Monday, May 23, 2011

James 2: Favoritism and Faith

Chapter 2 of James contains some pretty deep stuff.  Here are my attempts to summarize...

The first half talks about favoritism and judgment. I found this highly convicting. How quickly I judge people based on outward appearance. I'm drawn to people who are popular, charismatic, beautiful, intelligent and charming. These are the social "riches" in our culture today. And while I may not be outwardly mean, I do tend to avoid or ignore people who I find socially awkward or less attractive, those who are socially "poor". I hate to admit this, but it is true. James admonishes people like me, who favor the rich over the poor. The thing that brings us back to equal ground, is what all of us have in common, rich, poor, you and I: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (2:10). I am a rotten sinner, no matter how good I appear, and therefore, I have no right to judge others based on their appearance. Man. So much harder to actually live out!

The second half is where the big meaty stuff is (as if the 1st half wasn't already pretty heavy!)  This is the famous "faith without works" passage! It's a complex concept, and I definitely don't claim to understand it completely. BUT, I think there is also something simple about this: Faith that is not demonstrated by action is not real faith. Verbal profession without any consequential change in lifestyle, is meaningless and empty. It's like having a car but never getting in, starting the ignition, and driving it. What is the point? The engine may as well be dead.

The tricky part is when 2:24 says "You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone." Doesn't this contradict what Paul says in Romans and elsewhere in his letters? Doesn't the new covenant eradicate our obligation to the law? No and Yes. James here is talking about actions that are a response to genuine belief and profession of Christ. He never says that faith is not necessary. It is. It's completely necessary and essential. The kind of works that Paul says is meaningless, is the kind that replaces faith. Doing a bunch of dutiful, obedient actions in hopes that you can earn your way to salvation is what Paul criticizes. I think Paul would be the first one to agree with James that real faith means a faith that is demonstrative and life-changing.

This definitely doesn't do justice to the 'faith and works' discourse, but I hope it was at least partially helpful. The takeaway point for me is that I need to ask myself, "What am I doing that shows real faith?" If I have a hard time seeing actions in my life, why is that? Have I been leaning on an inaccurate view of 'faith alone'?

Some food for thought.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

James 1

James has been quite a challenge so far! After a week of personal study, I kind of realize why I hardly ever hear it preached on or study it in group Bible studies. Some commentaries I've read have said that certain scholars think there is no real clear theology in James. It's important though, to note that James was likely writing to Christian Jews who already had a pretty solid basis of theology. His focus landed more on practical living, as in, knowing what faith looks like and feels like. In some ways, this can be more challenging than talking about God theoretically isn't it?

For example, in the first chapter, one thing that James talks about is anger, speech and listening. These are 3 things that I know I deal with each and every day of my life. I'm much more prone to quickly get angry than to quickly listen. I say things that I really shouldn't. It's only natural, right? And yet according to James, it has everything to do with my faith. Being a 'doer' of God's Word means being slow to get angry, and being quick to listen. Lord, help me be a doer and not just a sayer or thinker.

So, I know that 'righteousness' can't really be measured. Because compared to God, our righteousness = 0. But I thought it might be fun/insightful to create 'infographics' based on what I'm learning in James. Here are a couple from chapter 1:

click to enlarge

Monday, May 9, 2011


Something I miss about being on campus staff is having a good source of accountability to do consistent, in-depth Bible study. As I leaned towards using most of my time on campus working with small group leaders, I used my own personal time in Scripture to prepare and know the passages that the leaders would be leading. I've had some pretty great times in both Hebrews and Luke because of that. I have grown so much in my understanding and love for God's Word.

My first year in Madison I was not participating in any group Bible study, and because of that my own quiet times suffered. This year I made an intentional effort to rejoin Bible Study Fellowship, as well as a Bible study group through my church. It has been a great year of studying Isaiah in BSF and Daniel in my church group.

Now that the summer is here, BSF is ending and my church group will meet less often. I really don't want that to affect being in God's Word on a daily basis! So I've decided to study the book of James this summer, or at least the beginning of this summer since it's only 5 chapters.

I'll try to post some updates on what I'm learning and thinking as I study through it. It should be a good study... I haven't heard James preached on much, nor have I ever studied it closely. Looking forward to getting to know James as well as learn what God has to say through his letter!