Martin Luther didn’t like the Book of James. He wrote:
Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the Gospel about it.
Oops! Include Martin Luther in the long list of followers that missed it – at least on one occasion. Martin Luther was a brilliant scholar, and while he said that James has nothing about the Gospel in it, you would think that he would put the following two verses together:
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters, hasn’t God chosen the poor in the world’s eyes to those who are rich in faith. James 2:5
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Jesus proclaims His job description in Luke 4, right after he returned from His temptation in the wilderness. The job description included, “bring good news to the poor.” That sounds familiar to James when he writes, “Hasn’t God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith.”
Shame on Martin Luther.
Luther took issue with James (who, by the way, was the Lord’s brother) because Luther felt that James’ emphasis upon works contradicted his (Luther’s) thoughts on the Apostle Paul’s teaching of justification by faith.
James wrote in chapter 2, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (v. 24)
Can you sense Martin Luther’s blood pressure going up?
Paul wrote in Galatians 5:6, “faith working through love.” Jesus, Paul, and James have similar thoughts. Fortunately, Martin Luther, and all of us when we make mistakes, are covered by the blood.
I think Jesus, Paul, James, and Pastor Grant all agree that we are not saved by works. But faith that is merely intellectual, with no change of life, no compassion, still addicted, mean and nasty, should be challenged as legitimate faith.
James says at the end of chapter 2:
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (v. 26)
I grew up in a church that had many faith/works followers of Jesus. I grew up in a church that had many hypocrites – in church every Sunday, but gossiping, sectarian, and loads of secret sin. Yes, the same church! Like all churches today, both wheat and chaff included.
In heaven, many who proclaim faith will be told by Jesus:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my Father. Matthew 7:22
In this Interruption, I’m not nitpicking the exegetical nuances of the theological conundrum of faith vs. works. (Every now and then I let a few big words fly into one sentence to prove my brilliance. Ha!)
What do I intend? I want to ask you: Today, with the COVID crisis, are you still following Jesus? Do you have works, actual things that you are doing, to indicate this?
I understand staying safe; I realize we should quarantine; I wear a mask. But I’ve watched/discerned many believers drifting. No devotions, lacking concern for the poor (when they need help more than ever), no tithes and offerings, and more despair.
Back to James and the secret to a perfect and growing faith:
Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected… and he was called a friend of God. James 2:21-23
Perfect faith cannot develop in isolation.
This does not mean that you should leave quarantine. There are ways to serve while not leaving your house. I don’t want to motivate through guilt. I ask the Lord to increase your faith even more to good works during this time of crisis.
Did I really say about the great Martin Luther, “Shame on you?”
Note: I’m writing in Interruptions one chapter a week from the Book of James. For chapter 1 look up Interruptions #200 at www.grantedwardsauthor.com.