When you read the book of James in the New Testament, you’re reading something that was written by the half-brother of Jesus. How amazing to be able to read words written by a man who grew up in the same home as our Lord.

James is never listed as one of the followers of Jesus during His earthly ministry. In fact, we don’t really know much about him until his adult years. This is probably because James did not become a believer until after Christ’s resurrection (John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14).

So what do we know about James, the brother of Jesus? He held a high and important leadership role in the church (Galatians 2:9) and from church history, we know that he was a part of the first ecumenical council of the early church that was called in order to address some of the early heresies. The presiding officer was James, not Peter or Paul.

James was known for being a just man and one who loved righteousness. Tradition says that his knees resembled the knees of camels because he spent a lot of his life on his knees in prayer. So his nickname became James the Just, or James the Righteous.

Sometime around 50 AD the Spirit inspired this brother of Jesus to write a book. Since James and Jesus came from the same family you’d almost expect his book to be written like one of the Gospels, in which he tells stories about his divine brother. But never once does he say, “and Jesus said …” or “Jesus did…” Instead, his writing style is more like the wisdom literature that is found in the book of Proverbs.

R.C. Sproul points out that James writes similarly to the way that Jesus taught, not in long lectures, but in short lessons. The book of James is not very long, but James does manage to teach on a number of different topics. Like Jesus, he talks to us about suffering, the power of prayer, the importance of controlling our tongue, and the danger of wealth.

When we compare the writings of Paul to those of James, we see that Paul’s writings, though practical, focus more on “orthodoxy” (right thinking). James, on the other hand, was more focused on “orthopraxy” (right living). His focus was on our hearts and hands more than on our hearts and minds. But don’t misunderstand James; both theology and godliness are important to a robust Christian life. In fact, you can’t live rightly if you don’t first think rightly. The right doctrine, received by faith, leads to proper devotion.

Because James‘ emphasis is on what we do, many have misunderstood the book. Some read it in such a way that they believe we can earn or maintain God’s love and favor through our works. This is a heresy that can lead people away from the gospel. Believers who begin to read James like this will run into two potential problems: despair or pride. If you believe that God accepts you based on your behavior you might despair and quickly give up when you fail (and we all fail often). If you don’t despair over your failure, you will struggle with pride when you succeed.

The proper way to read James is through the lens of the gospel. Without that, the entire text will be out of focus. James is a picture of the perfect Christian life. But no one is perfect, not even one (Romans 3:23). Therefore, instead of feeling despair when we fail, we need to look to Jesus who lived that perfect life for us, and rejoice that in Him all our sins are forgiven. And instead of being prideful when we succeed, we need to be thankful that Christ is at work in us.

James challenges us to not only talk the talk but walk the walk. As we study through this book together, may we be confronted with our shortcomings and repent, encouraged by Christ’s abundant grace, and motivated to live godly lives through His power and for His glory.

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Join us on Monday as we begin this powerful study in the book of James!

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