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November 28, 2011


Various Bible students are somewhat puzzled with key passages found in the letter of James (notably in chapters 1 and 2). James' phrase "faith without works is dead" is not contrasting two methods of salvation (faith versus works).  Instead, James is contrasting two kinds of faith: living faith that saves and dead faith that does not.  James' teaching perfectly complements Paul's writings. The spiritual fruit that James talks about simply demonstrates the true faith of which Paul wrote. Indeed, salvation is determined by faith alone (Eph. 2:8, 9) and demonstrated by faithfulness to obey God's will alone (Eph. 2:10). Just as professed compassion without action is phony, the kind of faith  that is without works is empty profession, not genuine saving faith.

The Law of God is not a series of detached injunctions but a basic unity that requires perfect love of Him and neighbors (Matt. 22:36-40). Although all sins are not equally damaging or heinous, they all shatter that unity and render people transgressors, much like hitting a window with a hammer at only one point will shatter and destroy the whole window.  James' phrase "guilty of all" (James 2:10) is not in the sense of having violated every  command, but in the sense of having violated the Law's unity.  One transgression makes fulfilling the Law's most basic commands--to love God perfectly and to love one's neighbor as oneself--impossible. James is thereby referring to the injunction (Great Commandment) of Jesus and the Shema found in Matthew 22 and Deuteronomy 6 respectively.  

What is the "royal law" (James 2:8) and "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12)?  The phrase "royal law" translates better as "sovereign law." The idea is that this law is supreme and binding. The context of James 2 clearly indicates that James is referring to God's righteous standards as expressed in His Law (verses 8, 11). It is important to understand that not all of the 613 laws of the Torah had the same importance, purpose, and weight. These 613 laws have been historically categorized as containing moral, ceremonial, judicial, civic, and agricultural injunctions (the latter four are passe, the first category still applies as verified repeatedly in the NT). In other words, the ethics of the Old Testament Law are the same as those of the New Testament Gospel. The "law of  Christ" (Gal. 6:2) is the law of love which fulfills the entire law (love toward God and neighbors).

The Apostle Paul affirms that the Law is "holy and righteous and good" as God Himself is. Again, the context of Romans 7 clearly refers to the ethical or moral injunctions of the Decalogue (verse 7). Since the Ten Commandments are considered a basic summary of the 613 laws of the Torah or Pentateuch, it should not surprise anyone to find a ceremonial or ritual law in the mix (i.e., the Fourth Commandment with its weekly showbread and extra sacrificing requirements). Indeed, without any ritual elements, the Decalogue would not be a representative summation of the entire Law. It is noteworthy that the other nine commandments are in effect 24/7 (every nanosecond of  time) and not merely once a week. Moreover, God's ethical (moral) standards are not  in force  just  intermittently or sporadically.  

Let us, like David and Paul,  delight in God's Law with our "inner being" (verse 22) or spirit.  After all, what is there not to like about God's righteous standards?  Even without a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, God's revealed will in His Word would still be best for our lives. The fact that the law reveals, arouses, and condemns sin, bringing death to the sinner, does not mean that the law is evil.  Rather, the law is a perfect reflection of God's holy character and the standard for believers to please Him.  In contrast to the claims of SDA apologists, the Bible nowhere implies nor teaches that only ethical or moral directives are found in the Decalogue.   

Unfortunately, some former Adventists and others have developed an aversion to God's Law due to their intense abuse from legalism. Legalism, which is the misuse of the law,  messes up a lot of people. Consequently, they sometimes embrace so-called "Christ-centered" or "Spirit-led" antinomianism (read the concise article by J. I. Packer entitled "Antinomianism" in this blog).  In the truest sense, all exhortations in Scripture are a form of law. Two wrongs never make a right.   In this information age, there has been a dramatic upswing in biblical literacy throughout the world. Soli Deo Gloria!

It is not an overstatement to say that Seventh-day Adventism has not prepared us to accurately and  biblically decipher the religious landscape surrounding us. The result is too often akin to leaping from one frying pan into yet another one. However, in the miracle of regeneration, God opens our hearts (like happened to Lydia, the seller of purple) and gives us a teachable spirit that corrects our past errors. It takes a lot of humility to admit being wrong about the most important things in life--especially to one's adult children who were taught a false gospel from early childhood. Indeed, saving faith has the important element of obedience. James aptly depicts the obedience of faith.  Getting the Gospel right should be our top priority. Moreover, teaching "sound doctrine" is a biblical mandate (Titus 2).  Satan doesn't mind our leaving a cult or a false gospel if we join yet another one or create our own.

courtesy of

Worldwide Chaplaincy Services
E-mail:  dfministries@gmail.com