In this chapter, James argues for the necessity of good works. He presents three principles of faith:
1.) Commitment is an essential part of faith. You cannot be a Christian simply by affirming the right doctrines or agreeing with biblical facts. (2:19) You must commit your heart and mind to Christ.
2.) Good works are the natural by-products of true faith. A genuine Christian will have a changed life (2:18)
3.) Faith without good works doesn't do anybody any good. It is useless (2:14-17).
commentaries verse by verse -
1. To have "respect of persons" means to show favoritism to some people over others. We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures. The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive lifestyle at our expense. God views all people as equals, and if he favors anyone, it is the poor and the powerless. We should follow his example.
2-4. It is often assumed that the rich, are rich because they are blessed by God, when it could only mean the person had the good fortune of being born in a wealthy family. God does not promise earthly rewards or riches.
5. This does not mean the poor will automatically go to heaven. Poor people however, are usually more aware of their powerlessness, and thus easier for them to acknowledge the need for salvation. One of the greatest barriers for the rich is their pride. For the poor it is bitterness.
8-9. We must treat all people as we would want to be treated. We should not ignore the rich, because then we would be withholding our love. But we must not favor them for what they can do for us while ignore the poor, because they can offer us little in return.
10. We must not use this verse to justify sinning. We dare not say "Because I can't keep every demand of God, why even try." James reminds us that if we've broke just one law, we are sinners. We can't decide to keep only part of God's law and ignore the rest. Ask for forgiveness where you need it, and then renew your effort to put your faith into practice. Measure yourself, not someone else, against God's standards.
12. As Christians, we are saved by God's free gift through faith, not by keeping the law. But as Christians we are also required to obey Christ. God's grace does not cancel out our duty to obey him; it gives it a new basis. It is no longer an external set of rules but a "law of liberty" - one we joyfully and willingly carry out because we love God and because we have the power of his Holy Spirit to carry it out.
13. Only God in his mercy can forgive our sins. We can't earn forgiveness by forgiving others. But when we withhold forgiveness from others after having received it ourselves, it shows we don't understand or appreciate God's mercy toward us.