comments about being screwed without Him.] James is saying that true faith - the type that leads to life with God - naturally overflows into action. Just like an apple tree makes apples. Mercy, service, and giving-'til-it-hurts should spring forth from a life with God, and a true understanding of what He's given me.
The example in the text above is helping the poor - those without clothes and daily food. In a world where thousands of children die daily from malnutrition and preventable disease, this one hits me. As in, thousands of Carolines die daily. A sermon I listened to this week even encouraged me to think, before I make purchases, is this more important than feeding a child?
Yikes. I don't think much about getting a Starbucks or ordering a cute pair of shoes for my non-walking daughter. And while it'd easy for me to write that question off as "holy-cow-way-too-radical," isn't faith supposed to be radical? Lukewarm has never been a good thing.
So, where does that leave me? I don't know. I'm wrestling through it. Starbucks in hand or not. Sigh. God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward me is there. Freedom is there. But chapter 2 of James is there too. Lord, help me.
I don't think deeds should be done out of guilt. That's not the point. They should be the overflow of joy and freedom in Jesus. And out of a relationship with Him. So for now I'm going to focus on that relationship-with-Him part. It's needed - I'm rusty. We're going to pray as a family for direction on our actions, and our spending.
And for the official discussion questions...
1. What one verse stood out to you as oh-my-wow (or however you would say it)? See above.
2. What do you think of this quote from DP–”People who claim
to be Christians but fail to help poverty-stricken believers are, in
fact, not saved.” This is so hard. I listened to that sermon for clarification and was convinced that the man had a point. Faith in Jesus - the true kind - bears fruit. Mercy and forgiveness and love and patience and a host of other things. When we truly know and love Him, we can't help but be led toward these things.
3. What questions/concerns do you have about this chapter? Jesus, what does that mean for me? For us? Right now? In your grace and mercy toward me, show us the way.