But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does – James 1:25
Jesus in the Real World
James’ letter is short, sweet, and to the point. It has to be because he is addressing real life issues – those things that make a person question whether they are with God, or if God is with them. Tests, trials, doubts, temptations, my place in society – all of these are where we want to see our Christianity shine… or at least we should want it. These are areas where not only the rubber meets the road, but areas where we rub elbows with Christians and non-Christians alike. Can I be a witness of Christ? Absolutely when conditions are perfect, when there is no opportunity to slip up, when my requirement is low. How about, though, when conditions are less than perfect? When temptations are all around me? When I have to look at the person who passed me up for the promotion? Furthermore, how do I fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples in those situations? James wastes no time with pleasantries and thoughts of what is not. Rather, he jumps right in and hits us where we need it. Discipleship 101. Time for talk is over. It’s time to do.
The Land of Certification
Somehow society has moved from being people who live something out to those who can prove that they have studied, and are therefore fit to talk about the subject they have studied. Schools and teachers thrive on being able to spend as little as 2 days , up to 6 months with students to give them the tools to “test out”, giving them a title they can use for the next 2 years. If the student is smart, they can do minimal tasks to avoid having to take another certification test: attend a seminar, participate in a training class, write a paper… building up points to keep the title. Does this, however really say anything about the person getting certified, or the certifier?
James spends much of this first chapter talking about deception, but not deception from outside. He is talking about self-deception. The rich person being deceived into a sense of security because of his riches. The poor person being deceived into thinking they are less than, because they don’t have material goods. The religious person thinking they are good because they have performed some good work. All of it smacks of self-certification. What is it that I can do to “test out” so people will accept me as a Christian, where I can feel good about myself for the next couple years (and if I am smart, never have to come up to testing time again)? Self-deception occurs when the focus turns inward, on who the person is or appears to be rather than on the source of their life.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him – James 1:12
Even in our testing, in this land of certification, we look for the result – “I’m gonna get through this test” – but miss the key: the crown of life isn’t just given to those who stand the test – it is given to those who love God.
James writes to reiterate just how different our lives are to be, not just in cleanliness and morality, but moreso in our dedication to who we are disciples of.
“Of” is an Important Word
There is a lot of talk in Christian circles about stepping up to “being disciples” as opposed to being “mere Christians”. Usually it involves more stuff: more works, more renouncing, more study, more witnessing, and somehow demonstrating more of what people can perceive as God in your life. Now, while there is merit to bringing people to maturity, there is also a danger in looking at discipleship merely by the tasks we do.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody – II Corinthians 3:1-2
Discipleship defined by itself is like self-commendation – we can pat ourselves on the back for “having made it”, but we fail to answer the most important question
Why be a disciple in the first place?
At first glance, the question may seem heretical in Christian circles. However, in looking at Paul’s statement to the Corinthians, he defines the “X-factor” of discipleship: the “of” of being a disciple:
You yourselves are our letter…
Paul didn’t need certification because of the ongoing relationship he had with the Corinthians. Similarly, being a disciple is nothing without the “of” – we are to be disciples of Jesus.
What is a Disciple?
Is a disciple a student? A learner? A follower? Is a disciple someone who has taken the “extra step” to do more? Can you define a disciple by their lack of apparent sin? Their constant testimony? Their fearlessness in the face of non-believers?
And if this is the case, where does it leave most of us? Never able to measure up.
There really is one key measurement to determine who is, and is not a disciple of Jesus. Jesus words:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” – Matthew 16:24
“Follow Me” literally means to walk along the same road, or to go where he goes. Contextually, the person would have the choice between a path of their own choosing, and the path that Jesus is on. This was not just taking the same road, but walking together, continually. Being on the same journey together. This is what James meant when he said
Looking into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues to do this
It is one thing to acknowledge the direction that Jesus is going. Quite another to try to walk the path yourself (“I can be a good person like he was”). But true discipleship means looking into Him continually as you walk with Him.
Being What We are Seeing
Disciples took the step of following, or walking with their teacher or mentor because they saw something in them that they wanted to emulate – to become. They could spend all of their free time studying the teachings of that master, but the surest way to become like him was to do what he was doing when he was doing it or when he said to do it. Discipleship was an unofficial apprenticeship program – unofficial because it was not about taking on the profession of the teacher. It was truly becoming as the teacher was
The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord… – Matthew 10:24-25a
So also we, as disciples, are not trying to simply pursue another ministry opportunity, but our goal is to be as Jesus. Pretty lofty goal…
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood (overcome) it… the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world – John 1:4-5,9
The master is a man full of life. Light (inspiration, illumination, knowledge, removing blinders, setting direction, removing confusion) was available to all through Him. Darkness could not overcome his light. He gives what he has to every person
Do we want to be the disciple of that?
- Do we want to possess life instead of just exist in it?
- Do we want to inspire, illuminate, remove blinders and confusion, and set direction for others?
- Do we want to do this for everyone?
And still, the question is why? Do we want to do it because it makes us feel good, or because of the heart/love relationship we have with the master? Remember, the crown of life is not just given to the one who stands the test, but it is given to the one who loves Him.
Freedom… To Do
It is interesting that James ties “doing the stuff” to freedom and blessing. Discipleship is not hardship. Quite the opposite. It is freedom within the hardship. Freedom to follow, freedom to trust, freedom to do what Jesus does, knowing that the darkness cannot overcome His light. Discipleship is freedom to look at him and emulate him, and let his life and presence change us
Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – II Corinthians 3:15-18
We can only reflect that which we face. Therefore we are transformed as we look into the face, the life, the presence of Jesus – as we take his command to walk along the same path with him, to be disciples of Him.
– What characteristic or aspect of Jesus’ life is God showing you that he wants you to emulate
– Who needs to see Jesus in you today? This week?
– How have you experienced freedom in following Jesus?