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The Law of Life

FAITH AT WORK: Devotions through the book of James

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10, NKJV) 

Our Lord Jesus lays out a purpose statement for us who have been brought to bow the knee before Him as Savior and Lord. He tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). 

To live for the glory of God involves perspective and practice. Christ is on the throne of our hearts and all we do is to reflect that lordship, hearing His word and putting it into practice. 

James has just called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, echoing what our Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. We find many parallels between Christ’s teaching on that occasion and what James teaches in his letter, including the three reasons he appends to living out the royal law. Each of these reasons is marked by the same conjunction of logic (“for”). 

First, the royal law does not allow for selective obedience. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). 

James is not suggesting we can save ourselves. If anything, he is pointing out the impossibility of it. We look in the mirror of God’s law and we see sinners in absolute need of a savior. Rather, James is calling us to kingdom righteousness. As Jesus put it, “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). 

Second, the royal law is not some impersonal statute but reflects the character of the God whose law it is and the kingdom into which He has delivered us. “For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:11-12). 

Here James picks up on language he used earlier, “the law of liberty” (cf. 1:25). Liberty does not suggest lawlessness but a love-motivated compliance. As our Lord put it, “If you love Me, you will do what I command.” Obedience is expressive of allegiance as the outflow of relationship. 

The final reason marked by the conjunction of logic for keeping the royal law is a symptom of salvation, evidence of saving faith. “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Again, we hear echoes of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” 

1. What three reasons does James lay out for fulfilling the royal law?

2. How does Paul reinforce this teaching in Romans 13:8-10?

"Father in heaven, help me to see how completely I am a debtor to Your grace."

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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