Tag: Pursuit of Holiness

Facing “Your Circumstances”

James 5:12-20

As James brings letter to close, reinforces point that Christian must pursue holiness in every sort of circumstance – relationships with others, good times and bad, sickness and health, plenty and want. No dimension of life exceeds power of God accessible through prayer to address. Most of all, character of life must be such that God can use us to draw wandering sheep back to the truth. Pursuing own personal holiness is important, not in a vacuum; must be bringing others along as well.

Song – “I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time”; change “happy” to “holy”, have it be truly reflective of life. Only possible when life in all aspects is God-centered. Truly God-centered. Outwardly obvious in genuine way.

A. Description of God-centeredness

Counterfeit variety (12)

what is not forbidden: taking of oaths when required (court of law, “swearing-in” ceremonies), when sanctioned by God (Psa 15:4Heb 6:16)

what is forbidden: needless (as in, not required) oath-taking, insincere oath-taking, validating everything said with “so help me, God”, “I swear” or the like

=> needless: not required by circumstances, used in ordinary conversation, repeatedly, without being requested to do so

undermines trust – doesn’t your word / money / labor / etc. have enough integrity to stand on its own

Valero – checking $20 bills with magic pen; what about calibration of pumps, integrity of change received

=> insincere: taken without intention of keeping, rather with intent to deceive (fingers crossed behind back)

strongly condemned by Jesus (Matt. 5:33-37) and James

ultimate purpose to gain at someone else’s expense

=> expectation for Christian is genuine God-centeredness; what James condemns above all is the counterfeit

pretending to be God-centered, a friend / ally of God – an insult to God himself, leads to condemnation

for the genuine: word is their bond, no need for taking an oath; evident by life & track record

Sum and Substance (13)

once again, whole range of life: poverty and plenty – suffering and sufficiency

God must be focus in all situations

suffering: count it all joy, seek wisdom and strength from God through prayer to persevere, pray for his help (1:2-3)

recourse in adversity must be to God

not diversions (keeping busy, pleasures, etc), substances, relationships, self-help

God himself, fellowship with him, rest and joy in him, peace and contentment from him

sufficiency: count it all joy, seek wisdom and strength from God through prayer to persevere, praise for his blessing

recourse in plenty must be to God

two dangers to avoid: over-estimation of self, over-satisfaction with the moment and the stuff

praise helps us remember:

“All good giving and every perfect gift” comes from God (1:17), not our own genius

present circumstances only temporary; intended by God to move us along in journey toward perfect holiness

“For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Rom. 11:36)

two major components of worship

prayer and praise

both are response to recognition of and love for God’s holiness

which, btw, fuels desire for and pursuit of our own holiness

both prayer and praise (when sincere) acknowledge God’s sovereignty

prayer only makes sense when addressed to omnipotent sovereign

praise reserved for the giver

is the only appropriate response in both suffering and sufficiency

Model in action (14)

once again, James uses an example: one experiencing weakness/feebleness/suffering

common experience with broad application

debilitating physical ailment primarily in view but extends to any form of affliction

first call to pastors (elders), then physician

#1 priority should be soul, then body

true whether weakness/illness has spiritual connection at root or not – physical manifestation of spiritual problem

P.S. shouldn’t wait for the elders to find out on their own!! Take initiative and call

once again, focus is on prayer

pray is primary verb, anointing the secondary; mentioned only one other time (Mark 6:13)

prayer is given clear significance, anointing not so much

B. Effectiveness of a God-centered Attitude

Power of Prayer (15-16)

“prayer of faith” is effectual – unwavering but not presumptuous (1:6)

not the prayer that has power

clearly, explicitly, God is at work – restoring to health and forgiving sin

does not preclude God’s use of means, e.g., physicians

prayer of the elders, not the sick one

primarily in view is faith and prayer of elders

faith of sick one must be operative at some level; otherwise no basis for forgiveness

prayer the impetus to healing, not anointing

anointing likely has only symbolic significance

signifying gracious activity of God bringing about healing

signifying confidence in gracious activity of God to bring about healing

place for church at large to get involved

at issue: tenacious sin that negatively affects health and life

confession permissible in lesser situations, required when it gets this serious

in this case, focus of prayer not for healing but for holiness / wholeness

physical restoration may be by-product of healthy spiritual life

“In fact, blessed is a church or group where the Gospel reigns so powerfully that “confessions” do not engender “gossip,” “criticism,” or “condemnation,” but rather shared humility, mutual support, consequent growth in fellowship, and above all, the experience of the presence and smile of God!” Krabbendam

Man of Prayer (17-18)

Elijah an average man used in above average ways with above average experiences

prayed without ceasing, fervently, confidently

passionate for cause of God

prayed the Word – worship idols, live in a dustbowl; worship God, enjoy rain and food and life – according to God’s promises; see Deut. 28

James expects NT Christians to follow in Elijah’s steps, accomplishing much through fervent prayer

C. Conclusion

Instruments of Conversion

Straying from the Truth (19a) “the careless backslider”

applies equally to belief and behavior, doctrine and discipline

all believers are at risk of wandering

matter of life and death – even more serious than physical illness

Returning to the Truth (19b-20a) “the concerned believer”

brother or sister, regardless of role within covenant community – not necessarily in leadership

have duty to prayerfully and lovingly correct one who is in error (see Joshua 22 as example) out of godly concern for their soul

true disciple will receive correction as needed and adjust course

resistance to correction should prompt shift to evangelism

Recipients of Pardon

Salvation from Death (20b) “consequent blessing”

great encouragement to one who “takes a risk”, correcting one in error

when God grants success, means erring one is genuine believer

either newly converted because of correction

or re-established in right direction

Coverage of Sins (20c) “comforting benediction”

When God has our hearts, he willingly uses us in the work of the Kingdom in spite of our many imperfections.

The one who is committed to pursuit of holiness, not only for himself but also for brothers and sisters within covenant community, is graciously accepted and loved by God. True of both individuals referenced in v.20.

solely on basis of Christ’s finished work of redemption applied to the sinner

May God stir up the fires of revival in our hearts and our church; may he give us a passion for him and an unquenchable desire for holiness. May he give us a thirst for Kingdom success – that the Gospel would advance and take new territory throughout Gorham and the world.

Facing “Yourself”

James 5:1-11

In text, James once again addresses people with regard to material circumstances – rich and poor. Two different groups? Perhaps, not necessarily. God’s people can expect either or both in course of life, each with its own particular flavor of trial. Is it possible for James to use such harsh language speaking to brothers and sisters? First glance, might seem more fitting if addressing those outside the family. But,… true believers not immune to worldly thinking especially with regard to business and finance. If that were true in James’ day, true with certainty today.

Consider this: current full-time help wanted’s at one church

Accounts Payable Clerk, Assistant Inventory Mgmt. Specialist, Customer Service Asst. Mgr., Customer Service Rep., Kitchen Mgr, Administrative Asst., Web Producer, Wedding & Events Coordinator

Another church: 14-member pastoral team, 17-member support team including – Director of Facilities and Planning, Media Director, Facilities Mgr., Business Administrator, 6 Administrative Assistants, etc. Are we talking church or business? Which direction is influence flowing??

James’ strong warning just as timely today as 20 centuries ago, just as necessary: it’s a big deal.

A. The Rich and the Coming Judgment (1-6)

Sins of Omission

Call to Repentance (1)

serious sin in view here; previous (4:13-16, merchants) addressed neglect/disregard for God

wealthy farmers disregard both God and neighbor

warns against coming judgment, calls to repentance: weep, howl, grieve over coming misery

issue is not presence/possession of wealth; issue is how it was acquired, how it is being used

implied, of course, true repentance

will avert God’s wrath and potential eternal consequences

may avert some temporal consequences – may save their souls but lose their savings

Purpose of Wealth (2-3)

wealth of any kind given in trust: God retains ownership, expects good stewardship

possessions have no intrinsic value – can put ’em in the hearse, can’t take ’em with you

good stewardship precludes hoarding, requires giving

“tear down and build bigger barns; you fool” (Luke 12:18ff) vs.

