I’ve been entrenched in the study of James. Our church is doing a holistic approach to the book. Because I’m a teacher to our junior high students, I’m studying beyond what is available to me on Sundays (which, by the way, we all should anyway… but that’s not my point).
It’s been a rough few months.
I like James. I’ve always liked James. I’m a black-and-white kind of girl. I like rules that tell me what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.
But then again, James is a tough guy. When I read Romans 1:17 (the verse that turned Martin Luther’s head and heart, allowing him to see the God whom he could love) and then skip over to James 2:22-24, I’m conflicted. Painfully so.
The righteous shall live by faith…but faith without works is dead, and man is justified by works and not by faith alone…
Wait, what happened? This is the same Bible, is it not? Paul and James followed the same Jesus, did they not?
You know what, I’ll let you grapple with it…because that’s not really the point of this entry. I will say that context is everything, so keep that in mind. I will also say that Paul points to agreement with James in his many other writings. He doesn’t state it the same way, but it is there (Ephesians 2:8-10; don’t leave verse 10 out!).
Here’s what I am writing about today: I am startled to see how much I get James, the man. He sticks out as an oddity–something I can totally identify with. Amen.
He seems to be the stern face preaching works to a crowd dancing in the streets to a rhythm of grace.
“But look,” he says, “you’re dancing carefree, and yet over there–you’ve just mistreated someone because they couldn’t pay the pew tax. And you walked right by that naked boy. What of the penniless widow? Did you notice her at all while your hands were lifted high?”
Huh. Maybe he has a point.
“Love your freedom,” he continues. “It gives the law LIFE and PURPOSE. So, USE IT. If you don’t, then you’re not really free. You’re simply oblivious.”
See, the thing about James is that he knew dead works. He knew legalism. He lived without compassion, clinging to his Jewish upbringing with an iron grip, while at the same time he mocked the Messiah in his own home (you did know he was Jesus’s half-brother, right?).
James also knew great grace. Jesus has a reputation for redeeming those who had mocked him not very long before. Praise God.
Perhaps James is a problem to us because when truth was revealed to him and he believed, we expect him to let go of that Jewish upbringing, steeped long and deep in the law.
Maybe it’s the middle child in him (and this is why I can relate?). The unique position to see two very different perspectives–the somber authority and responsibility of the oldest, and the carefree, fly-into-the-wind-and-embrace-life attitude of the youngest.
Responsibility. Freedom. Law. Grace.
James sees both sides. He held onto both. Perhaps because seeing the TRUTH gave PURPOSE to the law.
That’s the thing about freedom. It’s supposed to have purpose.