More on the “Law of Liberty”
There are many who think that Paul and James do not agree—that Paul majored on grace whereas James majored on law. Even the great Reformer, Martin Luther, was subject to this error. Well, nothing could be further from the truth and this brief passage proves it. To sum, James was every bit the bishop of grace as Paul was the apostle of the same.
Here we see James discussing two laws: the Royal Law and the Law of Liberty. The Royal Law is synonymous with the Mosaic Law or the law delivered on Mount Sinai. Like Paul, James sees nothing wrong at all with that law—provided one lives according to the letter of that law as that law so demanded. Speaking of that same law, the Apostle Paul said, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). But as Paul showed in Romans 7, the problem is my inability to live according to that law due to my sinful nature. James speaks in specific terms. If a man loves his neighbor as himself, fine and well. But if “you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted of the law as transgressors.” Then James reasons, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it,” meaning that if you commit murder you cannot excuse yourself by saying, “Well, I haven’t committed adultery.” A law-breaker is one who breaks the law—even if it be only one.
So, James exhorts believers to leave the Royal Law and instead embrace the Law of Liberty. This is the law of Christ, the law of grace, the law that is written on one’s heart by the Holy Spirit when he comes to dwell within us by saving grace. This is the law of mercy that refuses to look on another with contempt just because he is poor or wears shabby clothes. It is also the law that, although it recognizes sin as sin, seeks to save the lost by presenting the gospel, by proclaiming forgiveness to the one who repents and freedom to the one trapped therein. This grace liberates one from his passions that he may live as a free man proclaiming freedom to other captives of sin.
This is the gospel of which James speaks, and it is the same as Paul’s and all the other apostles. So let us remember to be gracious and forgiving people, showing mercy as we have received mercy. James tells us, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Those are beautiful words.