James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
The gospel offers eternal life on the basis of faith alone. A good example is the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. [R]emember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42), he said. [T]oday you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43), Jesus replied. This man was saved by faith alone, without any works at all.
But not all faith is saving faith. Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21), said Jesus. The good news of salvation by faith alone, leads some to think they can live anyway they please, and still be saved. But this is far from what the Bible teaches, as James goes on to explain.
James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
Demons believe in God, but shudder with fear. What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name do not torture me! (Mark 5:7), one of them begged. But many who claim to believe in Jesus Christ are less devout than demons. They sin like the devil, but with even less concern.
If your faith does not change the way you live, you don’t have saving faith, but Satan faith. Satan believes in Jesus Christ, but has not changed his evil ways. Those who follow Satan’s example will also share his doom. Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), they will hear Christ say to them.
James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Many churches were small, and met in people’s homes, so there were opportunities for those who wanted to teach. But not all teachers were equally qualified, and some were doing more harm than good. Those who teach will be judged more strictly, warned James.
Jesus gave a similar warning. Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19).
Teaching God’s word is a solemn responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Every Bible teacher should be someone who correctly handles the word of truth (1 Timothy 2:15), wrote Paul. And If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11), wrote Peter. This requires careful preparation and a lifetime of study. Whoever dares to teach must never cease to learn.
James 3:2 Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
James used a series of illustrations to show the disproportionate power of speech. A small bit can turn an animal (James 3:3); a small rudder can turn a ship (James 3:4); and a small spark can set a whole forest on fire (James 5:5).
My grandmother was enjoying some gossip with her friend when my grandpa entered the room. Knowing they were caught in a sin, the room fell silent. After a long pause, my grandfather said, Now who should we talk about? Sins of speech are born in hell, but heard in heaven. Many who have never murdered a body have murdered reputations.
James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
God loves the world (John 3:16), and wants us to enjoy it (1 Timothy 6:17). But when he sent his Son into the world, they killed him (Luke 23:33). When Christians feel too at home in this world, they are worldly, and come under God’s rebuke.
The problem with worldliness is that it happens so gradually, we do not perceive its danger. It is like a boat with a slow leak. The boat belongs in the water, but if enough water gets into the boat, it will sink. Christians belong in the world, but if the world gets into Christians, we will sink as well.
Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me (2 Timothy 4:10), wrote Paul. Demas had the privilege of working with one of the greatest people of all time. But he loved the world so much that he walked away from Paul. Worldliness is any affection for this world that reduces our affection for the one to come.
A story is told of soldiers who escaped from a prison camp in a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, they were blown out to sea, and the balloon was losing altitude, bringing them close to the water. So they threw out their artillery, and the balloon rose for a while, but then it got close to the water again. So they threw out everything else, and the balloon rose for a while, but then it got close to water again.
At this point, all they could do was tie themselves to the ropes, and cut away the basket. Once again, the balloon rose for a while, but then it got close to the water again. But now they were close enough to land that they could swim the rest of the way. Likewise, if we hope to make it to heaven’s shore, we must throw out whatever is pulling us down.
James 4:6 But he gives us more grace.
James wanted his readers to know that even though they failed in the past, were failing in the present, and would fail in the future—God would not stop giving them grace. Grace is the undeserved favor of God because of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus paid for all of our sins, God will never turn his back on those who truly believe. No matter how badly we fail, he gives us more grace.
A boy got into trouble at school, and his father took it seriously. The boy was very sorry, but his father told him that something similar would happen again. The boy said, Nothing like this will ever happen again. The father said, yes, it will. The boy said, How do you know? The father replied, I know your dad; the problem is genetic.
We are not only sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners—by nature and by choice. The critical thing is not avoiding sin completely (which is impossible) but turning back and receiving God’s forgiveness. For that, he gives us more grace. And he always will.
Reflection and Review
- What are the qualities of a good Bible teacher?
- How should Christians view the world?
- Why does God keep giving us grace?