James 2: 14
We come to one of the crucial part of this Book of James and to the part responsible for so many great debates among the Jews, the disciples of Jesus and particularly the present Body of Christ. Most Pastors, Christians and many others differ in their interpretation of this part of the Bible causing there to be many factions. Our founding reformers were not left out of this – Martin Luther had little use for the Book of James because it contains little teaching on the great doctrines of the Christian faith that he so passionately defended. He stood against the misuse of this particular book when it was used in the defense of Justification by works.
The saga in the Book of Acts between Paul and the Jewish council was because of this part of the Bible. To put this in proper perspective, Peter and some of the disciples did not think about the Gentiles and whether God had any plan for their Salvation. Their main concern was predominantly the Jews. They had concluded that Salvation through the work at Calvary wouldn’t be extended to the Gentiles even though God’s plan had extended it to them (Gentiles).
Before the debate in Acts 15, God had shown Peter in a dream (four footed beast) that the Gentiles were part of His plan – evidenced in the story of Cornelius who was saved. God had also raised Apostle Paul who would be the custodian of the New Testament and a messenger to the Gentiles. Paul extended the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles, a message, which had so much impact in their lives that they began to ask the question like Nicodemus did as they clamored, “What can I do to be saved”.
All the Gentiles ever knew was the message of the Gospel; they were never part of Judaism and as such could not be seen obeying or carrying out the contents of the Mosaic Law. Many Jews who were saved by the finished work of Jesus still had their other hand in the gospel of circumcision and the Mosaic Law. They couldn’t come to terms with the fact that Gentiles could be saved and as such laid a burden on them, castigating and condemning them whilst laying claim on the fact that salvation was a Jewish inheritance. Back then, the books that were at their disposal was the Torah (Mosaic Law), the Time of Jesus on earth (containing the many things He said – as it was all about the Jews, until His death), and also the Book of James.
So many Gentiles were getting saved through the message of the Gospel propagated by Paul but soon started to be persecuted by the Jews because of the aforementioned points above and this led to the debacle between Paul and the council at Jerusalem. Again, the Epistles of Paul had not been written, nothing had made anyone aware of the fact that no one is good and that all (Jews and Gentiles) have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. Many were not aware of the paradigm shift, the New Testament order, and that the Old Testament and all it stood for had become obsolete – relationship with God would now be through the finished work of Jesus predicated upon the resurrection of the dead and the final sacrifice that was paid in full.
The debate went on and eventually Paul was sent to the Gentiles and Peter, James and John agreed to continue to reach out to the Jews. None of the burdens, religious rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament was placed as a prerequisite for Salvation but a firm belief in Jesus and the work He did as He presented another Covenant, which couldn’t be enforced until the death of the Testator. The writer put the final nail on the coffin when he made his remark about the fact that, there would have been no new covenant if there was nothing wrong with the old covenant.
Having stated all these, James also could not have written his Book with the New Testament doctrines in hindsight, he wrote because his perception was still on the Old Testament and the Words of Jesus. I am of the opinion that many of his presentation were based on the Jewish tradition and culture hence, he could not have written outside of this.
James’ definition of FAITH was and would be totally different in context from what Paul said because both parties were looking at the different perspectives of the Word of God. James would have to combine legalism with belief. A case in point to cite is when Jesus encountered the Ten Lepers on His way to Jerusalem; He had to pass through Samaria and Galilee as He journeyed through a certain village. He met ten Lepers at a particular place and told them to go show themselves to the Priest as they screamed for Him to have mercy on them.
Why would Jesus tell them to go and show themselves to the Priest? That was what the Law stipulated about that category of people; they had to be thrown out of the city so that they don’t infect other people. And when they are considered to be cleansed, they had to first clarify with the Priest who would then certify that they could come and live amongst other people. It was declared in the Law. So what would it have cost Jesus, to cleanse them and have them go back to their various homes? The ten Lepers heeded His instruction, as they knew that was the process but something happened, as they went, they were cleansed but only one came back. The one that came back was a symbol and a portrait of the new order coming in. The other nine were and would still be part of the old order.
Faith according to James is not a force that you wield that makes God do anything and everything for you, even if its part of His Will or not. Some Christians pray for so many things and the moment they don’t get the things they have desired, they are being told it’s because they don’t have FAITH. That’s wrong doctrine and James was not teaching that. When James mentioned FAITH, his mind went to belief in God and nothing else. His mind did not go to a mystical power exerted that commands Heaven to bring into reality the many things they want God to do for them.
Works, according to James is what you put into action even though you claim to believe in God. The Lepers described above decided to go and show themselves to the Priest in accordance to the Mosaic Law. If they had remained in the same place or ignored the Words of Jesus, even though they were cleansed, there would have been no one to certify that they were cleansed and hence they could go back to their families. When John the Baptizer saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees come to be baptized, he told them, “Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin!” In other words, they must show by their change of attitude and character that they had repented of their sins, as they desired to turn to God. Faith must be accomplished with works.
Now having the New Testament in retrospect, would Apostle Paul make the same summation that FAITH PLUS WORKS is what saves? Please watch out for more!
Faith is, in one sense, the gift of God; but, in another sense, it is a mental act for which we are responsible. God gives us faith, but he does not believe for us – C H Spurgeon