James 1:22-25. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The word of truth (1:18).
The perfect law.
The law of liberty.
These are all James’ way of talking about the same thing – the gospel.
But why does James call the gospel the law? Aren’t law and gospel two different things? Yes, when we are talking about the gospel as contrasted with the Mosaic Law from Mount Sinai. But when we are talking about “law” as a teaching or a truth, then the gospel is a “law.” Even Paul called the gospel the “Law of the Spirit,” the “Law of life,” and the “Law of Christ.”
But here’s where it gets a bit complicated. James will go on to talk about and quote things from the Mosaic Law. Things like “care for widows and orphans,” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “don’t commit adultery,” and “don’t murder.”
But like his brother Jesus before him, James will filter the Mosaic Law through the gospel. Through Christ. Through Jesus’ perfect fulfillment and satisfaction of the law. That’s really important. Because only when we look at the Old Testament law through the lens of the gospel will it become a law of liberty.
Law of liberty?
Isn’t that an oxymoron? Laws don’t offer us freedom. Don’t they only offer bondage? Doesn’t law only condemn us?
Not anymore. Not when you’re in Christ.
Because Christ has kept all of the law, and because Christ has suffered all of the curse of the law, and because Christ has been declared righteous in regards to the law, and because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us by grace through faith, now the law becomes the gospel. The bad news of the law’s perfection becomes the good news of that perfection in us. What once would bind us and even kill us, now brings us life and liberty.
The prophet Jeremiah said because the “law is written on our hearts.” This is God’s New Covenant with us. This is our union with Christ by the Spirit. A changed heart. A changed desire. And a new ability to keep the law. A new desire and a new ability to love. For the law is love.
So now let me ask you, how do you relate to the Bible? To the word? How do you see it? Is it freedom to you? Is it liberty? Or is looking into the perfect law an exercise in guilt and discouragement? Have you let reading and obeying the Bible become a form of legalism that steals your joy? If so, may I suggest that maybe you’ve lost sight of the gospel of Christ as you read scripture? Without the gospel, the Bible is truly a terrifying book meant to expose our guilt and condemn us to death (James 2:9-10). But with the gospel, the Bible becomes a mirror (1:23).
A mirror? Yes, a mirror.
And what does a mirror do? Two things: 1) It exposes problems, and 2) it reveals potential. It shows us what is wrong (smudged lipstick, ketchup on your tie, a big zit, hair out of place, broccoli in teeth), and it helps us see what we are meant to be (clean face and clothes, hair combed, shirt not inside-out, nothing in teeth). But a mirror is only helpful if you look at yourself in it, see those problems, and then use it to live up to your potential.
And the gospel is only helpful to our hearts when we let it do the same two things.
1) We must let the “gospel filter” on God’s perfect law to expose our problems, our sins and failures, and reveal our dependence on God. Before Christ this would have been terrifying, and condemning, but now this exposure of our hearts is welcomes. Why? Because we know we can never be condemned by the word of truth, only cleansed by it.
2) And then we can let the “gospel filter” on God’s word reveal to us what we were meant to be in Christ. As bearers of his likeness. The word of truth, the perfect law of liberty, can now show us our potential in Jesus. It reveals what a life of love for God and neighbor can really look like as Christ lives through us.
“To live is Christ” has turned all of God’s word into life giving, freedom bringing truth. God’s perfect law is now our liberty. The freedom that comes when our sin is exposed and our new life of love and grace is empowered.
How do you relate to God’s word? Is it liberty for your heart?
You in Christ
How does all of God’s word become freedom for us in Christ?
Christ in you
What is one thing you’ve seen in God’s word today that you need to both hear and do?
Playlist: Songs of God’s word.