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Pet 4:10)

sinful attitude toward purpose of wealth is destructive

of wealth and ultimately of individual – will testify against them and their spiritual state

bottom line: wealth is given by God in whatever kind or measure for purpose of strengthening and advancing Christ’s kingdom

Acquisition of Wealth (4)

wealth must be gained in ways honoring to God

he will never bless wealth acquired in unjust ways

issue here – withholding earned wages

finding fault with labor done, not paying full wage

claiming insufficient income

applies to other sorts of transactions

too much change back, price marked wrong, something left off the bill

God will square the accounts up in his way and time

Sins of Commission

Use of Wealth (5)

like other worldly thinking, attitude about how wealth should be used is upside down



concentrating on pleasures of life and being consumed by them

especially egregious when surrounded by those in need (legitimate, of course)

Retention of Riches (6)

enslaved by possessions, need to support them

we need 2 incomes because… fill in the blank

determined to hold at all costs, even to exercising cruelty toward others

The church has unique opportunity to show unbelievers what a Christian society in the midst of a turbulent world could look like. May we not miss out on it!

B. The Poor and the Coming Lord (7-11)

Call to Endurance

The Call (7)

patience (4x), endurance (2x)

v.7 ” be patient, brethren, ….waiting patiently for it” v.8 “You also be patient.” v.10 “an example of suffering and patience

v.11 “we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the endurance of Job”

“Patience keeps the mind on an even keel, controls the passions, remains calm, does not turn vindictive, is not victimized by despair, and refuses to lose its temper face to face with people whose words and actions turn life into a burden. Endurance makes up its mind, channels the emotions, bears up in confident expectation, and refuses to lose courage face to face with conditions that might prove to be too burdensome to others.” Krabbendam

both are necessary: plant the seed, wait patiently while weeding and fertilizing and cultivating and expecting a harvest

counting all circumstances joy (James 1:2) leads to patient enduring

has no time limit, no statute of limitations – are allowed neither to give up or retaliate

“civil disobedience” not an option; only option is humble obedience to God

important note: farmer may wait in vain for precious fruit, never the believer – will experience perfect fellowship with God

First Ground: A Potent Reminder (8)

establish your heart – heart of the issue is issue of the heart

hearts are like water: hard to keep within bounds

control center of thinking, willing, feeling – must be properly founded, aimed so as to reach goal of holiness

“The heart of man is his worst part before it be regenerate, and the best afterwards: it is the seat of principles, and the fountain of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.” John Flavel

make the most of today

limited time to accomplish Kingdom-work before King returns

must be focused on right priorities, actions, attitudes

endure patiently

there will be justice, will come without warning, without needless delay

be encouraged, Christ will return

smarten up

if you’re one of them, living for self without reference to God

your time running out

Second Ground: A Strong Warning (9)

forbids complaining against one another on pain of condemnation

rather than turn on one another, must forgive one another

necessary to receive God’s forgiveness

repentance and request for forgiveness not requirement for us to grant forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15)

does not eliminate need / propriety of confrontation; in fact, encourages it

“I forgive you because I’ve been forgiven much. You can’t fully enjoy my forgiveness or receive God’s forgiveness until you repent. Your right standing with God is my primary concern, hence my confronting you about your sin which first and foremost is a sin against God.”

Two Models and their Encouragement

The Prophets (10-11a)

Heb. 11:35-38 Prophets remembered and acclaimed for enduring through suffering

suffering is a blessing Christian should expect to experience

some of those most blessed by God, most useful to him, suffered most

their example an encouragement to us

absence of suffering may be evidence of God’s blessing; may also be evidence we’re not “doing it right” – good to check and see which it is

must not forget the Prophet (Deut. 18:15), example of suffering for us (1 Pet. 2:21)

“Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.”

Job (11b)

Job’s sufferings described in detail; outside immediate record (Job) other things emphasized

Eze. 14:14, 20 righteousness

v.11 perseverance / endurance

example given to teach focus on τέλος, the end / outcome / purpose God has in view

remember riches / poverty are God’s appointed means to his appointed ends for us, our holiness

We call saints highlighted in Scripture blessed / happy / would congratulate if we met them – if we really believe that, must follow in their footsteps. Christianity isn’t spectator sport satisfied by applauding those who achieve the crown. Required of all who would receive the crown to run the race with endurance. May God give us grace to do just that.

Facing “Your Outside World”

James 4:11-17

Here’s where rubber meets road, in three spheres of existence. Basically covers all of life. Expectation that believer will demonstrate practical godliness / holiness at all times, in all circumstances. Earlier portions of epistle dealt in principles (with particular examples given to help understanding) but never intended to stay theoretical. Was well-laid foundation to enable those serious about pursuing holiness to achieve the goal.

In each of areas, get to deal with trials already mentioned. So questions become: how do we interact with various people we encounter? (4:11-17) What do we broadcast for personal identity in ups and downs of life? (5:1-11) How do we respond to series of events that make up circumstances each day? (5:12-18) James hasn’t cut his readers any slack up ’til this point, doesn’t start now: standard still the same – achieve objective of God’s redemptive plan, practical godliness.

A. your brother v.11-12

Injunction against Judging (11a)

καταλαλέω – 3x: “Do not speakagainst one another”; “He who speaksagainst a brother …speaksagainst the law”

κρίνω – 4x: to judge, to assume censorial (correcting public morals) power over, to call to account” Perschbacher, Analytical Greek Lexicon

speak against (forbidden)


without God-given mandate to do so

so as to tear down (rather than build up)

directly stated or implied / insinuated

may be factual but not fit biblical standard for truth: “that which is dependable, steadfast, and lifegiving.” Krabbendam

speak for (expected)

tongue must be fountain of life (Prov. 18:21)

must build up, give grace to hearers (Eph. 4:29)

have positive aim, serve as positive influence

what it doesn’t exclude:

dealing with offenses – there’s a prescribed biblical method for that

warning against error and true danger

“reproof, correction, training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

“is God’s truth, delivered in God’s way, through God’s means, with God’s purpose.” Krabbendam

who are covered

one another – brothers – neighbors

in the church and out

family and community

local pastor, cult scholar – “I’ve never been treated so kindly by someone who disagreed so strongly.”

Nature of Judging (11b)

James puts “speaking against” and judging (of negative sort) in same category, even inseparable

circumstances for proper judging

right judgment commanded by Jesus – John 7:24“Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” HCSB

false teachers (Gal. 1:9; 1 John 4:1) false doctrine (1 Thess. 5:21; 2 John 9), the persistently sinful (2 Thess. 3:11-12, 14-15; Rev. 22:15)

only on issues / in circumstances where Bible forbids or commands

only in absence of hypocrisy, in spirit of meekness, with diligent intercession for offender: godly motivation, method and objective

wrong judging

evaluates individual, determines they don’t measure up to standard, reach conclusion

expressed by speech that tears down, not builds up

implicitly declares that law falls short – “My analysis, my assessment, my disparagement, my defamation, my condemnation, or for that matter in the opposite kind of context, my counsel, my advice, my input, my commendation, is superior to whatever God may contribute in his law.” Krabbendam

turns relationship between believer and God’s law upside down

believer to be a doer, subject to law

one who speaks against brother puts himself above law

substitutes man’s word for God’s word

Gravity of Judging (12)

it’s a big deal – it’s God’s territory

he is only one with authority to pronounce final verdict – life or death

for believer to take position above the law, administering the law, assumes place reserved for God

isn’t that a big leap? to speak so harshly against this particular sin? how do you get there?

think about all biblical teaching – how to treat brother/sister

to speak against them – treat / judge them to not be a brother

B. your future v.13-17

Injunction against Presumption (13)

to make substantive progress in pursuit of holiness, must start from position of humility; judging and presumption both contrary to humility

not planning that’s the problem

it’s attitude that minimizes or discounts Providence

actions described: planning, engaging in business, profitmaking – all commendable biblically if

principles learned on Sunday inform activities Mon-Sat

presumption and worry have same fault at root: over-confidence in self

primary directive here targets businessmen – principles apply to all believers

planning our steps must have

right motivation: please God by faithful obedience

right standard: according to biblical principles and to meet God’s approval

right goal: further God’s kingdom – cause it to grow in size, strength, effectiveness

means we shouldn’t live life on auto-pilot; need to think about what we do, why, how, etc.

