Living Proof of the Living Lord Living in Me

Following are excerpts from the study in James. To obtain the entire study, please email Rick at rick@seed4life.net or call him at 812-319-4907 for more information.

 

Excerpt from the Introduction:

James is good news.

When I think about James, I think this is a guy to whom Christendom has not given near enough credit. I know in my own past, around 1984, I gave instruction from this letter, and I sure hope that none of the things I said were ever written down. I just didn’t give James enough credit. I didn’t have the context for the letter, and I surely didn’t have the maturity, not that maturity is a destination. However, through time in relationship with the Lord, He has done a work in my life to help me to understand a great deal more of what James is talking about.

Previous to this study, I had never considered justification to be more than synonymous with the divine act of God making the believer righteous. In fact, I am now convinced that we will completely miss what the Spirit has to say through James if that is all we believe. When given full play, justification adds up to a dominant role in the life of the believer who truly desires to live a meaningful life.

Of course the context of the people who received this letter is very significant. In thinking of the letter of James, I am reminded of the book of Hebrews, and how important the Jewish context is to the mission of correctly interpreting that book (as is the Jewish context to much of the New Testament). So it is with James. The context for the book of James is so far outside of my thinking as a Gentile person that I have previously missed what James was teaching.

By prayerfully reading and listening to the scriptures associated with James over and over for days, weeks and months on end, the Lord has allowed me to begin to put the context together. Eventually, through the subsequent marking of key words and phrases, compiling them into lists to learn from, discovering patterns of thought and digging through the first-century meaning of many Greek words, the Lord has allowed me to piece together some of the layers that help in understanding both the writer and the audience. The Spirit of God has used it all to make the teaching come alive in the letter we know as James.

For you Christians who have been skeptical of James, you will be encouraged to read on because I do not find any contradiction in James to the writings of Paul concerning justification. I now know that we have previously tripped when reading that great and often misunderstood statement by James that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone because of a hole in our thinking. We have often thought something is amiss, something is wrong with this statement but we didn’t know what it was.

I believe I have found it, and we will work through this when we get to chapter two of this study.

As I searched the scriptures, I took time to look up each word in the New Testament relating to the blessings associated with salvation as it relates to justification or to justify. I believe I have worked through each verse in context, while also allowing the Greek to add its force to my discoveries. In doing so I found no contradiction to the teaching that the following study presents in James. Likewise, I can say with confidence that I have found no contradiction in the New Testament. Along with me, you will come to see James standing upon the shoulders of Jesus, the gospel writers and the Old Testament Scriptures. You will also see how James’ teaching naturally led to what others, such as Paul and Peter, would say in their writings.

I look forward to, and I am excited for you to think through the letter of James with me – and I thank you for taking the time to do so. I don’t know what additional words I would choose, given the opportunity, to communicate to you the excitement that this little letter has awakened in my life. As the Spirit has done to me, may He use this study to make you more confident and more certain of your faith in the Lord Jesus.

For those of you who might read this, and who have not given yourself to knowing Jesus as the Savior and Lord He is, please understand that the letter of James is not addressed to you. However, if you really want to know Him, and you want to do His will, you will find Him, John 7:17. I pray that you discover Jesus for who He is as you read what His half-brother, James, had to say.

The message of James reflects a very personal discovery, a discovery that was made in the light of Jesus. I am convinced of this because of the encounter James had with his brother, recorded in John 7:1-9, and the teachings of Jesus that followed that conversation. If that conversation between the brothers is typical of how James thought of Jesus and we have Scriptural reason to believe it is much of what we read in James seems to be connected to what he experienced first-hand through the words and actions of his brother at the Feast of Booths, John 7-10:21.

The focus of the letter of James

The record of Hegesippus also adds understanding to the thinking James is following when he writes his letter. From Hegesippus we learn there is nothing in the letter that Pharisaic Jews could not easily accept according to their own understanding and practice. Therefore, one key in understanding James is to learn to read his writings from the Jewish perspective. James, like Peter, is explaining Christianity to the Jews. “To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad; Greetings,” James 1:1.

It is accepted that the letters of Paul, which began around A.D. 50, did not become common property to the Church until A.D. 90. Therefore, it is not practical to think that James could have read Paul’s letters since James was martyred around A.D. 62. However, there is a relationship between James’ letter and the teachings of Paul.

