In the section of James we’ll be reading this Sunday we’ll encounter what is the most famous quote from the entire work: “Faith without works is dead.”
Martin Luther wrote in his introduction of James concerning this section, ““This defect proves that the epistle is not of apostolic provenance.”. For him, what James says concerning justification was irreconcilable with what Paul wrote. When James says “we are justified by works and not by faith alone”, Luther in essence shouts “Sole Fide…by faith alone!”
After thinking about this whole thing for about 500 years, most reasonable Biblical scholars have calmed down a bit and have realized that James and Paul weren’t arm-wrestling for soteriological dominance…they appear to be making points from two different sides of an issue. One points toward justification, explaining how it is NOT determined, the other points from justification, explaining how it is DEMONSTRATED.
I was talking with my friend Dennis the other day about the amazing designs he does for advanced scuba technologies, and I pondered that for all of his incredible ideas, none of them are real until a diver puts one on and uses it. Up until that point, it’s theory. It can be an awesome breakthrough idea that will change diving forever…but until someone is using it, its just an idea. Get the correlation there?
Based on v19 we realize that faith isn’t just having an orthodox doctrine or a strong emotional response to truth since demons have those things as well. What DOES a Jesus shaped faith look like in James’ description of it? Look at the examples he uses and consider how those examples translate to your own life.
I find James’ words really challenging, do you? I have to start looking at my life and wondering about my priorities. I contemplate my plans and dreams and consider who is at the center of them in the long range. From the place where we are right now…how can we be more active in demonstrating our faith in Christ?
It’s also important to find that balance between being confident in Christ’s sacrifice for salvation, and being convicted to move forward into maturity. It may be helpful to think about salvation and justification less judicially and more relationally. If a husband or wife considers the marriage licence to be the most important bond between them, they may be tempted to think through the bare essentials of what they must and must not do in order to keep that contract intact. But if they understand that marriage is a life lived for their partner, they will always strive to please the one they love. The contract is not the motive of lovers.
Anyway, it’s stuff to excogitate on until we explore it on Sunday.