This year, in the six weeks between Sexagesima Sunday and the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we shall be reading together at the Sunday Eucharist passages from the Letter of St James.
The Letter of St James is one of the most challenging in the Bible to read. This is not because its content is difficult to understand. In fact, the opposite is true: it is challenging to read because its meaning is clear and hard to fudge!
The Letter was written to Jewish Christians by St James, whom the New Testament describes as the brother of our Lord. Whether this means James was a younger child of Mary and Joseph, or whether (as many Christians argue) he was Jesus’ step-brother or cousin, we can be sure that he was a close relative of Jesus.
One of the characteristic teachings of the Reformation was that we are saved by grace through faith alone. But that does not mean that we are saved by credulity. To be saved through faith does not mean that if I find myself persuaded that Jesus died for me, then I have licence to live any way I please.
No. Certainly, to trust Christ means that I trust that Christ saves me from my sins. But it also means that I sit at Christ’s feet: I hang on His words as He tells me how to live. So if I wish to enter eternal life, Christ must become both my Saviour and my Lord. This is a key message of St James’ letter.
Martin Luther put the matter well: “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Rather, true faith in Christ is always blossoming into love for others.