The letter of James is focused on one recurring doctrine the absolute truth of justification and how that truth is expressed in a divine act of God’s grace traveling on the road of your faith in the Father through Jesus. Like Paul in Romans 12, James attacks a so-called faith which has no ethical results.

Justification is understood well by James, and is also one of the most significant teachings given through Paul. As previously stated, I find no conflict between the two. The teachings of the men simply work together, taking aim at justification from different sides of the same coin in order to deal with two things. Paul addresses the wrong teaching of the religious leaders of the Jews. James addressed the double-minded self-indulgence taken by believing Jews.

Paul addresses the wrong teaching of the religious leaders who taught the Jewish people that they could perform deeds in order to merit justification. These same leaders wanted to add that teaching to the Gospel, which Paul was taking to the Gentiles.

Regardless of what influenced the double-minded self-indulgent thinking of his audience, I believe that James had an intimate knowledge of his immediate audience. He surely speaks to them as believers, but they had lost the certainty they once held about God. They were unsure if He could still be trusted to give them good gifts, or even to give them what they needed. James’ primary aim was to instruct the Church, not to numerically extend it.

If I have set James in this context correctly, some of these Jewish believers had lost their homes, their way of living, and even loved ones to physical death because of their allegiance to the Way of Christ, Acts 7:54-8:2, 26:9-11. Both their circumstances (James 1:2) and their emotions (James 1:14) shouted out against them. Some felt as if it might be better to go back to loving the way of the world, because to some it now seemed as if God couldn’t be fully trusted.

 

Excerpt from the Study and Commentary Section:

(Page 11)

Day Seven

James 1:19-21

  1. In order to once again break away from the way of the world in opposition to what God thinks, and to recognize God alone can be trusted (James 1:17), James gives three examples that hinder the believer when listening for God (James 1:19); hindrances that he will summarize in verse 21. What three examples does James state?
  1. How are these things summarized at the beginning of verse 21?
  1. At first glance, verse 20 may seem to be teaching that the anger of man and God’s righteousness do not go together. But, what if you knew the word achieve means to work out or promote? Evaluate the impact of that amplified definition upon the believer in the context of James, and restate the verse in your own words.
  1. Is James using verse 20 to foremost teach a connection between the behavior of the believer and the righteousness of God?
  1. Read John 8:31-47, Hebrews 1:1-3 and James 1:17. Is there a connection between the nature of God and His behavior? Does God act according to or contrary to His nature?
  1. Read Galatians 4:8-11, James 1:13, 1 Peter 2:16 and 2 Peter 1:3-7. Since God acts only in accordance to His nature, and His nature also lives inside of the New Covenant believer, how are the followers of God to relate to right and wrong?
  1. Can a believer make a choice to put all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness aside, verse 21?

Day Eight

  1. Can believers, having lived independently of God, still make a choice to humble themselves once again in dependence upon God, verse 21?
  1. In humility, believers can receive something. According to verse 21, what is it they receive, and what is it able to do?
  1. In the context of James, can save be pointing to the experience of being born again? Defend and compose your answer from what you know thus far about the audience of James.
  1. In the context of James, is able to save used in a past, present or future context? Can save be pointing to what we learned in James 1:13-15, allowing something to rescue the believer’s soul (feelings and desires for independence) from the power of sin? What is the something that God will use to save the believer, verse 21?
  1. If the saving is present tense, could it happen on a moment-by-moment basis? Is there any evidence in your life with Christ that supports that? If so, give an example.

Day Nine

  1. Understanding what to do with what the believer knows about God is an honor. There are many scriptures supporting this truth. Listed here are but a few for you to read: 1 Kings 3:6-9; 1 Chronicles 22:6-12; Psalm 119:34, 73, 125, 144; Proverbs 2:1-6; Isaiah 40:9-28; 2 Timothy 2:7. Is such understanding available to all believers, James 1:21?
  1. Read Proverbs 11:2, 15:33, 18:12, 29:23 and James 1:21. What is the bridge connecting the believer’s knowledge of God’s word to understanding what to do in any given situation?

James 1:19-21

There was a point in time when these believers had learned to trust God to give them what was best for them. They had learned to not allow their circumstances or feelings to have full play over them. That kind of knowledge always makes a demand upon your will to obey. James told them to continue following that way of thinking, to continue in learning more about His truth.

