James 2:10-13 – The Law of Liberty

by | Updated August 2nd, 2021

If we keep the law but offend in only one point, we become transgressors of the law. Our speech and actions will be judged based on how we show mercy to others. Mercy always triumphs over judgment.

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James 2:10-13 – “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

Guilty Before God

James 2:10-11 – “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”

This shows the utter futility of salvation by works or of keeping the law. If we could somehow keep all of the law but fall short in one area, we stand guilty before God.

Matthew 5:20 – “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on keeping the law to the minutest of details. In their diligence to keep the law, they too fail short.

Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Contextually, offending in one point refers back the previous verse of respect of persons, comparing it to the worst of sins, adultery and murder (James 2:9). All sin is abhorrent before a holy God.

Martin Luther wanted to throw out the book of James because he thought its emphasis on works contradicted salvation by faith alone. He apparently didn’t read or understand this verse. This verse shows unequivocally the impossibility of justification by the works of the law.

Galatians 2:16 – “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

If righteousness could be obtained by keeping the law or works then we would have to keep all of the law. If we fall short in even one aspect we are guilty before God. The law was given to show us we all fall short and therefore lead us to faith in Jesus.

Galatians 3:24 – “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

Romans 10:4-5 – “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.”

Galatians 3:10 – “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

The curse was death and separation from God. It encompasses both physical and spiritual death, ultimately culminating in eternal separation from God in hell. God told Adam,

Genesis 2:11 – “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Adam and Eve did not immediately die physically after sinning but spiritually, they were thrust out of God’s presence.

Genesis 3:24 – “So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

Ezekiel 18:4 – “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

Romans 5:12 – “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death.”

Matthew 25:41 – “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

Revelation 20:14-15 – “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Hebrew 10:27 – “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” without Christ.

Jesus is man’s only hope! Without Christ we are all doomed to eternal damnation. If you haven’t trusted Jesus and His finished work on the cross for your sins, let me urge you to do so now. Faith in His shed blood on our behalf is the only remedy for our sin and its penalty.

Hebrews 6:18 – Flee “for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.”

Hebrews 10:14 – “For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

Hebrews 13:12-13 – “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.”

Romans 3:25-26 – “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

1 Peter 1:18-20 – “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”

Ephesians 1:7 – “In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Beware lest after you have trusted Christ and His finished work on the cross on your behalf and you return to trusting in your works and new life rather than continuing to trust in His blood shed on your behalf and that alone. Scripture sternly warns against reverting back to the works of the law. We are either saved by grace or works. It can’t be both. Either Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cleanse us of our sins or it isn’t.

Hebrews 10:29 – “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Romans 11:6 – “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

Galatians 2:21 – “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Galatians 3:1-3 – “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

Galatians 5:4 – “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

Governed by the Day of Accountability

James 2:12 – “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”

This isn’t referring to the white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. That’s a judgment for unbelievers who will be cast into the lake of fire. This has to do with the judgment seat of Christ where reward is determined for the redeemed. Our salvation is the free gift of God and there’s nothing we can do to earn it. Reward, however, is earned.

Romans 14:10-12 – “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Our works will be judged to determine our reward in glory. Our works done for Christ will pass through the fire of this judgment. Some works will be burned up while some will pass through the fire as gold, silver, and precious stones, and reward will be given for what remains (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Can you imagine if each believer governed their words and actions in view of our future judgment? What a difference it would make in what we say and do.

Matthew 12:36-37 – “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”

The Law of Liberty

The law of liberty refers to the new covenant we’re under as believers and followers of Christ. It’s the law that sets us free from the bondage of the law. The law was a covenant or contract between God and man and man failed to live up to his side of the covenant. The new covenant is a contract between the Father and the Son and they both lived up to the contract. This covenant can’t fail because man is left out of the equation. Our only requirement is to believe.

