James: Keeping it Real


Well, good morning Saylorville. If you brought a copy of scripture with you this morning, you can find the book of James as we begin a brand new series titled Keeping It Real.

I love that bumper video with the fruit and all that. Someone has said, if Paul is the root, James is the fruit when it comes to our faith. James chapter 1 and verse 1, as we just introduced this message, this series this morning. And here it is,

“James, a servant,” some of your Bibles may say, “Slave of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

When I was a brand new Christian, I was saved out of a very theologically legalistic church. I don’t have any regrets about my upbringing. It was very loving home, but the church I was raised in was patently legalistic. And when I discovered that salvation was through faith and faith alone… plus nothing… I’m telling, I can’t tell you how liberated I was, and I was incredibly zealous. I mean, I liken myself as literally a bull in a china shop. The only difference between now, then and now, is I’ve just learned how not to break the china. But I broke a lot of china in the early days. And a lot of it was with my family. They were the first, that first people I went to, I went and shared with them that salvation was through Christ and Christ alone. I pleaded with all of them. I had eight different family units to go to. And one of them came back to me to my home, one of my sisters, very zealous herself and her faith. And she confronted me and challenged me that salvation was not just by faith alone. She said, in fact, she said, “Pat, you might not know this, but we believe in the book of James as well.” Which has the famous line, “Faith without works is dead.” [James 2:17] It did catch me momentarily off guard. But I understood where James was going, even then, as a brand new Christian and shared that with her. But what she was doing, she was pitting the apostle Paul against James and trying to insinuate there was a contradiction.

So if you know anything about your Bibles and the New Testament, you should know that the apostle Paul looks at faith objectively. Whereas James looks at faith subjectively. With Paul, this is what faith “is.” James says this is what faith “does.” So Paul says [in Ephesians 2:8-9],

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

James comes back and says, again in chapter 2 verse 17,

So faith by itself, if it does not have works is,” say it, everyone, “is dead.”

The Apostle Paul says in Roman 3:20, he says,

‘Man is not justified by the works of the law.’

And James says in the very next verse, [James 2:18]

But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works. I’ll show you my faith by my works.”

So Paul is saying, the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘We’re NOT saved by faith + works.’ And James is saying, ‘That’s right. We’re saved by faith that works.’

When I was 18 years old, I went out to buy my very first used car. And I knew nothing about cars. But I found a 1967 candy apple red Ford Mustang, very cool, very cool. And so I went and got my friend Paul, who came to look at the car. He looked at you, that’s a really cool car. Let’s look under the hood. Ah, we don’t need to look under the hood. He pops the hood up, it’s dripping oil. It’s just the most– I mean, the car is hooked up to everything but intravenous stuff to keep it alive. He said, “Nem’s– I’ll never forget it. “Nem’s,” he says, “This is a cool car, but it’s junk.”

The apostle Paul was like a car internal engineer. James is like a car external designer. Paul’s interested in what’s under the hood. James is just interested in the hood. And we need both, Amen? Paul’s about the interior. [Romans 10:9]

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

James is more concerned about the exterior, and so he says, in chapter James 4:4

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

So he’s interested in what’s coming out. Paul says that in Christ we’re new creations.’            

[2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”]

James says, ‘I wanna know what that new creation looks like.’

The great theologian, John Calvin, put these two things together when he said,

“It’s faith alone that saves, but faith that saves is never alone.”

A great statement. So what about this book, James? Okay, it’s called James, although in both Hebrew and Greek, it’s Jacob. In fact, some people prefer to call this the book of Jacob. I’m not going there, it’s way too confusing. But it is the word for Jacob. More importantly, this is the earliest book written in all of the New Testament, right here. Even earlier than the Gospels. it was written in 45 AD. So this is really helpful for even that first verse we just looked at. Early on, the church was almost exclusively Jewish. Hence, you have that statement to the 12 tribes of the Dispersion. What in the world? I mean, these are actual 12 Jewish, the 12 Jewish tribes were still intact. They could figure out their lineages. This was before the sacking of Jerusalem by Roman and a number of other things that make it virtually impossible except the mind of God to know who’s who. But that’s the reason why we have that here.

