The Importance of Faith – James 1:19-2:13

Read the Passage: James 1:19-2:13

Evidence for Faith (1:19–27)

In Jas. 1:19–20 James disclosed three commands that, when implemented, can be evidence of Christian spiritual maturity. James wrote that his readers were to be (1) swift to hear, (2) slow to speak, and (3) slow to wrath. That which believers ought to be especially eager to hear, writes James, is the “Word of truth” (Jas. 1:18). Further, James exhorts his readers, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21; cf. Col. 3:16). Note that the term “filthiness” here refers to moral corruption. In short, then, James’ exhortation is that Christians are to absorb the Scriptures, which will, in turn, govern their words, emotions, and actions. The “implanted word” (Jas. 1:21) that James mentions is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit who illuminates the written Word of God, spoken to us by the living Word of God.

In order to illustrate the danger and foolishness of being a hearer, but not a doer of the Word, in Jas. 1:22–25 James appealed to a common household object and event—that is, viewing oneself in a mirror. James’ point is this: perhaps contrary to popular belief, people do not usually look into a mirror in order to admire themselves; rather, people look into mirrors in order to see their flaws and to correct themselves. Just as someone who becomes aware of their own blemishes in a mirror but fails to correct their flaws would be a fool, so the one who is convicted of sin by the revelation of the Word of God (i.e., a “hearer”) but does not engage in moral reform (i.e., a “doer”) is a fool. James writes, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:25).

Illustration of Faith (2:1–7)

James begins this chapter writing, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (Jas. 2:1). In Jas. 2:1–7 James illustrates this faith, as he urges his readers not to show partiality to or to engage in favoritism, especially within the church. While there are many reasons why people show favoritism (i.e., race, social status, occupation, etc.), a common motivation for partiality is one’s economic standing. Apparently, this was an area of temptation for James’ readers, for he exhorted them not to favor the “man with gold rings, in fine apparel” over a “man in filthy clothes” (Jas. 2:2). James writes that to do so would be to show “partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts” (Jas. 2:4). Note Jesus’ similar warning in the Gospels about those who seek to be treated with partiality because of their position in Mark 12:38–40.

Continuing his exhortation regarding not showing favoritism to the wealthy, James asks rhetorically, “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him?” (Jas. 2:5). Here James is not teaching that God favors the poor over the rich, for that would be to show partiality. Rather, James is teaching that God does not judge men based upon external factors such as wealth, position, and power. God instead evaluates men based upon their faith in Jesus Christ. Remember God’s commendation in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents is not, “Well done, good and successful servant,” but, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). Certainly, it is true that the poor are often more receptive to the gospel than those blinded by wealth; nevertheless, believers are not to show partiality to anyone, whether poor or rich.

Summary of Faith (2:8–13)

In Jas. 2:10, James writes, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” The essence of James’ teaching here is not that there is some unseen connection between parts of the moral law. Rather, in the larger context of Jas. 1:19–2:13, James is teaching that the one who attempts to be justified by law-keeping must be totally blameless or they will be judged to be guilty. Said differently, it is not enough to keep only part of the law, for to break one point of the moral law is to be guilty of being a law-breaker. James writes that the one who sins even once “will be judged by the law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). However, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ will be credited with the very righteousness of God, via Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, and will be judged as blameless–that is, as those who have never even sinned before or as those who have always obeyed (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

Application Questions:

  1. In talking about our faith, how can we best distinguish between a works-based salvation, and a faith-based salvation that is evidenced by works?
  2. What shall we conclude concerning those in the church who appear to be hearers, but not doers, of the Word of God (cf. Matt. 7:13–27)?
  3. What does James mean in writing that true religion is to visit orphans and widows and to keep oneself unspotted from the world? Is faith a work of mankind?
  4. Have you ever personally experienced, witnessed, or been guilty of showing favoritism? How is partiality most often expressed in the modern church?
  5. How could James refer to Lev. 19:18 as the chief law, while at Matt. 22:39 Jesus referred to Lev. 19:18 as the second greatest commandment in the law?