We’ve been seeing that the letter of James is a very practical letter. James is concerned with practical things such as how believers are to live their lives and how we’re to treat one another and speak to one another. It’s all about how God’s people should live their lives. And so, in chapter 1, he wrote about the trials we must endure here on earth and how we should respond to such trials when we encounter them. He wrote about the wisdom we need from God in order to know what’s the best way to live. He spoke about poverty and wealth and what out attitude should be towards both of those things. He wrote about temptation and the sinful desires which lurk inside us.
And then he wrote about how we’re to be quick to listen to one another, and we’re to be slow to speak, and slow to become angry with one another. We need to rid ourselves of sin, he said; and we mustn’t be hearers of God’s word only, but doers as well; we must put God’s word into practice. And then, chapter 1 ended with James describing for us what true religion consists of; and it’s very practical: We need to control what we say; we need to care for our needy neighbours; and we need to live differently from the unbelieving world. It’s all about how we’re to live our lives in the world while we wait for our Saviour to come again. It’s about how we should live our lives and how we should treat one another.
And that emphasis on Christian living continues into the second chapter and into the verses we read a few moments ago where James tells us not to show favouritism. Don’t show partiality. We’re to welcome everyone into our church and not the rich only. We’re to welcome everyone into our church, and not despise the poor person who comes in, wearing shabby clothes. We’ve not to prefer the rich over the poor so that we welcome the rich and only tolerate the poor. That’s what James is writing about here. So, it’s very down-to-earth, and it’s very practical and it’s how we’re to treat one another.
So from these verses, we learn how to treat newcomers to our church. But in these verses, we also learn something about the Lord Jesus Christ; and we also learn something about James’s readers. And really, it’s those two things I want us to think about today: what he says about the Lord Jesus; and what he says about his readers. And next week we’ll spend more time on what he says about how we ought to treat newcomers.
The Lord Jesus
And so, what does James say about the Lord Jesus? Look with me at verse 1 and the way James refers to the Lord Jesus. James writes:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ….
Let’s stop there and consider these names for the Lord Jesus, because it’s good to go over these things from time to time.
First of all, there’s the name ‘Jesus’ which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’. And Joshua and Jesus both mean ‘the Lord saves’. In other words, the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’. And so, do you remember? Whenever the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the angel told Joseph that Mary’s firstborn son should be called ‘Jesus’ because he will save his people. That’s what the angel said. So, every time we hear the name ‘Jesus’ it ought to remind us of who he is and what we can expect from him. His name tells us that he’s the Saviour, and that we can expect him to save his people.
But what does he save us from? He saves us from the punishment we deserve for our sins. He saves us from the coming judgment. Think back to the Old Testament story of Noah’s ark. Noah and his family knew that the ark could save them from the coming flood. Well, every Christian knows that Jesus can save us from the coming Day of Judgment and from the unbearable and eternal wrath of God against sinners for their sins. That day is coming, the Bible makes clear. But Jesus, the Saviour, is able to save us from the coming wrath. And every time we hear his name, it says to us:
This is the one who can save you.
And then, James refers to Jesus as ‘Christ’. And the word ‘Christ’ is really a title which summarises the work the Lord Jesus had to do in order to save us. So, being the Christ means Jesus is our Great Teacher, who teaches us through his word and by his Spirit everything we need to know for our salvation. So, if it were not for the Lord Jesus, revealing to us in his word the way of salvation, then we wouldn’t know any of these things. We’d still be in the dark about God’s willingness to pardon us. But the Lord Jesus speaks to us through his word, and by his Holy Spirit who works in our hearts to enable us to receive and believe all that Christ has made known to us in his word.
And then, being the Christ means Jesus is our Great High Priest. The priests in the Old Testament had to offer to God a sacrifice to make up for the sins of the people. And the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to make up for our sins forever. In other words, he has done everything that needed to be done to pay for our sins and to give us peace with God. So, if it were not for the Lord Jesus, dying to pay for our sins, God would still be angry with us. But the Lord Jesus took the blame for us, and the punishment we deserve, so that God is able to forgive us now.
And then being the Christ means Jesus is our Great King, who calls us and who draws us into his kingdom of grace. And as our King, he rules over everything, everything in the heavens above and on the earth below in order to guard us and to help us and to keep us in his kingdom until the time comes when we’ll enter eternal life. And so, if it were not for the Lord Jesus, we’d still be shut out of God’s kingdom. But he has unlocked the doors and has brought us into his kingdom and has give us the hope of everlasting life.
