Friday, October 31, 2014

“Love and the Law”

Insights #5 November 1, 2014
Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Love and the Law"
For the week of November 1, 2014

"Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom 13:10). Righteousness is conformity to the law of love, for all of God's "commandments are righteousness" (Psa 119:172). It is by faith in Christ alone who brings to us God's righteousness, which is His love. It is Christ who brings us into harmony with God's law of love.

God's law did not fall in the fall of man. And it does not become sin when we sin. The law is the measure of the righteousness of God; it witnesses to His righteousness (Rom 3:21). Because of Adam's fall, and our own, we are far below the righteousness of the law. Because of this we are now dependent upon Christ to raise us up to where its righteousness may be fulfilled in us (Rom 8:4). In the righteousness of Christ we obtain God's love and thus "love is the fulfilling of the law." Love – righteousness – is not a formula. It is embodied in a person and that Person is Christ. We receive righteousness – love – by receiving Christ by faith alone.

This love, this righteousness, becomes a way of life for the believer. This is the message of James. He must never be pitted against Paul and his message of righteousness by faith. It is Paul who wrote that love is the fulfilling of the law and James is in perfect harmony with this. He wrote, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' " (James 2:8).

Both James and Paul wrote about justification by faith. Paul wrote that justification by faith carries the law up front for all to see it in action. He says that it is only by justification by faith that the law of love is established (Rom 3:30-31). James wrote about what justification by faith is and is not.

Another example of what justification by faith is not is the faith of devils. They believe (James 2:19), but they are never justified by their belief. Why is this? Because their faith is historical only. They believe, and cannot deny, that Christ came and died for sinners. The faith that justifies is the faith that surrenders the will to Christ; that accepts Christ as the only way of salvation. Lucifer and his followers refused to surrender and to accept Christ as their Savior and they are now incapable of the faith that leads to repentance and justification. Consequently their belief does not tend toward righteousness and love. What's more is this: the fallen angels are incapable of loving one another. They cannot bridle their tongues. Without God's love they despise each other and unite only to attack the fallen race, especially the remnant people of God.

Humans who are justified by faith in Christ alone bridle their tongues. If one does not control his tongue his profession of religion is useless (James 1:26).

James wrote that you cannot "hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ … with partiality" (James 2:1). The faith of Jesus is blind to all caste societies whether made up of wealth, education, political influence, age or ethnicity. James gives several illustrations of what justification by faith is. Abraham and Rahab illustrate what justification by faith is. It is believing not only in the absence of feelings but against them as in the case of Abraham. Earlier James wrote that those who are justified by faith will care for the elderly and orphans and others in need (1:27).

We "all have sinned" and fall short of love, law and righteousness. All stand alike guilty before God. But everyone, of whatever race or class, can accept this saying: "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). A church-going sinner is no better than a non-member sinner; a sinner who stands as a church-member, is no better than one who is outside. The sinner who has gone through the form of baptism is not better than the sinner who has never made any profession of Christianity. Sinners are sinners, whether in the church or out. Nevertheless we can thank God that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, as well as for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

There is good news and thus hope for the unfaithful professor of religion, as well as for the sinner who has never named the name of Christ. Both can be brought into harmony with God's law of love through Christ. Rahab's experience illustrates this fact.

It is through keeping the faith of Jesus that we are enabled to keep the commandments of God. To keep His commandments is to love Him supremely and to love our neighbor impartially. This means that we are to do good to those who do good to us and alsoto do good to those who try to do us in.

What, then, motivates our actions? Paul tells us that it is the love of Christ that motivates us; it "compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." He then concludes, "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5:14-16).

Likewise, this is the message from James. "Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Again, Rahab is an illustration of this (James 2:25). She, along with the of us, deserves judgment, but God's mercy triumphs here and then we, in turn, as did Rahab, give mercy even to our enemies. This is the essence of obedience to the principles of the law of God.
Abraham's faith is another illustration of justification by faith. As stated above, his faith is the faith that believes not only in the absence of feelings but against them. This faith obeys even if it is against one's innermost feelings. In Christ only there is righteousness and strength. In Him there is justification and glory.

