James and Paul on Law

Today we are far removed from the contested battles over what letters should be included in the New Testament canon.  We open our Bibles and give little thought that the book of James was contested not just for centuries but for over a millennium.  It was not until Council of Trent in 1545 to 1563 that the issue was settled for the western church.  Martin Luther (1483 -1546) would have been very happy to exclude this “epistle of straw.”  Luther objected because he did not feel it was strong enough in presenting Jesus as our Savior.  James presents the law as a “law of freedom” in contrast to Paul calling it a “law of slavery, wrath and death.”  See James 1:25, 2:12 and Romans 4:15, 7:10.

It is fascinating to think of both James and Paul being correct.  If one is seeking God’s favor the law falls far short because we fall far short.  When Paul was Saul, he was a law keeper’s law keeper and found no joy only condemnation at his personal failures to measure up. When he became Paul, he discovered the gift of grace and the happiness of knowing eternal life was not to be earned but accepted.

However, for those of us who live in a nation of “freedom under the law” we understand an umbrella of law provides us with the freedom to live reasonably safely from those who do not have the law “written on their hearts.”  If everyone were like Paul filled with the Holy Spirit we would not need black and white cars with blue lights. Paul understood grace.  James understood that even with the Holy Spirit in us we often need the guidance of written law for our behavior.

Written by Roger Bothwell on June 26, 2012

Spring of Life Ministry, PO Box 124, St. Helena, CA 94574