James: Costly Faith


Knock-Off Versus Genuine

Have you ever bought a knock-off? It looks just like the real thing until it starts to unravel, or crack, or the zipper breaks. You maybe kind of suspected that it was not the real deal, but . . . what a great price, right? And when it is new, it really does look good.

James was intent on showing the difference between inexpensive knock-off Christianity and the costly, but authentic living faith of a follower of Christianity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cheap Grace

Had they lived during the same time, I wonder if James and Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have found each other’s work inspiring. Bonhoeffer’s well-known quote about cheap grace makes for some bracing reading!

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer | By Wissen911 – Bettina Rott: Wilhelm Rott, 1908–1967: Lebenszeugnis, Pro Business Verlag, 2008, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52692413

Brief Overview of James

James’ letter, more than any of the other epistles, makes direct allusions to Jesus’ teaching. In this first chapter, James references Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and 7. In the second chapter, James’ teaching on faith matches Jesus’ teaching on faith in His parable of the sower in Matthew 13.

The general outline of James’ letter deals with faith, and the maturity of believers. What does real faith look like?

James offered five marks of a spiritually alive and mature believer:

Chapter 1, a mature believer is patient in times of trouble.

Chapter 2, a living faith practices the truth.

Chapter 3, a mature believer exercises power over their tongue.

Chapter 4, spiritually vibrant Christians are peace makers.

Chapter 5, a living faith is prayerful in all things.

What Makes Faith Grow?

James offered three ways faith will grow.

The first is through one’s response to external testing in trials.

James wrote specifically to Christians.

James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion: Greetings.

James 1:1 (DNLT)

The word διασπορᾷ | diaspora in Greek means scattered as seeds. These were believers of Jewish background who lived in the great Roman empire outside of Judea, were spreading the Gospel and as a result, were facing persecution. Trials come in all shapes and sizes, and part of what makes them trials is that they often come when you least expect it.

James provided a four-step progression for finding triumph in adversity.

1. Have a joyful attitude

Regard it all joy, my brothers, whenever you fall-into various trials, 

James 1:2 (DLNT)

You and I tend to rejoice when we escape trials, when we can get rid of the suffering. But, if we value comfort more than character, if we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, if we live only for the ‘now’ and do not look ahead at what the results will be of our current choices, then we will not know how to have this joy.

Joy in faith knows that God is sovereign, Ever-Present, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and adversity that reaches us has been filtered through God’s love, compassion, and wisdom. With God’s supernatural, almighty wonder-working power, the Lord’s love and light, this adversity actually build us up in God’s strength.

This is how the apostles approached every trial.

So indeed the ones [apostles] were going from the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they were considered-worthy to be dishonored for the Name. And every day, in the temple and house by house, they were not ceasing teaching and announcing-the-good-news as to Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 4:41-42 (DLNT)

2.  Know the truth about our situation

. . . knowing that the testing of your faith is producing endurance. 

James 1:3 (DLNT)

The truth is, trials are like a stress test, pushing you and me up to and beyond our limits, so that we will recognize our dependence on God, and call on the Lord for help. Adversity is designed to produce endurance, because increased endurance has its own startling result.

3. Have a surrendered will.

And let endurance be having its complete work in order that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4 (DLNT)

It means to be willing to receive what God has for us, including sacrifices, hardship, trials and adversity. Being willing to roll with it, and see where God takes it.

4. Desire God’s wisdom

And if any of you is lacking wisdom, let him be asking from the God giving generously to all and not reproaching, and it will be given to him. But let him be asking in faith, not doubting at all. 

James 1:5-6 (DLNT)

You and I need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God gives us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use this situation for good, to God’s glory. God may not give us all the answers we would like, but the Lord will always give us wisdom, enough to make good decisions, and to do what is right and pleasing in God’s eyes.

Which, of course, is the rub!

Costliness of Faith

Often enough God tells us what we do not like to hear. We feel tempted to look around for a way out of what, deep down, we know is God’s instruction – maybe try to find a loophole, or an exception, or compelling reasons why we think the Lord does not mean what the Lord is saying to us. That is the inner wavering James talked about. Wavering is a vacillation between one thing and another. 

For the one doubting is like a surge of the sea being blown-by-wind and tossed. For let that person not be supposing that he will receive anything from the Lord—a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

James 1:6-8 (DLNT)
  • Double‑minded literally means two‑souled. Lack of faith is doubting God’s character, not trusting the Lord, not believing God has enough love, or enough power, or enough motivation to work this all out for our good.
  • Lack of faith is instability, being driven and tossed around by feelings, excuses, rationales and every new idea.
  • Faith is stability, steadiness in crises and turmoil. Faith is complete trust in God’s character, love, power, and pure motives. Faith trusts and receives the whole counsel of God, all of God’s word.

Costly faith means moving forward with what the Lord gives you and me.


[Dietrich Bonhoeffer vitral Johannes Basilikum, Berlin | By Sludge G – https://www.flickr.com/photos/sludgeulper/3904027037, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61749003%5D

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