Waggoner wrote concerning man's great need:

There is but one thing in this world that a man needs, and that is justification – and justification is a fact, not a theory. It is the gospel.  That which does not tend to righteousness is of no avail, and not worthy to be preached.  Righteousness can only be attained through faith; consequently, all things worthy to be preached must tend to justification by faith.  E. J. Waggoner, "The Bible Echo and Australians Signs of the Times," Sept 1, 1891.

In the Lord there is righteousness and strength. In the Lord there is justification and glory. In the glory of heaven we will not look to the best deeds that we have done and thank God that we are justified because we have done so well. Our song of joy will be, "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev 1:5).
In closing consider the following:

Sin is the greatest of all evils, and it is ours to pity and help the sinner. There are many who err, and who feel their shame and their folly. They are hungry for words of encouragement. They look upon their mistakes and errors, until they are driven almost to desperation. These souls we are not to neglect. If we are Christians, we shall not pass by on the other side, keeping as far as possible from the very ones who most need our help. When we see human beings in distress, whether through affliction or through sin, we shall never say, This does not concern me. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 504.
-Jerry Finneman


Thursday, October 16, 2014

“Enduring Temptation”

Insights #3 October 18, 2014
Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Enduring Temptation"
For the week of October 18, 2014
Last week we considered the "temptation" James addresses in our memory verse this week, what he earlier called "the trying of your faith" (James 1:3). We examined this in the context of the faith of God, revealed to us through the faith of Jesus (Rom. 3:3, 22). God has poured out in His love "the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:7). The goal of faith and love and grace is the reproduction of those very principles in us. And the necessary process is learning the receiving and giving of those dynamics. The "trying" and "temptation" are but situations of life that give opportunities for us to pass on faith and love and grace, to make decisions based on them. Cooperating with God in this process James calls "enduring." The outcome is "the crown of life." Those who endure are "them that love Him," the ones Jesus said will be saved, whose love does not wax cold. Those who do that at the end give the final witness (Matt. 24:12-14).

Our lesson this week (James 1:12-21) addresses more the process of this circuit, how love flows in a reciprocal manner, and the problem of breaking the circuit. Let's examine the details James leads us through. Look for the steps in the process of breaking God's plan (italicized).

What James describes that Paul calls "the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2) is what we will initially consider. And the first point to explore is where a human's temptation originates, which James tells us is not "of God" but "of his own lust" (James 1:13, 14). The key here is not the word "lust" which is but a strong desire. What makes something not "of God" is whatever is "of his own." And this also is not simply "God" versus "self." It is unselfishness versus selfishness, for God Himself is unselfish. So Jesus could have a strong "desire" (Luke 22:15; same word as "lust") and actually choose to follow it, because it was not "His own"--it was always unselfish, "of the Father." Remember Jesus' repeated words regarding "mine own":

I can of mine own self do nothing: ... I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me (John 5:30).
I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me (John 6:38).
I seek not mine own glory (John 8:50).

Jesus described this origin of sin (before Genesis 3) in these words, "When he [the devil] speaketh a [literally, the] lie, he speaketh of his own." (John 8:44; compare also 5:43; 7:18; these use the exact adjective James uses, translated "his own"). So "of his own" is equivalent to "not of faith" (Rom. 14:23). This is the root of sin. The devil originated acting on "his own" (his "self-seeking"; see Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 21). It was a rejection of faith working by love. Through Adam and Eve this has infected our very nature, which we must confess.

The second point is defining temptation, which is simply the drawing or enticing (James 1:14) of self-seeking. Satan became fully immersed in this dynamic, but to convey that principle to perfect beings which God had created with unselfishness, in other words, to tempt them, Satan had to use subtlety and guile. He had to deceive them into thinking that to live for self was actually good, that the results would be improvement. So Eve had to begin to "see" something that was not there (Gen. 3:6), something that was false--that "her own" interests were not being met by God, but would be if she herself ate the fruit. Thus temptation is the deceptive pull of sin.