In order to once again break away from the way the world in opposition to God thinks and to recognize God alone can be trusted (James 1:17), James gives three examples that hinder the believer when listening for God, James 1:19. The believers must choose to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to be angry. In the full context of James, his counsel applies to how the believer is to relate to God, and to fellow believers as well.

It is interesting to me that two of the three hindrances to recognizing God, pointed out by James, involve the speech of a believer, Proverbs 10:19. You must stop talking to listen well. You also must stop talking in order to think through your response before you speak. Mankind remains too impressed with his words. James has much more to say in his letter about speech, and how it is an indication of what is motivating the believer, James 1:26, 3:1-12, 4:11.

On the surface James 1:20 looks like one of those rare, easily understood, obvious statements by James. “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Many find it easy to agree that man’s anger and God’s righteousness do not go together, Proverbs 16:32; 29:11, 22. However, a key word in the verse is achieve. Achieve, in the Greek, means to work out or promote. That brings weight to the larger point by James, which is very significant to his Jewish audience and our contextual study of James.

James is teaching that there is a connection between the behavior of the believer and the righteousness of God in the believer! There is nothing about that which any Jew would dispute. Humbly think through the following.

The Jew understood God to do what He does because He said He would. He always acts according to His nature, John 8:31-47, Hebrews 1:1-3, James 1:17. For example, God acts in accordance with His own moral and natural laws, Genesis 18:25, Jeremiah 31:35-37. Therefore, because God acts according to His nature He can be depended upon, and we can be sure there is order in His ways, Job 28:26, Jeremiah 5:22. The whole of God’s written instruction is a means of understanding the nature of God requires both of Him.

Obviously, God’s person is righteous, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 116:5, Romans 3:21-22, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:9, Revelation 16:5-7. God didn’t need to be made right in His person. He has always been righteous.

Since God acts according to His nature, He must act in accordance with His righteousness, Romans 1:16-17, 3:21. His righteousness requires Him to give eternal life to all who give allegiance to Him, “…so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 5:21. God doesn’t rescue the sinner because He is foremost merciful (Titus 3:5), but because He cannot overlook the grace and righteous requirement of His nature to keep His word, Romans 4:5.

Since God acts only in accordance to His nature, and His nature also lives inside of the New Covenant believer, the followers of God are to relate to right and wrong just as He does, Galatians 4:8-11, James 1:13, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 1:3-7. In fact, the Old Covenant believer should have also acted in accordance with the nature of God, Judges 5:10-11. If any person professed to having entered into a covenant with God, and their life was not characterized by His ways, the Jews questioned if that person had really entered into that covenant. Their behavior was interpreted as casting doubt upon their stated covenant or rightness before God. (That was the argument later used by Peter for New Covenant baptism, 1 Peter 3:21.)

For James and his audience, inconsistent behavior always justified or proved the validity of questioning a person’s covenant or rightness before God. They correctly believed that if someone was right before God, the “rightness” would be declared through the behavior of that person. To the Jew, the conclusion (rightness before God) must be supported by the facts (what you say and do), Deuteronomy 25:1. The two were inseparable.

James has only begun, and will emphatically prove his point as he continues to speak. I can hardly wait for you to see how that inseparable truth plays out as the issue in the letter from James.

If the character of God is not expressed through the anger coming from men, then it is obvious that the believer is to make a choice to put what remains of wickedness aside. James is teaching that a believer can do that. They can lay down the anger that comes from independence, casting if off and putting it away.

Filthiness is like having wax in the ear. It makes it tough to hear, Romans 1:18-21, 28-32. The filthiness of independence dishonors God, others and the believer. The way of independence is wicked, and it leads quickly to excess.

Oh, but hang on. James is not teaching the believer to try harder. The second half of the verse tells us that James understood how His brother, Jesus, lived as the god man! James believes that the way Jesus lived is available to every believer in Christ! Is James talking madness? No. If he were, he would be agreeing with what so many through the ages have thought he is telling the listener to do — follow a list of rules, and try harder. But, is that how Jesus lived? No. Look closely at the second half of James 1:21.

