Genuine Conversion Produces Righteous Living: James 2:14-26 Part 2
In our last section, we observed several passages that describe the nature of conversion. We will continue our study examining passages that describe the results of conversion. In I Thessalonians 1:5-7, Paul wrote: “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us…were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” Obviously, from Paul perspective there had been a powerful change that took place in their lives. In verse 9, he remembers how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” These words are not casually stated, but stand as a profound statement of what happens when a man is converted. First, he turns from his empty religion, but secondly, it results in serving the living God. The turning from idolatry was not what saved the church, nor was it desiring to follow Christ that saved the church, but rather it was their turning from self-righteousness to depend upon the righteousness of Christ that redeemed them. The desiring to serve God, and the turning to God from their idols were aspects that accompanied their repentance and demonstrate that their faith was actually genuine. Paul was not treating the church as a sinless, perfect church. He did have to instruct them about the seriousness of fornication in chapter 4, which means that they had a problem to some degree with that sin in their church, but from Paul’s perspective, and the perspectives of anyone watching the church, their lives bore the fruit of conversion.
I like what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2. The church of Corinth was no outstanding example of godliness. They were called carnal, with a host of problems, but notice what Paul says about the church in his defense of the legitimacy of his apostleship, and ultimately of the gospel he preached. He said: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men…” Paul’s point to the church was that even though their church had many problems that he had addressed, there was clear evidence of their conversion. Their lives were like a book that could be read by anyone that knew them. When they saw the change that took place in their lives, they needed to remember that the gospel Paul preached was the reason their lives changed so radically. Paul pointed to the change in their lives as the indisputable proof of his apostleship and ultimately the power of the gospel that he preached.
Before we look at the passage in James, notice what Christ says in Matthew 25. He says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” This passage if read casually or read with a theological bias could be twisted to say more than what it actually says. Christ points out the character of the “righteous.” His point is not how they were declared righteous, other passage clearly articulate the way of salvation, but rather Christ’s objective is to reveal what is characteristic of the “righteous.” The righteous are not only righteous by their identification with Christ, but the genuineness of their profession is evidenced by their manner of life. The righteous are humble people who love their brother; therefore, Christ takes notice of this character quality that is an evidence of their conversion. Think about what Christ says in John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” We can recognize a disciple by his character. And this is Christ’s point in Matthew 25 as well as John 13.