Was Jesus really tempted? The evidence is that He "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb. 4:15). Then He must have felt the pull of "His own." We see that clearly in His words in Gethsemane, "not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). His earlier words imply He had a daily decision of this nature. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23). The implication of this verse is that Jesus was daily denying Himself, "His own." Jesus' faith and love, received daily from the Father (Isa. 50:4, 5), enabled Him to reject the deception of "his own" and overcome each temptation.

The third point is that only when the desire for "his own" unites with the will, what James calls "when [his own] desire has conceived," does sin come forth (James 1:15). The will must permit, agree, and nurture the desire to live for self. Only then does sin come into being. This could be in the mind alone, but usually is expressed in outward actions. We could call this the conception of sin. Only here does personal guilt begin. (The corporate dimensions are not addressed by James.)

James' fourth point is the implication that sin is not static. It, in fact, is a parasitic dynamic that grows. But its growth is an abounding of lawlessness (Matt. 24:12), living more and more for self, less and less in the way God Himself lives, and how He designed ("the law") all to function. This is the growth of sin. If it is not stopped between temptation and conception, it grows.

The final point is that the deception that "his own" is good is unmasked when sin is finished. The result is not good. What the growth produces in the end is death (James 1:15). Breaking "the law of life" destroys. This is the result of sin. Paul summarized the process in one verse, tracing from death backward. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law." (1 Cor. 15:56).

The lesson of Romans 7 is important to note here. Self must die (7:9). The law must be appreciated (7:10-13, 22). The will must choose the good (7:15-20). But even then there remains an unchanged part that is identified fully with sin (7:14, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23). This dimension of our being not only produces a battle unknown by someone not experiencing the changes described (7:23), but also blocks the ability in oneself (one aspect of "his own") to find deliverance from sin (7:25). Victory is found only by dependence on a power outside of self. It comes only from "God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (7:25). The Spirit must dwell where sin dwells (Rom. 8:9, 11; compare 7:17, 18, 20). Only then can Paul's freedom be realized. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

Jesus came under the law of sin and death (Gal. 4:4), taking our nature of sin and our guilt of sin ("made ... sin for us"; 2 Cor. 5:21; compare Rom. 8:3).1 His identity with us enabled His suffering (Heb. 2:9, 10, 18). His identity was complete, but because He rejected the will of sin (its conception), He avoided the failure of sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His death was thus not His but ours (2 Cor. 5:14). His unselfish life and death overcame sin. His victory is ours.

James concludes our passage by an appeal--to avoid the deception of sin (1:16) by acknowledging the universal gifts from "the Father of lights" (1:17; compare John 1:9), to see that God's will for all produces, not sin and death, but creatures of righteousness (1:18-20; same verb "produce" as verse 15; see 2 Pet. 3:9, same verb "will"), to lay aside all that "his own" produces and to receive "with meekness the engrafted word" (1:21) by which the Spirit works.
-Fred Bischoff
1.  See Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 190; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, p. 369.

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Fwd: Fw: Sabbath School Today, Lesson 2, Quarter 4-14

