Monday, September 19, 2011

Do James and Paul Have Conflicting Views of the Law, Faith and Works? (Part 1)

Reading: James 1  
Martin Luther thought the epistle of James should be left out of the canon. This was due to the perception that James and Paul had conflicting views of faith and works. Regardless of how we understand James, I don't think we need to conclude that his writings were at odds with Paul, even if at first glance they may appear to be. I do wonder, however, if we have been reading James a little too much like Paul, or as if he were answering the same questions as Paul, and therefore may be stuck in how we read the answers. In this devotional I want to look at how James and Paul may well be perfectly agreed in their view of law, faith and works.
In the first verse, James informs us who he is writing to (James 1:1): to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. At the time of this writing, James could not have been writing to Israelite believers from the twelve tribes that had been scattered among the nations because ten, if not eleven, of the tribes had long since disappeared (since the Assyrians took them into captivity). The Jews of Jesus' time and following were called Jews because they were from Judah, which consisted of two tribes.
We do know that James was writing believers (James 2:1), so in what sense was he writing to the twelve tribes? The term, twelve tribes, was an expression that would come to represent Israel. James, like John the apostle and Paul, used the expression the twelve tribes to refer to the church. In fact, this goes back to Jesus, who said the twelve apostles would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Of course, they were apostles over the church.
John communicates the same concept in Revelation 7 where he hears the description of the twelve tribes of Israel – a perfectly complete nation of twelves tribes with twelve thousand members of each tribe. This would be impossible at the time John wrote Revelation since the tribes had long since vanished. So John looks to see this nation and what he sees reveals just how the tribes would be regathered: I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9) He heard about the twelve tribe nation of Israel that needed to be gathered, and he saw them gathered...from every nation, tribe, people and language. He saw the church!
Isaiah spoke of the regathering of the nation of Israel as a regathering that would include gentiles (for one of many examples see Isaiah 19:24). James is writing to the Israel of God, that is, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. (For Paul's understanding of who the descendants of Abraham are, the inheritors of the covenant, see Galatians 3:28-29; 6:16.)
James view of who this nation is, has been transformed and so has his view of the law. In James 1:25, he refers to the perfect law that gives freedom. What is this perfect law? Is it the law of Moses? After all in James 2:10-11, he refers to the law and then quotes from the ten commandments. So are the ten commandments the perfect law that gives freedom? Or, is the Mosaic law the perfect law that gives freedom? I don't believe so. In fact, the text tells us what this perfect law that gives freedom is.
18He chose to give us birth through the word (logos) of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created....21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word (logos) planted in you, which can save you. 22Do not merely listen to the word (logos), and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word (logos) but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:18-25)
What is “the word (logos) of truth” by which God “gave us birth”? The Gospel! (See also Ephesians 1:13, Colossians 1:5.) This is the Gospel that was planted in us by the sower and can save us. And it is the Gospel which we are to, “do what it says.” (See also Matthew 7:24.) (For more on a common misconception about law and Gospel read What is the Difference Between Law and Gospel). The Gospel is the perfect law that gives freedom. The perfect law that gives freedom is used as a synonym for the word (logos) planted in us, which can save us and which we must do what it says. The Mosaic law cannot save us; only the Gospel can!
Like Paul, James understood that we are not under law, but under Christ and the Gospel (Romans 6:14; 7:4). Both are calling us to an obedience that comes through faith (Romans 1:5) in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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