I grew up in the church but didn’t really give my life to Jesus until the summer of 2007. I was getting along just fine as a “Christian” – going to church, leading worship, and reading the Bible (anyone else do Awana?). But I also got along just fine living the way I wanted. As long as my “Christian world” didn’t intrude into my life and plans and what I thought was best, then all was well.
Until that fateful summer before my freshman year of college when the Lord in His great mercy revealed to me – Dear one…but you don’t really know me…
As I read Matthew 7:21-23, it was like I was reading the Word for the very first time…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
I knew if I had died in that moment, I would have been one of those that would have said, “But God, did I not say I was a Christian? Did I not lead worship at church? Did I not…” And yet the truth would have been revealed – but I did not know God…thus, I did not do His will in my life.
Everything changed after that day.
Well, actually, nothing changed outwardly. I did not see a chorus of angels, singing with the glowing light of heaven as I quietly surrendered my whole life and heart to Jesus Christ. I didn’t hear the audible voice of God, welcoming me into His Kingdom.
But I knew, deep inside, that something was different. And the days and weeks and months following were different. Because although I was still a work-in-progress, I was a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This is the greatest gift we receive as Christ-followers – when we believe in and live for Jesus, there is true transformation in our lives. He makes us into someone we could never alone become.
The last few months I have been studying the book of James with a group of others and an amazing Bible teacher, learning not only about what James said in his book, but also putting together the historical, cultural, and religious context with the content itself.
Because there is something most interesting about this book…it’s author, James. Jesus’ half-brother.
What must it have been like to have Jesus, the Son of God, living in your childhood home? Talk about living under a shadow. Joseph and Mary were human. Did they sometimes let it slip? “James! Why can’t you just be more like your older brother…” Oh wait. Your brother is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He’s God in the flesh.
We know little of what occurred in Jesus’ household during His early years. But what we do know is that by the time Jesus was in His public ministry, his brothers and sisters did not believe in Him (John 7:1-5). Imagine, there were crowds following Jesus, believing Him as the Messiah, yet His own family rejected him.
A couple of years later, however, something miraculous had happened.
The very half-brother who had rejected his older brother, who was found nowhere near the cross when the news leaked that the Roman government was going to crucify Jesus, saw Him in His resurrected frame, just a few days after He had been put into the tomb.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 recounts how Jesus appeared to Peter, then the 12 disciples after His resurrection. He saw the 500 brethren, then James, then the apostles. That’s all we know…that Jesus made it a point to specifically see His oldest half-brother before He left the earth in His resurrected body.
What must that meeting have been like? However that encounter went, we know that James was a changed man after that. Galatians 2:9 notes that it was James, Peter, and John who were the pillars of the church in Jerusalem, ministering to the Jewish believers. He also wrote a letter to the believers who were scattered from Jerusalem after persecution broke out in the early church, describing himself in the first verse as “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…”
James. The very same unbelieving half-brother is now a pillar of the Jerusalem Church and self-identified as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ.
It’s interesting that James describes himself as a bond-servant, as one who voluntarily gives of himself as a wholehearted servant of the Lord. After coming face to face with the reality of who Jesus truly was and is, this was James’ response – a wholehearted, voluntary commitment to living for Jesus, knowing that it would be a lifestyle of humble servitude.
That encounter, that transformation…that is the heart of the book of James. Upon first glance, the words of James as inspired by the Holy Spirit can seem a little too cut-and-dry, a little too straightforward. Yet when we understand who James was, we see the heart behind why during a time of persecution for the early church, James chose to write what he did to a people who were facing a lot of unknown, fear, change, and transition.
I do not claim to know this book well. I think it will take a lifetime of unpacking the Word for me to even get below scratching the surface. However, I want to share this journey with you. Studying the book of James has awakened in me the heart behind studying and reading the Bible, reminding me of the invaluable greatness there is to searching out the treasures of God’s heart through His Word and in the lives of His people.
So this is only really part one, a small introduction. I’m not sure how many parts will come next. But I pray that these simple words will inspire you, reminding you that Jesus can truly transform anyone when we encounter Him face-to-face.
Read here to continue with part two…