We recently learned about the power of one person’s faith lived out in our world. Since writing that post, God’s been bombarding me with verses from the Book of James! James focuses on the interaction of our faith and works and gives practical ways to live as Christians. Even though this book has only 5 chapters, I’m going to break it into a two-part study.
Who Wrote the Book of James?
Seems like a trick question, right? There is some debate because Jesus had two apostles named James, but neither one is a strong candidate as the author. The Romans killed one, and the other has little written about him. We see James, the brother of Jesus, however, mentioned significantly in the New Testament. (This was news to me!)
Jesus’ brother James was not a follower of Jesus when He was alive. But he later believed and became an important leader in the Jerusalem church.
Paul wrote upon his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian– “I saw none of the other apostles- only James, the Lord’s brother.” Gal 1:19 NIV.
What is the Book of James About?
James leads us on a journey of how to live out our Christian life. He was writing to First Century Jewish Christians and the same principles apply to Christians today. It focuses on practical actions and answers to life’s problems that we will encounter. James tells us we can’t just talk about our Christian faith- we have to show it with our actions. Some call it the “how-to” book on Christian living.
James- Chapter One
James wastes no time getting down to business. He was writing to support the scattered and persecuted early believers. James wanted to encourage them in their faith during their difficult church times (and this year, perhaps??)
He gets right to the heart of their issues-
Trials and Temptations
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” 1:2-3.
I don’t know about you, but this year has been chock full of trials. James’ words could not be more relevant to us today!
Notice James says “when” you face trials, not “if” you do. Therefore, we should expect them, and know how to deal with them in a positive way.
None of us are immune. We all experience trials- we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. But instead of asking God “Why is this happening” we need the strength and faith to say, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” This turns us away from the worry and stress and towards His peace.
The “pure joy” James mentions is not happiness in our trial, but the perseverance and wisdom we learn through our hardship. It’s also the joy of comfort that God is present with us in all our trials and that we are never alone.
What is your usual response to trials? What gets in your way of seeing trials as opportunities for growth?
Understanding our trials and sufferings of life is hard! But James tells us we can ask God all our questions. He doesn’t want us stumbling through our trials. He wants to walk through them with us.
“If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” 1:5-6a.
Wisdom is not just facts and information. Biblical wisdom is knowledge with the perspective of discerning what God wants you to do. James says if we need help in making wise decisions, ask Him- He knows best.
Stand strong through your trials by focusing on what you know and believe. Jesus promises, “everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 NIV. When our faith is strong, we can have all we need. The building blocks of a strong faith are in Scripture. We need to read it to know it.
What steps do you take when faced with a trial or storm? What gets in your way of receiving His wisdom?
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” vv 13-14.
James wants us to know God never tempts us- Tested, yes; tempted, no. What is the difference between a test and temptation? Testing is designed to help you understand your dependence on God and bring you closer to Him. Temptations work just the opposite- they draw you away from Him.
God would never try to entice us to sin! That comes from Satan, who prowls around waiting to attack us in our weaknesses.
Everyone faces temptation that leads to sin. We need to take responsibility for our actions, confess them, and ask for forgiveness.
We can’t give Satan all the credit for our sins… our own desires draw us away from God. Our fallen nature is something we will always have to fight against.
We can resist temptation by knowing His Word and choose to obey it with guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit. (Easier said than done, I know…)
What desires do you fight against? Is confession and asking for forgiveness a regular part of your prayer time?
Thinking about confession of our sin can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, which may be why we put it on the back burner. Here’s a post that can help: Spiritual Refreshment through Confession of Sin
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James’ Definition of Pure Religion
James ends his first chapter with helpful and practical applications for applying what we read into how we live. He makes an important point in verse 22:
•“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
We need to “look intently” (v25) into God’s Word, but from our reading and hearing should come application. The Pharisees knew Scripture backwards and forwards, but it was just head knowledge. That’s not enough. He calls us to do what it says. James considers our Christian walk “worthless” v26 if it’s not expressed in how we live and how we treat others.
•He then tells us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” v19. We need to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues v26. (Controlling our speech is a theme James explores later as well.)
•And finally, if our religion is “pure,” in God’s eyes, we are “to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” v27a. There are endless ways we can care for them and the less fortunate than ourselves. They are all around us.
We need to have the eyes and ears of Jesus. Serving others in His name puts our faith into practice.
Are any of the above difficult to implement in your own life?
Are there ways you feel you could be a better example?
Prejudice in James’s day related to one’s nationality, status, and religious background. Jesus came to break down all those walls and unite us. But the early church was having difficulty with this idea.
James discusses favoritism that was being shown to the rich. Discriminating against a poor man and showing partiality to the rich was inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings. It showed a lack of mercy towards the less fortunate and may have stemmed from selfish motives.
In Christ, we are equal and one:
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” 2:1 NIV.
God isn’t partial to the rich, and He condemns partiality of any kind:
“… it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” 2:8-9.
May we always remember that God has accepted each of us and wants us to extend that mercy to each person we meet.
What is your response when you encounter favoritism/discrimination?
Faith and Deeds
James goes on to discuss the relationship between faith and works. You can read his full text with explanations and examples here: 2:14-26.
I distinctly remember the first time I read James’s statement on faith and deeds: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead.” 2:17 NIV.
Wait- was he saying that we are saved by doing good works? Absolutely not. What is faith and good works? Let’s clarify…
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10- “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
•Our salvation comes through the grace of God and faith in Him.
•Salvation is a gift; it’s not accomplished by anything we do ourselves. Otherwise, we would be in charge of our own salvation and could brag about it.
•After we believe and are a new creation in Christ, God’s plan for us includes working for Him. Our acts of service are to bring Him glory and honor and point others to Him. They are proof that our faith is active and real.
Paul and James are in complete agreement! A living faith and the works that flow from it are evidence of our new life in Christ.
How does your faith naturally express itself?
Next week: Part 2!
Would you like to dig deeper into this mini study of James? Click on the image below for a free, printable Bible Study (contains Parts One and Part Two which we will study next week.)
8 thoughts on “Faith and Works: Lessons from the Book of James”
Les Feldick is a very good Bible study teacher. He is from Oklahoma and is a cattke rancher but knows his bible inside and out. Just go to LesFeldick.org and you can see when he is on in your area. We live in Pa. so we get him at 6;30 a.m. You will love him.
Oh my goodness – He’s 93 years old?! What a wonderful example to us “old folks”! I will be reading his material- thanks!
Yes, we old folks just love him. We have all his study books and all of his DVD’s. If we missed a lesson, we can easily go back and listen to him. He teaches different books in different areas. Let me know if you have found him. His whole family is involved in his ministry.
Yes, thank you, I did! What a treasure of resources!
This was something new to me….that Jesus had two apostles named James, neither of which were doubtfully the author of the book of James, but Jesus’ brother James IS the likely one? Though he didn’t follow Jesus as a believer when Jesus was alive?
Yes, Jesus half brother was the author. My husband is a retired Pastor and we are both studying the book of James with Les Feldick. He is a well known Bible study teacher.
I will have to check him out! I studied James years ago, but didn’t remember him being Jesus’ brother 🙂
Yes, 2 James! One is the son of Zebedee, the other son of Alphaeus- sometimes called James the Less (or big James and little James in the chosen:) John 7:5 “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”