“In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Believers living independently of God can once again yield to the Father’s ways by making a choice to humble themselves before Him, James 1:21, 4:10. In humility, believers can now hear and know what to do with the message of the word implanted within them. That written word is alive (Hebrews 4:12), and contains the specifics of God for life, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, James 1:12. In making the choice to humble themselves and submit to the word implanted, believers can be rescued from sinning by that word at any point in time! Consider the following before you agree with what I just stated.

To further illustrate the conclusion of James, we need to remind ourselves again that he is talking to believers. Therefore, James is not talking about being born-again in Christ when he uses the word save.

The word saved in James 1:21 cannot be referring to being saved from the penalty of sin, the wrath of God, when a person physically dies, Romans 5:9. A believer will be saved from that in Christ.

Save cannot be referring to being saved from the presence of sin throughout eternity, Romans 5:10a, 2 Timothy 4:18. A believer will be saved from that in Christ.

Saved must be referring to what James has already stated about the normal Christian life in James 1:13-15. God’s word is implanted within the believer so that by appropriating it at any point in time, the believer can be saved from the control of the power of sin, James 1:15b, Romans 5:10b, 7:17; 1 Corinthians 1:18. The believer, while hearing and feeling the desires of the flesh for independence, does not have to be controlled by lust. God has made the way for the believer to be continually rescued from committing acts of sin (and the miseries that follow) by yielding their life to the instruction of His word on a moment-by-moment basis.

Leon Morris, in his work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Third Edition, September 1965, Page 286, encourages the same conclusion. “When St. James speaks of ‘the implanted word, which is able to save your souls’ (James 1:21), he appears to be thinking of a divine activity operative in salvation, and this thought is brought out (later) by St. Paul over and over.” The word implanted is not the word of faith leading to salvation (James 1:18), but the word of instruction seeking deep root in the heart of the believer!

Believers cannot apply the word if they do not continually expose themselves to it. For those receiving the letter of James, there was a point in time when these believers had done just that, James 1:19. Since they knew some truth, where did they go wrong? Answer: like Job, they lost their humility before God when the circumstances and emotions of life didn’t meet their expectation.

James said in humility receive the word. Humility is like a bridge joining information to application, Job, Proverbs 11:2, 15:33, 18:12, 29:23. To know things about God and then know what to do with the information are two different things in the life of a believer. The value of such humility is the message from Jesus, given through the washing of the disciple’s feet in the upper room, John 13:5-17.

The disciples spent most of three years with Jesus. They knew a lot about Him. Soon He was going to leave them, and they were going to have to practice what they had learned. But in order to continue in the works of Jesus, they needed continual understanding from the Father. That understanding requires humility before God (seen in how the Father had Jesus serve them that night), because there is only One who understands what to do with the information about Him. God does not share wisdom with proud people. James will further clarify the truth about humility in chapters 3 and 4.

As James speaks of being saved (James 1:21, 2:14), we can be sure he is addressing in the present tense the continual rescue of the believer from the act of committing sins and that he’s not referring to the initial experience of salvation in Christ. The message of God’s word in the believer’s heart can be heard and freely obeyed above circumstances, as well as the feelings and desires found in the soul, James 1:2-18. The word taking root also can save the believer from the pitfalls of trusting in earthy wealth (James 1:9-11), and cause us to put aside all confidence in filthiness and that which remains of wickedness, James 1:21.

James is good news.

Day Ten

James 1:22-25

  1. James begins verse 22 by telling the listener there is a contrast to what he has just spoken in verses 19-21. Summarize what has been said in verse 19-21.
  1. Read 1 Samuel 12:12-25. If believers are following the Lord, will that be proven through their actions? If faith is not proven through actions, what does James 1:22 teach that the believer has done? What does James 1:25 teach will happen to the believers whose faith is proven through their actions?
  1. The perfect law and the law of liberty (James 1:25) are synonymous with a phrase spoken by James in James 1:19-21. What is that phrase? Evaluate all three phrases and restate the meaning with your own phrase.
  1. Believers receiving this letter were allowing their circumstances and emotions to play out as deciding factors in their lives, James 1:2, 14. As a result, they were sinning, James 1:19-21. In that context, explain why James would state the word implanted is like a law of liberty.

