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God’s Word for You

James 2:12-13 Merciful and merciless

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

12 So speak and act as if you are about to be judged by the law of freedom.

In the previous verses, James condemned us as having sinned against every part of the law of God, even if we thought we had broken just one part of it. Now James the coach encourages us to behave like the forgiven Christians we are, confident that we are covered by the blood of Christ as to all our sins and striving to keep in step with God’s will rather than agonizing over what we could possibly ever do to make up for the evil that we have done. The blood of Christ covers the evil we’ve done: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). James coaches us to live our lives in thanks for this, acting and speaking “as if you are about to be judged by the law of freedom.” What is the law of freedom? We already read about this in James 1:25. The law of freedom has to be more than the law of Moses. It must be the complete will of God, and more especially the gospel. The law in the narrow sense exposes our sins, condemns us, and then damns us the way the law of the Persians condemned Vashti (Esther 1:15, 19). That’s no law of freedom. But the law in the wide sense is both the law and the gospel, the full counsel of God. This is the law that is our delight (Psalm 119:77, 174).

This being the case, in what way might we be judged by this law, the complete word of God? The law of liberty is the law that teaches us to walk in step with God’s will, and in a manner of speaking, it is obedience in the sense of the third use of the law, which is the law not as a curb or a mirror, but as a guide. So judge: Have I used the law as a guide in conjunction with the gospel of forgiveness? This is the quick check James our coach urges us to make as we make our daily choices about how to live and serve God. This is how pastors should guide, train and coach their flocks; this is how fathers should encourage their families. This is how the single Christian can examine herself when faced with more than one good choice. If she is living her life in faith and she is not contradicting God’s law, then her choice is a good choice, a right path, and a decision that will be blessed by the holy Father.

13 For there will be merciless judgment on the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James wants us to understand the only alternative to everlasting life in heaven. It is suffering under the “merciless judgment” of hell. A summary of our belief about the final judgment is in order here:

1, Though a conclusive judgment is passed upon every person already at death, it is nevertheless certain from Scripture that a last judgment will take place at the end of the world, that is, on the Last Day (Matthew 11:22).

2, The judge on the Last Day is God, in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:8).

3, The persons who will be judged on the last day are the evil angels (Jude 6), then human beings in general (Matthew 25:32), and especially the godless (Mark 3:29; Mark 16:16) and the Antichrist above all (1 John 2:22, etc.).

4, The standard or rule under which this judgment will take place is in general the Word of God, according to its entire teaching, but in particular it is the gospel in reference to believers and the law in reference to unbelievers (Luke 11:28; John 12:48).

5, The time of the judgment will be the Last Day (Matthew 25:31-32). Its occurrence on a particular date cannot be predicted. But because of the fulfillment of the signs announcing it, the Last Day must be expected constantly and regarded as near (Revelation 22:12).

6, The result of the judgment will be that the judge’s ruling will be pronounced and carried out. Those who have been revealed as believers will be admitted to eternal glory (“Come!” Matthew 25:34), but those who have been revealed as unbelievers will be condemned to eternal merciless damnation (“Depart!” Matthew 25:41). This ruling of the judge will be carried out immediately (Matthew 25:46).

7, The purpose of the judgment is the glory of God and of Christ and the manifestation of the mercy of God and of Christ (1 Peter 2:12).

Some readers might debate whether God could ever truly be merciless. Doesn’t that contradict what the Bible says about God? Doesn’t the Lord require mercy from us (Micah 6:8)? Doesn’t the Lord promise his mercy (Zechariah 1:16)? He does, but his holiness also condemns sin. When he commanded Joshua to conquer Canaan, he ordered him to be merciless (Joshua 11:20) so that his people would not be carried away with pagan idolatry. And so the approach of hell and its terrors are no empty threat. Those who transgress the law cannot approach God apart from the covering of Christ’s righteousness. Anyone who would attempt it would be thrown out like the man without the wedding garment (Matthew 22:13).

James holds up the grim horror of hell and its merciless punishment to compare it with the mercy we ourselves show or have failed to show. Exactly like a coach in the middle of a game, James corrects our behavior even while we are in the middle of a difficult struggle, making mistakes, and deserving to lose everything. “It’s not over yet!” he calls, urging us to change the way we play the game, showing us what mercy is all about. His amazing words, “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” stand as a slogan that can be remembered and repeated every day. Be merciful, for God has been merciful to you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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