I’m now in a women’s Bible Study that is going through the book of James. I totally love the book of James!! Believe it or not, though, Martin Luther thought that James should not have been in the canon of the Bible. Apparently, he thought that it’s emphasis on works diluted the idea of salvation by grace through faith.
The book of James, though, has a specific role to play in the New Testament (from what I can tell). It is a book written to Christians (probably Jewish Christians) to encourage them to pursue holy living. The writer assumes that his audience knows about Jesus’ sacrifice that pays for our sin. Now, he wants to help us pursue sanctification (being made holy).
James 1:1-3 (NIV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith developed perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
According to my trusty Barclay Commentary (thanks, Dad!!), the Greek word used for testing implies that the testing is directed towards an end. Our testing is to make us stronger in our faith. Then the Greek word for “perseverance” is sometimes translated “patience”, but it really is a more active word than that. We are given what we need to not only bear the trial, but to turn it to glory of God.
James is making it very clear here that our trials are not unknown to God. Everything that happens to us is of use in making us more like Jesus, if we face these trials. Yet, I can do nothing in my own strength. So, I’m constantly relying on the Holy Spirit to get me through each minute of each day. It’s kind of crazy that bearing up under trials is more than just endurance – it brings glory to God.
Martin Luther may not have been real happy with the book of James. In fact, I would get rather disheartened by reading all that James tells us to do. However, on further study, I find that James’ emphasis on works is not misplaced. When we come to read James as believers who know that God is always at work in us and that our service to Him is only because of the strength He gives us, the book is an encouragement to rely on God to make us holy.
I want to live a holy and perfect life, but I can only do so in the strength given me by God. Yet, I make choices every day – essentially, they are choices whether or not to allow the Holy Spirit take control of that set of actions. So, God and I work in cooperation for my sanctification. And my becoming more holy then spurs me on to even more good works and, hopefully, makes me more sensitive to the needs around me. It’s a win-win.
Just my thoughts on trials, God, and sanctification. I’m sure I’ll write more as we get further into the study.