He’s called ‘Jesus’ because he saves us. And he’s called ‘the Christ’ because he’s our perfect teacher and our priest and our king. He’s all that we need in order to receive eternal life.
And James also refers to Jesus Christ as ‘the Lord’. Do you remember what Paul said about Jesus? Paul wrote that Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself by coming to earth as a man; and then by dying on the cross. But God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s the name that is above every name. Jesus Christ is Lord. In other words, the Lord Jesus is our Master and we ought to surrender ourselves to him with grateful hearts because of all that he has done to save us. And we ought to serve him every day of our lives.
James refers to Jesus which means he’s the Saviour. And Jesus is able to save us from the coming wrath of God because he’s our great teacher and priest and king. And he’s also our Lord and Master whom we ought to serve.
James adds something else to the names he gives to the Lord Jesus. Do you see the extra word? The NIV translates what he wrote like this:
our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
A more literal translation of what James wrote is this:
our Lord Jesus Christ, of the glory.
In the Old Testament, the word ‘glory’ can be used to refer to a person’s wealth and to their splendour and their reputation and their honour. In fact, it’s also used that way in the New Testament to refer to King Solomon and to all his splendour, or to all of his glory. But then the word ‘glory’ is also used to refer to God and to his greatness and majesty and his might and power and his goodness. And from time to time, God revealed his glory to his people in a visible way, as a bright light, or as a cloud with a fire in it. And the sight of it was overwhelming and it caused those who saw it to fall down. And so, think of the shepherds on the night when the Lord Jesus was born. And the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified.
There are these two ideas of glory in the Bible. There’s the glory of a man which consists of his wealth and his earthly splendour. And there’s the glory of the Lord, which consists of his heavenly splendour and all that makes him God. And when James calls the Lord Jesus ‘glorious’ he’s thinking of the way the Lord Jesus possesses that divine and heavenly glory.
So, think of the time when the Lord Jesus went up the mountain with some of his disciples, and he was transfigured before them. In other words, his appearance became dazzling white. And for a moment it was as if a curtain had been pulled back and his disciples were allowed to glimpse his true glory as the Son of God. And then, there was the bright light which Saul of Tarsus saw whenever the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. And there was John’s vision of the Lord Jesus at the beginning of the book of Revelation, when John fell down, as though dead, because he was so overwhelmed by the Lord’s glorious appearance. James is referring to the Lord’s divine and heavenly glory.
Why does he do that here? Why does he refer to the Lord’s glory in this particular verse? Well, because he wants to warn his readers about giving special attention to the rich person who comes to church. He’s saying to his readers — and therefore he’s saying to us:
Come on now. You’re giving this rich man special attention because he’s rich. But you know what? Compared to the divine and heavenly glory of the Lord Jesus Christ your Saviour, this rich man’s glory is nothing at all. It’s nothing at all.
He’s saying to us:
Come one now. Now that you know something of the Lord’s glory, then don’t be taken in or taken up with earthly glory.
In the playground, there’s someone who is fast. And we really admire them. But then someone faster comes along and our estimation of the first person goes down. At work, there’s someone who is really smart. And we really admire them. But then someone smarter comes along and our estimation of the first person goes down. Or there’s someone rich. And we really admire them. But then someone richer comes along and our estimation of the first person goes down.
Well, there’s no one more glorious than the Lord. There’s no one who will ever be more glorious than he is. And so, he’s the one we’re to admire. He’s the one we’re to love and worship and adore. And when we come to church, he’s the one we’re to focus on and he’s the one we’re to praise. And when someone new comes in to church, we won’t pay attention to whether this person is rich or whether this person is poor, because we’re completely captivated by the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, James begins this section of his letter by turning our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour who is truly and completely and supremely glorious and there’s nothing and no one who can compare to him.
That’s what James says about the Lord Jesus. What does he say about his readers? Well, look again at verse 1. James wrote:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ….
The first thing to note briefly is that, of course, he’s writing to men and women. The word translated ‘brothers’ is really like our word ‘siblings’. It’s genderless. A sibling can be male or female. So, James is addressing men and women, siblings, who are members together of God’s family.
And he refers to them as believers. They believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. And really, I want to point this out so that no one is deceived or misled or given a false impression about what God requires from us. You see, the Bible is very clear that we all need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We all need to believe in him.
