Archive for the ‘Epistle:James’ Category

Justification, faith and works. 33rd Mon after Pentecost.

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Today’s readings, followed by a few pastoral & personal thoughts.

Today’s reading from St James is one of my favorites. It is also one of the least understood parts of the NT, because of a misunderstanding about what “justification” is. Some Orthodox Christians may not see what the “big deal” is here, but this is a “big deal”, and a huge stumbling block for many Western believers.

 

To be “justified” is to become righteous. This is not imputed unto us by fiat from God, but comes about because of our struggle to be righteous, and the grace of God helping us. Before the incarnation, no struggle for righteousness could be wholly successful. God became man, and changed fundamental human nature, making it capable of total righteousness – total “justification”.

 

The great chasm in understanding comes from considering “justification” to be a legal process, where Jesus Christ offered a perfect sacrifice to His Father by proxy. Orthodox understand justification to be the gradual change of the inner man to holiness. All this is made possible because of the incarnation. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

 

In all things in life, we learn by doing. Justification is no different. The Christian must “hear” the Gospel (whether by mouth, written word, and always by the inner groanings[1] of the Holy Spirit) and act upon it to know God. Knowledge in the scriptural sense always involves action. One could also say: faith always involves works.

 

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:25)

 

If we do not emulate Christ in our works, we cannot know Him – we cannot be justified. The works are part of “knowing” God. Without them, we do not change.

 

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

 

There is a righteous recent Greek nun, who recommended that the Christian would read St James EVERY DAY. This is how important it is that we understand faith and works.

 

 

 

James 2:14-26 14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

 

Mark 10:46-52 46 And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. 48 And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. 49 And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. 50 And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. 52 And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

 

Bibliography

The Explanation of the Holy Gospel according to St Mark, by Blessed Theophylact, published by Chrysostom Press – http://www.chrysostompress.org/. ALL FOUR BOOKS ARE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

 

Priest Seraphim Jan 13/26 2009                                                                                            St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

http://www.orthodox.net/scripture/ pentecost-monday-33_2009_james2;14-26+mark10;46-52.html

http://www.orthodox.net/scripture/ pentecost-monday-33_2009_james2;14-26+mark10;46-52.rtf

http://www.orthodox.net/scripture/ pentecost-monday-33_2009_james2;14-26+mark10;46-52.pdf

 

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[1] Rom 8:26  Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered

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36th Friday after Pentecost – James 2:1-13 – The Royal Law

Friday, February 1st, 2008
Christianity is perfection by degrees. It does not abolish the law – it fulfills it. I have spoken many times about the cognitive dissonance produced in our soul by observing the lamentable reality of our lives – our weaknesses, bad habits, tendency to fall into sin again and again – vs. the promise and requirement of our becoming perfected. What we see in our lives does not approach this ideal!
What to do? Even with the help of Christ, how can we change within so completely?

They key to our COMPLETE change is the ROYAL LAW: (if) “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well”. It is NOT POSSIBLE TO BE SAVED if we do not love our neighbor. It is not possible to love our neighbor if we are a “respecter of persons”, that is, if we love some more than others.
These are well known, but little followed words. They are the EASIER way, because as James makes clear, if we transgress part of the law, we are guilty of all, and we certainly transgress more than just a little bit! We have only one chance; we must live according to the law of liberty. “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty”

The Royal Law, and the Law of liberty are the same. They are both rooted in mercy. Since we have obtained mercy, we must mete it out without regard to persons. This is the key to our regeneration. The EASY way is to love our neighbor, and we know who he is. Let us not mock God by choosing who to love and who we hate, who to treat with deference, and who to ignore – the question of who our neighbor was was answered emphatically by the parable of the Good Samaritan.
As a priest, and a sinful Christian, I have learned that many of us lack confidence that we can ever get completely better – it is that cognitive dissonance thing rearing its ugly head. Since we cannot see the way right now to get better in EVERYTHING, I have proposed a strategy many times – “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind!” In order to guard against favoritism, and in the spirit of the words of the brother of the Lord, let me amend that directive: “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind TO EVERYONE!”.
Is it really that simple? Can we really be saved by being kind, even though we still sin? What does James say? “ “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
Kindness, mercy, non judgment, love – all are fundamentally the same virtues. Our own kindness will save us, if we apply it EQUALLY and liberally to all.
Look carefully at your life. You may think you are kind, but will this belief stand up to careful scrutiny? It is easy to love the lovely; it is easy to be kind to the kind. It is natural to treat well those who we think can help us or hurt us – are we kind to the “little ones” who cannot influence our lives unless we let them? We will hear their voices at the judgment day – what will they be saying? If we have lived according to the law of liberty, we will be judged by it, and be saved.
There is no other way to be saved. If we follow this “Royal Law” (of liberty) carefully, we will see a marvelous thing in our lives – we will get stronger – we will stop sinning. This is for later – for now, let us be no “respecter of persons”: since we cannot stop sinning, let us be kind to everyone.


James 2:1-13 1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

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36th Thursday after Pentecost – James 1:19-27 – Are you religious?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

When I was in college, and on the way to Orthodoxy, but still not even knowing that it existed, it was fashionable in my circle to deny that we were “religious”. This was a four letter word to us – we arrogantly and ignorantly (I know now) stated that we were “Christian” and NOT “religious”.

If we knew our bible as well as we thought we did, we would never say such a thing – or at least we would admit that although we were not “religious” because of our own weaknesses and sins, were were striving for pure religion.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Are you religious? I am not – to state this unequivocally is to state that I love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind, and as a result of this, also loving my neighbor as myself .

It is interesting how we sometimes say things that are true, but with false understanding. After, lo, after these many years, I still state that I am not religious, but the reasons why I say it are so much different. Perhaps a little bit, in my life, I have been religious, and those times have been the best times for my soul. I can honestly say that I desire to have pure religion.

The key to this purity is not the first part what the brother of the Lord, James, tells us, but the second part.

From purity of heart flows all good works toward all men. Pure religion is the changing of the soul – from dark to light, from impure to pure, from ignorant concerning virtue to knowledge of all things holy. This knowledge is a gained by our learning the commandments of God and applying them to our lives. We do not become “unspotted from the world” by performing good works – we do good works because the love of Gods fills us, and purifies us.

Let us strive for “pure religion”, or put another way, to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only”.

PS. In college I was part of “Campus Crusade for Christ” for a while, until The Holy Spirit showed me that their way of life was not “all truth”, as He promised he would lead us to. There were many admirable people in that group, but their faith was too shallow. They did not understand that pure religion means being part of the church – they did not understand where the church was and where it was not. There were many good souls . May God save them.


Epistle Reading for today:

James 1:19-27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

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