Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:1–10, ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:14–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
St. James does two things here. First it is a clear example of God's expectations for those who are called into Christ's "honorable name". Quite literally there he says "the good name which has been called upon you." One of the things it so easy for us to do is show partiality. You can see it happening here. How much easier it is to pay attention to the new Dr. who is coming to town income among us, then the shaggy person off the street, or the person who struggles with English. You would not mean to do it, it's just that is so much easier to speak to a well-dressed well-kept person than it is to speak to someone who struggles with our language or doesn't have the same standard for acceptable human behavior. It is a part of our sinful human nature to pay more attention to the person who has wealth because we desire to have wealth like him.
This is clearly not God's way. God shows no partiality. He calls all people to faith in Christ. He gives the same gifts to rich and poor. Notice how Holy Baptism treats all people the same. God's name is "called out" upon them and water is poured over their head. God adopts using his name. He washes away sin for the sake of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It's all the same for rich or poor, socially acceptable or not. The name of God cuts across language and cultural barriers and does exactly what God calls it out to do. Listen again to Luther's Small Catechism: (Lutheran Service Book, p. 325)
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
So in our dealings with all people God would have us treat all people as ones for whom our Lord died.
But while God shows no partiality, we often do. Furthermore we know that it's wrong. We ourselves would not want to be treated the way we often find ourselves treating the poor, suffering, and those outside of our own cultural understanding. We simply do not "fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures." It's Jesus himself who tells us about The Second Table of the Law, that Commandments four through 10, are summed up in "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) And in case you think it's no big deal, James says
"but if you show partiality you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."
And here's where we fall into the real problem, isn't it? We look at our own sins and try to lightly set them aside. It's easy to look at others and convict them of breaking the law. But when we look at ourselves we excuse our "minor" sins. James is very clear. To show partiality is to break the law completely and to be liable for judgment. The section that's been cut out of our reading for this morning reads like this:
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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:11–13, ESV)
Here it tells us that people who break the law by not showing mercy can expect no mercy. When we speak in terms of breaking God's commandments "to expect no mercy" from God means to be condemned to eternal punishment. God created hell specifically for those who show no mercy and refuse to keep his commandments.
So what are we, condemned by own partiality, to do? James tells us that also.
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
We are to be judged under the law of liberty. What does this mean? Listen to St. Paul, St. Peter, and our Lord himself:
- For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
- Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16, ESV)
- So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31–32, ESV)
The "truth" that Jesus speaks about here is himself. The truth of his life death and resurrection for your sin. The truth of his suffering your hell on the cross. The truth of him taking your judgment, that is your guilt, to death and the grave. So you're not be judged by your good works which would lead you only to hell, instead you are judged through Christ. In Holy Baptism your sins are washed away because God's name was called out upon you. And all that Jesus did in his life death and resurrection are yours, especially the judgment that was called down upon him instead of you. So you are free. This is the "law of liberty". You are free from God's eternal punishment. You are free from the sin that plagues you, even your sin of partiality. And since you are free from it you can do is St. Peter says, live as a servant of Christ instead of a servant of yourself.
This leads us to the second point that St. James is making. None of this makes sense without faith in Christ. Faith in Christ means faith in his work for the forgiveness of our sins. Trust that he has done all it is necessary for us. This faith is active in good works because this faith works for the benefit of those being served. In the absence of this faith good works are done for ourselves. We do them in the vain hope that God will count these works in our salvation. These works are our "filthy rags" in God's sight. (Isa 64:6) To do our good works and hold them up in place of Christ is to say I don't need Jesus. There is no greater rejection of God than to say I don't need Jesus.
Active faith in Jesus cannot be separated from the works that faith displays. It is just as much of an error to say faith exists without works as it is to say works save us. It is faith alone, sola fide, that saves us, faith in the good work of Jesus Christ for us. You cannot see faith. It presides in the heart and the head. His confessed on the lips. It is shown in action. This is exactly what St. James says.
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Here I would like to make a minor adjustment in the translation. St. James is not talking about the faith he has but the Christian faith in general. A better way to read this would be "show me your faith apart from the works, and I will show you the faith by my works." He's not talking about faith that you can't see inside him he's talking about the Christian faith. Faith in a living Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again from the dead. A tangible real faith. "The Faith". A denial of one's own sin. A real clinging to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. And not just a faith that knows of Jesus but one that lives Jesus. When the confesses sin and forgiveness. The demons know about Jesus and all that he did but they live opposed to all that he is. They are destined for hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ our faith is real and living an active. It is not a head faith only but a heart faith as well. Those who cling to Jesus in faith for their forgiveness live as if that forgiveness makes a difference. This is what the Christian faith is. This is the faith that you and I confess. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen