Day 355: James 1-5; Authentic Faith

There isn’t a lot that is really known about the writer of the book of James or the approximate time of its writing.  Some people hold to the idea that James was written by the half-brother of Jesus who didn’t believe in Jesus at first but was later converted and worked in the Church during the first century.  However, this is not known for sure and neither is the time frame in which it was written.  Honestly, it could have been written anywhere in the second half of the first century.

This epistle has not always been very well received.  Unlike most of the epistle writings that we have encountered thus far, James is one of the more practical writings, talking the authentic living out of our faith in Christ Jesus.  Martin Luther called this epistle the “epistle of straw” because he thought that it went against all of Paul’s teachings on justification by grace through faith alone.  On the surface, I could totally understand why he may have thought this.  Any discussion about how to live as Christians, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what we can do and can’t do walks the line of a “works-based righteousness” model of salvation.  Dealing with this thought about salvation has often been a struggle in the Christian Church, having to put down a number of heresies surrounding it.

However, if we take a few moments to read deeper into James (and if you’re feeling like James is all about works-based righteousness, I would encourage you to read it through again) we see that James isn’t at all talking about earning salvation through works, but rather the appropriate way of living which sees the marriage of faith and works together.  In fact, James’ audience is likely dealing with these issues at the time of his writing.  One of the many struggles that the church encountered in the first century, really up until the conversion of Constantine, was those Christians who said that they had faith, but didn’t show it by how they lived.  One of the main reasons that this was a struggle was because those that showed that they were Christians outwardly, through the way that they lived and through their interactions with others were often subject to persecution, arrest, torture and even death because of their faith.  This is the very reason that the writer of James starts out his letter with encouragement in the face of persecution.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

From my perspective, the rest of this letter is really about the exposition of these two major claims in the opening of His letter.  James’ major thrust here is that our faith needs to be shown in our actions, lived out in our lives everyday.  He says this through a whole bunch of different methods, all of which have to do with lifestyle and response to the call of God.  We need to be doers of the Word of God, not just hearers.  People will see our faith in our actions, not simply hear them in our words.

To be honest, this book is something that the contemporary church needs to read again and again; it is a call to missional living.  Especially in North America, believers have learned to live segmented lives in which we are very quick to acknowledge our faith in church, or even with our church friends, but if we are outside of those spheres, no one would ever know that there is anything different about us.  How is it that we expect to spread the love of Christ to people in our lives if we live as though our faith means nothing to us?  This is really what James is getting at.  We need to be careful of what we say, taming our tongues.  We need to not be segregating and dishonoring people, judging them for their racial, social, and/or economic status.  We need to not boast about tomorrow and not live as the world lives.

I know… this all sounds like legalistic Christianity speak… one person saying that if you want to be a Christian you have to do all these things… but honestly that is not it at all.  James never says that you have to do these things to earn salvation.  Nothing he says is at all in contrast with any other part of Scripture.  In fact, he references the Shema (or part of the greatest commandment) in his writing!  We aren’t talking about earning our salvation here, we are talking about the Romans 12 aspect of salvation, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, and then living it out day in and day out no matter what the cost.  In this we are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves because as we saw in the book of Hebrews, all of faith comes from seeing what God has done for us and believing.  James simply takes it one step further to tell us that, in view of all this, we need to live our our faith in a way that can be seen by all, for the glory of the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.


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