Solution to Presumption (14-15)

First – acknowledge can’t know future, only God can and does

are stuck in present with memory / record of the past

even in present, our knowledge is limited; pretty small sphere

Second – acknowledge our lives and times are in God’s hands

no guarantee of tomorrow, even next moment

not to be cause for fear, discouragement, defeatism

should be spur to intensity, diligence, urgency and away from presumption

reminder of total dependence

Third – plan and act relying on God’s providential governing

“I will do this unless God….” – prevents, redirects

decisions informed by / based on

delight in God

delight in his Law / Word

creative use of gifts he has given – intellect, skills, etc.

expectation God will make clear whatever we need to know (if anything) in addition to his revealed will

when faced with need to make plans, answer these questions:

is it pleasing to God, will I please him in doing it?

will it move me along in my pursuit of holiness?

will it enable me to be most useful to God?

Nature of Presumption (16-17)

presumption (like judging) has pride for its root

arrogance that places self above God, points to self instead of God

cure for boasting

focus on the good we know we should be doing

constant awareness of remaining tasks eliminates basis for boasting

inspires in us holy discontent

with personal spiritual state

with spiritual condition of: family, neighborhood, town, world

So what must we do, where must we be that we treat brothers/sisters as such? plan and progress in holiness without becoming presumptuous? develop and nurture a holy discontent with status quo? It’s the cross that answers our need. Reminds of dependence, removes opportunity for boasting, its message fuels our desires / directs our priorities.

Requirements for Victory – God-centeredness

James 4:6-10

Line from Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet: “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Probably not how Shakespeare meant it, has become common in contemporary culture – statement equals “follow your gut”; “do what’s right for you”, etc. To be genuinely true to self requires accurate self-knowledge. Which requires help and enlightening power of Holy Spirit. Which is never content to stop there, at self-knowledge. But mandates turning to God.

Self-knowledge informs of profound need. God-centeredness provides solution / answer to need. If we are to end our friendship with world, control power of indwelling sin, must be God-centered. Moment-by-moment dependence on God to enable us to please him. James’ searchlight on man’s heart shows not just stuff in corners, under rugs, stashed in closets. Shows up poor quality of construction; makes it obvious we need more than simple spring cleaning. Complete transformation is essential – metamorphosis achieved only by God’s grace and Spirit.

If we are to be God-centered, God himself must change us to be focused on him. We must do what he expects of us also – for starters, James has his own list of 10 commandments coming up. But those commands are given in context of grace (who said grace and law are contradictory? they are complementary!).

A. encouragement v.6

more-than-abundant grace

opposite of what is deserved

Luk 17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

can’t be earned either – grace and merit mutually exclusive

more than we desire or use

true believer does desire God’s grace on some level

various “ills” identified by James – doublemindedness, partiality, wrong speech, conflict – clear evidence desire and usage is lacking in constancy or fervor

if always desired all that is available and used to fullest extent – we’d be perfect

God’s grace is that abundant and sufficient, given without restraint to all who seek it

more than sufficient to overcome any obstacle to holiness

think of what Christ has already overcome – nothing that would obstruct our pursuit of holiness greater than that

“There is more than enough grace to enable man to do what he cannot do himself. Just as the love of God in Christ is enough to receive even the vilest sinner to Himself (John 3:16), so also is the grace of God in Christ sufficient to make the child of God victorious over sin. …By all means, remember that God makes all the power of the Savior (Phil. 3:14), and all the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13) available in the war against sin.” Krabbendam

reason for lack lies with man not God

routinely make excuses for sinful behavior

ethnic heritage, parental upbringing, just having a bad day

it’s a diversion! not the root cause, real issue

pride’s the biggie

failure to live holy means we’re not God-centered

may even mean actively resisting God’s advances, offers of help

“do it myself, Mommy”

belief that self has sufficient resources, God isn’t essential; if he is, only on my terms

at the root of the rest

because it’s at the root, that is where God focuses his surgical laser

deal with pride and much of rest is non-issue

if pride is root of all other sin, humility is cradle of all other graces

refuses to acknowledge dependence

overestimates human ability

underestimates power of enemy

genuine Holy Spirit-directed self-knowledge remedies both faults

gives understanding of total human inability in face of superior power, points to God and his grace as sole 100% solution

B. essence v.7-8a

10 imperatives in v.7-10; not suggestions, commands. Strong impression on first hearers, all but one verb have same ending. Hammer stroke after stroke as James drives his point home – you want victory, experience holiness God expects to be yours, this and only this is the way. James also presents commands as ones to be obeyed with a once-for-all, no looking back kind of commitment.

submit to God

“To submit to God is to give up ourselves to be governed by his will and pleasure; our thoughts, our counsels, our affections, our actions to be guided according to the strict rules of the word. …by us. Thus you see there is a threefold submission; of our carnal hearts to his holiness, our proud hearts to his mercy, our stormy minds to his sovereignty, that we may be obedient, humble, patient.” Thomas Manton

resist the devil

no options here: God and devil are enemies. To be friend of one is to be aligned against the other.

Satan is defeated, bound, far from harmless

at same time, in power of faith Christian can effectively resist

when believer resists, Satan runs; why??

Satan knows mere mortal man is unable to withstand his assaults

perservering resistance means real opposition is God, not simply the mortal

resist by

refusing to listen

refusing to give opportunity – staying out of sin – “give no opportunity to the devil” Eph. 4:27

feed faith – “resist him, firm in your faith” 1 Pet. 5:9

draw near to God

in his Word

know God and his ways more intimately

understand how to please him more fully

in worship

taking advantage of means of grace

the Word (especially preached), ordinances, prayer

in prayer

corporate, family & closet

where we come boldly to throne of grace, have the ear of God

God promises to reciprocate – draw near to bless

the form: abundant grace sufficient to preserve and purify

bestowed in context of intimate fellowship, personal relationship

indwelling Spirit, exalted brother-King, omnipresent Father

C. evidence v.8b-10

When (not if) Christian draws near to God, will be evident these ways that address both disposition and deeds:

cleanse hands (what we do) & purify heart (who we are)

God expects both heart and hand to be holy – Psa. 24:3-4 “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? …He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

not just what we do, it’s why and how that count also; in fact, heart condition is primary, hand secondary

key to pure heart: overcome double-mindedness, cultivate/pursue single-minded desire for God

problem perhaps stems from undervaluing seriousness of sin

“Sunday Mass can help us stay clean, but once in a while, we get filthy dirty either from work or play. You know the kind of dirty that I am talking about. The kind where your mother would hose you off before she’d let you come in the house. She’d make you leave your closes in a pile by the door and run you right into the shower. Physical dirtiness can be taken care of pretty quickly. We’ve all removed that kind of dirt. Spiritual dirtiness takes just a little more effort.” http://seminarianonthejourney.blogspot.com/2012/02/homily-l1-b-lent-first-week-cycle-b.html

get serious

grieve & mourn & weep

talk about counter-cultural: LOL, smileys, casino commercials, work so you can party

Servant of Isa. 53:3 identified as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”, our example

also desired his disciples’ joy to be full (John 15:11; 16:24), that his joy be fulfilled in them (John 17:13)

sorrow and joy not mutually exclusive; in fact they are complementary

we grasp measure of joy found in Christ to extent we grasp measure of sorrow for sin

godly sorrow leads to repentance leads to renewed joy over restored fellowship and progress in holiness

turn to God

can’t stay defeated in morbid sorrow over sin; even that is form of pride – my sin too great even for God

his grace and forgiveness more than adequate for our need


1 – to see God, must have practical godliness (Heb. 12:14)

2 – even regenerate believer cannot produce godliness (John 15:5)

3 – genuine believer desires godliness

4 – through prayer, cast ourselves wholly on God for both desire and fulfillment

5 – God answers, believer displays godliness

May God deal with our pride and self-sufficiency as we cast ourselves on him, seeking his grace and strength, experience true joy that only he can give.

