Today I read two epistles, James and Jude. Both of these men are believed to be brothers of Jesus. In Matthew 13:55 we learn that Jesus had at least four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas and that they didn’t believe in Him during His earthly ministry (John 7:5). Things obviously changed after the resurrection, as they both became leaders in the church in Jerusalem.
If you were Jesus’ sibling, wouldn’t you be tempted to claim that relationship, so it gave weight and importance to your words? Instead, we see real humility as both James introduces himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and Jude calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.”
In reading through James twice, it seems his theme is that as professing believers, our lives should back up what we claim with our mouth. This letter would have been circulated and read to the believers scattered because of persecution. Facing persecution would have brought the temptation to conform to the world around them, so James addresses several convicting topics. Human nature hasn’t changed, and his letter is so practical for us today. He urges, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (1:22/NIV). He repeats this same theme in 2:14-26 as he tells us that “faith without works is dead,” and that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” He is not preaching a works salvation; he is stressing the important fact that faith without the evidence of a changed life is no faith at all.
James touches on several topics where our faith should be evident: our tongue (be slow to speak, do not slander, do not swear, don’t pray with selfish motives), our money (use it to care for the poor and not to grow rich and complacent and selfish), our personal holiness (avoid immorality and perversion, purify our hearts, and our attitudes toward others (don’t show favoritism, don’t be proud or judgmental). He reminds us, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (4:17)
James’ letter is a call to accountability. What do we say we believe that isn’t backed up by our actions? If an unbeliever examined our lives, would they see evidence of our faith clearly, or would they be confused by our willingness to compromise in how we talk, what we spend our money on, and how little or much we avoid what the Bible clearly defines as sin?
What’s the takeaway for us? We need to ask God to examine our hearts for any deceptive beliefs that are obscuring the message of the gospel. When He shows us, we must be willing to make the changes necessary to show that our faith is real, and is a living faith that leads to eternal life.