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 2: "The Perfecting of Our Faith"
We are prone to think of justification by faith as theoretical, high-flying theology. But, with the dynamic of the 1888 message, it is the joy of our present Christian life with God. We are invited to see this precious perspective in the book of James.
When our "sinful flesh" is tempted to doubt and discouragement by the trials of life, the answer James gives is to link "faith," "patience," and "perfection" with the "wisdom" of God. "The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:3-5).
In James 2:21, 24, 25 he discusses justification by faith and works. "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only." In chapter one, James presents how the faith that justifies works amidst trials. Genuine justification by faith patiently endures trials, and the end result is Christian character perfection. It is a gift from God discerned by His "wisdom." God, in His mercy, sent the beginning of this "wisdom" to us in our 1888 history.
Why do trials come our way? Is it the trials that mess up our otherwise good record? If you lived somewhere that wasn't so stimulating, wouldn't it be easier to live a better life? Where do temptations come from? Don't the temptations come in from all around us? However, don't temptations also come from within ourselves? Do they not arise from within our mind and then eventually work themselves out in our day-to-day living? Some reason that God is to blame for all this. After all, didn't He make us this way? So then, how can He demand of us perfect obedience? We're only human, so all we can expect is weakness and continued lapses into sin.
If this is the case, then is God unjust in giving us the ten commandments? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ not powerful enough to overcome sin in sinful flesh? If this is the case, then there is a disconnect between the gospel and the law. In the most subtle ways the law is diminished or done away. Satan rejoices. He has achieved his purpose. He has undermined the government of God. Everyone is a law unto themselves.
The purpose for trials is not to mess up our record. Trials reveal to us what already exists in our flesh that we didn't know existed. Unknown sin is revealed by trials and temptations. Say I have a glass pitcher filled with water. The water is clear as crystal. If I take a spoon and stir up the water, the settlement at the bottom which had gone unnoticed would be agitated and cause the water to become murky. Now the water is undrinkable.
This is the way it is with trials; they do not introduce something into the life that didn't exist before. They merely stir up what is already there. For example, you may be calm and peaceful for days on end, thinking that your emotions are under control. But let someone cut you off in traffic, and suddenly you flare up and let out some bad words. The incident didn't introduce something new into your character. It simply revealed what was already there and now you know that it continues to exist.
The work of conversion and a change of heart introduced by the Holy Spirit is a miracle from above. You are given a new heart, which means a new mind or character. It is the mind of Christ, which is selfless. Whereas before the new birth you were self-centered, now you have been given a new nature characterized by agape. The Holy Spirit changes your mind. But your "flesh" remains the same. The new birth does not convert your sinful nature. The new character imparted to you by the Holy Spirit enables you to choose the will of God for your life and say "No" to your sinful flesh.
Day by day, hour by hour, it is the Spirit that grows your character. But it is your choice to continue abiding in the Vine, Christ Jesus. As a branch your life is only sustained by the life-giving sap that is supplied by the Stock. Thus it is possible for character to mature continually as right choices are made. These choices are all prompted by the Holy Spirit. This is the process of justification by faith.
Christian character perfection is growing up in appreciation of God's love manifested at the cross. It is Christ who gives us agape, which motivates our choices of faith. Thus we are in a cooperative endeavor with our Saviour.
Does the Bible teach the possibility of sinless living in our sinful nature? This question can only be answered by seeing how near the Saviour has come to us.
If Christ was sent by God "in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be filled in us" (Rom. 8:3), then the obvious answer is "Yes." Christ is both our Substitute and enabling Example. He demonstrated it once for all. He "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). And of His people it has to be said eventually, "In their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God" (Rev. 14:5). They will overcome "even as I also overcame" (Rev. 3:21, says Jesus. No saint will ever overcome except through faith in the Great Overcomer, "the Author and Finisher of our faith." The overcomers acquire no merit to themselves, yet they gain everything by their faith. Christ "is able also to save them to the uttermost ... for such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:25, 26). [1]
If we take away the high priestly ministry of Christ in the second apartment as distinct from the first, this idea of preparation for the second coming disappears, and the impact of the Advent movement is reduced to a "me-too" echo of the popular evangelical churches.
Our unique message centers in the sanctuary ministry of Christ: When Christ comes the second time, will He find a body of people of whom it can honestly be said, "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus"?
If the Lord wants to, He can accomplish the preparation of a people for the second coming of Christ. For the first time in human history, a divine announcement is made concerning a corporate body of people from "every nation, kindred, tongue, and people": "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Before the grueling inspection of the unfallen universe, they pass the test. The Lord is honored in them. And the next event is His coming (Rev. 14:14).
--Paul E. Penno
[1] E. J. Waggoner's Christ and His Righteousness, page 7 (Glad Tidings ed.), neatly summarizes his concept of sinless living. This is a summary in a nutshell of his Minneapolis message preached only a few weeks before being published in Signs articles:
"In the first verse of the third chapter of Hebrews we have an exhortation which comprehends all the injunctions given to the Christian. It is this: 'Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.' To do this as the Bible enjoins, to consider Christ continually and intelligently, just as He is, will transform one into a perfect Christian, for 'by beholding we become changed.'"
A. T. Jones' teaching was in full harmony with Waggoner's. In The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, first published as Review and Herald articles in 1898 and 1899, he states it simply and powerfully:
"In His coming in the flesh--having been made in all things like unto us, and having been tempted in all points like as we are--He has identified Himself with every human soul just where that soul is. And from the place where every human soul is, He has consecrated for that soul a new and living way through all the vicissitudes and experiences of a whole lifetime, and even through death and the tomb, into the holiest of all, at the right hand of God for evermore. ...
"And this 'way' He has consecrated for us. He, having become one of us, has made this way our way; it belongs to us. He has endowed every soul with divine right to walk in this consecrated way; and by His having done it Himself in the flesh--in our flesh--He has made it possible yea, He has given actual assurance, that every human soul can walk in that way, in all that that way is; and by it enter fully and freely into the holiest of all. ...
"He has made and consecrated a way by which, in Him, every believer can in this world, and for a whole lifetime, live a life holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and as a consequence be made with Him higher than the heavens" (pp. 87, 88, Glad Tidings ed.).
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:

