My wife and I share a favorite word for our children’s arguments: snit. It perfectly captures the pettiness of so many little squabbles. We love our children very much, and we’ve spent the last thirteen years shepherding their hearts and minds. But with six kids we cannot get involved in every disagreement. And when it’s on the level of a snit, we rely on them to solve it on their own.
Do you imagine that James and Jesus got into snits? If so, that must have been incredibly exasperating for James, because he would’ve been the only one bringing the snittiness to the conflict—Jesus was never at fault (2Corinthians 5:21).
The Bible doesn’t tell us much of Christ’s childhood, nor of the younger years of sibling relations, but during His early ministry we catch a glimpse of conflict. His siblings, who had grown up with Him, were at odds with Jesus’s bold claims. “He’s out of His mind,” they declared to the crowd, and sought to pull him aside (Mark 3:21). What else could they do to restrain their eccentric and possibly deluded brother? This was no longer a snit, after all, and I reckon James thought Jesus the one at fault.
When James came to faith, following his brother’s resurrection, all signs of a possible rivalry and opposition disappeared. His epistle, which was the first letter written of the New Testament letters, is not focused on himself or his biological connection to Jesus, but rather on the marks of true faith. His call was to “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27), to a faith that was not mere lip-service.
Like Christ’s exposition of the law in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), James’s epistle reminds us that the call to faith in Christ is not shallow and promiscuous, allowing us to snag salvation and then go about our merry way. Rather, faith in Christ is transforming. The power of the “implanted word” produces not only salvation, but good works; it opens our ears to hear, and shapes our will to do the work of the kingdom (James 1:21).
We are prone to make a religion of our own design, to tell ourselves that our version of faith is genuine and pleasing to God. But James reminds us that neither a mere outward show of faith, nor a faith without outward results is genuine. In the first chapter alone, James reminds us that true Christianity is marked by wisdom, genuine faith, humility, endurance, gratitude, self control, making us doers of the Word, upholders of the law, servants to the needy, and set apart from the world (James 1:5–27).
James’s own life was a record of the gospel’s transformative power. He once was offended by Jesus, and prone to his own kind of “envy and selfish ambition” (James 3:16), even pronouncing Jesus insane (Mark 3:21). What a glorious testimony to the power of the gospel! As we look at the life of James, we are met with the evidence of God’s grace, which transforms unbelief to firm faith, and petty ridicule to a thirst for righteousness. May God be so gracious to us also, that we may be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
Written by Caleb Faires