But if you’ll notice even in James 2:2 says,

“For a man wearing a gold ring and a fine clothing comes into your assembly…”

You see that? That’s the word [assembly] for “synagogue.” So it’s a very distinctly Jewish-like book. That’s why we’re gonna see many Old Testament quotes, allusions, especially from the book of Proverbs.

You can imagine how thrilled I was just the other day, I made a brand new friend, a Jewish man. We became close friends just in the space of an hour or two that we spent together. And he’s very tender-hearted and he’s very open to the gospel. This is thrilling to me, because while the church was exclusively Jewish at the beginning, not so much today.

Now Martin Luther, the great reformer, hated this book. In fact, he questioned whether it should even be in the canon of the Bible. He criticized this book because of its lack of gospel emphasis. In fact, he called it “an epistle of straw,” because of its lack of… in fact, he says, “It has nothing of the nature of the gospel.” Now he was right in that the gospel itself is not in the book of James. That is, you’re not going to hear about the death or the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus himself is referenced a couple of times. But he’s dead wrong. He was dead wrong. Well, he’s dead anyway, but he knows now. It’s not a book of straw, okay?

Of 108 verses in this book, 54, there are 54 commands. This is a punch you in the face kind of book. This is an in-your-face and in-your-business… This book does get into your business like no other book in the New Testament. So as I said, it’s like the Proverbs of the New Testament. And so it’s sort of a kind of a book that’s the intent of this book is to take you who are Christians, if indeed you are and I don’t assume that you all are or watching online, but it’s to take those of you that are Christians and put some spiritual rebar in you. And I’ll come back to that. Because James, this is another unique thing about James. He assumes as believers his readers rather know Jesus. You know that we never assume that here in the morning, right Right now I don’t assume all of you know Jesus. I’m quite confident, not all of you do. And that’s why we always lay the gospel down. James doesn’t because he assumes there is readers or Christians. Again, look what he says in

James 1:2, Count it all, joy my…” What? “my brothers.

James 1:16, he says, “Do not be deceived my brothers,”

James 1:19. “Know this, my beloved brothers…”

James 2:1,My brothers…”

James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers…”

James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,”

You get the point. James is assuming that his readers are Christians. Now he doesn’t, I think the guts of this book is going to show you that he’s not convinced they’re absolutely all Christians, but generally speaking, he thinks the church is. By the way, I think the assumption is there because this is a church that was under persecution. And last I checked fake Christians, which are not Christians at all, they don’t last very long in churches that are being persecuted. And for several reasons, they needed spiritual rebar because worldliness had crept in and they needed strengthening.

And by the way, I have used that metaphor for years, spiritual rebar. And I realized recently, not everybody knows what that is. Have you ever seen rebar? You’re driving, I bet most of you have. You’re driving along the road and you see a new road being laid out. And if you’ll notice, they don’t just poor concrete. They don’t just put up sides and pour concrete. They set it all up and that’s rebar. That’s steel. And then they pour the concrete over the steel because the steel is the rebar. It’s what makes the concrete stronger than it already is. So that semis and Mac trucks and everything else can go, tractors can go over that concrete without busting it all up. And that’s what you and I need in our lives. Spiritual rebar to strengthen us in these times. I need it, you need it, we all need it.

And the guts of this book are gonna deal with things like even what’s happening in human nature. I love that. I love that about this, but it’s really gonna get right into the guts of what happens in our human nature.

Just the other day, my son, we’re on a vacation together with all of our kids and I have a grandson that had to be first and everything. It was first one in line, first one doing their first one to eat, first one to whatever game we were playing. He had to be first, first, first, first. And so his dad took him aside and said, “Son, you have to learn that if you’re a Christian, you have to put others ahead of yourself.” And so in the next game he said to his dad, he said, “Okay, dad, you go first… but I’m second.” You get it.

James is going to get after that human nature here, okay? That’s what he’s going to do. I mean, we’re tackling trials and temptations and believe or not, you need both to have that spiritual rebar in your life. He’s going to tackle favoritism, which is going to cause a little bit of cringing. He’s going to talk about real versus dead faith.

Just the other day I was with a gal who came to Christ recently, but she had prayed a prayer with somebody a couple of years ago, and she said to me, she goes, “You know, he was a really nice person that went through the Bible with me and stuff, and I kind of just did it for him. I didn’t really mean it.”

