“Every good and perfect gift is from above…” James 1:17
To put it simply:
- The way of the world is by justification through works in knowing a law.
- Salvation (not just the threshold, but the walk) is by grace through faith in knowing the living God.
- Forgiveness is one time and unilateral (as in Matt 6:15). It clears the deck to go from walking by justification to walking by grace.
Chapter 1 of James is about “the testing of your faith” (vs. 3)
So considering the above, I either walk according to God’s grace (through faith) or by seeking my own justification (through the law of my choosing). Two different dynamics. Two different results. They don’t mix. (You might already know what James says about a double-minded man – vs. 8).
I like James. He seems “right strawy,” as Luther said, but to me, James’ only fault is to over-explain. And our bias is toward guilt. But, “Don’t be deceived,” he says (vs. 16). “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above…” The things above are known by faith alone.
So if anyone lacks wisdom, he “ask(s) of God” (vs. 5) personally, as opposed to leaning on his own judgments (or a law). God gives “without reproach”—i.e. by grace (vs.5). And we receive by faith (vs. 6). Talk with him. Listen. 24/7. So by faith, a humble man may glory in his high position (vs. 9). And trials will either wear a “rich” man out, withering under the sun (vs. 11 – shades of Ecclesiastes and the way of the world), or prove the worth of that “high position” which faith assumed early on. This is the “crown” of vs 12. (Many translations arbitrarily put vs 12 with the next theme. I disagree. It completes the “high position” thought.)
The next couple of paragraphs build on what’s been said and should begin with, “Let no one say…”—and the section becomes descriptive, instead of instructional toward earning a reward (or “crown”). It’s how things work. To act on our own wisdom puts the burden on the senses. So a man being tempted is “carried away and enticed by his own lust” (vs. 13-15). The only option we’re given is to set such judgments aside, and “receive the word implanted”—or God’s wisdom (vs. 21), James says. We were brought forth by “the word of truth.” (vs. 18). Remember, “word” and “truth” are for us, a who, not a what. Being “of God…” as James began in the letter. So we actually can “count it all joy” when we fall into temptations (vs. 2). James calls this word the “law of liberty,”—the “perfect law” (vs. 25).
Although James only mentions the word faith once, and at the beginning, remember that this is all about the testing of it. So the “effectual doer” (vs. 26) abides by faith alone. Don’t “delude” yourself (vs.22). Faith is an action word. It’s a continuous walk, not a feeling or philosophy to reflect on, and then forget (vs. 23, 24).
James concludes with what I call a simple “litmus test” to tell me how I’m doing (vs. 26, 27). The things most precious to a man reside in his heart. The heart is either the seat of a man’s judgments (of good and of evil), or the throne of God’s Spirit. They each produce their own fruit. What we say—the tongue—will be faithful to reveal it.
Now, of course you may approach James as an extension of the law and follow each word as a commandment. Have at it—you will have much to boast about. But you will also carry with you, the increasing burden of guilt in your inabilities.
Not to worry, there is only one option. And should you keep your eyes open, God will lead you to it.