The majority of the Epistles in the New Testament were written by Paul. Because of this, his teaching and interpretation of the Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching is much of the basis of how we teach and think in the church today. Peter wrote a couple of the Epistles, John wrote a few and even Jesus’ brother Jude wrote one. But there’s one Epistle by another author I recommend you avoid.
Don’t Read James
The book of Jame is almost a maverick of an Epistle. Peter, John and Jude hardly wrote anything in their Epistles and seemed to fit in very well with Paul’s writings. James is a different story. James says a lot of things that you might expect to hear from Paul, but he take a few verses to smack us up-side the head and ask the question, “are you really a Christian?”
When I think about what makes someone a Christian, I immediately think of a list of beliefs that someone has to agree with to be a Christian. I don’t think James would disagree with that thought, but he also says,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV
After hearing that, you might say, “so what?” I don’t usually break out Da Jesus Book, but I think it actually translates this in a way that really drives it home,
Eh, my bruddas an sistas! So, wat? If one guy ony say he trus God, but he no do wat God say, you tink dass nuff fo da guy get outa da bad kine stuff he awready stay in? No way! He ony trussing God wit his mout! James 2:14 HWCNT
If you say you trust God, or believe the points that you have to believe to be a Christian, but you don’t do what God says, you aren’t saved. James goes on to say,
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 2:15-17 ESV
At this point, you should be a little scared. I know I am. But what do we do? We believe all the things that we’re supposed to believe, but what are the works we need to be doing so our faith isn’t dead? A couple verses come to mind.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:35 ESV
Jesus said that everyone will know that we are Christians because of our love. When we truly love each other, and love the world around us, the works will come easily.
You don’t steal from the ones you love, you give gifts. You don’t lie to the ones you love, you tell the truth even if it’s hard. You don’t gossip about the ones you love, you say encouraging words to them and about them. If the one you love if hurting, you try to heal them. If the one you love is poor, you give them food and shelter. If the one you love is in sin, you tell them to stop it.
James himself also talks about what kinds of works make up pure and undefiled religion,
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
According to James, God accepts our religion when we visit (i.e. help) orphans and widows. God doesn’t want us to just sit around being “Christians,” He wants us to help those in need. Shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the wounded, comfort the mourning, father the fatherless.
That’s why I say “don’t read James.” If you read the book of James, you’ll have to realize that you have to do something to be truly born again. So, let’s just throw the whole book out! But there’s still a problem with that.
The problem with throwing out the Book of James is that Jesus said the same thing. And so does Paul. They may not say it as poignantly as James, but they do. James says it in a way that really makes sure you hear it, but the need for good and righteous works is written throughout the New Testament. We can’t get away from it!
Don’t live by faith alone and think you are saved. You need to act out your faith to be saved. At least, according to the Bible.