James, Lesson 3 (Chapter 2): Faith is impartial

This section of James differs from what we have seen so far.  This section begins with words of censure, which James further develops.

Read James 2:1

–          What is James calling Jesus?


Galatians 3:28: [Concerning salvation] There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

Colossians 3:11: [Concerning salvation] In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Romans 10:12: [Concerning salvation] There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

–          Discuss: From whom is a person’s dignity and worth derived?  Tie that in with the idea of being impartial.


Read James 2:2-4

James is addressing how Christians treat the rich and poor differently when they gather for worship.  James used the word “synagogue” to describe the worship assembly (as opposed to ekklesia, congregation).  This is the only time in the entire New Testament where synagogue is used to describe a Christian assembly.

–          What does this say about the first readers of the book of James?


–          Giving people preferential treatment based on wealth is a sin-based distinction.  Discuss how this violates the unity, the oneness, we are to have in Christ.  (Recall the idea of not being double-minded, or double-souled, when it came to prayer.)


Read James 2:5-7

1 Corinthians 1:26-29: Brothers, consider your calling: By worldly standards, not many are wise, not many powerful, and not many are of noble birth.  Instead, God has chosen what the world considers foolish to shame the wise.  God has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong.  God has chosen what the world considers insignificant and despised–what is viewed as nothing–to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing.  So, no one may boast in God’s presence.

–          We can infer from the text that the first Christians were mostly what, rich or poor?


–          Which worldview was shaping the first Christians, the world’s or God’s?


–          What is the point of verse 5?


–          What does verse 7 tell us about those who were in positions of power back then?


Read James 2:8-13

The “Royal Law”

Here, James affirms Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love is the fundamental attitude required toward all, according to the royal law.  This is the law of the one true king, Jesus Christ, which is why it is the “royal law.”

Love, of course, cannot be coerced by the threats of the Law; it can only be elicited by God’s love in the Gospel.  So, although James used the term “law,” he used it broadly.

–          What does James call partiality?


–          How does James counteract the thinking, “Well, partiality is not a big deal; it’s a small sin”?


The “Law of Liberty” Redux

Romans 3:27: Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.

In the last lesson, we came across the “law of liberty” in James 1:27.  That’s where James described the Gospel freedom that moves the person into being a “doer of the word.”  In this section, James uses the same phrase: “law of liberty.”  Here, he brings out the principle that a Christian will be judged in line with the “law of liberty,” which moves him to “so speak and so act” (2:12).

James is using the word “law” in a characteristically un-Lutheran way.  We usually use “law” in a more narrow sense: what we do.  Yet, James uses “law” more broadly.  If we don’t understand how James uses “law,” then we will misunderstand what he is saying.

Romans 1:17 says, “In it [the Gospel], God’s righteousness is being revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  Note the righteousness that God gives us is in the present tense.  God keeps revealing the righteousness we need.  The righteousness He provides in Christ sets us free from the curse and control of sin, from the fear of death, from the devil’s power, and from having to keep the law’s demands to earn God’s favor.

That’s the “law of liberty,” which moves us to “so speak and so act.”  If it were not so, then it would simply be law without liberty, without freedom.

–          Discuss.



In verse 13, there is no “and” or “yet” (kai) in the Greek between the first and second halves of the verse.  James is not contrasting judgment and mercy, or contradicting the first half of the verse with the second.  He is stating two realities:

  1. Judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy.
  1. Mercy is triumphing over judgment.

–          Who is described as the “one who has shown no mercy”?


–          For whom is “mercy triumphing over judgment”?


–          Is this “mercy triumphing over judgment” an ongoing reality?


Read James 2:14-16

–          If someone has faith but has no response of faith, that is, Christian good works, what kind of faith is that?


–          In short, what is dead faith?


Read James 2:18-26

–          What point is James making by saying, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe–and shudder!”?


–          Why kind of belief is that?


Excursus: Justified by works and not by faith alone

The Apostle Paul says, “For we hold that someone is justified by faith apart from works of the law” [Romans 3:28].  So, if James’ use of “justify” has the same meaning as Paul’s use of “justify,” then Paul and James are contradicting each other.

The Greek word for “justify” is dikiaoo.  The main idea behind dikiaoo is righteous.  To understand the normal semantic range for dikiaoo, we turn to the 4th Bishop of Rome, Clement, in his letter to the congregation atCorinth, which he wrote in 96 AD.

We read in 1 Clement 30:3, “Let us be justified by works and not by words.”  Clement wrote that to encourage the Corinthians to be humble, not to boast.  He encouraged each person to let his praise come from God and others, not himself.

A little later, Clement stated the same idea using different words: “Let the wise man show his wisdom, not in words, but in works.  Let the humble man not testify to his own humility, but let him leave it to others to testify on his behalf” [1 Clement 38:2].   In Clement’s words against boasting, the question was not how someone became righteous, but how he showed that righteousness to others.  Here we see that “justify” in that usage meant “show to be righteous.”

We also read in 1 Clement 32:4: “We, having been called through God’s will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom, understanding, piety, or works that we do in holiness of heart, but through faith.”

Clement says that Christians should be justified by works.  Then, he says that Christians are not justified by anything they do but through faith.  Does Clement contradict himself, all within a few chapters?  No, in one use of dikiaoo, Clement means “show to be righteous.”  In the other, he means to be “made righteous” or “declared righteous.”  In Clement, we see two differing meanings of dikiaoo.  So, in Romans, Paul uses one meaning, and in James, we see another in use.




Summary of James 2

James starts out the chapter saying that Christians are not to practice partiality.  James uses a negative example from the life of the congregation to show how partiality is taking place (vs. 2-4).  He then follows that by relating to them how God deals with the poor (vs. 5-7).  Partiality is then viewed in the light of the “royal law” and shown to be a sin that brings about God’s judgment (vs. 8-13).

James then deals very practically with this basic theological issue–the relationship of works to the Christian faith.  He concludes that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (vs. 14-17).  James then demonstrates that truth using Old Testament Scripture.  Faith which is only assent to a true theological statement is not enough (vs. 18-20).  In other words, intellectual assent is not faith (although, where possible, faith does have intellectual assent).  The concrete example James uses is Abraham.  His offering of Isaac was a work that followed his faith: he “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (vs. 18-24).  James also uses another example: Rahab.  Through such examples, James brought the point home–a living faith is lived out in one’s life.  It’s that simple. (vs. 25-26)


 Click here to go the next lesson.