Raul Diaz

“The Perfecting of Our Faith”

Insights #2 October 11, 2014
Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Perfecting of Our Faith"
For the week of October 11, 2014
The apostle James had long resisted the witness of the faith of Jesus, his brother (John 7:5; Matt. 13:35; Gal. 1:19). But at some point he had surrendered to the powerful evidence (Heb. 11:1) that Jesus' faith had provided, not only to His true identity, but also to the dynamic of faith working by love that we could easily say is how God runs the universe (Gal. 5:6). And though James, like all of us, battled unbelief as long as he lived (as long as the flesh remains; Gal. 2:20), he was not content with baby faith ("little faith"; see Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). He saw the importance of God's plan--"the trying of your faith," and what would come from that. "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:3, 4). Paul wrote of this goal to be "entire"--"The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thes. 5:23).

When we view faith in the "circuit of beneficence" which is the "law of life for the universe" (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 21), it becomes clear to us that faith originates with God, as a function of the agape love that He is. Paul described it this way: Love "believeth all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). In the creative force that His love imparts, He is seeing "all things" in the way they would look were they all motivated by unselfish love. It is in that sense that Jesus is "the author ... of faith" (Heb. 12:2). By dealing with all through that dynamic, He has actually imparted to all that way of living, the "measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3).

God's word brings to us the evidence of how God imparts faith. This process is beautifully described in this statement. "To those who take God's word with reverence, seeking to learn His will that they may obey it, all is changed. They are filled with awe and wonder as they contemplate the purity and exalted excellence of the truths revealed. Like attracts like. Like appreciates like. Holiness allies itself with holiness, faith with faith. To the humble heart and the sincere, inquiring mind the Bible is full of light and knowledge. Those who come to the Scriptures in this spirit are brought into fellowship with prophets and apostles. Their spirit assimilates to that of Christ, and they long to become one with Him." (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 705).

But James is addressing more the question of how Jesus moves beyond authoring this faith, and becomes "the ... finisher." And this seems simple also when we view the circuit. He treats us in faith, and imparts in that way of relating to us the very principle itself of faith. Then His providence arranges or allows us to "fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2), to give us opportunity to exercise that very faith--to deal with life based on faith working by love in very practical situations unique to the life of each of us. As we, through surrender to His faith and love, learn in the practical situations of life to reflect those same principles to others, we are "letting patience have her perfect work." We allow the circuit to be completed, and to continue flowing in an unending stream, powered by the source of all--His love.

