Many use these verses from James in the above quote to say we, as Christians, no longer need to be concerned by the instructions given to us by Yahuah. If we break one commandment, we have broken them all, so there is no need to try. Jesus did all the commandment keeping for us, and now we do not need to, nor should we even attempt it. This is how the narrative in many dispensational type churches is presented.
It may help us understand these verses if we look at them in context. We must also keep the context of the whole of scripture. James isn’t going to tell “the twelve tribes in the dispersion”, to go ahead and sin, and the more the better; however, there are people who hold on to this teaching.
Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
Jas 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
Jas 1:20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Jas 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Jas 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Jas 1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
Jas 1:24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Jas 1:25 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.
Jas 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Jas 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Where does James get the idea of a perfect law of liberty? It is actually the theme of all of scripture. Martin Luther wanted to toss out the writings of James because he could not reconcile them with his hyper-grace theology. He would also have had to remove Psalms and many other books.
Psa 19:7 The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving life. The testimony of Yahweh is firm, making wise the simple.
Psa 19:8 The precepts of Yahweh are right, making the heart rejoice. The command of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Psa 19:9 The fear of Yahweh is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of Yahweh are true; they are righteous altogether,
Psa 19:10 more desirable than gold, even much fine gold; and sweeter than honey, even honey in the comb.
Psa 19:11 Moreover, your servant is warned by them; in keeping them is great reward.
Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the advice of the wicked; nor does he stand in the way of sinners; nor does he sit in the assembly of mockers.
Psa 1:2 Instead, in the law of Yahweh is his delight, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psa 1:3 And so, he is like a tree planted by streams of water that gives its fruit in its season; its leaf also does not wither. Therefore all that he does prospers.
Psa 1:4 Not so the wicked. Instead, they are like the chaff that the wind scatters.
Psa 1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
Psa 1:6 for Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
James chapter two, where we get our quote for this blog post, goes on to explain the perfect law of liberty. How can something that is perfect in Psalms 19, hundreds of years before James, be improved upon?
Jas 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
Jas 2:2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,
Jas 2:3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”
Jas 2:4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Jas 2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
Jas 2:6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?
Jas 2:7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
Jas 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
Jas 2:9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Jas 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
Jas 2:11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
Jas 2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
Jas 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James’ point was that if we show partiality to a rich man over a poor man, we have sinned and transgressed the law. We are guilty. This is not a reason for us to stop pursuing righteousness. The logic that we are to forsake Yahuah’s law because we break one, we break them all, is faulty. What if we break five? Ten? One hundred? Is it better to break one hundred commands because the guilt is the same as for one? Is this really what James was trying to convey?
Some confuse “good works” with their own definition of good. The Pharisees were guilty of this as well. For example, “good works” are not how many times one attends church services in a week, volunteers for fundraisers, abstains from habits deemed inappropriate by religious groups, etc.. “Good works” are defined by the commandments of Yahuah. Deuteronomy 12:28, “Be careful to obey all these things that I am commanding you, so that it will go well for you and for your children after you forever, because then you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of Yahweh your God.”.
Mat 19:16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Mat 19:18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
Mat 19:19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
We know the rest of this story where the man tells Jesus he has kept all the commandments from his youth. In the writings of the church father Origen, there is another version of this story told in a book called the Gospel of the Hebrews, where Jesus rebukes the man and says that he hasn’t kept the commandments because his neighbour is without clothes and clad with dung. That gives us more insight than “sell everything and give it to the poor”.
Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Mat 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mat 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mat 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Mat 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Mat 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.1
Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
“Ye that work iniquity” are those who cast aside the commandments of God, which are the works we should be doing, rather that our own “good works”. Faith without works is meaningless. Works are the perfect law of God.
Repent, read the Bible and do what it says.
The featured image is by Steve Knutson on Unsplash.
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