James 1:1-18 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)
James is a book that gives a very clear picture of what it looks like to walk in the Christian faith. James sets out to remind Christians that there is more to living the Christian life than just saying that you believe. There must be action that reflects that belief. In this brief introduction, James assumes that we have faith in Christ and that we are wanting to walk in that faith.
Before getting into the text, let’s answer some important questions about faith.
What is FAITH?
Hebrews 11:1 says that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So faith is our trust and belief in thing God has made known to us even though our eyes cannot see it.
Who or what is it that we have FAITH in?
Romans 3:21-26 gives us a clear picture of who we have faith in. It says that God, who is the perfect Creator of all things, sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the sins of mankind. And it goes on to say that when we believe that God has done this for us through Christ, we are saved or justified before God and are now able to live eternally with Him. We are saved from the punishment of sin, which is death. So we have faith in God and what He has done for us through Christ on the cross.
Where does FAITH come from?
Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We have faith through the work of the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us about our need for a savior. God is constantly calling us back to Himself and away from sin, so when we hear the “word of Christ” and are open to the truth of that word, we are saved through our faith in what Christ has done for us.
So now that we have established some things about faith, let’s look at what James has to tell us about faith.
Verses 2-4 – James begins by encouraging Christians to think of their trials as a joy. This goes against our normal reaction to trials and tests of our faith. These “tests” are the times when we are tempted to wander away from God, like when we would prefer to disobey our parents or cheat on a test at school. Naturally these tests come in different degrees with some being as difficult as losing a loved one, parents divorcing, or struggling with relationships with the opposite sex. But James assures us that if we pass these tests of faith we will be made perfect and complete, lacking nothing that we need. So we see a progression here: we have faith in what God has done and the trust him to the point of obedience which then makes us “steadfast” in our faith which then leads to perfection as the Lord changes us through obedience. This perfection is not the same perfection that we will have when we reach Heaven. This perfection is a change within us that makes us more like him. It means that as we have faith we are made more like Christ, even though we are still sinners and live in a fallen world. So the process of faith is like this: first we have faith in God, then we act on what we believe in during trials and testing which makes us steadfast, then we are made more like Christ and are perfected by Him.
Verses 5-8 – Here James makes a slight footnote to the three verses before it. He knows that human beings fall, make mistakes, and are overall disobedient to God. What we lack is the wisdom of God, and so James says that we should ask for wisdom and it will be given us. Wisdom is a companion of faith. If we simply believe in something but take no action upon that faith (the action of obedience is wisdom) then we become like “a wave of the sea (v. 6),” unstable and changing. The wave is in direct contrast to someone who acts in faith that then becomes perfect and complete (v. 4). So even if we have faith, if we lack the wisdom to follow God in whom we have faith, we do not reach the place of perfection and completeness because our actions do not match our faith. James goes on to explain in verse 7 that if we don’t have faith in God, as in we don’t believe we can really receive wisdom from Him, then we become “double-minded (v. 8),” having one mind that wants to believe in God and one mind that wants to hold to the thinking of the world.
Verses 9-11 – Next, James gives two examples of people who are continually in a “test” of their faith. The lowly brother and the rich man both struggle with having a mind divided because of how easy it would be to lose faith in God due to their situations. The lowly brother must constantly fight the desire to do things in his own power instead of trusting God. His situation requires him to trust that the Lord will provide for his every need. The rich man must continually look past his physical blessings and by faith recognize his constant need for God’s grace and salvation. Both kinds of people must fight to see beyond their earthly situations to rely fully on God.
Verses 12-15 – In these next verses James returns to the subject of remaining steadfast in our faith. He reminds us again that if we stay true to our faith, we will receive eternal life through what Christ has done. But James also reminds us that it is not God who brings temptations to us. Even though the Lord allows us to be tempted, He is not the one who tempts us. We have deep within us a desire to have control, to rebel against God, and to do things in our own wisdom. Here James gives another cycle that we can fall into if we do not have faith and receive wisdom from God. It begins with the desires deep within our nature. It then grows from a desire to sin, and sin ultimately leads to eternal separation from God or death as James says. So if we say that God tempts us we have misunderstood who God really is and therefore do not really know Him and we have misunderstood the nature of sin which comes from our fallen nature. As we will see in the next verses, James wants to make it very clear that sin is not due to God tricking us or manipulating us just so He can punish us, but is a result of our disobedience and to our misplaced faith.
Verses 16-18 – James reminds us again that the Lord only gives us what is good and perfect, and He does not change. It is because of the steadfast (or unchanging) nature of God that we can put our faith in Him. If He were constantly changing His mind about what was true and good, we would have no reason to put our faith in Him. James reminds us that the God we believe in is worthy of our faith because He is unchanging. And when we hear the “word of truth (v. 18)” that He has given us through Christ and we believe it, we are then ready to be used by Him as an example for the people around us.
Conclusion – James wants us to first realize how faith is necessary in serving God. But this faith is empty unless it is joined with wisdom (wisdom is acting according to our faith) that comes from God. If we don’t have wisdom or do not truly have faith, we become unstable and double-minded. And when we are unstable or double-minded we risk falling into the cycle of sin which then leads to death. But if we accept the wisdom of God through faith we are saved from death and given life through Christ.
Please feel free to ask any questions for clarification. I promise not all of these posts will be this long. I’m working on focusing things down so that there’s not so much information at once. Love y’all more than you’ll know. Grace and peace,