Perfect Law of Liberty


The Book of James is hard for Christians, even Christian theologians, to
understand, and I have pondered and studied why this situation is so. With
this in mind, I have noted two reasons, which may play in this situation.

One reason, as I see it, is the failure to see that James is contrasting two
laws. One law is the "perfect law that gives freedom" (James 1:25), meaning
Jesus Christ, and the other law is the "royal law" (James 2:8), meaning the
Old Covenant law. The first law (Jesus) saves us and lives in us, while the
second law (the Old Covenant law) kills us.

Another reason for struggling with the Book of James is the failure to see
that James is answering the criticism that faith standing alone and without
a focus on works is useless. In fact, all of James 2:18-19, which is
usually awkwardly translated and disputed by scholars, illustrates this
charge through an accusation against faith and through a disparagement
of belief by some unknown fellow. A possible rendering of these verses
might go like this:

"But someone might say, 'You have faith, but I have good works. Show me
your deedless faith, and I will counter with my much better good works. And
as for belief in God alone to get things done, well good for you! Even the
demons believe and tremble!'"

To these words, James answers, "You foolish man!" With this retort, James
then gives two bizarre examples (Abraham and Rahab) of how faith based on
the very presence of God in a person's life works. And both of these
examples have the "heroes" involved with activities completely apart from
and, shockingly, even condemned by the royal law!

My point is that the Book of James is about how the perfect law that gives
liberty (meaning Jesus Christ in us our hope of glory) plays out in our
lives. As such, the Book of James stands against doing stuff through our
own efforts (even efforts from the royal law) to make it with God. In other
words, James sees Jesus as the only one who can live our messy lives as God

Can we have some discussion on this matter? This topic seems important to
me as we further develop a Christ centered theology as opposed to a law
centered theology.


J. Richard Parker


  1. Hey Richard!

    I like what you have written here and how you are wrestling with it in the Light of Jesus! I was just in a discussion day before yesterday on this very issue regarding this book. I think I agree with your main points as I understand you.

    Even though it may not always be clear exactly what a passage is saying, by more thoroughly and accurately understanding Who Jesus is, we can know what a passage is NOT saying! That is helpful, too!

    I think that the way a biblical writer starts out is a key to the rest of the book, and that they aren't contradicting the Jesus they have professed in the first few paragraphs with something that appears to have changed from grace to legalism in the rest of the book. I find it helpful to think in terms of speaking objectively and THEN subjectively. In other words, we REALLY DO participate in and experience our union with God (for good or for ill) in the flesh - NOW!!!

    Since we cannot and don't want to seperate God's acts too much from His Being, the subjective things are actually His objective Being, in action, in us (though NO book in the bible is fully comprehensive in describing the endless variety of actions He performs in and through us!)

    In verses 1, 9, and 13 -21, in particular, I see James clearly writing in a Trinitarian and Inclusive way in setting a tone for the rest of his letter. He says the "devils shudder" because God is one (i.e., they shudder because the unity of the Three Persons is not something that can be broken or truly opposed and wrecked! They know, they've tried to wreck it! Positively, they have seen the creative imagination of the Three in One and it blows their minds, even as it does ours!)

    James is clear in his inclusivity when he says that God gives to all and is in the good wherever good is, and that the word (Greek = logos = Jesus) is implanted (Greek = emphutos = engrafted = in a fixed position, at rest = blown in, sprung up)

    In this light, it makes more clear to me that James is speaking of faith and works in relational terms, and NOT legal ones, as he continues to write about the most important and only REAL thing going on in all of our lives everywhere - Jesus!

    It's going to be fun re-learning and continue to see just how much we are all included, adopted and loved in the Son as we read the scriptures with more Light!! Glad to be on the journey with you!

  2. Anonymous12/16/2007

    Hi Timothy!

    Thank you for your thought provoking response to my view of James.

    And I do feel that James is in step with Paul, John, Peter, Jude, and Luke (as in Acts) who wrote for the New Covenant. In other words, all of these writers are following a clear logic based on belief in the name of Jesus.
    However, modern Christianity sidetracks away from this logic into law.

    For instance, if I were to ask most preachers, "What are the Great Commandments for Christians?" most often I would hear back, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself." But this is the law, as clearly identified by Jesus Christ. And law, because we can't do law, forces us to have a view of God as being remote from us and wrathful towards us.

    But Paul tells us:

    Gal 5:18--But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

    As such, the logic of the New Covenant should tell us that the Great Commandments are:

    I Jn 3:23-24--And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (NIV)

    Yes, with these "non-law" commandments, God (Jesus Christ) actually lives in us and transforms us.

    This is the logic of all the writers for the New Covenant, and this logic makes God oh so near to us and touchable by us.

    I wish more folks could see this logic and embrace the very presence of Jesus within.


    J. Richard Parker


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