Requirements for Victory – Self-Knowledge

James 4:1-5

Task of the believer – pursue holiness; exercise living faith demonstrated by good works; bear fruit; work out salvation. To actually reach the goal, attain the holiness God intends for us, achieve victory in living Christian life – requires knowledge. Have to know the enemy in order to overcome. Since it’s spiritual enemy, warfare, weapons must be spiritual ones to be effective. Means they must come from God, their use be directed by God in strength he supplies.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 1, Book 1, Section 1

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. …no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves. …the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. …We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.”

Is a given: true, accurate self-knowledge only possible in any measure for Christian. Unregenerate person deceived by sin and Satan, can’t and won’t recognize/identify source of obstacles to holiness. In addressing issues, James uses shockingly strong language, perhaps to draw attention to seriousness of problem. Shouldn’t dismiss too quickly as not applying; think through what James is saying in context of other biblical instruction as he deals with nature of our condition, why things are that way, what it means for our relationship with God.

A. nature of our condition v.1

a war zone

wars / fights; conflicts / quarrels; battlefield terminology, shocking since directed toward activity inside the church

does not mean there was actual blood on the floor, missing limbs, casualties

far worse than that

begin as sins of the heart, not the hand

often hidden under veneer of smiles, right-sounding words, most of the time

have both human and spiritual consequences – blown relationships with man and God

remember Jesus’ and John’s words: Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15 “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer”

so,… problem is internal

not result of circumstances

war is already going on within, kept under wraps much of the time

particular circumstances give opportunity for break-out

source: “desires for pleasure” (1) and “lust” (2)

ἡδονή – hedone – enjoyment, pleasure

occasionally used +, most often –, in regard to life focused on “this world”

hedone refers to pleasure derived from the desire acted upon and realized

ἐπιθυμέω – epithumeo – passionately desire, long for, set your heart on (usually pleasure)

not inherently negative, used in Scripture both + and –, more often —

identify the right culprit

problem is not presence of desire, even enjoyment of pleasure

issue is what sin has done to corrupt desires, make pleasure the goal

desires and passions that are self-indulgent, not God-focused, result in conflict

anyone/thing that gets in way of satisfying them is fair game, literally

B. reason of our condition v.2-3

You lust and have not, so you murder.

You burn with desire to have, and cannot obtain, so you fight and war.

You have not, because you ask not.

You ask, and do not receive, because you ask amiss so that you may squander it upon your lustful desires.”

point 1 – summary of the issue, points 2-4 outline how you get there

failure to be content; stems from focus on what is lacking, not what is present

determined to have what they believe is deserved, certainly what is desired

will stop at nothing to achieve goal, even murder (figurative or literal)

can be stuff related, doesn’t have to be; power, position, influence, being right, own way, recognition

methods are all the usual: spin, rushed decisions, foot-dragging, manipulation, etc, etc.

point 2 – where it begins: burning desire to have that is frustrated

desire to have, make attempt to get, fail in attempt

try again, turn up the heat, determined to remove opposition, fail in attempt

now it’s open conflict, whatever it takes to achieve goal

point 3 – more of problem is exposed: wrong method

attempting to achieve ends by own means, efforts, not striving in prayer

two aspects that are important

it’s hard (not impossible) to ask God for wrong things, what we know (or are pretty sure) he would not approve

prayer, not fighting, God’s appointed way to achieve right goal right way

point 4 – last but not least, wrong motive

fervent prayer must be God-centered in order to be answered

“May we not seek our own good and benefit? I answer, not ultimately, not absolutely; but only with submission to God’s will, and subordination to God’s glory. The main end why we desire to be saved, to be sanctified, to be delivered out of any danger, must be that God may be honoured in these experiences, in comparison of which our own glory and welfare should be nothing.” Thomas Manton

effectual prayer must follow models given

disciples’ prayer; Jesus’ high-priestly prayer; prayers of Paul

even short portion of Jesus’ prayer for himself had God’s glory ultimately in view

if self-gratification is source of fights and conflict, way to peace must be through self-denial in submission to God’s will

should go without saying: self can’t deny self in own strength; only through living faith instructed by God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit that believer can obey Jesus’ command – deny self, take up cross, follow (Mat. 16:24; Mar. 8:34; Luk. 9:23)

C. evaluation of our condition v.4-5

leaves no room for doubt / question what he means – James in echo from OT prophets charges people of God with adultery (4a)

speaking of spiritual unfaithfulness, using language of marriage

equivalent of idolatry

doesn’t have to be issue of “ultimate trust” to count – simple preference is enough

in adultery – prefers someone else to God

in idolatry – have greater thirst / desire for created thing than for Creator

demonstrated in priorities based on preferences where God doesn’t come first

spending time / effort that rightfully belongs to God on something else

further defines it as “friendship with the world” (4b)

subscribe to world’s way of thinking and doing

prefer things world holds important

cultivating relationships with others who do the same

and “enmity with God” (4c)

no gray area, it’s either / or

same as Jesus said in Matt 6:24 “no one can serve two masters”

world is kingdom of Satan, place where he rules men’s hearts, is at war with God and his people

to become friend of the world – eventually get sucked in, become enemy of God, too

to summarize:

Friendship with the world, then, “means to affirm the values, choices, priorities of a meaning system that grounds meaning in material possessions, status and regard.”

Friendship with God, on the other hand, is “to affirm the values, choices and priorities of a meaning system that grounds meaning in the promise of the one who gives every good gift and is both ‘lawgiver’ and ‘judge (Jam. 4:11-12)’” William Brosend

just in case you were wondering if this is at all serious….

Bible warns of penchant for envy, inordinate desire; means what it says (The present Commentary opts for the following translation. “The spirit that he (i.e., God) caused to dwell in us, lusts to envy” (envies intensely, NIV;) Krabbendam)

if we give in to desire, feed it with world’s friendship, situation is hopeless

no way we can escape power of indwelling sin coupled with external encouragement to sin

don’t despair!

as great as danger is, God’s grace is greater – see v.6

when Christian understands / acknowledges true inward condition, then is ready for God’s solution

Whether we are born again or still in need of conversion, our only hope lies in acknowledging utter inability and total dependence on God. Doesn’t mean we stop working, passively waiting for God to do his thing and make us all better. We have responsibility to do what is right – making right choices, resisting sin and Satan. In words of Luke (describing work of Barnabas in Antioch), may we “remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart” (Acts 11:23, HCSB). May God grant us grace and strength to do that.

Nature of Victory

James 3:10-18

Here’s where we’ve come from: first James instructed that God uses trials and his Word to produce holiness in his people. We know the standard – conformity to Law of God as a rule of life; and the motive force that gets us closer to the goal – a living faith. Yet there’s huge obstacle to victory: in v.1-9 of the chapter, James makes it plain that no one, regenerate or not, can achieve holiness on their own. We are utterly helpless, completely unable to make ourselves holy. Even the most committed believer on his own and by himself is dead-end street.

Yet in v.10, James turns the corner: helplessness is not to be equated with hopelessness. Contradictory forms of speech we hear our outside voices say “ought not to coexist (10-11), cannot coexist (12), may not coexist (13-15) and need not coexist (16-18).” Krabbendam God does indeed give blueprint for victory in his Word; primary component of blueprint something first mentioned in James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Don’t get so focused here on use of the tongue that you overlook: it’s only one example of many that could be given. Both negatively and positively. (Neg.) Wrong use of tongue is awful sin but it’s not alone; see v.14, e.g. (Pos.) What God supplies that enables victory over tongue will surely be effective in other areas as well. As James crafts description of victory over sin, begins at the bottom, that which ought not to be, then builds up from there.

