Today we are going to resume devotions based on the letter James wrote to his brothers and sisters in Christ who were dispersed throughout the world after persecution broke out in Jerusalem.
James shared this truth in verses 10 through 13: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as through who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James’ proposition so far is that there is one law and it belongs to the King (God) because it is his royal law. And James has drawn attention to that law, which stated they were to “Love their neighbor as themselves.” As the “royal law,” it reflects who the “King” is and what He wants His “subjects” to do. In the next few verses, James establishes what could be described as a universal obligation.
He accomplishes this proposal by sharing that the law is ONE indivisible whole. We are not given the privilege of picking and choosing between the commandments because they collectively make up the law. To break one is to break “the law.” Allow me to provide an analogy.
When we establish a covenant marriage relationship, we agree to several commitments – to love and to cherish, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, etc. If one member of that covenant breaks an individual aspect of that covenant, the covenant has been broken and unfortunately, the marriage relationship frequently faces dissolvement.
Here is another example: compare a heap of stones to a sheet of glass. We could take one stone from the heap, but the heap itself is still intact. However, if we throw an object in a window, it may strike only one place, but the entire window will be shattered. James is proposing that we cannot break only a portion of the law, either we keep the entire law or we break the entire law. That is a very sobering thought, true but sobering.
What gives the law this indivisible characteristic? The one who created it! It is designed to reflect the character of God. If someone keeps seven out of ten commandments, but fails to keep three of them, have they really reflected the character of God? Is it possible to pick and choose the characteristics of God we want to reflect and discard His other characteristics? James is saying: “NO, WE CANNOT!”
If we say that one aspect of the law does not apply to us, we are saying there is some aspect of God that is not important or does not matter to us. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses included this exhortation: “Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you His covenant, the Ten Commandments, which He commanded you to follow.” God did not allow mankind to see His form because that is not the image we are to attempt to recreate. We mirror the image of God when we display His character in our lives. To fail to display God’s character in one portion of our life, is failing to display His character, period.
James then challenges his reader to think and act as though they are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. The law is often referred to as the “law of liberty.” James has already shared that it is the royal law and as God’s children we should “wish” to obey it out of responsive obedience. His just shared that it is God’s commandment which means that we “must” obey it. He now finishes these verses by saying thirdly, that it is a law of liberty, meaning that we CAN obey it. We have the liberty/freedom to obey it.
In the Old Testament, the law was given to the nation of Israel to “safeguard” their liberty which God provided when He led them out of bondage in Egypt. The law of God was not a new source of bondage, but a source of freedom that confirmed the end of their bondage in Egypt. Following the law included the promise of God that they would be blessed and enjoy freedom from future bondage. Unfortunately, their lack of obedience to the law resulted in addition bondage.
The same possibility exists today. We can enjoy the freedom that comes from being faithful to the new covenant God established. However, we will find ourselves in bondage if we fail to fulfill that covenant relationship. James refers to this royal law as the law that gives freedom because it provides us the “FREEDOM” to live our lives demonstrating the character of God. When we obey His commands, we are living like Him.
We were made in the image of God. The law reflects the character of God. When we fulfill the law, we are demonstrating the image and character of God in our lives. Being obedient to the law of God creates an opportunity for us to enjoy a free life.
Mankind has always been seeking to be “free.” While this may sound like a contradiction, true freedom is only found in God. Luke shared a wonderful truth in Acts 5:32 “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
In this verse, Luke is sharing that when we obey, we are going to be given the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we have the ability to enjoy the freedom in Christ that results in demonstrating the character of God. The proposition – obedience liberates!
We are called to obey. Hopefully, we wish to obey, we realize we must obey and we, with the filling of the Holy Spirit through our obedience, can obey!
That is freedom!
Tomorrow, we will be looking at what James has to say about judgment and mercy.
Have a blessed day!