Why did James write his letter to the Jewish believers? We know it was written to his fellow brethren who were scattered abroad by the opening verses of the letter, which read, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad.” This phrase, “twelve tribes” refers to the twelve tribes of Israel and this was another name for the nation of Israel or the Jewish people. In this case specifically to Jewish believers in Christ.
James in his letter to this group of Christians, also rebukes worldly lust and encourages his readers to live a life of faith, trusting in God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. James reminds us that as a result of our faith and following Jesus, we grow in wisdom from the study of God’s word. The most famous verse in James’ letter sums up his purpose for writing the letter which is, “show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” This may seem confusing at first, but we need to understand the culture of James’ day. At this time, how a person lived their life and what faith they claimed to have, were interconnected. Unlike our world today, there was no separation between how a person lived their life and what they claimed to believe in. Society would judge a person’s belief based on the changes their faith had in their lives. The idea today in our western culture, that we can separate our beliefs from our everyday life, would have been a strange concept to the people of James’s day. The idea that you can claim to believe in something and not show any evidence of that belief in your daily life was not only unheard of, but would be considered ridiculous.
So in James’s day if you claimed to be a Christian and there was no evidence in your daily life of that claim. Then you, were considered by society to be a liar, a pretender and a false Christian. And this is the concept James speaks about in his letter. How can we claim to be followers of Jesus, having received the greatest gift mankind could ever receive. A gift which changes the very core of our being, and have no evidence of that change in our daily life. What James will explain to us is that from God’s standpoint, this is not possible. This is because our faith in Jesus brings with it a new spirit which replaces our old spirit, which was dead in trespasses and sins, along with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. So it’s altogether impossible for us to be indwelt by the very God of the universe, who gives us a new spirit, sensitive to God and the things of God. Who also changes our hearts and our minds, through His spiritual growth and not have evidence of that change in our day to day lives. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, and there is no evidence of that in our lives, then we need to seriously take stock of the faith we claim to have. We need to review who we claim Jesus is in our lives. Because our eternal salvation is riding on what we truly believe in our hearts about Jesus, and not on what we claim to be when people ask us.