Ezekiel 11:19-20 – “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

Romans 7:5-6 – “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

2 Corinthians 3:6 – “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

Romans 8:2 – “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

It’s interesting that the advent of the first covenant brought death, but life ensued at the coming of the new covenant. When the law came, 3,000 died (Exodus 32:28). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, 3,000 received eternal life (Acts 2:41). What a glorious contrast. The new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted in Hebrews 8:10-12. We see four “I wills” or benefits of the new covenant.

  1. Enlightenment. “I will put My laws in their mind” (Hebrews 8:10). A fresh enlightenment is received under the new covenant. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came upon people to perform certain tasks. Under the new covenant, the Holy Spirit permanently lives within us (Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 3:16) guiding us into all truth (John 16:13) and giving us an understanding that wasn’t available under the law. The light has been turned on!
  2. Desire. “And write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). Under the new covenant it’s not about law, but desire for God. He gives us a desire to follow Him, do His will and please Him. “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:5-6). Under the new covenant, we are given a new founded desire and power to follow Jesus, do what pleases the Father and obey God (2 Peter 1:3-4).
  3. Relationship. “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10). Under the old covenant only certain people had a relationship with God. God was referred to as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Under the new covenant, God promises to have a relationship with anyone who will trust Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. After the resurrection Jesus told Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).

    Christianity is about a relationship, not religiosity. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).

  4. Pardon. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). Under the old covenant there was immediate judgment for sin. Under the new covenant, there is complete pardon of all transgressions. Not only are we forgiven, we are also justified (Romans 3:26, Romans 4:25-5:1). God sees us through the blood of Christ just as if we had never sinned. We are declared the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Below are three benefits of our pardon.
    1. Freeness of our pardon. God is a merciful God. “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalms 86:15). Praise the Lord! Peter thinking about God’s mercy proclaimed, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
    2. Fullness of our pardon. All of our sins are under the blood. No matter what we have done, we are forgiven when we come to Jesus. There is no sin that God won’t forgive when we trust Jesus as our only hope of salvation. Notice the plurality of our sin – “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” The multiplicity (fullness) of all our sins are all washed away, by the blood of Jesus, under the new covenant. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
    3. Fixedness of our pardon. Our sins are gone forever – God does not remember them. People often throw our sins back in our face, but Jesus is our great advocate (1 John 2:1) declares, “I paid for that. It’s been forgiven forever, back off!” “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). Our pardon is fixed forever – “I will remember no more.”

Micah prophesied of this, “He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Corrie Ten Boom used to say that God casts our sins into the sea of His forgetfulness and puts up a sign, “NO FISHING!”

Don’t let the devil, others or even yourself bring up what God has washed away from our lives forever (1 John 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Hebrew 10:14, Romans 8:33-34). Remember, the accuser of the brethern has been cast down (Revelation 12:10, Luke 10:17-19).

Judgment or Mercy

James 2:13 – “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

This refers to acts of mercy and how we treat others. The law of liberty within our hearts enables us to show mercy and causes love and mercy to flow from our hearts to others.

Romans 5:5 – “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Romans 13:8-10 – “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

John 15:12-13 – “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

1 John 2:7-10 – “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.”

1 John 3:16 – “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

This gives us a perfect example of sowing and reaping. The judgment and mercy here refers to the judgment and mercy of man. We will either reap judgment or mercy in accord with what we have sown.

Galatians 6:7 – “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Luke 6:36-38 – “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

The judgment of the sheep and goat nations was based on their treatment of others (Matthew 25:31-46). Do we have compassion for the least among us? Those who are in trouble? Those experiencing difficulties? Those who are in need?

Mercy applies to:

  1. Spiritual outcasts – Matthew 9:13, Isaiah 16:4; 1 Samuel 22:1-2.
  2. Showing of favoritism – James 2:1-9.
  3. Being Judgmental – Luke 6:36-38.
  4. Forgiveness – Matthew 18:23-35.
  5. Those in need – James 2:15-16.
  6. The fallen – Galatians 6:1.

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