10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Today’s passage has one of the most powerful verses that speaks to all of us on the issue of sin. It’s often taught in casual ways that people are accepted into Heaven on moral grounds, the good outweighing the bad and God knowing that a person’s heart is in the right place. Most teachings about being righteous enough to inherit God’s blessing of eternal acceptance are variants of an emphasis on human performance, some teaching general goodness, some moral perfectionism, and some on religious acts of piety.
Such notions are simply untrue, because Scripture teaches even right here in James 2 that any deviation from the standard of God’s perfection is worthy of the condemnation and wrath of God Supreme. Rather than trying to console ourselves over the general goodness of humanity, we would do far better to focus on the goodness of God to a lost and dying world in the provision of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ died as a perfect sacrifice for sin upon the cross, rose again, and that all who place their faith on Him for His wrath-removing sacrifice are forgiven and incur the righteous record of Jesus Christ in the sight of God. It is honoring to God to trust in what Christ has done while a tremendous disservice to emphasize our moral performance as though that was what made us right with God. Any “gospel” that does not preach faith in Jesus Christ alone is a flimsy, man-made gospel that does not save.
Now, that being said, we ought to remember that this portion of the text comes from a line of reasoning linked by the idea of partiality, which is both ungodly and dishonorable in the sight of God. Those practicing favoritism are not behaving like God in that God Himself shows no favoritism, but freely bestows His grace upon whom He wills for His glory. In the vein of partiality, James is reminding the reader that though they be morally upstanding in many areas, if favoritism (contextually) is part of how they are treating others, they have missed the mark of God’s righteousness: they are sinners who are sinning.
Verse 11 continues the thought of verse 10 on by clarifiying, “He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” It’s interesting that in James 4:1-2, James will bring up this idea of murder again: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” If we define murder by how Jesus defines it in Matthew 5:21-22, we see it goes beyond physical murder and steps back into sinful anger within: “You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” So consider this: sin is not just the physical manifestation, but also the internal intent at play. Additionally, this is a good place to be reminded of the two types of sin: sins of commission (doing what we shouldn’t) and sins of ommission (not doing what we ought to do). The more that we broaden the scope of what constitutes sin and where it takes place (in our hearts and flowing out into the world), the more it becomes impossible to deny our sinfulness if we are truly honest with God and ourselves. I think genuine believers often find that the depth of their sinfulness was hard to fathom in the early days; the further we go, the more we seem to uncover. Once again, thank God for His grace and kindness towards us in contemplating this humbling ordeal.
Verse 12, in relation to this premise, says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” I would suggest here that the converse to being judged by the law of liberty is to be judged by our own estimations of whether we’ve sinned or not and whether we are indeed righteous. We do not get to judge ourselves, though; this is only for God! God judges with impartiality, looking at the sin and the sinner and always judges appropriately in His determinations. The verse here is calling for us to not be partial, especially towards ourselves, in how we might estimate ourselves to be in a favorable standing before God. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be found righteous in the sight of God.
Verse 13: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Personally, as I read this verse, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying,`Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying,`Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying,`Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him,`You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. `Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
The standard by which we must judge others is with mercy and grace; it is in line with how God is towards us. A heart that refuses to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, though it may claim Him as Savior, stands suspect as one that is truly won over at all to the Gospel. Acting in alignment with the heart of God is crucial in reflecting on the verity of our true spiritual nature. Now, how do we know that that’s where James is going in his line of logic? The remainder of James 2 will be focused on the concept of “faith without works is dead”; vocalized faith means nothing if it lacks the works that manifest that faith. Faith is more than just a religious stamp, more than just a subscription; it must be evidenced in the lifestyle and it will be evidenced if it truly is in our hearts.
“Mercy triumphs over judgment,” verse 13 concludes. Mercy is the act of withholding what one deserves punitively, and grace is the act of giving someone what they have not deserved or earned. Christianity is such a blessing in that being a believer means that we receive both mercy and grace from God, and both can be much more rich and complex than we often limit them to be. Mercy triumphs (which is to hold power over) judgment, which is condemnation. The mercy of God thankfully outweighs and overpowers the condemnation that we ought to have incurred. Jesus Christ suffered such condemnation in our place upon the cross, though we were the guilty party. Paul says in Romans 5:20 that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Those who have grasped the mercy and grace of God towards themselves are far more likely to give grace and mercy themselves.
What a powerful passage and what great consolation is the Gospel to those who believe. It is not on the basis of merit but rather God’s determination to love and save and offer hope in the cross. Our hope is not in our moral performance but in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and God’s pleasure in His Son’s atonement for sin.
Are you growing to be more like your Lord? Do you find hope in yourself or in Jesus Christ? Do you see that Jesus is enough, all you ever needed and are you resting in that? If not, you still could by placing your faith in Jesus. The hope is not in us, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to Him we must align and realign every day.
Thank you for your time and may God bless you in the contemplation of His word!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.