James has always been an enigma to many of us. He seemingly is at variance with Paul when he claims that we are not only saved by faith, but also by works. Abraham becomes a point of reference when James wants to prove that faith and works cannot be separated. It should be self-evident from his argument that any learning which sets up a difference between faith and its works is a falsehood. How come? Why is this important?
Christ is one. We cannot separate His faith from His works. They are strictly one as He is one. It is He who is living and working in us. He is not only our faith – He is also our works. In practical terms it means that if we can do a thing it is Christ. If we cannot do a specific thing that is Christ as well. James is inviting the believers into the rest life of which Isaiah writes: LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us (26:12). The distinction between faith and good works is thus meaningless, because we can do nothing without Him.
To make a distinction between faith and works is a most real temptation we all face. It is indeed a testing of our faith. This temptation to return to the law is this settling wrestle we all have to face between which self we will take in faith. According to James, taking Christ as our self is the same thing as being perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Two-ness will always imprint the impression of healer and patient, whereas oneness will by the witness we all have received testify to our wholeness.
This pull towards that other self which is works-oriented is most vital in how the Lord teaches us to discern between good and evil. Paul is most insistent that we are dead to the law so this self that responds to its demands evidently has to be an illusion. It doesn’t exist because it died at the cross. “Being dead to the law means there remains no independent I for the law to give commands to” (Norman Grubb).
This false self will always fall far short of the commands of the law because it is merely a powerful delusion and the devil’s playground. Luring us into this self means that He can throw all kinds of accusations at us, and take us captive under condemnation. Taking us through the wilderness of the law as outlined in Romans 7 is how the Spirit exposes this self as a falsehood and it will die in us when we recognize that it died at the cross. Then our new true self emerges as we cross the river into the Promised Land. And we take this new self by the faith of the Son that is operative in us. In Paul’s words it is putting on the new self. In James’ words it is looking into the perfect law of liberty.
“All of life is faith regarding what we believe about our self. When we identified ourselves as “just me” separated and independent that was or is satan’s identity in us as us; he stole us and used our name, our form, and we took that faith identity even though it was a false identity; it was still a faith identity; it was what we believed about our self. Of course we didn’t know it was satan, but nevertheless it was satan giving us a false identity as an independent. Once we recognized Christ as our Saviour and His indwelling Spirit we started taking our identity with Christ as one saved, sanctified, and in union with the Lord. We started recognizing Christ in us by the witness of the Spirit, and we began building upon Christ’s faith life in us as a new “faith identity” (Nancy Gilmore).