THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY
By John C. Carpenter
 
The apostle James wrote an epistle to Jewish believers in Christ within the twelve Jewish tribes scattered abroad. After he acknowledged that they were falling into divers temptations and that their faith was being tried, the apostle encouraged them to endure the temptations they were encountering (James 1:1-17). James then added, Of his [God's] own will begat he us with the [gospel] word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:18-25). What is the perfect law of liberty, and how is it important to both the Jew and the Gentile?
 
THAT WORTHY NAME BY WHICH YE ARE CALLED
 
We know that James was writing to believers because, in his letter, he referred to the trying of your faith [in Christ] (James 1:3), and, regarding their relationship to God the Father he wrote, Of his [Gods'] own will begat he us with the [gospel] word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:18). The apostle also clearly instructed the believing brethren to have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons (James 2:1). Additionally, James referred to rich men who ...blasphemethat worthy name [of Christ] by the which ye are called (James 2:7). Lastly, James instructed these Jewish believers in Christ to speak and behave accordingly because they would ...be judged [not by the "works" of the Old Covenant but] by the [mercy and grace of the New Covenant] law of liberty (James 2:12).
 
COUNT IT ALL JOY
 
Additionally, we know from James' letter that these Jewish believers were also encountering temptations to which they were giving in (James 1:2-15). Referring to these believers' struggle with sin, James described them as double minded [two spirited; i.e., vacillating in opinion or purpose]. James knew that these believers in Christ were vacillating between the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of the world (James 4:4), vacillating between holiness and worldly sin. In his letter, James specifically identified for us the "worldly" sins the believers in these tribes were committing. He explained that they were not controlling their words (James 1:26), were showing partiality toward the rich (James 2:1-9), were offensive as well as hypocritical with their words and opinions (James 3:1-12, 17), were full of bitter envying and strife (James 3:14), were arguing and fighting among themselves (James 4:1), were speaking evil of one another (James 4:11-12), were arrogant and boastful (James 4:13-16), the rich had been focused on luxury and pleasure, as well as their own thoughts and feelings (James 5:5), and they had judged and killed innocent and holy individuals (James 5:6). Lastly, these believers had been swearing (James 5:12). In order to encourage them regarding their temptations to sin, James wrote, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith [faithfulness to Christ] worketh patience [brings endurance and consistency]. But let patience have her perfect work [perfecting; i.e., bringing to the desired end result], that ye may [eventually] be perfect and entire [whole], wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom [understanding on how to deal with your temptations and this perfecting process], let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:2-5).
 
RECEIVE WITH MEEKNESS THE ENGRAFTED WORD
 
The apostle James not only outlined the sins of these Jewish believers among the twelve tribes scattered abroad, but he also gave them two specific instructions regarding the gospel. First, he instructed them to, ...lay apart[cast off, lay aside] all filthiness [immorality] and superfluity [superabundance] of naughtiness [evil, wickedness], and receive[accept, take] with meekness [humility, submission] the engrafted word [the gospel word about Christ], which is able to save your souls (James 1:21). If James instructed these believers to humbly receive the engrafted gospel word of Christ, what is this gospel? Luke, the beloved physician, gives us his account of the gospel. Luke wrote, And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings [euaggelizo; i.e., good news] of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David [Bethlehem] a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:1-11). In verse 10, "good tidings" is translated from the Greek word "euaggelizo," which means "a good message, to announce good news, to bring or declare glad tidings." This "good news" [or gospel], made available to all people, is that unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, was born in Bethlehem. Each year, Christians around the world recognize and celebrate this "gospel" as the annual holiday of Christmas. But this was only part of the good news about Christ. Scriptures also instruct us that From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day (Mat 16:21). Also referring to the suffering of Christ, the apostle Peter wrote, For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18). Scriptures also tell us ...when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take (Mark 15:24). The apostle Paul explained additional aspects of the gospel of Christ to those in Corinth when he wrote, Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [euaggelion; i.e., a good message, the gospel] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor 15:1-4). Paul explained to those in Rome that Christ ...was delivered [unto death by crucifixion] for our offences, and was raised again [resurrected to new life] for our justification (Rom 4:25). The complete gospel message is that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, suffered, was crucified, died to pay the penalty for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day so that we might be justified before God the Father. James clarified that once this gospel word about Christ was heard, it was to be humbly received. However, there was another important point regarding the gospel that James had to make to these believers.
 
BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD, AND NOT HEARERS ONLY
 
After he instructed the Jewish believers to receive with meekness the engrafted word..., James secondly instructed them, But be ye doers [respond to; i.e., performers] of the [gospel] word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1:22). The apostle knew that hearing and receiving the engrafted gospel word about Christ was important, but James also knew the Jewish believers should be fulfilling the behavioral requirements of the gospel as well. When the apostle told them to be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, he simply wanted and expected them to behave as he knew believers in Christ should. James knew that there were things which these believers were doing which they should not be doing, and there were things which they should be doing that they were not doing. First, James wanted them to stop some things which they should not be doing. To put it bluntly, these believers were sinning. James wanted these believers to repent of their sins, which the apostle described as "superabundant," and lead lives consistent with and reflective of the gospel word of Christ which had been implanted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. In the parable of the sower, Christ explained this very same struggle these Jewish believers were encountering when he said, He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the [gospel] word [about Christ]; and the care [distractions leading to sin] of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the [gospel] word, and he [the believer who is distracted by temptations to worldliness] becometh unfruitful (Mat 13:22). The apostle knew he was writing to believers who were being distracted from their holy calling by the worldly temptations around them, which they were apparently giving in to. James, in essence, wanted these Jewish believers to behave the same way that the apostle Paul wanted the Roman believers to behave. Paul instructed those in Rome to, Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield [give, submit] yourselves unto God [as well as the requirements of His gospel of Christ], as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:12-14). James was saying the same thing to his Jewish believers, but only with different terms. In essence, as Paul desired with those in Rome, James desired that these Jewish believers ...walk [live] worthy [appropriately, as becoming] of the vocation [invitation, calling] wherewith ye are called (Eph 4:1). Secondly, James felt there were things which, because of their faith in Christ, these Jewish believers were not doing that they should be doing. He expressed this concern in two ways. First, James wrote, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into [examine, and then accept] the perfect law of liberty [the gospel], and continueth [stays near, abides in] therein, he being not a forgetful hearer [of the gospel of Christ], but a doer [performer] of the work [effort, acts and deeds required by those who receive the gospel], this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:22-25). In this context, James clarifies that the word "continueth" means to "abide in" the gospel, and "abiding in" the gospel means to perform the necessary works of the gospel. It is also apparent that James wanted these believers to follow up their faith with action when he wrote, What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works [acts or deeds resulting from faith], is dead [results in death], being alone (James 2:14-17). Again, James explained that their faith, if genuine, should be followed by "works" which resulted from and were reflective of their faith in Christ (James 2:18). James gave these Jewish believers numerous, and specific, instructions on how they should be "doers" of the gospel and perform the "works" required by their Christian faith. James advised, Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath [become angry] (James 1:19), as well as encouraged them to lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls (James 1:21). He instructed them to be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1:22), and to ...have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons (James 2:1). Regarding their giving arrogant opinions, the apostle warned ...be not many masters [opinionated instructors or teachers; i.e., individuals who mistakenly think they have all the answers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend [cause to err] all. If any man offend not in word [what we say], the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body (James 3:1-2). He added,Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be (James 3:9-10). He recommended they ...show out of a good conversation [behavior] his works [deeds] with meekness of wisdom (James 3:13). Regarding their arguing and fighting among themselves, James instructed, Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the [temptations of the] devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge (James 4:7-11). James advised the rich men that their arrogant boasting before God was evil, and that they should rather humble themselves before God (James 4:13-5:6). James also wrote, Be ye also patient [longsuffering]; stablish [turn and fix in the proper direction] your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:8). Lastly, referring to physical sickness among the believers, James also wrote, Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:14-16).
 
THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY
 
Just three verses after James instructed the Jewish believers how to be doers of this engrafted gospel, he added, But whoso looketh into [to lean over as to peer within; i.e., to examine and receive]the perfect [complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character] law of liberty [eleutheria; i.e., freedom, liberty, or more accurately, liberality], and continueth [stay near, remain, persevere] therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed [fortunate, well off] in his deed (James 1:25). With these words, James clearly identified the engrafted gospel word of Christ as the "perfect law of liberty." What is the perfect law of liberty? The word "perfect" is translated from the Greek word "teleios." In this context, teleios means "complete, mature, or concluded." The word "perfect" suggests that the goal or end has been reached, the process is finished, and nothing else is needed or required. The law of liberty is "perfect" in the sense that through the death of Christ, the requirement of the "law" that sin must be punished by death [Deut 24:16, Isa 53:12, Rom 5:12, and Rom 6:23] has been completed, concluded, and fully executed. Nothing else is necessary. This is what Christ was referring to when, just prior to His death on the cross, He said, it is finished [teleo; i.e., to end, complete, execute, conclude, discharge a debt] (John 19:30). When Christ said, it is finished, He was referring to the fact that He had completed His work of discharging the debt for our sins with His death on the cross. Jesus Christ also verified this by saying, Think not that I am come to destroy [disintegrate, dissolve, halt the requirements of] the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil [to make complete, satisfy, finish] (Mat 5:17). The word "law" is translated from the Greek word "nomos," which means "parceled out, prescriptive usage, regulation or principle." In general, the "law" refers to the principles and regulations that God the Father has parceled out and prescribed regarding mankind's relationship with other men, mankind's relationship with God the Father, and eternal salvation or damnation of the human soul in which transgressors are punished and the obedient are rewarded. The distinction of the two Covenants is that the Old Covenant was a covenant which required human "works" of keeping the Old Covenant Law in order to be justified [made just, innocent] and sanctified [made holy] in God's view, whereas the New Covenant requires faith in Jesus Christ as the only means to justification and sanctification. When the apostle James referred to the perfect "law" of liberty, he was referring to God's prescription of rules, requirements, and obligations regarding eternal life and death as outlined in the New Covenant. The word "liberty" is translated from the Greek word "eleutheria," which means "freedom, liberty, liberality." There are several types of "liberty" [freedom] mentioned in the New Covenant, but to save space and time I will discuss only four: liberty from the Old Covenant Law of works, liberty from death, liberty from acts of sin, and liberty, or more accurately, liberality, as reflective of God's mercy and grace. Paul wrote to those in Galatia, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage [to keeping the Old Covenant Law]. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised [as reflective of subscribing to the Old Covenant law for righteousness], Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit [which you received as a result of your faith in Christ], ye are not under [required to keep] the [Old Covenant] law [of works to attain righteousness] (Gal 5:1-18). In these verses, the liberty, or freedom, Paul is referring to is liberty from having to keep the Old Covenant Law. Paul also mentioned a second type of liberty when he wrote to those in Rome, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage [slavery] of corruption [decay, destruction, perishing, death] into the glorious liberty [freedom from being a slave to death] of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption [becoming a son or daughter of God], to wit, the redemption [paying of the ransom in full] of our body. For we are saved [from death] by hope [of resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:15)]: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (Rom 8:21-24). In these verses, the liberty Paul is referring to is clearly freedom from death. Paul also mentioned liberty, or freedom, from acts of sin. He asked those in Rome, What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [hamartia; i.e., acts of sin] that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead [with Christ] is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Forsin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:1-14). Paul later added, Being then madefree [eleutheroo; i.e., delivered, liberated] from sin [acts of sin], ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:18-23). In these verses, the freedom the apostle is clearly referring to is freedom from sin. The final type of liberty we will mention more accurately refers to God's mercy and grace. This is the definition of liberty that the apostle James was referring to when he wrote to believers in the twelve Jewish tribes scattered abroad, So speak ye, and so do [behave], as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty [eleutheria; i.e., freedom, liberty, or more accurately, liberality]. For he [God the Father] shall have [commit] judgment without mercy [with those] that hath showed no mercy [eleos; i.e., compassion, mercy]; and mercy rejoiceth against [is more glorious than] judgment (James 2:12-13). In this context, James clearly defines "liberty" as "mercy," and is teaching that all believers, including the Jewish believers within the twelve tribes, should speak and behave mercifully not only because God will judge without mercy those who have shown no mercy, but because mercy is more glorious than judgment. Scriptures instruct us,And his [God's] mercy [compassion] is on them that fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50) and For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy [compassion] upon all (Rom 11:32). God clearly said,...I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more"(Heb 8:12). Paul similarly taught, ...the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace [unmerited divine favour] did much more abound...(Rom 5:20-21). Paul also wrote Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you [believe you] are justified by [keeping] the law; ye are fallen [been separated] from grace [unmerited divine favour] (Gal 5:4). John the apostle taught, For the [Old Covenant] law was given [ministered] by Moses, but grace [charis; i.e., graciousness, liberality] and truth came [was ministered, fulfilled] by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). In the Old Covenant, God showed no mercy for sin, for He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses (Heb 10:28). In the New Covenant, however, God's love, mercy and grace became apparent. Scriptures instruct us that Christ died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him (1 Th 5:10), and Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The death of Christ was the ultimate expression of love, mercy and grace. In his letter to the believers of the twelve Jewish tribes, James explained that God parceled out His mercy and grace to Jew and Gentile alike, and made it clear that the Law is completely fulfilled only when the sinner receives, with meekness, the good news about His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is God the Father's manifestation of the perfect law of liberty, and who is able to save your soul (James 1:21).  AMEN.
 
 
THE CHRISTIAN HERALD
                                                           A Judeo-Christian Bible Study
 
"If we suffer,
we shall also
reign with him:
if we deny him,
he also will
deny us:
If we believe
not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself"
(2 Timothy 2:13)



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