KNOW - JAMES
WHO GOD IS: Unchanging God
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
Consistency is one thing children need from their parents in order to grow into healthy adults: consistency in providing for physical needs; consistency in demonstrating unconditional love; consistency in simply showing up and being present in their children’s lives. Unfortunately, not everyone grows up experiencing this kind of consistency from their parents. And even the best parent fails to be 100% consistent 100% of the time.
There is only One in the universe who is.
James tells us that God does not change like shifting shadows. He is not, like so many of us, fickle, unstable, faithful one day and then unfaithful the next. He is always who he says he is. And he says he is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Sometimes life makes it difficult to believe this is indeed who God is. And our experiences—especially related to the inconsistencies of significant others—begin to influence our perspective of God’s nature. He doesn’t *feel* consistent, so he must not be. No one else has ever been; why should he be any different? It’s in these moments we have to decide where we will place our trust: will it be in our own understanding and interpretation of our circumstances? Or will it be in what God has said about himself in his Word?
He has said he does not change. He has said he is the giver of EVERY good and perfect gift. When we hold onto this—no matter the circumstance—we grow up into maturity and begin to look more like Christ.
WHO WE ARE: Guiding Love
“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?” James 4:12
In this verse James makes it clear who we are NOT: the Lawgiver and the Judge. Those titles belong to God alone. Remembering this fact is supposed to help us bite our tongues when we want to speak evil against another believer to a third-party, judging an action and the heart behind it.
When we do this, James says we end up speaking evil against the Law and judging the Law (James 4:11). Because the Law tells us not to defame our neighbour (Lev 19:16) but instead to love them as we love ourselves (Lev 19:18). Thus, by breaking the Law we are not only placing ourselves above it as if we were the Judge, we are also showing contempt for the One who gave us that Law. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.
Only God can save and only God can destroy. And only God can judge the hearts of men.
What this doesn’t mean is that believers can never look at each other’s actions and discern them as incompatible with a life of faith. Quite the opposite, for this is one of the safeties God has set up to help us endure to the end on his path of life. James writes, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
There is a difference between judging our neighbour and warning them unto life. When we discern this difference, we grow up into maturity and begin to look more like Christ.
WHAT WE BELIEVE: Righteous Doers
”You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
When we read this verse quickly, at first it seems to communicate the very opposite of what Christians believe and the very opposite for which the Reformation fought: justificatio sola fide, justification by faith alone. This doctrine holds that righteousness is not a meritorious reward for good deeds, but rather a gracious gift bestowed on persons who put their trust in the promises of God.
But does James disagree with this? I think not. In fact, in his first chapter he presents what could be read as his version of “justification by faith” when he urges his readers to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21). Here, James emphasises the passivity of the believer, who simply receives the word of truth which is planted by the activity of God.
James, however, is writing to believers who have misunderstood faith as mere intellectual assent—something that even demons possess (James 2:19). This kind of “faith” does not justify.
Instead, faith that truly trusts in God alone for justification (rather than in one’s good deeds or avoidance of bad ones), always evidences itself with the fruit of good works. These works do not earn justification. They simply prove the existence of the only kind of faith which justifies.
James’ statement here could thus be rewritten, “You see that a person is justified by faith, but the kind that is not alone but is evidenced by works.”
When we understand that true faith will always produce good works, we grow up into maturity and begin to look more like Christ.
HOW WE LIVE: Fruitful Trials
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
In the opening to his letter, James encourages believers with how they are to live through their present difficulties: with pure joy. And then he explains why: because these times test their faith…which produces perseverance on the bumpy path towards life…and perseverance is the only route to becoming mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The word translated as “mature” in this verse is the Greek word teleios, which is sometimes translated “perfect;” and “complete” is the Greek word holoklēros, which may be rendered “whole.”
For James the opposite of one who is mature and complete (or perfect and whole) is one who is doubled-minded (James 1:8; 4:8). Rather than whole, the double-minded is divided. Instead of mature, they are fractured and unstable. Like double vision distorts a person’s perception of reality, double-mindedness distorts a believer’s ability to live with singular focus, consistent with the truth of their identity in Christ.
For this reason, we receive trials of many kinds with pure joy. For joy enables us to persevere through them and helps us to recognise that this is the way we grow up into maturity and begin to look more like Christ.