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Insights #1 October 4, 2014
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Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
James, the Lord's Brother
For the week of October 4, 2014

 
During this last quarter of the year we will study the book of James. In this book we will observe some of the historical circumstances including life and faith within early Christianity. James wrote “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad.” This cannot refer to Israelites “according to the flesh” because most of them did not convert to Christianity. Paul addressed those who are true Israelites who were ones “outwardly; . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart” (Rom 2:28, 29). The Israel of God is made up of those who believe God’s promises of salvation in Christ, for “if ye are Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed” (Gal 3:29). The letter was addressed to Christians wherever they were then and where they are today.

James became an influential leader in the early church. He is listed as one of three leaders (“pillars”) mentioned by Paul in Gal 2:9. He was well known and had the authority to send this letter to the churches. James introduced himself modestly. In his introduction, he did not indicate his status in the church or that he was the Lord’s brother.

From the letter’s content we know that James’ concern for the church was with growth in spiritual maturity and the evidence of faith, in other words – sanctification.

The name James here is actually “Jacob.” It is not certain why the English translators chose “James” rather than “Jacob.” Bible translations in other languages tend to use the transliterated name from the actual Hebrew “Jacob.” Some commentators suggest that King James of England desired to see his name in the English translation (see J. R.  Blue in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Editors: J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck). This may or may not be accurate as there is no evidence for or against such a consideration.

Luther’s preface to the first edition (1522) of the New Testament referred to James as “an epistle of straw,” because it did not meet his canonical criterion of “announcing Christ” (Religious and Theological Abstracts (2012). Myerstown, PA). However, he did not repeat this negative in his later editions.

At first, it seemed to Luther that this letter contradicted the writings of Paul in that a person is justified by faith only and not by works. However, the perspectives from which Paul and James wrote were different. These men addressed two different sets of circumstances. Paul presented justification by faith in Christ alone in contrast with justification by law-keeping. James, on the other hand, wrote that obedience is the evidence of justification by faith.

One of the illustrations James presents is that of devils who believe but can never be justified by their faith because it is merely an intellectual acknowledgement of historical facts about Jesus. Demons believe about Christ, but they remain demons still. They are not justified by their belief, because it works no change of character. Theirs is a dead faith.

In heaven the fallen angels turned from Christ and went so far as to be incapable of any heart response of appreciation for Him. James’ argument is that the demons can never be justified by their faith. Ellen White concurs: “We read that the devils ‘believe, and tremble;’ but their belief does not bring them justification…” (ST, Nov 3, 1890). All they can do is tremble, and that’s more than what some humans do!

The last illustration of justification by faith in chapter two is in the last verse. It reads: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” E. J. Waggoner commented on this verse as follows: “A man does not breathe in order to show that he lives, but because he is alive. He lives by breathing. His breath is his life. So a man cannot do good works in order to demonstrate that he has faith, but he does good works because the works are the necessary result of faith” (“The Present Truth,” [United Kingdom] June 21, 1894).

Works are not merely attached to faith, but they proceed from it. Some of the church members addressed by James were like the devils who had a belief about God, but since works of obedience did not come from their belief, it was not genuine faith. A profession of faith in Christ which is not accompanied by obedience, is worthless. Paul wrote that “faith works by love” (Gal 5:6). And he began and ended his letter to the Romans with “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Paul and James were on the same page regarding justification by faith and its consequent – works of obedience.

Throughout his letter, James addressed issues regarding justification by faith in Christ that had been corrupted by both demons and humans who claimed to believe, but were devoid of a heart response of faith and gratitude to God. They had no love to God, nor to others.

James understood this experientially. Originally he had an intellectual historical faith about Jesus, for the two were in the same human family. Two gospel writers – John and Mark – reveal how the unconverted James, along with his brothers, related to Jesus during His earthly ministry. They did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Shortly after Jesus began His public ministry they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). However, James went from that fatal unbelief to a justifying faith in Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. This experience came to him sometime after the crucifixion of Christ, but before Pentecost.

James, along with his brothers, were in the upper room with other believers “in prayer and supplication” during the 10 days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The only thing that happened before this prayer session was that Christ had been crucified, buried and resurrected. That made the difference for James. He had been an enemy, but was changed by the grace of God. “The cross stands alone, a great center in the world. It does not find friends, but it makes them” (RH Sept. 29, 1891). James became a faithful follower of Christ and consequently became an influential leader in the church.

It was James who presided over the first general conference of the early church when its members were asked to settle a controversy between Paul’s preaching of righteousness by faith and the Pharisees’ insistence that in order to be saved a person must first be circumcised (Acts 15:1-29). The men in that conference agreed with Paul. James then wrote and sent the decision of that “general conference” to the church in Antioch where the “Pharisees who believed” had stirred up the controversy.

Consider the theological climate today within Christianity. A considerable amount of paper and ink have been expended both by Catholic and Protestant writers on the subject of justification by faith. Catholic theologians are clear on the original Protestant understanding of the doctrine – that justification comes by faith in Christ alone. This is what they opposed five hundred years ago and still do today. They insist that in order to be justified one must partake of their “sacramental graces.” They rely heavily on a misunderstanding of James for their position. Protestantism of today follows the papal lead in understanding justification.

Protestant theologians do not enjoy consensus on how to interpret the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. Consequently, Catholic scholars are making strident and critical advances with their doctrine of justification within Protestant circles. It appears that discussion on this topic will not close any time soon. This may be a good thing because there is need for more, not less, clarity. There is a clarifying message for these last days. It is found in Rev 14:6-12. This is the message of justification by faith for the last days and which “is the third angel's message in verity” (RH April 1, 1890).

James was never against justification by faith in Christ alone, but he was against those who boasted that they were justified by faith; then lived and acted like devils. He argued that the genuine article of justification by faith is always, always, accompanied by works as evidence of is truthfulness. As stated above “works are the necessary result of faith.”
-Jerry Finneman