 

(Page 34)

Day Twenty-Five

  1. If faith is to be completed (James 2:22), and the believer brought to maturity (James 1:2-4), of what must the works of the believer be an expression: faith in following the Law or faith in following God?
  1. How did the expressions of faith through Rahab add proof to what James has been saying about living according to the law of liberty, Joshua 2?
  1. Faith divorced from the present tense expression of God is just as lifeless as what, James 2:26?
  1. In your own words, give a sound definition of present tense justification as seen through the life of a believer. 

James 2:20-26

As James continues, please realize that he is not teaching about the initial act of receiving Jesus as the Messiah. In that initial act the believer is rescued from the penalty of sin, being no longer without hope and in wait of God’s wrath. Additionally, these verses in James are not about the divine act of a person being rescued throughout eternity from the presence of sin, to be always in the presence of God.

James is speaking of a present tense divine act of God at work designed to rescue the believer from the power of sin in this life. Please read that again. That has been his point all along. You will be challenged to better understand that more thoroughly through the balance of the teaching through James.

As I came to better understand the truth in the following verses, I had to unlearn some things. It took me a healthy amount of time in humility before the Lord to travel the distance between what I believed and what James is saying about justification.

Believers are splitting the same hair if they think faith and behavior are in opposition to one another. Faith divorced from behavior is barren — fruitless, unable to be touched or seen, James 2:17, 20, Hebrews 11. For example, did Abraham’s faith impact his actions, or the faith of Rahab impact her actions? The integrity of their faith was fully proved in the combination of their faith having full play over what they said and did. The proving happened as they related to right and wrong according to what God told them. That may seem like a mind full, but it gets us started towards the facet of justification prevailing in the mind of James. It is a facet easily recognized by his audience.

The truth of what James is saying about justification in James 2:20-26 does indeed connect to everything he has already said. For example, the believer is not to make expressing mercy their goal (James 2:8), yet mercy can be a demonstration of the Spirit at work through the faith of a believer, James 2:13. Stated differently no behavior is the goal, but behavior freely given over to God will freely express His life. In humility and according to God’s Spirit, you’ll better understand the depth of that statement a short time from now.

James draws upon a few of the scriptures regarding Abraham (Abram). James makes reference to Genesis 15 and 22, 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8. Genesis 15 will be the key passage for us to understand the remainder of the references.

Prior to preparing for this study I had concluded the years described in Genesis 11:31-14:24 were years where Abram often acted like a believer, even though he was only growing to become one. I based that conclusion on the fact that Abram’s salvation experience seems to be present tense in Genesis 15:6. After all, it is during the covenant conditions of Genesis 15 where the statement first appears concerning Abram, Then he believed in the Lord,” (emphasis mine). I have since learned I was wrong.

The following observation on Genesis 15:4-6 is recorded in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, © 1985, SP Publication, page 55. “Genesis 15:6… does not pinpoint Abram’s conversion. That occurred years earlier when he left Ur. (The form of the Hebrew word for believed shows that his faith did not begin after the events recorded in vv. 1-5.)”

The word for believed (Genesis 15:6) is speaking of a past experience when Abram’s faith began, that being between Genesis 11:31 and Genesis 12:4. It is during the years preceding Genesis 15 that the testimony of an immature faith is at work. Although immature, it is nevertheless faith often motivated by love and continuing to grow (James 1:1-4, 2:22) through many doubts. Abram continued to express doubt even after Genesis 15:6, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it,” Genesis 15:8.

Abram most surely believed in God by the time he left Haran, Genesis 12:1-4. That is implied by the obedience of Abram to the commands of God. For example, God told Abram to do two things, and Abram obeyed. “Go forth from your country” and “you shall be a blessing,” Genesis 12:1-2. Abram did as he was told: he left and he became a blessing, Genesis 12:5-9.

The initial motivation for Abram to follow God was by faith, and that faith in the seed to come (Genesis 3:15, Galatians 3:16) is what God counted as righteousness. The words found in Genesis 15:6 are inserted into the Genesis account at this point to be the explanation of Abram’s own faith in God as the foundation for a right standing with God, as well as his faith working through love being the right motive for why Abram yielded to the Father’s life in the covenant of Genesis 15:7-21.

It is certain that motive is always the main issue in God’s eyes, never the outcome.

(See Section Two appendix on Maturity.)

Abram, now counted by faith as right before God, will at times allow his faith to be on display as he himself yields to God by faith.  In yielding to God, Abram freely gives his words and actions over to God’s love for him and others. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.