A. Rejection of Contradiction v.10-12

Impropriety v.10

should go without saying – sincere blessing is not improper; in fact, it is good, commendable

what “ought not to be so” is contradictory speech; goes against the grain of oughtness, our design

classic example: Luke 18:11‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”

issue is not crude language, potty mouth; parallels v.9, speaking in way that tears down other person

Impossibility v.11-12

James asks 3 questions, 3 illustrations: spring, fig tree, grapevine, and what they produce

obvious answer to all three: NO; reason why – product possesses characteristics of source

same basic principle Jesus expressed – heart vs fruit ((Mt. 7:16-20; 12:33-35; Lk. 6:43-45; see also 1 John 3:6, 9)

even if perfection not attained, principle holds; consistent pattern should be to get fresh water from Christian

follows also from Jesus’ teaching

one who abides in Christ brings forth fruit; evidence of vine present in the branch

healthy vine (Christ) with healthy branch (Christian) produces healthy fruit (good works)

fruit, more fruit, much fruit and abiding fruit (John 15:2, 5, 16) – anything else is impossible

regenerate heart possessed by one who is totally dependent on God will be evidenced by life-giving speech that edifies hearers

Challenge v.13

offered to teachers (office-holders), those in various teaching capacities – prove me right; show by your works what wisdom can accomplish

wisdom can’t operate in vacuum: requires knowledge and deeds – something to work with, to show for effort

teacher must be, first, example of godly wisdom in operation; second, channel of wisdom to learners

caution: wisdom that doesn’t translate into holiness is worthless. Poster child: Solomon

proper exercise of wisdom requires meekness – characteristic of Christ, trait of those who are his

“a joyful yielding to any and all legitimate authority, and goes hand in hand with a gentleness in one’s general comportment toward the neighbor (Tit. 3:2), especially in one’s efforts to persuade folk of the truth, including those under authority, and in one’s interaction with, or response to, peers and opponents.

In short, meekness indicates radical brokenness before and total yielding to God. Subsequently it displays a radical servant heart before and a total servant hood toward one’s fellowman.” Krabbendam

B. Profile of Defeat v.14-16

Root v.14

it’s possible, know from experience personally or with others, Christians can live spiritually defeated lives – for short or extended time; not experiencing joy, blessing, growth child of God should

root of problem not circumstances, not external; is in the heart, the believer’s “mission control center”

believer has new heart, regenerate heart, heart for God; no longer totally depraved, not perfect in every part either

it’s bent, appetite is for holiness; can be influenced by indwelling sin, will be drawn aside when believer fails to depend on God to make substance of new covenant a reality

what are envy and self-seeking or selfish ambition?

envy – passionate desire to possess what rightfully belongs to another, grudging them pleasure of possession and use

self-seeking – (opposite of meekness) self-promotion, sense of indispensability, withdrawing when not adequately recognized

boasting and lying, how?

envy and selfish ambition malign character of God – individual knows needs and priorities better than God does

ultimately have pride at or very near the root as well, an attempt to usurp place and authority of God

Explanation v.15

how is it possible for genuine believer to practice envy and selfishness?

James says, only one way – NOT from above, IS from below; buying into wrong kind of wisdom

three characteristics

earthly – spiritually dead, trapped in here and now, motivated by things that are understandable to unregenerate; has what world holds important for its goal and reward, an enemy of the cross (Phil. 3:18-19), opposite of heavenly things

sensual – limited to the senses, what can be seen, heard, felt, tasted; natural, opposite of spiritual. In today’s culture, motivated by feelings, divorced from or only loosely connected to reason.

demonic – ultimately sourced in Satan and agents; propagated by satanic forces to serve interests of Satan’s kingdom. Satan’s power to deceive can ensnare even believers, sucker them into being partially / temporarily useful to him.

not entirely one-sided

common grace can be present in wisdom from below; God often moderates Satan’s poison, enabling people to live in all kinds of relationships without destroying one another.

Evidence v.16

is James’ perspective in doubt? check the evidence, look at broader picture

things lead to things – worldly wisdom in one area permeates other areas of life

envy / self-seeking are breeding ground for other evils – that destroy relationships, lead to conflict

C. Blueprint of Victory v.17-18

Explanation v.17a

only hope for victory – 100% reliance on wisdom from above, 100% rejection of any other wisdom, acknowledgment of 100% inability / 100% dependence

primary source of that wisdom: truth of God’s Word illuminated by Holy Spirit applied by his strength

everything necessary for victory is present, available; so what’s the problem?

desire / willingness to attempt life with inferior and ineffectual tools

habit or tendency of self-reliance must be replaced by full effort and full dependence

Evidence v.17b

just like worldly wisdom, presence of divine wisdom obvious by what accompanies it

if purity is quintessence of holiness, wisdom that leads to holiness must be pure

purity of heart is foundation, purity of life the structure built on it

pure life characterized by:

peaceableness – unity in the truth

gentleness – kind, considerate, quick to forgive

yielding – approachable, deferential, accommodating

merciful – diligent to meet needs of others, even the unlikable

full of good works – everything produced (thought, word, deed) morally good and of highest quality in abundance

not divisive – not double-minded, ambiguous, speculative

sincere – without pretense or hypocrisy

Effect v.18

what can we expect for result when child of God lives out these truths?

acquisition and application of godly wisdom to all of life equips and empowers us to be peacemakers – only when we are truly at peace with God first

in context of peace – a field of peace – fruits of righteousness (good works) drop seeds that produce more fruit

peacemaking not the goal/end – it’s a necessary step in process, preparation of environment where holiness can thrive

not just our own holiness at stake; that of entire community/body of believers

May we depend on God the way we ought, striving in his strength and wisdom to reach the goal he has set before us.

Obstacle to Victory

James 3:1-9

James => Pursuit of Holiness

Pathway to Holiness => Trials/Temptations + the Word (1:2-27)

Principles of Holiness => Substance (Law) + Dynamic (Faith) (2:1-26)

Procurement of Holiness => Obstacle to Victory / Nature of Victory / Requirements for Victory (3:1-4:10)

Panorama of Holiness => Your world / Your self / Your circumstances (4:11-5:18)

Chapter 3 begins new phase in James’ argument – issue is how to procure holiness on personal level. Like other places in Bible (and also human experience), author first demolishes and then rebuilds. James first demonstrated how trials/temptations coupled with God’s Word form two rails of railway to holiness. God’s Law defines the right direction for travel, faith is fuel that powers the engine resulting in forward motion – moving individual toward Christ-likeness, holiness demonstrated in daily life.

Even this far into what James has written, still possible for someone to say/think they can have their version of faith, perform works to their own standard, make the grade on their own. James disagrees, chooses particular sphere of responsibility/authority structure in which to make his point. In that sphere, quickly becomes obvious even regenerate man is unable to bring about his own holiness (3:1-9). Any holiness he does achieve/procure must come from above (3:10-18). Means to procure it: acknowledge man’s “nothingness” and F.R.O.G. (fully rely on God) to supply all needs (4:1-10).

A. spheres v.1

no sigh of relief yet!

we’ll get to who’s a teacher and how it fits but first – spheres and authority structures

in general

what they encompass

all of life beginning with three God-ordained institutions: family, church, state

within institutions, various authority structures

participation not optional – part of created fabric of life

some voluntary: husband-wife; employer-employee; elder-member

some involuntary: parent-child; government-subject

the divine model

order in society reflects order in Trinity; same also of relationships

Son does will of Father (John 6:38); Father gives all authority to Son (John 17:2); Holy Spirit doesn’t speak on own authority (John 16:13)

Son denies himself (John 17:5), sacrifices himself (John 10:17-18); Father denies himself (John 10:36) sending and sacrificing the Son

human responsibility

emulate the divine model in all our spheres: starts with self-denial

followed by practical godliness – sacrificial submission and service to others

starting with that standard, model – is it surprising James makes case it is impossible in human strength to achieve??

