I was reading recently about the life of a renowned Christian leader who has been easily misunderstood because of his writings on social action. Before I move to the more controversial aspect of his writings, I think it is important to note that this leader is on record as having a strong position on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone.
In my research, I found notes from a conference where he argued for this position, supporting unequivocally the teaching that we are saved by faith through grace apart from works. So, in the past, he supported the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith that salvation is apart from any human work or merit and is by faith through the grace of our Lord Jesus.
This renowned Christian leader has written a book, small in length, in which he argues that the outcome of faith in Christ is that those who believe will pursue personal holiness and justice in society.
I would describe his book as a strong call to Christian social activism.
He affirms the dignity of the poor and the necessity of caring for those marginalized in society. He promotes making sure that those who lack proper food and clothing are provided for. He exposes the evil of prejudice and discrimination.
He identifies injustices in the legal system. He calls out the wealthy class for oppressing the poor and holds employers accountable for paying fair wages. He writes about people being made in the image of God and lamenting over sin, vocabulary that is in vogue in today’s Christian social action arena. Despite his background as a proponent of the gospel of faith in Christ, it’s easy to see why his commitment to the gospel could be questioned.
I found it interesting that in his book he refers often to “God” and “the Lord,” yet mentions Jesus only twice.
What I found most puzzling was that there is not one word in his book about the death and resurrection of Christ. There is nothing about the cross. Nothing about the blood of Christ. The word “gospel” is completely absent. On the other hand, he writes unflinchingly about the second coming and about God as Judge.
When I researched reviews on his book, I discovered that his book has come under strong criticism by another well-known Christian leader. This other leader has written that after reading the book he felt like throwing it into the fire.
Is this a case of a Christian leader who has been caught up in the spirit of the times and drifted from his gospel roots into a “social gospel” that has diminished the true gospel?
I have decided to keep the book. The author I have just described to you is James, the Lord’s brother. His book is also known as The Epistle of James.
Acts 15 gives us the account of the first Church Council convened to discuss the doctrine of salvation. James spoke in support of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone (Acts 15:13-21). In the letter he later composed, James writes to demonstrate that those who have been justified by faith alone in Christ alone will become people of good works (James 1:22-25; 2:18-26).
Good works include the pursuit of justice in society.
James argues that those who have been justified through faith in Christ will give evidence of their justification and show His justice through their actions to bring about justice in the community.
Those who are just by faith will care for the poor and powerless (James 1:27, 2:15-16). Because the materially poor in Christ have high standing with God, those who are justified by faith realize they should treat the poor with dignity and respect (1:9; 2:5-6).
They speak out against the evil of discrimination and prejudice in its various forms (James 2:1-13). They expose corruption in the legal system (2:6). They denounce the hypocrisy of those who use their mouth to bless God while also cursing people who are made in the image of God (3:8-12).
They call for the arrogant and those who hoard their wealth to lament over their worldly ways and for leading lives of self-indulgence (4:6-10; 5:1-5). They take up the cause of those who have been denied fair wages (5:4).
James writes to show that these kinds of social actions reveal the Just God, who rules the world with justice and equity and shall one day fill the earth with His glorious justice and equity.
The Christian pursuit of justice in society is the manifestation of God’s just kingdom in the present that reflects in limited ways the justice that shall fill the earth when the Judge of all the earth returns (4:12, 5:9).
I’m learning to keep what the book says. As James declares, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only."
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"Note: The renowned Christian leader who felt like throwing the epistle of James into the fire was the great Reformer, Martin Luther. “It was because [Luther] felt that the apostle James’s letter was not sufficiently clear in its proclamation of Christ that he wrote, ‘I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove’!” (Theologians You Should Know: An Introduction: From the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century (Ebook), Michael Reeves; footnote 193)
Written by: Global Contributor, Terre Haas – Jesus follower and student of God’s Kingdom
Terre Haas is a Jesus follower on the journey of learning to live fully alive in Christ. He began his journey with Jesus when a freshman at Georgia Tech. It has continued through forty-seven years of marriage, two sons, three grandchildren, twenty-four years as pastor, and seventeen years as Pastoral Ministries Director for Operation Mobilization. Because of his SHAPE, one of the times he is most fully alive is when he is passing on the truths of God’s Word to others through speaking and writing. He has become especially consumed with learning more about the Kingdom of God and the various ways that King Jesus is working through His people to answer their prayer, “let Your kingdom come.”
Tagged as: Spiritual Life