The Epistle of James is particularly known for its message about faith. Faith is vital for salvation, but the genuineness of our faith is evident in what it causes us to do. James writes, “If you really fulfil the royal law according to scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well” (2:8).
It surprises some to realize that this “royal law” is not one of the ten commandments, yet when Jesus was asked by a lawyer, “Teacher which is the great commandment in the Law? … he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19:18 which was a law they only applied when it suited them! Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan that he told to answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?’
So James presses home the point, “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” (James 2:14-17).
In verse 12 James told his readers to “act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” – what did he mean? He had already made the point in chapter 1:25 that “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”.
The point is, they have been liberated from keeping the letter of the Mosaic Law – they now had to keep “the perfect law” that Jesus had set out in answering the lawyer. The chapter concludes with examples from the lives of Abraham and Rahab who showed their faith by what they did. “For as the body apart from the spirit (breath) is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead”.