teaching in particular


risk of associated trials

riches and poverty both; knowledge God supplies, what is lacking but desired

essential to weather both riches and poverty in way pleasing to God

requirement to be a “hearer” and “doer”

practical godliness in teaching mandates teachability – must hear the lesson first

hearing must be followed by doing – teaching is as much (maybe more) by example as instruction


teaching intrinsic in various spheres – both involuntary and voluntary exercise

comes with territory of being a parent; experienced; older

relationship presumes a teaching function

special circumstances – particular office

teaching office within the church sphere

carries great risk/responsibility

should only be entered in strict dependence on God’s help

B. the problem v.2-5


two prongs: who and how

“we all” – original audience, the church, plus the inspired author James; now, any who can claim fellowship with 1st century church

stumble/sin “in many things” – no one is free from sin, tendency to live by sight not faith

e.g., speech/the tongue (2)

tongue presented as pivotal issue – if that is under control, everything else is, hence a perfect individual

makes sense – who we are underneath all the wraps eventually finds expression; Jesus’ words: “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

well-regulated speech a sign of well-regulated person; not implying we should begin with speech control, swapping chap stick for super glue. Speech is the symptom, not cause.

two views of problem


bit and bridle (3)

small piece of “equipment”, horse’s mouth, governs direction of entire horse

rudder and ship (4)

30′ rudder can control direction of 1200′ iron ore carrier (Berge Stahl)

out-of-control (5)


Wallow Fire, Arizona, 2011 – abandoned campfire, burned 538,000 acres

but wait

seems like there might be a chance – the bit/horse’s mouth, the rudder, they can be controlled; means we can control tongue, right?

think a minute: does the horse hold the bridle? does the ship turn the wheel? there’s another force at work there, just as with bringing wildfire under control. Problem is internal, solution must be external. Tongue has power of life and death; which one results from its use depends on who is governing it.

C. the root – the enemy within v.6-9

its nature (6)

is a fire

not like, but is; by nature destructive and consuming, nearly impossible to stop so long as there is fuel

defiling – a world of wrongdoing; indwelling sin concentrated and focused

“The tongue is a one member wrecking crew that leaves a mind-boggling devastation in its wake. It turns the whole body into a garbage dump!” Krabbendam

pipeline to hell

capped landfill torches – methane gas; James gives similar picture of the tongue

hellish poison comes up the pipe, permeates rest of body and life

only hope for relief comes from Christ and divinely installed/maintained blowout preventer

its power (7-8)

just in case you thought you might be able to get it under control…. all different kinds of animals can be tamed, so…NOT. tongue not only a fire, more ferocious than wild animal. Remember, too, tongue is just an example, given by James to demonstrate our utter helplessness, total inability in human strength to subdue indwelling sin.

untameable – just as demon-possessed man (Mark 5:4) could not be restrained/subdued (tamed)

unruly (ακατασχετον) or restless (ακαταστατον) – lawless, always on the move, impossible humanly to restrain or steer

full of poison – death-dealing, worse than snakes that can be tamed; wrong use kills speaker, listener and object

all this expressed as reality, not potentiality; the way it is, not might be or could be or will be if…

its effectiveness (9)

melt-down with all its consequences

fine upstanding Christian, saying all right things in genuine praise and worship of God

something triggers melt-down, speaks in condemning way about neighbor

bless God but curse his image

doesn’t have to be ongoing condition to be a problem

that it happens at all in Christian life shows power of sin, depth of even regenerate man’s inability to overcome power of sin

So where’s the hope? If in the Fall mankind was stripped of knowledge, righteousness and true holiness, what hope do we have? God expects us to grow in holiness but how? That which was lost will be restored as God uses trials/temptations and his Word to conform us to image of God in Christ. As we recognize our dependence on God for all things, we must cast ourselves completely on him, relying on him moment by moment to enable us to please him in all things.

Faith and Justification – Patriarch and Prostitute

 James 2:20-26

Biblical evangelism (gospelizing) doesn’t end with conversion. The Christian life doesn’t begin and end with conversion; it includes sanctification (holy living) also. Gospel is just as vital for one as the other. Can no more sanctify ourselves than convert ourselves; not that we’re uninvolved in our growth in holiness, we are. Two vital ingredients for conversion and holy living – Holy Spirit and Word of God. Work of Holy Spirit to prepare ground of heart, mind, will to receive good seed of Gospel is essential for germination and growth. Without Holy Spirit, it’s hydro-seeding on ledge at best. At same time, Holy Spirit relies on seed of God’s Word – “faith comes by hearing, hearing by word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Work of Spirit and Word do not end with conversion; continue throughout all of Christian life – Spirit empowering and Word directing holy living.

Having said all that, the convert is by no means a passive participant, simply going along for the ride with nothing to show for Spirit’s work. James makes abundantly clear what his position on the issue is, holding up one likely, one unlikely example of the point he’s trying to make.

A. uselessness of dead faith v.20

challenge to his questioner: OK, airhead, you get it yet or still need evidence?

“O vain man” is literally, “O empty man,” i.e. empty-headed, empty-handed, and empty-hearted. Empty-headed, in being so deluded as to suppose that a dead faith can save; empty-handed, in being devoid of true spiritual riches; empty-hearted, in having no real love either for God or man.” Alfred Plummer

goes beyond mere intellectual assent or knowledge

more important, gets to heart of individual – are you willing to know, are you teachable

important that heart be engaged; otherwise, works are not of faith; no better than Pharisees

James characterizes work-less faith as: barren, unproductive, useless

not only without life and signs thereof

accomplishes nothing, serves no purpose

B. foundational example of Abraham v.21-24

before dealing with Abraham, must define justification

we are declared to be righteous; an act not process; is important who is declaring: God or others

by God, when God credits the righteousness of Christ to our account through instrumental cause, faith. (Paul, Rom. 4:5; 8:33; 3:28; 5:1)

by works, when they evidence the presence of living faith and righteousness. (James, James 2:24, 25)

declaration by God essential to salvation; declaration by works evidence of salvation; Paul maintains salvation and justification come to us through faith, James that saving and justifying faith displays its living character through works.

Paul addressing nature of justification (by faith, gift of God), James the nature of saving faith (living, accompanied by works).

an incomplete Gospel that stops short of where James takes it – radical change of life in all facets that demonstrates progressive holiness for the duration

offered his son (21)

was promised son, innumerable offspring

response: belief in promise; in God’s eyes, having faith basically equivalent to having righteousness

now the test: sacrifice the promise. Is it real faith? living faith? Will God’s conclusion re: Abraham’s righteousness be validated? Abraham had been credited with righteousness; would he demonstrate that he was truly righteous?

faith cooperated with works (22a)

ongoing action of faith the motivating force; no faith to drive, no works to result

was Abraham’s living faith that produced good work of obedience to God’s command

Faith “is a driving force, a dynamics, that will enable a believer to pass the severest tests, such as bringing the costliest sacrifice without “feeling sacrificial,” against every natural instinct, with unwavering resolve, in total readiness, without succumbing to all too human rationalizations and in immediate obedience.” Krabbendam

works perfected faith (22b)

works are expression, manifestation of living faith

faith arrives at its goal in deeds; branch proves to be genuine by fruit. Faith not shown by works never left starting gate.

believer’s works, then, the substance of sanctification but never the ground of justification

fulfilled declaration of Gen. 15:6 (23)

demonstrates authenticity of righteousness credited to Abraham by God

works of Abraham re: sacrifice of Isaac are natural outworking / consequence / result of belief in God’s promise

as if in Ch. 22, God said, Ok you say you have faith; demonstrate it by passing this test. Develop it by enduring this test.