And that means we need to know about him and what he’s done for us and for our salvation. That’s always the first thing to say about believing in the Lord Jesus. We can’t truly believe in the Lord Jesus unless we first know what we’re to believe about him. And so, whenever I meet someone who wants to become a member of the church, the first thing I want to know about their faith is what do they know about the Lord Jesus and the way of salvation, because the true believer knows who the Lord Jesus is and what he’s done for sinners.
And then, believing in the Lord Jesus also means we need to accept that all those things the Bible tells us about the Lord Jesus are true and not false. So, one person might call himself a believer, but he doesn’t accept that Jesus rose from the dead. Well, if that’s the case, then there’s something wrong with that person’s profession, because the true believer is the person who believes that what the Bible teaches is true.
And then believing in the Lord Jesus also means that we trust in the Lord Jesus for salvation. One person hopes God will accept them because of the good things they’ve done. Another person hopes God will accept them because they don’t think they’ve done much wrong. But the true believer is relying entirely on the Lord Jesus Christ who died to pay for all our sins.
So, a true Christian is a believer. And a true believer is someone who knows the gospel, and accepts that it is true, and is relying entirely on Jesus Christ and in him alone for salvation. And so, in the book of Acts, you have the story of the time when Paul and Silas were put in prison in the city of Philippi. And during the night, there was an earthquake. And the prison guard was terrified. And he went to Paul and Silas, who had been praying and singing hymns to God, and he asked them:
Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And Paul and Silas answered him by saying:
Believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved — you and your household.
And then we read how Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. And as we read on, we read that the jailer was filled with joy, because he had come to believe. Do you see? Paul and Silas explained the word of the Lord to him so that he now knew the gospel. And not only did he now know the gospel, but he accepted that these things are true. And he believed in the Saviour who was able to save him from God’s wrath and give him eternal life.
Most of us know John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever….
How does it continue?
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
A true Christian is someone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we all ought to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because the only way to be saved from God’s wrath on our sins, the only way to be saved from the coming day of judgment, is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Many of us will have heard the story on the news this past week about the guy on the Shankill Road who was pretending to be a dentist. He looked like a dentist, with his gown, and face mask, and his cap. And he was doing the kind of work that a dentist might do. And lots of people thought he was a dentist. But even though he looked like a dentist, and did the work of a dentist, and people thought he was a dentist, he wasn’t a dentist. He didn’t have the right qualifications.
And you see, we can do that too when it comes to Christianity. It’s possible that someone might read all the things that James has been saying about the things we should do, and the things we shouldn’t do, and this person thinks to himself:
If I do all those things, then that will make me a Christian. So, I’ll try to control what I say, because James says I should bridle my tongue. And, I’ll try to care for my needy neighbour, because James says I should look after orphans and widows in their distress. And, I’ll try to live a good, upright and moral life, because James says I should keep myself from being polluted by the world. And I’ll try not to show favouritism, because that’s what James says as well. And if I do all of those things, then I’ll be a Christian and God will be pleased with me.
But no. Someone might try to do all the things James says we should do, but unless that person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, then he’s not a Christian, she’s not a Christian. You see, look again at verse 1. James begins with believing. And then he goes on to what we’re to do. So, he says in verse 1:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ….
Believing comes first. Trusting in Christ comes first. And then, after believing, comes what we’re to do. And so, James says:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.
Last week, I said that one of the things a preacher worries about is whether or not anyone is receiving the message he’s preaching. Are the people listening to the message and really taking it in? Another worry is that in the congregation, though there are people who have all the appearance of being a Christian because they do all the things a Christian does, and they turn up to church every Sunday without fail, nevertheless it’s possible that some of them, some of them, might not actually believe. They’re not trusting in the Lord Jesus to take away their sins and to save them from God’s wrath.
If that’s you, then it’s time for you to start believing in him. God named him ‘Jesus’, Saviour, to teach you that that’s what he came into the world to do. That and nothing else. And God sent him to be a teacher to teach you about salvation; and he sent him as a priest to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice to make up for your sins; and he sent him as a king to guard you and to keep you for ever. And he’s the Lord and he’s glorious. And so, all of us, all of us, ought to bow before our glorious Lord, and surrender our lives to him, and trust in him to take away our sins.
And here’s the final word. If you still do not believe in him, if you’re still not prepared to trust in him to take away your sins, then you have only increased your guilt before God, because your very unbelief is a sin which puts you under God’s wrath. And so, you need to repent of your unbelief, as well as all your other sins, and you need to believe in the Lord Jesus.