The giving nature of God's love means He is teaching us how to continue giving, through the challenges we encounter. James addresses the fact that faith working by love does not use possessions as its criteria. It acquires in order to give, and it empowers others to do the same.
Trials and suffering are but the school where we learn not just how to give but what to give, by listening to the creative promptings of His Spirit. Thus we learn to endure--to keep giving no matter how much "taking" we encounter. This "patience" in its end-time development is what enables God's people to endure the final storm of lawlessness, by loving to the end, and thus giving a witness to the gospel that will flood the earth (Matt. 24:12-14; Rev. 14:12).

It is the "joy ... set before" that empowers such giving (Heb. 12:2; Neh. 8:10), knowing that others will also see the dynamic, be captured by it, and adopt it as their way of living, for eternity. This joy continues even through suffering, as one gives more and more in the presence of those who are taking more and more. This joy is based on principle, not feeling. Faith leads, and feelings follow.

This growing process follows the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3) and love (Eph. 4:16), learning more and more how to love as Christ did. The goal is "a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). This is the "perfect work" James saw. As the Spirit unfolds to us more and more what this means in each of our lives, we develop "the wisdom that is from above." And it "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." By His word and Spirit, we see through the eyes of faith; we view things from God's perspective. And we act on that. This is the "meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13).

In this process, we do not always learn what to do on the first attempt. We have many opportunities to repent of our unbelief, our resistance to God's faith and love working through us. We will see much evidence in our past (individual and corporate) of unbelief that like Israel at Kadesh, has blocked God's plans. We will have to repent and confess these failures, and submit to God's correction and instruction, spending more time meditating on God's faith and love, demonstrated throughout the past and the present.

So let us "ask in faith, nothing wavering." (James 1:6). Don't stop; keep asking. Steady yourself by leaning on Him. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." (James 1:12). The circuit will be complete, and will continue through eternity, in the beauty and joy of unselfish love, receiving and giving.
-Fred Bischoff

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"James, the Lord's Brother"

Insights #1 October 4, 2014

Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"James, the Lord's Brother"
For the week of October 4, 2014