James’ conclusion at this point: given two kinds of faith, the one proven to be genuine at the end is the one that has been authenticated as active. (24)

C. complementary/crowning example of Rahab v.25

“Likewise” – another example of equal weight; huh?? Several good reasons why James chose this approach.

a “perennial” friend of God is complemented with a “recent” friend of the world

Abraham at top of heap, Rahab at the bottom

Abraham a unique, blessed individual, out of reach for average Christian to emulate

OK, then, how ’bout Rahab: certainly not too hard to surpass her station

every Christian is somewhere on spectrum defined by Abraham and Rahab – no excuses!

a model Israelite with a shady Gentile

Abraham had all benefits of covenant relationship, Rahab had none

Abraham moved in God-fearing circle, Rahab saturated in paganism

Abraham’s advantages no “help” to living faith, Rahab’s lacks no hindrance; both had what they did by virtue of God’s direct involvement

a respectable man with a disreputable woman

clearly refutes charge that Christianity is sexist: gender and social status not an issue with respect to justifying faith

a veteran believer with a young start-up

might be expected that Abraham would demonstrate strong active faith, he’d been “walking with the Lord a long time”

Rahab as young believer took no second seat to Abraham when depth of faith is measured by risk taken

someone who in actual practice surrenders his son’s life with someone who in manifest principle surrenders her own

Abraham had personally experienced great wonders / blessings performed by God, was equipped to sacrifice his son

Rahab had seen great wonders that potentially put her and family at great risk; put herself actually at risk, putting own life on the line

in “losing her own life” for sake of God’s people, actually gained it

Rahab exercised faith without having received any promise from God

overwhelmed by glory and majesty of God, did only thing she could – trusted in his mercy

James “designedly put together two persons so different in their character, in order more clearly to show that no one, whatever may have been his or her condition, nation, class or society, has ever been accounted righteous without good works” Calvin

clearly shows that no one in same categories is out of reach of God and his saving grace, granting living saving faith

D. conclusion v.26

Faith without deeds / works is a body without breath. Breathing is outward evidence of living person, so works outward evidence of living faith

Dead faith cannot unite individual to living Savior.

Faith without works just as useless as works without faith – neither combination saves.

“Faith without works is dead, and works without faith are dead also. For if we have sound doctrine but fail in living, the doctrine is of no use to us. Likewise if we take pains with life but are careless about doctrine that will not be any good to us either. It is therefore necessary to shore up the spiritual edifice in both directions.” St. John Chrysostom

[Naked profession] is useless, as to all the purposes of faith; it cannot unite you to Christ, that you may possess yourselves of his righteousness, or give you a feeling of his Spirit. In short, it bringeth no glory to God, yieldeth no comfort to him that hath it, and no benefit to others. Thomas Manton

Let words of epileptic boy’s father be our confession and prayer: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24 May God enliven and strengthen the faith he has given us. May each of us depend on him daily for resources we need to live pleasing and obedient lives of service.

Faith and Deeds

James 2:14-19

James and Paul both speak to issue of relationship between faith and deeds/works. Many throughout history try to pit one against the other – to “destroy” unity or inspiration of Scripture, to serve as foundation for reinterpreting writings of Paul, to demonstrate how James cannot possibly belong in Scripture, etc., etc. After all, James said “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20) and Paul said “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit. 3:5).

Absolutely vital to recognize James and Paul are allies, not enemies, standing back-to-back not face-to-face. Paul addresses how one acquires citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom, James how one validatesclaim to citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom. Paul looks at individual at beginning of timeline representing Christian walk, James at individual some miles down the road. Their operating definition of works is essentially the same: things done from love for God in obedience to God and service of God. Obviously that kind of works cannot be performed prior to conversion, thus cannot contribute to our salvation (Paul). Obviously that kind of works should be performed after conversion, demonstrating clear evidence of our salvation (James).

Also helpful to consider that word faith is used in different senses, refers to different conditions described in Scripture. Historical faith – knowledge of what Scripture contains and assent to its accuracy and truthfulness (Acts 8:13, Simon Magus; Acts 26:27-28, Agrippa); Temporary faith – historical faith plus change in conscience and affections but that soon fails (Matt. 13:20-21). Saving or justifying faith – a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon [Jesus] alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel (WSC Q. 86, Gal. 2:16).

Varying understandings of meaning of “faith” present in church and culture of James’ and Paul’s day; true also of our own. In order to present true Gospel and discern who needs to hear Gospel, must have right (Biblical) understanding of genuine saving faith. James speaks bluntly to dispel any illusions about nature of saving faith, declaring the uselessness of a professed faith that has no confirming evidence. BTW, James’ issue is not between faith and works but between living / saving faith and dead / useless faith.

A. issue of dead faith v.14

James asks rhetorical question, one that expects particular answer; he gives answer in v.17. Also a provocative one, guaranteed to arouse response. It gets personal, not only for one being evaluated, also for one doing evaluation. A serious issue at stake, one with ramifications in eternity. Let’s paraphrase question to reflect contemporary ways of speaking and thinking:

Someone says he believes in God but shows no outward evidence of it; will he go to heaven?

Someone says she asked Jesus in her heart and was baptized but lives just like her unsaved neighbors; is she really saved?

Someone says, “I have my faith, you know, of course I’m going to heaven” but refuses to attend church or hang out with Christians; is he born again?

James makes it clear the answer is “No!” Something that is alive shows evidence of life, faith included. CPR: check ABC; Jesus and the fig tree (Matt. 21:19-21); vine and vinedresser (John 15:2).

Goes even further: James links kind of faith someone claims to have with its ability to deliver. By way he phrases the questions, strong implication is that at least this kind of faith (faith that produces no accompanying evidence) is not saving faith.

Two things to consider: source and object. Saving faith has God as its source; yes, it belongs to the child of God, but came from God, worked in him by Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8). Saving faith also has God as its object; it is conviction or confidence in One we cannot see but yet believe exists and responds to those who seek him. (Heb. 11:1, 6) Faith in faith will not save; faith in works will not save; faith in any deity other than God revealed through living and written Word will not save.

I know you all believe this for yourselves. But,… where it becomes important is in our interaction with others: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, “distant” church members, ones who claim some kind of faith. If there’s virtually no evidence of saving faith, what they need to hear most is the Gospel. If they take offense at it, remind them gently of what Jesus and James said: living faith breathes, has a pulse, brain waves, moves and acts in certain ways. Just for good measure, suggest they read 1 John and then James, holding up the text in one hand and mirror in the other to see if the image matches the standard.

B. illustration of dead faith v.15-17

James next sets up a scenario, lip service without action, natural follow-on of partiality shown to the poor earlier in chapter. He speaks of brother or sister explicitly, primary reference being to Christian family, one who is related by union to Christ. Not limited to “church” sphere, since compassion needs are present in all of life. Perhaps James had particular real circumstance in mind, maybe it’s only hypothetical. Either way, brother or sister is in great and immediate need – inadequately clothed and hungry with no ability to change their situation. Need help and now; instead of tangible help, receive spiritual-sounding cliche and are sent on their way. The sort of faith that would do that is useless. Real saving faith acts in practical and material way.

Before you breathe huge sigh of relief, glad you don’t know anyone like that, let’s consider in little more depth. This little vignette no different from what James has written already: an example to illustrate a principle. Real life comes in degrees, though; needs come in different shapes / sizes, responses at different levels also. Remember Jesus’ parable (Luk. 10:30-33) of man who got mugged. Priest and Levite didn’t say anything, simply avoided dealing with issue – Oh, look, someone over there I need to speak to. Just like Samaritan, had means to offer help but avoided involvement.

Other ways same passive non-action plays out. Someone speaks of need, one that brother or sister has resources to meet. Instead of getting involved, say “I’m sure the Lord will provide for you.”; “I’ll be praying for you.” If prayer were fully articulated would sound like “Lord, please meet their need but use somebody other than me.” Don’t have to think long to come up with what’s wrong with that picture: partiality that puts self before others; God can meet their need but not mine; I have more important things to do, don’t have time to get involved, etc….

That sort of response to need according to James is impossible for one who is united to Christ by faith. To be one with Christ means thinking and doing as he would in all situations. Paul declared: “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” (Eph. 2:10) James’ logic here follows same pattern but in reverse: absence of good works indicates individual is not “in Christ Jesus”, therefore not saved.

Conclusion: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone but not faith that is alone. Saving faith is living faith that demonstrates its liveliness.

C. challenge of dead faith v.18-19

Perhaps you’ve been challenged: “Who are you to question my salvation? I say I believe, I’m a Christian, what right do you have to say otherwise?” How do you respond? James answered by saying anyone can make assertions but those don’t prove anything, don’t demonstrate anything to be true. “Saying it’s so don’t make it so.” To be convincing, there must be demonstration, proof, evidence. Reality is evidence is there in all cases; question isn’t whether there is evidence, question is what does it show.

