Who is James Addressing in James 2:14-26?
Now that we have been able to see the point of James 2, that genuine conversion produces righteous living, we will now examine the question: “How do we know that James 2 is not teaching that we are saved by our works?” I will answer this question, by observing four very important truths about this passage. One truth considers James audience, the second involves the nature of his statements to his audience, the third relates to the way James uses the term justify, the fourth truth relates to the two illustrations that James uses in this passage, and lastly we will examine James teaching in light of other Scriptures.
First, notice James audience. Is James writing to believers or is he writing to unbelievers? Notice with me the way he addresses his audience in the first two chapters. In 1:2, James calls them “brethren.” In 1:5, he invites his audience to “ask God for wisdom.” In 1:9, he refers to the “lowly brother who has been exalted.” In 1:16, he commands his “beloved brethren, not to err.” In 1:18, James calls them to reflect on how they were “brought forth by the will of God through the word of truth.” In 1:19, he again calls them “beloved brethren.” And in 1:25, he refers to the law as the “law of liberty.” James calls his audience brethren four times in the first chapter alone. He invites them to pray, with the expectation that God will give them the wisdom that they ask for. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet records that the unconverted nation’s “iniquities have separated between them and their God, and their sins have hid his face from them, so that he will not hear their prayers.” God is under no obligation to answer the prayers of unbelievers, so, then why would he invite them to come to God like a child to his father, if James audience is unconverted? James reference to the sovereignty of God in their conversion once again emphasizes the same point. We are looking at a converted audience. Lastly, James calls the law the law of liberty. If a man is under the wrath of God, in his unconverted state, he could never view the law as the law of liberty. It is a law of death. Clearly, James is writing to believers. In chapter 2, we will see the same kinds of words used to describe the church. In 2:1, they are told not to “hold the faith with respect of persons.” In 2:2, James refers to a situation in the confessing church. In 2:5, 14 he again calls them “beloved brethren,” and in 2:7, he talks about the church being identified with Christ, probably referring to their baptism and association with the church. There should be no debate that James is writing to believers, but this does not end the discussion. What is James intent in writing these words? Is James referring back to how they were converted, teaching them how to stay converted, or explaining how to evangelize? If the answer is yes to any of the three possibilities, then James is teaching that we are saved by our works, but if the answer is something different, then he is not teaching that we are saved by our works!