Monday, December 09, 2013

James: Faith that works

"James" byJohann Christoph Weigel
Woodcut, 1695

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1:1-27

TO CHEW ON: "James, a bondservant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings." James 1:1

One of the things I do by habit when I pick up a new book is read the cover to get information about the author, the book's content, who thinks it's a good read, and why. Before I immerse myself in someone's thoughts, I want to be sure that I'm doing a wise thing by giving them access to my brain in such an intimate way.

As I look ahead on our Bible Reading Guide, I see that this week we'll be reading through the entire book of James. So today, we're going to take a quick look at the cover matter of this most practical of Bible books.

Title: The book is simply called The Epistle of James. A good subtitle might be: Faith that works. So we could call it The Epistle of James: Faith that Works.

Author: He calls himself simply James. Tradition ascribes the book's authorship to James the brother of Jesus. (And how suitable is it, to be reading a book by Jesus' brother in the month we celebrate His birth!)

James the brother of Jesus is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament as a church leader (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9). He didn't  always believe Jesus' claims, though. During Jesus' ministry, John tells us "...even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:3-5). It is thought that this is the James to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection, mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, because "Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers" are among the people waiting in the upper room for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14).

Cover blurb: My Bible's introductory study notes summarize the book's content in lovely dignified language:

"Rather than speculating or debating on religious theories, James directs his readers toward godly living. From beginning to end the mood of his letter is imperative. In 108 verses, 54 clear commands are given...The book's call for ethical living based on the gospel provides its relevance..." New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1749.

We could, of course, rephrase it in jazzed-up, 21st century, hook-the-reader style to say something like:

Tired of theories about how to live the Christian life? Want practical advice on how to live for God? Read this book! In only 108 verses you'll get 54 clear commands that will help you grow socially and spiritually. If you want to learn to walk instead of talk your way to heaven, James is your epistle!

  • J. Ligon Duncan: "Great book" (source).
  • John Piper: "...what James was trying to get across to his churches: Loveless faith is absolutely useless; and anybody that comes along and says,'We are justified by faith alone, and so you don't have to be a loving person to go to heaven' is not telling the truth." By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: (source).
  • Me: I love this book. It is greatly highlighted in my Bible.

Your takeaway today: Turn to James 1 in your physical Bible. If you have underlined or highlighted verses in it, re-read them as your devotional thought(s) for today. If you haven't underlined any verses in James 1, grab a red pencil or highlighter and go through the chapter, looking for at least one thought you can underline and take into your day.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the variety of Bible authors, especially for Your brother James and the practical book he wrote. Help me to put its principles into practice in my life today. Amen.

MORE: Sermons on James

Want to immerse yourself in some great sermons on James. This James - New Testament Sermon Index will deliver to you hours' worth of reading / listening in expository sermons from the Epistle of James.

Bible Drive-Thru


  1. Thanks for these significant points including:

    "Loveless faith is absolutely useless; and anybody that comes along and says 'We are justified by faith alone, and so you don't have to be a loving person to go to heaven' is not telling the truth."

    Isn't Dr. Piper, an eminent defender of the Reformation, implying this?:

    Faith + Love = Justification.

    However, Dr. Martin Luther stated, "the Church stands or falls" by sola fide. If one adds any work, even love, to faith alone, isn't he undermining the Reformation's foundation?

    As Dr. Noll wrote, perhaps the Reformation is over:

    Thank you,


  2. Hi Allan,

    Thanks for your comment. I see what you're saying.

    Perhaps more context would explain Dr. Piper's position more clearly. This is a quote from the same article, the section that just precedes the bit I included:

    "But does Paul then just lay the works of love on top of that freedom as a layer of legal duty? You got a good start through justification by faith alone, but now there is another way, besides faith, to do what you ought to do and become a loving person?

    Faith Works through Love

    No. Look at Galatians 5:6, a crucial text in seeing Paul and James in harmony with each other. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." So when Paul dealt with the abuse of his doctrine of justification by faith alone, he said: It's not added works like circumcision that will win God's favor. What then? It is "faith working through love." Notice very carefully what he says. What counts with God? "Faith." But what kind of faith? Faith that "works through love." He does not say that what counts with God is "faith" plus a layer of loving works added to faith. He says that what counts with God is the kind of faith that by its nature produces love. But it is faith that gives us our right standing with God. The love that comes from it only shows that it is, in fact, real living, justifying faith.

    Now that, I think, is what James... etc."

    I'm not familiar with the Noll book you reference - though it looks like an interesting read!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...