II JAMES 15
THE SOCIAL PERSON VERSUS THE FOLLOWER OF CHRIST
As we have said before, James’ central concern in this book is the problem of temptation. However, he does not see temptation as just the outer force that urges us to do something wrong, or not to do something we should do. To James, temptation is the tendency we all have to simply give in to the normal kind of behavior we would follow if we were not Christians. For instance, it is very natural for us humans to respect people who have achieved a certain status in life, and who are therefore important people. However, James argues that a Christian must see all people as Jesus sees them, and that ignores their social status and makes them all equally important in His sight. This takes much thought and effort for the Christian to follow in the footsteps of the Master. It is that concern of James’ that I wish to examine in this essay.
Realizing the vast change that took place in his own life, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, James is trying to make it very clear that becoming a follower of Jesus is not just a change of mind about Him, but a complete transformation of one’s whole life. As one of the brothers of Jesus, who did not believe on Him during their years together as a family, his realization of Jesus’ true identity has now enveloped his whole life, and becomes the single focus of everything he does.
James’ emphasis on “temptation” directs us to the real problem that man faces in his desire to please God and be justified. The root of all sin is the weakness of the earth-man, and the demands of his wants and desires to be satisfied. All the way from physical desires to pride and self-esteem, the earth creature demands attention and satisfaction. It is impossible for one to resist all of the pressures to satisfy these creature urges. Even Paul recognized that he was unable to completely keep himself free from human mistakes. He said the answer was in accepting the gift of God in Jesus Christ the Lord.
But, James realized that there were two kinds of people who accepted Jesus Christ. There were those who joined His club, which some people called the church, and followed all its rituals and rules.
However, in their daily lives, they did not do anything bad, but they followed the general patterns that the rest of their peers did in striving for success and acceptance. Their motivations and actions were not greatly different from what they were before they became “Christians”. They only added membership and a set of religious activities to their life. James was addressing these people when he said, “Show me your faith by your works”. In other words, if you have true faith in Jesus Christ, it should change not just your religious actions but the way you live your life…the way you treat your fellowman…the way you set your priorities…the value you place on what you have and what you aspire to be. Your earth-man’s vanity and pride become humility, born of the realization that you are a sinner, and must depend on Him for any hope of justification and eternal life. Being a member of the church means being a member of His family, and feeling a unity and love that only family members ever feel.
It is this definition of “faith” that James is putting his stress on, and it is this kind of faith that both James and Paul mean when they teach justification by “faith”. Paul calls it “faith showing itself in love”. James says that it is a faith that is dead if it does not change all the motives and actions of your life. Being a member of some church is one thing, but being a member of the Lord’s family is something quite different. One of them demands certain rituals, the other demands walking with the King twenty-four hours of every day.