One of the things that James really is strong on is that true faith expresses itself in more than just saying, “I believe in God.”
Many people today say, “I believe in God.” But as we will see in later passages, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a saving faith.
A saving faith leads to a transformed life. We saw that one reason God allows trials into our lives is so that we might be transformed, that we might be made whole and complete as we learn to trust in him through those trials.
And as we look at the next few chapters, we see three ways we should see our lives changing if we are truly saved. One is in speech. The second is in love. The last is in purity. (It strikes me that Paul also talks about all these things in I Timothy 4:12)
James says first,
If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (1:26)
James will get much more into this later, but I will say this. Many people today who struggle with their tongue often take it lightly. They swear, they lie, they slander, they verbally abuse. And it never occurs to them that their words show what is in their hearts. If there is garbage in your heart, garbage is going to come out. If you think you’re a good Christian and garbage is spewing out of your mouth, James says you’re deceiving yourself and your Christianity is worthless. It’s worthless because your “faith” has yet to transform your heart. There’s garbage there and you don’t even notice it’s there.
James then says,
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)
James will explain later what it means to keep from being polluted by the world. But at this point, he goes into great detail on the third way in which our lives should change if we have true faith: the love we have for others.
If we have true faith, we should have a heart that has mercy on those around us. On the widows and orphans. (1:27) We should have a heart that does not discriminate showing more honor to those who are rich, while despising the poor. A heart that judges not by appearance but through the eyes of God who has chosen many that the world despise to be his children and to inherit his kingdom. (2:1-2:7)
And James tells us,
If you are keeping the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (2:8-9)
So many people say, “Yes, I’m a good Christian. I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery.”
And yet they fail to love those around them with the love of Christ. Instead they despise them. James says of such people, “You’re not as good as you think. In God’s eyes, you are a law-breaker because you don’t love the people around you.”
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much the same. They didn’t love. They kept a lot of other rules, some of which God didn’t even require. But they discriminated, they judged, and they despised many of the people around them. And Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy. How many people that call themselves Christians would Jesus rebuke today?
So James concludes,
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)
When we live by the law of love and mercy, we set people free and show ourselves to be God’s children. When we judge and despise people, we show ours faith is not as strong as it should be.
What do your words and actions show about your faith?