One of the more interesting aspects of the book of James is that in many places, the phrasing of James’ teaching sounds close to the sayings of Jesus, particularly as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew. It seems clear that our author knew the teaching of Jesus firsthand, giving further support to the view that the James who wrote this letter was the brother of the Lord Himself.
Today’s passage is an excellent example of this. We are told that those who remain steadfast under trial will be blessed to receive the crown of life promised to those who love God (James 1:12). This wording closely matches Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:13 where we are told that only those who endure to the end will be saved.
This verse provides a corrective to those who might think that James is not very concerned with theology, for here we see that he has much to say about the doctrine of perseverance. Only those who pass through trials with steadfastness will inherit eternal life. Only those who stand firm through these things will be saved.
This is not to say that in the final analysis salvation rests on our ability. The Bible clearly shows that we cannot save ourselves and that only the sovereign electing and preserving grace of God will bring us into His presence (Ps. 69:13–15; Rom. 8:29–30; Phil. 1:6). Nevertheless, the presence of God’s electing grace in our lives is demonstrated by the fact that we cling to Him in our trials. We know that we have true faith only as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, resting our hope of salvation on Christ alone (Phil. 2:12–13).
Those who face trials and in the end fall away demonstrate that they never had true faith from the beginning. On the other hand, those with true faith heed this teaching. They will be able to count it joy when their faith is tested because they know such tests will produce steadfastness (James 1:2–4). They will ask God for wisdom without doubting (vv. 5–8) so that they will be able to pass through the trials brought by poverty or by riches. As James has already shown us, and will further explain, authentic faith deals with affliction by persevering, ever-clinging to Christ in the midst of trial.
What are the trials in your life? Are you currently facing some sort of persecution for your faith in Christ? Do you find yourself suffering from an illness? Is a lack of money causing you to doubt, or is the fact that you lack nothing causing you to rely more on yourself than on God? Whatever your circumstances may be, go to the Lord in prayer, and ask Him for the courage to stand firm in the midst of trial. Then go and encourage others to cling to Christ in their trials as well.