Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Trial That Tests the Gift

When I was younger, the New Testament epistles seemed to me these long laundry lists of exhortations and proscriptions. Now, I still see these things in the Scripture, but in context of the whole thrust of the letter.

James is no exception. It's amazing how the whole letter is informed by the notion of persevering in grace, in God keeping us whole and secure in Him as we grow through our trials and response to temptation to conform to the very image of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

What really struck me last night as I read through my daily portion of James (1:1-18) was this:

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. [4] 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

It's tempting to read James in opposition to the Pauline texts, which more explicitly deal with grace and which demolish the notion of works-righteousness. But grace soaks the entirety of James, and we see it in this passage above.

We struggle with our own enticing desires, which "give[s] birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

James picks up on this theme, noting that of no doing of our own God has "brought us forth by the word of truth" so that "we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." (1:18)

It is God who saves us, by his initiative, by His will. In response to this He calls us to "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (1:21)

To be sure, we shall know trial and opposition, but we are to count it all joy (1:2) because the "testing of our faith" produces "steadfastness... that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Our walk with Christ is not an uncertain works-laden quest to obtain salvation. Ours is a fiery trial of walking in Christ, having received our salvation, persevering in our salvation, so that at the end of our trial, we may "receive the crown of life" and that we may do so being "perfect and complete" in Christ, "lacking in nothing."

The key verb of course is "receive." Not "earn" or "deserve" but receive, a fitting verb connoting the object in question is a gift. And indeed we have this "good gift" and "perfect gift" that "[comes] down from the Father of lights." (1:17)

Praise be to God, who saves for Himself a people to glory in Him NOT on the basis of works lest any man boast, but wholly and freely of grace, received through faith.

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