So here is a sample of my first comments on this Facebook Bible study. (Note: my friend wanted to cover two chapters at a time, which is rather arbitrary since the chapters in the Bible do not always correspond with a break in thought. And it can really hinder your ability to discuss themes and concepts in the text when your reading is cut off by such a constraint. And often two chapters covers A LOT of material, so the discussions will become overwhelming. But, hey, it's his Bible study, so I'll go with it.):
The first chapter begins by focusing on trials and testing of our faith. Through these trials, James tells us that we must persevere. He says that we must be slow to speak and slow to anger... (1:19). And he says that we must not only be HEARERS of the word but DOERS of the word (1:22). This whole section of James, to me, says that our faith cannot be in isolation. From the outside world we will be tested and tempted, and this will keep us on our toes. And from within ourselves we must control our response to those outside forces - we must control our anger and our words. There is always this tension in our faith from within ourselves and from without - trials and temptations and our own urges to lash out when we feel oppressed. Faith is caught in this tension.
This sets us up for the next chapter where faith is not only being pressured from temptations and trials in a constant tug-of-war, but we must also ACT in faith...we must perform good works. This is the meat of the matter, I think. Our faith is important and we certainly must stay true in our faith, but as James says, "the demons also believe, and shudder." (2:19) The demons are suffering in torment, but their response to that torment is what James is pointing to. Demons believe in God just as we do; but their belief does not translate into good works and LOVE. Belief in God is not enough to save them.
Christians will face trials and persecutions. Suffering through those trials while keeping our faith intact is a good start, but we must look outside ourselves and feed the hungry, cloth the naked, etc. Faith ALONE is no better than what the demons have - they believe in God, but they refuse to do good. We are called to an active living faith. Our WORKS justify us, not our "faith alone" (however strong that faith may be).
...The whole idea of "Faith Alone" never made sense to me. I wish someone could explain it to me in light of what we read here in James. It seems to me that the notion of justification by "Faith Alone" is simply un-biblical.
Interestingly, the ONLY place in the Bible where the words "faith alone" appear together is in James: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (2:24) So I've always found it interesting that the doctrine of "Faith Alone" is believed by Protestant/Reformed Christians.
...But of course that's why Martin Luther wanted to remove the Book of James from the Bible.