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Easter 6 – James 1:22-27

by pastorjuhl ~ May 11th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Reading the epistle of James requires lenses. At first glance, it seems James takes away what Peter and Paul and the other epistle writers give. Peter and Paul preach forgiveness of sins by God’s grace appropriated by faith alone. James, on the other hand, says: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?…. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

James seems to say that faith plus works equals salvation. He seems to say works are of equal importance as faith. James seems to disagree with the rest of Holy Scripture, with Martin Luther, with the Lutheran Symbolic Books, and even with the analogy of faith! Should we take James out of the New Testament canon? Should we replace the two times a year he is read in the one-year cycle of readings with another epistle? Should we call James a heretic?

No! We should put on our lenses and read him with great care and attention. The necessary lenses for the epistle of James are the lenses of faith. James assumes the person hearing his letter believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is why he gets away with saying: For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. A faith that merely listens to the Word as if hearing something but not remembering a thing about what was said is a dead faith. The person has ears to hear, but does not hear. The person hears without the lenses of faith.

It’s odd to speak about the lenses of hearing. Lenses are for eyes, not ears. In this case, let the paradox be. James’ epistle is full of paradoxes. Here’s one from the Epistle: doing the Word. Here’s another: the perfect law of liberty. How can you do something that is meant to be heard and read? How can a law bring liberty? Such matters are paradoxes of the Christian faith that are caught rather than taught.

Let’s take the first paradox: Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. What does it mean to do the Word? The other paradox is the answer. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Every day we try to do the Word. We love God with our whole being. We love our neighbor as ourselves. However, this doing of the Word on our part is not done the way our heavenly Father wants it done. Looking into the perfect law of liberty, we see our disfigured face. We see hands, eyes, and a tongue mangled in sin. James exhorted us last week to put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Filthiness and rampant wickedness impedes our doing the Word. The more we attempt to receive the implanted Word with meekness, the more we fail to receive it, and the more we turn to other words with great boldness.

The Word is a power of God for salvation. The Word wants in the heart. Hearing is necessary, but mere hearing (letting it go in one ear and out the other) is not enough. You mock the Word when you hear it, yet remain as you were and do not take it to heart. You deceive yourselves when you hear the Word, yet do not do the Word. God will not be double-crossed. Take care that you do not stare into the mirror, walk away from it, and forget what you look like!

So we are in trouble. We cannot do the Word. We despise the Word. We treat it like any other word, if not even less than other words. This same Word we are given to do must do us. The Word must bring us to repentance in order that we look into the perfect law, the law of liberty.

Here’s where things seem to get tricky. When we hear the word “law”, we think of oppression, commands, and threats. No one likes to do the law, especially God’s holy Law. Our mouths are supposed to praise God’s Law. We are supposed to meditate on it day and night. It is our precious thing.

It is precious because the use of the word “law” here is not merely confined to threats. The word “law” in the phrase perfect law of liberty is the totality of God’s Word to us: both Law as well as Gospel. In fact, the perfect law of liberty is God’s gracious favor given to His beloved children because of the promise of Messiah, because of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the perfect law of liberty. He alone is the Word. He alone does the Word according to His Father’s way. We look into the perfect law of liberty and see Jesus keeping the Law for us, on our behalf. Where we fall short, Jesus never falls short. We look to Christ as our hope for eternity. We look to Him to keep the Law, yet suffer the punishment we deserve for not doing the Word. We gaze into the perfect law and see Jesus lying on a cross crying out It is finished.

The Savior’s dying words are echoed in today’s Epistle. James calls the law of liberty the perfect law. The word perfect in the original language of the New Testament is the same word that Jesus cries out before He breathes His last breath. You could say Jesus cries out, It is perfect, it is fulfilled, it is completed. His innocent life and death are sufficient for you. How, then, do you receive the perfect law of liberty? You receive it by faith. Ah, back to the necessary lenses for reading James’ epistle!

Faith cannot help but live when it looks into the perfect law of liberty, into Jesus Christ. Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans is written several years after James’ epistle. Romans chapter eight might be considered an explanation of what James writes in today’s epistle. Paul writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.


Blessed Martin Luther confirms James and Paul when he writes: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.”

This is what James means when he writes about pure and undefiled religion before God. Faith doesn’t need a special effort to find widows and orphans who need to be visited. Faith plays out in your vocation, in your station in life. You can’t help but help those in need within the household of God…and even those outside the household of God. You can’t help but keep oneself unstained from the world, for faith clings to Jesus Christ and His unspotted life, death, and resurrection. When you fall short of doing the Word, you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the Living Word. You walk by faith, trusting in Jesus for all needs of body and soul. You do the Word by believing the Word that sets you free from sin and death, providing liberty from captivity.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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