In classic SLAM!, James says empty professor doesn’t even rise to level of demons. Here’s how it goes: “You believe in God yet have nothing to show for it; demons believe in God and tremble. They have something to show that you don’t.” Although don’t have saving faith, do have confidence in existence of God and are assured of their fate at his hand. One who possesses dead faith isn’t even concerned enough to tremble at God’s promise of what awaits those who don’t demonstrate living faith.

Conclusion: only one sort of faith saves, justifies; all other faith, even though sincerely, even passionately, held fails. Sincere, passionate but wrong kind of faith in right object is doomed to fail; don’t have to figure out all the wrong kinds of faith to be properly informed, just need to recognize they exist. And we need to be able to recognize saving faith; James gives help with that in rest of chapter 2 – two examples of those with living faith: Abraham and Rahab.

May God give us grace and strength to demonstrate a living saving faith, recognize that which is not, be used of God to point those with dead faith to source of life.

Three Strikes and You’re Out

James 2:8-13

James gives sin of partiality and his treatment of it as an example. Uses a strong line of reasoning to demonstrate how this sin along with others is not matter of opinion or interpretation, how practicing it (or other sins) is antithetical to pursuit of holiness. Trials/temptations along with the Word are God’s means of moving his children along toward holiness. The response of true child of God – obedience to the Word/Law of God resulting from love for God and fueled by faith in God.

LBCF I.1 The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.

Proper way to determine progress in sanctification: check our conformity to the rule. If the rule is silent on a point, we have liberty. If the rule speaks on a point, we must conform – because we desire to please Heavenly Father AND in dependence on his supply of resources. Both the obedience/works and the faith are essential to growth in sanctification; growth ceases if either is lacking, may even turn into decline if lack occurs over extended/prolonged period of time.

Perhaps a sizable segment within early church defended their bad behavior by claiming to follow Jesus’ command, “love one another”. That could explain James’ use of really/truly/certainly (μέντοι) – “if you really fulfill the royal law” (8). Claiming to do something out of love doesn’t negate all other standards; love is defined and exemplified quite explicitly throughout Scripture. Having right understanding of love and obedience requires right understanding of God’s Law, its relationship to itself. Also important to keep in mind that general and comprehensive pattern of one’s life is good predictor of God’s assessment of person, what his declaration will be on the Great Day.

A. Strike 1 – love v.8

νόμος, nomos, almost always functions as collective noun in Scripture – singular word, law, referring to a body of individual laws/statutes. God’s Law usually refers to moral code expressed in 10 Commandments, summarized in the two (love God and neighbor) and then the one Law of Love. Since the one and the two summarize the 10, references to the one or two include the 10 in meaning and application. James uses other terms to speak of God’s Law:

perfect law of liberty (1:25)
royal law (2:8) whole law (2:10) law of liberty (2:12)

Surrounding context shows what James had in mind: 10 commandments and associated application. Love is sum of the Law, Decalogue is substance of the Law, Sermon on the Mount shows depth of the Law that was fulfilled (brought to its ultimate goal) in Christ and should likewise be in each of us as we are conformed to his image.

Called “royal law” – came from the king, rules the kingdom, the one stated is summation of the rest that govern human relationships. As with remainder of God’s Law, character of the law derives from character of lawgiver. Lawgiver, God is: perfect, trustworthy, righteous, holy, just, good, and so is his law (Ps. 19:7, 9; Rom. 7:12). The Lord who is Judge and Lawgiver is also King (Isa. 33:22); the law of the King is rightly called a royal law. It is law that governs the King’s kingdom – when we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, what are we asking? That mankind would do the will of God which is… “if you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).

obedience <> love; love <> obedience. Neither one can be reduced to the other. Are associated together throughout Scripture: Ex. 20:6; De. 5:10; 7:9; 11:1; Neh. 1:5; Dan. 9:4; John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Ti. 1:5; 1 John 5:2, 3; 2 John 1:6. Love is shown by obedience, love fuels and motivates obedience. Obedience without love is mere formalism, unacceptable to God; love without obedience is empty and meaningless.

What is love? First, a desire to be one with the one loved; second, delight when that union is achieved; third, lavish and sacrificial giving to obtain and maintain union. #1 example: God. Don’t have to think long or hard about relationship between Heavenly Father and his children to see that at work. God loved the world and sent his Son (John 3:16); he “takes great delight” (NET) in his children, exults over them with singing (Zeph. 3:17); the Father gave the Son, the Son gave himself for his children, the church (1 John 4:10; Eph. 5:25). All that is the exact opposite of prejudicial partiality which is thus ruled out by definition and character of love. Strike 1!

B. Strike 2 – law v.9-11

partiality is sin, violation of law (9) James doesn’t beat around the bush – showing partiality = sin = breaking the law. In this case, sin of both omission and comission; or as catechism puts it, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (WSC, Q14) At a minimum: one being shunned is not being loved as neighbor (failure to conform to 2nd great command), is being treated/thought of unjustly (transgression of C5, proper relationships, & C6, murder).

the law is a unity – violation of one part is violation of all (10) You cannot sin against one aspect of the law in isolation from the rest. Violation of one part is all that is necessary to make one a lawbreaker; you don’t have to break every command to be guilty of sin. Nor does keeping one part get you points that offset breaking it in another part. If the diamond is the law of God, each facet is a command; to disregard or disrespect one facet is to show contempt for entire diamond.

authority of law comes from lawgiver (11a) God’s Word is authoritative because it is God’s Word; so, too, with God’s Law. Meaning and application of God’s Law not up for grabs when he has given instruction and/or example. “That’s your interpretation” doesn’t cut it when there are clear guidelines to follow given in Scripture.

one command is not more “essential” or higher priority than another (11b) Both have same source, since God is unity, so is his law. Unfortunately not the mindset in the church today. According to statistics, divorce occurs at same rate and for largely same reasons as in culture at large. Yet while most church-goers would avoid murder, breaking the 6th commandment, at all costs, few if any regard divorce as equally serious transgression of the 7th, intended to safeguard marriage.

partiality equated with murder – farfetched? not given John’s teaching about “hate”

“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15)

based on Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:22) “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”

based on Lev. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Showing partiality in way described by James indicates judgmental sinful way of thinking about a neighbor, effectively an expression of hatred toward them rather than the love Christ requires. Strike 2!

C. Strike 3 – judgment v.12-13

standard of judgment is Law (12) not just any law, the law of liberty (aka, law of God, law of Christ, law of love, etc.) Why, how can law and liberty go together? First, lawlessness does not = liberty or freedom; equates to slavery in sin. In contrast, faithfully following God’s law as rule of life (not means to justification) signifies liberty from sin, Satan and self. Therefore, it is the only suitable standard for speech and action.

individual’s attitude toward Law parallel’s God’s view of their performance (13a) Do we hold God’s law in contempt, disregarding its commands and principles, determined to do our own thing? Strike 3! Or do we like the Psalmist (Psa. 119:97, 113, 163) love God’s law because of it’s intimate connection with and reflection of the Lawgiver? From that love of God’s Law do we strive to obey it by faith? Do we lovingly and anxiously anticipate the Lord Jesus’ return? Having received mercy from God that enables us to think and act this way, do we show mercy to others? If so, we can expect mercy from God when that Day arrives.

showing / receiving mercy not a quid pro quo (13b) We don’t earn God’s mercy by showing mercy. Rather, mercy we show to others flows out of mercy God has already and still is granting to us. When God shows mercy to his children in that Day, he is publicly acknowledging the great work of grace he has done in them.

see how you measure up now rather than later — James for our edification has given profound example of analysis here: take a particular behavior, examine it in light of Biblical precept and principle. The particular “infraction” cited might seem moderately harmless on the surface; on closer inspection, partiality just like any habitual sin will absolutely derail pursuit of holiness. May God give us grace and strength that we may daily put to death sin more and more, determined to live by faith in way that pleases him that we may receive mercy on that great Day.