That might be some of you. James is going to come after you. He’s going to talk about your faith, whether it’s alive or whether it’s dead. He’s going to talk about the tongue. I might skip that one. No, I’m kidding. We’ll get to that. But he is going to get into the tongue. He’s going to talk about wisdom as well. Wisdom from above and wisdom from beneath, and there are both. He’s going to talk about those of us who are wealthy. You talk about cringing. If you got a lot of disposable income, what are you doing with it? He’s gonna get after that. So now is the time to leave, if you wanna leave. He’s gonna get after prayer because he’s the one who says that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” [James 5:16] Right? He’s the one who does that. And then he’s gonna talk about restoration. There is nothing straw-ish about this epistle.

So James… Who is this guy? There’s like five of them in the New Testament. Let’s just cut to the quick. This is James the brother of Jesus. This is the second oldest in the pecking order. Did you know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the Virgin birth, after Jesus was born, had several children? James was one of them. By the way, how would you like to grow up with Jesus? (congregation laughing) I mean, somebody who never sinned.

My brother Mike came really close to that, by the way. I mean, I was between my brother Bobby, who was too silly to do anything wrong. And then there was my brother Mike, who just, I didn’t think he ever sinned. I remember we had to go down, the three of us had to go down the basement to clean the basement. We cleaned the basement. My brother Bobby and I just wanted to get out and play. And when we got done, he goes, “No guys. We’ve got to wax the floor.” What are you talking about? Wax the floor, who waxes the basement floor? My brother Mike… waxed the basement floor.

We’re talking Jesus here. And you could just try to imagine what it would have been like. And this is the reason why his brothers, including James actually despised him. In fact, here’s how John puts it in John 7:1-5. Look at this, here’s what it says. In John seven,

“After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” Notice the Jews were seeking to what? To kill him! “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand so his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go up to [Judea]”…

…where they’re seeking to kill ya! “that your disciples also may see the works that you’re doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly.” (laughs) If you do these things, show yourself in the world for not even his brothers” including James, “believed in him.”

Now I’m guessing that many of you are familiar with the following scene in Mark’s Gospel. Let me give it to you, here it is, in Mark 3:31-35. His mother and brothers came, they came to this house, the place was packed, Jesus is teaching and preaching.

And standing outside, they sent to him and called him and a crowd was sitting around him and they said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” He answered, “Who’s my mother? Who are my brothers? And looking about,” I think it would go to the next slide, “those who sat around him he said, “Here, he said, “Here’s my mother, here’s my brother, whoever does the will of God. He’s my brother, sister, and mother.”

Remember that one? But did you know and Mark tells us what was going on the scene. Why did his mother and his brother show up at this packed house? I’ll tell you why. You just got to back up a few verses, Mark 3:21.

“And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his” ever-loving “mind.

They thought he was crazy. James thought he was crazy. So what happened? What changed? How did James go from being a mocking despiser, bent on putting his brother in a psychiatric ward to describing himself as a servant, literally a slave, and eventually leading the very first church that ever existed on this earth? The short answer is, he met Jesus, not big brother, but great Savior. He met Him and we’re told he met Him. If you look at 1 Corinthians 15, it lays out the gospel that Christ died and rose again. He appeared to Peter, the disciples, the 500… starts going through a litany of people he appeared in… And he appeared to James. Paul isolates the fact that he appeared to his next oldest kin, James. And somewhere in there, James, like C.S. Lewis, became a reluctant convert. But when he was converted, wow, was he converted! He turned his world upside down. He would become the first pastor of the Jerusalem church. The very first church to ever exist was the one that James pastored. He would lead the all church conference, the first one to ever exist in Acts 15 where they discussed circumcision and salvation. James led that. Highly, highly regarded. The Apostle Paul tells us that after he was saved, that is after Paul was saved, he tells us in Galatians 1 that he hung out personally with James. We’re not told why, but we can just sort of imagine. I mean, because Paul got to see Jesus, Jesus appeared to (remember that?) “Saul, Saul saw why are you persecuting me” [Acts 9:4] back and forth? They went, he got visions of Jesus, but he never got to hang out with him, never grew up with him. I can imagine that Paul hung out with James just to find out more about the life of Jesus. And then he tells us in Galatians 2:9, Paul says, ‘James was a pillar in the church.’ That’s how big a deal this guy was. This half-brother of Jesus. Tradition tells us in 62 AD the Pharisees drug him out of the temple and bludgeoned him to death. And he did what his big brother did when he died. He called out, “Father, forgive them.” History will require that he was a very humble, godly and prayerful man. He’s the one who will tell us toward the end of his epistle, [James 5:16] “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” right? He was called “James, the just,” and one early historian called him “Old camel knees” because he prayed so much his knees were so rough. But did you notice how he described…look at it again, look how he describes himself. Does he describe himself as ‘James, the son of Mary and brother of God, himself in the flesh? Oh, by the way, he looked a lot like me.’ No, he doesn’t say that.