During this last quarter of the year we will study the book of James. In this book we will observe some of the historical circumstances including life and faith within early Christianity. James wrote "To the twelve tribes scattered abroad." This cannot refer to Israelites "according to the flesh" because most of them did not convert to Christianity. Paul addressed those who are true Israelites who were ones "outwardly; . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart" (Rom 2:28, 29). The Israel of God is made up of those who believe God's promises of salvation in Christ, for "if ye are Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed" (Gal 3:29). The letter was addressed to Christians wherever they were then and where they are today.
James became an influential leader in the early church. He is listed as one of three leaders ("pillars") mentioned by Paul in Gal 2:9. He was well known and had the authority to send this letter to the churches. James introduced himself modestly. In his introduction, he did not indicate his status in the church or that he was the Lord's brother.
From the letter's content we know that James' concern for the church was with growth in spiritual maturity and the evidence of faith, in other words – sanctification.
The name James here is actually "Jacob." It is not certain why the English translators chose "James" rather than "Jacob." Bible translations in other languages tend to use the transliterated name from the actual Hebrew "Jacob." Some commentators suggest that King James of England desired to see his name in the English translation (see J. R.  Blue in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Editors: J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck). This may or may not be accurate as there is no evidence for or against such a consideration.
Luther's preface to the first edition (1522) of the New Testament referred to James as "an epistle of straw," because it did not meet his canonical criterion of "announcing Christ" (Religious and Theological Abstracts (2012). Myerstown, PA). However, he did not repeat this negative in his later editions.
At first, it seemed to Luther that this letter contradicted the writings of Paul in that a person is justified by faith only and not by works. However, the perspectives from which Paul and James wrote were different. These men addressed two different sets of circumstances. Paul presented justification by faith in Christ alone in contrast with justification by law-keeping. James, on the other hand, wrote that obedience is the evidence of justification by faith.
One of the illustrations James presents is that of devils who believe but can never be justified by their faith because it is merely an intellectual acknowledgement of historical facts about Jesus. Demons believe about Christ, but they remain demons still. They are not justified by their belief, because it works no change of character. Theirs is a dead faith.
In heaven the fallen angels turned from Christ and went so far as to be incapable of any heart response of appreciation for Him. James' argument is that the demons can never be justified by their faith. Ellen White concurs: "We read that the devils 'believe, and tremble;' but their belief does not bring them justification…" (ST, Nov 3, 1890). All they can do is tremble, and that's more than what some humans do!
The last illustration of justification by faith in chapter two is in the last verse. It reads: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." E. J. Waggoner commented on this verse as follows: "A man does not breathe in order to show that he lives, but because he is alive. He lives by breathing. His breath is his life. So a man cannot do good works in order to demonstrate that he has faith, but he does good works because the works are the necessary result of faith" ("The Present Truth," [United Kingdom] June 21, 1894).
Works are not merely attached to faith, but they proceed from it. Some of the church members addressed by James were like the devils who had a belief about God, but since works of obedience did not come from their belief, it was not genuine faith. A profession of faith in Christ which is not accompanied by obedience, is worthless. Paul wrote that "faith works by love" (Gal 5:6). And he began and ended his letter to the Romans with "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Paul and James were on the same page regarding justification by faith and its consequent – works of obedience.
Throughout his letter, James addressed issues regarding justification by faith in Christ that had been corrupted by both demons and humans who claimed to believe, but were devoid of a heart response of faith and gratitude to God. They had no love to God, nor to others.
James understood this experientially. Originally he had an intellectual historical faith about Jesus, for the two were in the same human family. Two gospel writers – John and Mark – reveal how the unconverted James, along with his brothers, related to Jesus during His earthly ministry. They did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Shortly after Jesus began His public ministry they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). However, James went from that fatal unbelief to a justifying faith in Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. This experience came to him sometime after the crucifixion of Christ, but before Pentecost.
James, along with his brothers, were in the upper room with other believers "in prayer and supplication" during the 10 days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The only thing that happened before this prayer session was that Christ had been crucified, buried and resurrected. That made the difference for James. He had been an enemy, but was changed by the grace of God. "The cross stands alone, a great center in the world. It does not find friends, but it makes them" (RH Sept. 29, 1891). James became a faithful follower of Christ and consequently became an influential leader in the church.
It was James who presided over the first general conference of the early church when its members were asked to settle a controversy between Paul's preaching of righteousness by faith and the Pharisees' insistence that in order to be saved a person must first be circumcised (Acts 15:1-29). The men in that conference agreed with Paul. James then wrote and sent the decision of that "general conference" to the church in Antioch where the "Pharisees who believed" had stirred up the controversy.
Consider the theological climate today within Christianity. A considerable amount of paper and ink have been expended both by Catholic and Protestant writers on the subject of justification by faith. Catholic theologians are clear on the original Protestant understanding of the doctrine – that justification comes by faith in Christ alone. This is what they opposed five hundred years ago and still do today. They insist that in order to be justified one must partake of their "sacramental graces." They rely heavily on a misunderstanding of James for their position. Protestantism of today follows the papal lead in understanding justification.
Protestant theologians do not enjoy consensus on how to interpret the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. Consequently, Catholic scholars are making strident and critical advances with their doctrine of justification within Protestant circles. It appears that discussion on this topic will not close any time soon. This may be a good thing because there is need for more, not less, clarity. There is a clarifying message for these last days. It is found in Rev 14:6-12. This is the message of justification by faith for the last days and which "is the third angel's message in verity" (RH April 1, 1890).
James was never against justification by faith in Christ alone, but he was against those who boasted that they were justified by faith; then lived and acted like devils. He argued that the genuine article of justification by faith is always, always, accompanied by works as evidence of is truthfulness. As stated above "works are the necessary result of faith."
-Jerry Finneman
Raul Diaz