Okay, so we knocked the best part of James chapter one for a loop. In chapter one, we got an up close and personal view of what it means to have faith.
Well, thanks to James, we are not about to finish at that particular point. James managed to learn a lot about faith. But this is James the brother of Jesus that we are talking about here, so there has to be more to the Christian life than just faith.
Question: I have faith, and that should be enough, right?
The long answer: No. For those of you with a sense of humor you will see that the long answer is a simple “no.” For those of you with active minds you already know that “no” is the longest possible answer to any question, because a human is programmed to hear the word “no” and automatically ask “Why?” Those of you with children just cringed. But admit it, children or not, you saw the answer was “no” and asked “why?”
We go straight for chapter two of James at this point. It is not enough to say “I have faith in Jesus Christ!~ No, not that simple. For once you say that you have faith, it means to others that you believe in Jesus Christ, and his work of redemption on the cross. So this means that you have faith in front of every man. James chapter two starts this way: 1 Brothers, do not hold the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with partiality. 2 For if a man in fine clothing, wearing a gold ring, joins you in synagogue, 3 and a poor man in tattered clothing also comes in, and you say to the one in fine clothes: “Here, sit in the best place reserved for honor,” and say to the one in tatters “Stand there,” or “Sit here by my footstool” 4 then have not you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Now that quote from verses one through four in chapter two of James tells us that we cannot be hypocrites or judgmental in our thoughts and actions towards others.
The short answer: Faith is one part of the Christian life – sincerity in belief and fair application to all who are in your life are also part of Christian life.
Now, there are more verses in chapter two, and they follow in the same vein: 5Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts?
Now check those three verses again: verse 5 says that the poor are rich in faith, and heirs to the very Kingdom of God! Then there is a warning: if you are partial to the nicely dressed and the beautiful, then you have dishonored the poor man. This is a very strong warning, coming right after the verse where it says that the poor are the ones who are actually the heirs of God’s own Kingdom.
Question: “Does this mean that only the poor are going to heaven?!?!”
The long answer: It doesn’t mean that only the poor can get to heaven, it means that the poor are closer to being destitute, and are therefore dependent on two things: 1) the mercy of God, 2) your mercy as well. From my own relationship with God, I can tell you with truth that God is the only complete being I know. By complete being, you should know that God is the only power that can be both a loving God, and then turn around and pronounce judgment and discipline upon you when you disobey. If you have never had a parent hug you in the morning before school and then ground you that afternoon for failing math, then you have missed a picture of God in your life. If you have had a parent that held you responsible for your failures, then you know a portion of the completeness with which God can extend His authority over you.
The short answer: The invitation to heaven is open to all. The poor, by nature being more dependent on others because they are poor, are a method by which God shows everyone including you how seriously you take Him when he tells you to practice charity, mercy, grace, and love. In short, God uses the poor to show you that He is looking. That’s why they’re closer to Him – more often than not the poor know they’re being used by someone. They’re just poor, not stupid. So of course more of the poor turn to God first, since He’s usually first in line with the mercy. Where are you in the mercy line, when others need it?
Question: “Hey, isn’t that just a form of the old guilt trip? I mean, look out! God is watching, right?”
The long answer: Of course it is a form of the old guilt trip. We don’t have to look far in the second chapter of James to see that a kind of guilt trip is exactly what this is: 13For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
With this guilt trip, there is one crucial difference. Your mom uses guilt about starving kids in Farawayville, a dusty little African village, to guilt you into eating all your broccoli. James is laying out a fundamental truth about God: if you have no mercy towards others in life, no mercy will be given to you in death. Your soul will be judged and tossed in the eternal garbage can that is Hell itself.
God is asking you change your life, so you can be a source of mercy, grace, charity, and love in the lives of others, and here you are, seriously asking why you have endure a guilt trip?
The short answer: Are you really going to deny a request from God to be a better influence on everyone you know just because you don’t want to feel guilty? Enough already! Admit that you’ve screwed up and ask God to show you how to do it better. Look at how verse 13 ends: “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Remember, God is the complete being. Take it from me: if God is asking you to feel guilty about how you treat yourself and others, go ahead and do it. More than once, I have admitted my guilt and shame to God and found that as the complete being He already had prepared the mercy I needed.
In short, even when I was screwing up, God already had mercy waiting for me. I just had to ask Him for that mercy, and then be serious about making a change for the better.
Do you feel like you need to ask God for mercy? Have you tried to ask Him? Are you serious about changing? Try it, God has promised; His mercy is waiting.