It says, [James 1:1], “James, a servant, (literally a slave. “Doulos.” It’s the word, it only means slave. That’s what it means.) “slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A slave was owned and we’re told in Scripture, if you know Jesus,

[1 Corinthians 6:20] “You are not your own, You have been bought with a price,” Amen? “Therefore glorify God in your body.”

A slave was owned. He served His master without question. He had no rights, no privileges, no wants, no desires, only obeying the commands of His master. In the Old Testament, we’re told [Exodus 21:1-6] that if a Jew had another Jew under servitude, that he was then to let him go on the seventh year. Remember that? …Jubilee, that year of freedom. But if that slave loved his master and could not think, could not conceive in his own mind to go anywhere else, to work anywhere else, even as a free person but only for his master who he was convinced who actually loved him, he would go next to a doorpost and they would drive a nail right through his earlobe, and he’d put a ring, some type of a signet represented that he was owned by the master and that he was freely now a slave, that he was endeared to his master. And isn’t that what we have in Jesus? Our master who loves us, we gladly serve him.

We are about to embark on a journey through a letter that demands we see ourselves as dedicated slaves to Jesus Christ. Are you ready? Well, you better be ’cause that’s what we’re gonna do. (congregation laughs)

And I want to conclude this introduction before we go to the Lord’s table with a word to those of you who are here and those of you watching online who are like James. You’ve mocked your big brother. You’ve mocked your parents. You’ve criticized their faith. You pointed out their hypocrisy. Yeah, they were all guilty in one way or another, right? You’ve seen the inconsistencies in their life and you’ve used it as your excuse to not bow the knee to the one who loved you and died for your sins and rose again. I’m making an appeal to you today because I get it. I get the idea of hypocrisy. I’ve been a hypocrite. I get the idea of screwing up. I’ve screwed up. I’ve had to ask for forgiveness more times that I can count to my kids over the years. But you’re not going to have to face me when you die or your parents or the big brother or whoever that you’re holding off for whatever reason you’re holding on. You’re going to have to, like James, face Jesus, who was never hypocritical, never sinned, was never inconsistent, and always loved you. Still does. Would you just, today, stop making excuses and make yourself a glad slave to Jesus, who humbled himself and became like a slave for you, by the way, and died for you and rose again? Would you receive him as your personal Lord and Savior? Would you do that?

Remember in the story in John 7, remember in John 7, that’s where the brothers wouldn’t believe in Jesus. Remember that? They told him to go up and go up where you’re going to get killed because they wouldn’t believe in him. You remember how Jesus responded to them? Here’s how he responded to him. He said this, [John 7:6]

“My time is not yet come, but your time is always here.”

And Paul put it like this, [2 Corinthians 6:2]

Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation.”

Believe not on the big brother, but on the great Savior who loves you right where you’re at. Will you pray with Me?

Our Father in Heaven, as we embark on this journey in James, we pray that you would use this study to put spiritual rebar in all of our lives that we would seek to “be doers of the Word, not hears only deceiving our own selves. [James 1:22] And for those Lord who are dead in their faith, may this message and the ones to come, be the thing, the very thing that wakes them up to believe, not on the big brother, but on the great Savior Himself. Now Lord, as we go to the table, your table, the Lord’s table, and we take these elements that depict your perfect life, the bread, and your sacrificial death, the juice. May we go so as your servants, as your slaves, as submissive to you, ready to do your bidding, ready to do your will, ready to do whatever you ask us to do. Give us that kind of a heart and attitude as we seek you during this time. For it’s in Jesus name we pray. Amen.


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