Monday, October 05, 2015

Is The Book of James Against Grace?

I have seen much confusion caused among believers because of a misunderstanding of the message of James in the Epistle of James. Some have glossed over it and made it seem as if James didn’t really say what he said, others have twisted the words of James to mean what they want it to mean, and others have outright rejected the Book of James, teaching or implying that it shouldn’t even be in the Bible.

In Martin Luther's preface to the New Testament, he wrote the famous words, "St. James' Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it." (Actually that appeared only in the 1522 edition. In the 1545 revision it was taken out.)

Is the Book of James against grace?

After all, James uses the word “law” 12 times, and “grace” only twice. He uses the word “works” 13 times, but the name “Jesus” only twice.

He even says blatantly, in James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." And he gives an example in James 2:25, "In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?"

Is the Book of James against grace?

In case you’re getting a little nervous, the answer is, “No, James is not against grace." Two things are important here.

First, we need to understand that James is not just writing to believers.

He is writing to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad”. These were Jews who were scattered around the then-known world, some of whom were now Christians.

You can never understand James until you realize that he was addressing unbelievers as well as believers, some who professed to believe in Jesus, and some who truly did believe. And James, in some of his comments, sort of throws them all into a hopper and mixes them up, and then tells them what’s what. You may not like his method here. You may prefer a systematic Paul, who more logically progresses with his points and makes it clearer whom he is talking to. But God has used James to make some points that no other Bible writer has made.

Second, we need to see the purposes in James' writing.

He was not laying down a theological treatise on salvation, or what we call soteriology. He wasn’t, like Paul in Romans, detailing the makeup of man, the work of Christ on the Cross, and the election, calling and justification of men by grace through faith.

To see these purposes of James, let’s do a very brief review of the Book of James, and comment on some of the issues James was dealing with. There are 5 chapters, and we’ll give each one a title, reflecting the main theme of each chapter. These 5 titles will begin with letters which spell out the word Works. W-o-r-k-s.

Chapter 1 “With Trials Comes Growth”

Chapter 2 “Only Works Show Faith”

Chapter 3 “Rudder-Tongue Steers Ship”

Chapter 4 “Keep Humble, Get Grace”

Chapter 5 “Suffer Patiently, But Pray”

So James is not against grace. But he wants true grace to be in evidence. Not a false or spurious grace. 

He wants to emphasize that when you become a New Creation, there will be fruit that comes from that. When you are born again, something happens. You are given a new spirit, which is the true you, the essence of your being, your very nature…a new nature which loves Jesus and hates sin. 

And when that new true nature of yours expresses itself, there will be good works. And when we walk by the Spirit, some of those works will be seen. 

And it’s all by Grace!