Recap: James 2:1-17 Unlike Paul who in his letters break down the Gospel and tell you what it is, James assumes the Gospel, and tells you what your life will look like if you believe/trust in the Gospel. If you don't realize this, you can become pretty discouraged in your reading of his letter. So... let's review:
What is the Gospel?
To understand the Gospel, you got to understand sin. The essence of sin is self-obsession – the substituting of myself for God, serving as my own Savior and Lord, putting myself where only God deserves to be.
God, in the person of Jesus, reversed the substitution by substituted us with himself by taking our place on the cross, and exchanging his perfect record for us. That substitution is offered to us as a gift. That’s good news for the poor in heart...
"Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?" (James 2:5)
...but bad news for those who are "middle class" in their spirituality who refuse to accept what they cannot earn for themselves, or have someone else pay what they can't pay for themselves.
Out of a 'grateful remembering' of this substitution , Christians repent not only of their sins, but of their self-righteousness as well - realizing that mere moral effort and mere feelings of remorse, may restrain the heart, but it won't truly change the heart. Such efforts may ‘jury rigs’ the heart to produce moral behavior, but it won't endure the trials we experience in the wilderness of life.
Now onto our chapter. James writes,
"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4)
The gospel reminds us that Christ exchanged his perfect righteousness for our "shabby" righteousness. And to the degree you and I understand and appreciate the cosmic lopsidedness of this substitution, to the degree we understand how Jesus became the poor man, how he became the foul, revolting one, who was cast out, so you and I can smell like a rose, to the degree we understand how he lost his reputation so that you and I can have the "honorable name" (James 2:7), to the degree we understand how he was judged so that you and I can have God’s mercy, to the degree we have beheld the beauty of Jesus losing his beauty for us....we are going to do justice and mercy not because you and I have to, but because we want to. And that's how we will become a people who can build a community of justice and mercy in this city.