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Twisted Scripture: James 1

• Greg Boyd

For many, faith is about attaining as much certainty as possible in order to be a true follower of Christ. But the Bible tells us faith is about committing to a course of action in the face of uncertainty. God is not seeking all the right answers from his people in order to let them into heaven; no, he is our loving Bridegroom who seeks to be in a covenantal relationship with us in the midst of our uncertainties.

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For many people today, we try to attain as much certainty as possible before making a commitment. We try to eliminate most, if not all, risk if possible. This has naturally impacted the way we do faith. We see faith as a contest of who has the least amount of doubt because that directly demonstrates how much faith a person has. Greg calls this the strength tester model of faith or certainty-seeking faith, where people try to convince themselves that they have little to no doubts at all.

This view assumes an un-Christ-like portrayal of God, for it assumes God is holding out on answers to prayer until people reach a certain level of certainty. It becomes a form of psychological torture for those yearning to have their prayers answered. This view also afflicts people with a learning phobia. If salvation is dependent upon being right and having the right beliefs, then that can cause Christians to avoid truly engaging with people who have other beliefs. Christians can become too busy refuting people and their different views that they can’t truly empathize with them. This view also sets people up to fail. The real world is messy and full of ambiguity and people with different beliefs, whereas certainty-seeking faith likes to pretend everything is neat and tidy and imposes clarity on a world that is ambiguous. It doesn’t prepare people for how to engage with others who are different from them. And lastly, this view is idolatrous. Certainty-seeking faith causes people to get life from what they think about God rather than getting life from being in a loving relationship with God.

Additionally, when James 1:5-6 is read in context, we find that James is talking about wisdom and not certainty-seeking faith. So this verse has been twisted to mean something that it doesn’t. Biblical faith isn’t about trying to attain certainty; it’s about committing to a course of action in the face of uncertainty. The demons believe all the right things but they won’t commit, so it doesn’t do them any good. Being in a covenantal relationship with God involves risk, but all love and commitments involve risk. You love somebody enough to take the risk. So faith will naturally have uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t commit to Christ. No, God is okay with people asking questions! He’s given us our minds to use as an act of worship. It’s always good to be growing in our faith, to be asking questions and seeking answers. We leverage everything on Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2) and learn to be okay with unanswered questions and ambiguity. Biblical faith is messy and ambiguous and God is okay with that!

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Faith

Sermon Series: Twisted Scripture: Season 1


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Focus Scripture:

  • James 1:6-7

    6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

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8 thoughts on “Twisted Scripture: James 1

  1. Dave Pritchard says:

    “Dubito ergo sum” – Saint Augustine circa 396AD

    “Dubito ergo cogito; cogito ergo sum” – René Descartes’ circa 1640

    “Sum ergo cogito; cogito ergo dubito” – Johnathan Hepburn circa 2007

  2. David W says:

    cogito no clue, ergo google – Me circa now
    🙂

  3. Dave Pritchard says:

    Si, sta cercando per il definizione – va bene cosi! Ma, sta attento perche’ e molto complesso – allora… più o meno…
    Chissa’ :{)

  4. Vince says:

    So what James is saying is that we need to look to God for wisdom, and absolutely expect that He will provide it. We can not doubt that He will provide us with His wisdom if we ask for it from Him, right? If we doubt that He will give us that wisdom, then we are “driven and tossed by the wind” and should expect that we will get any wisdom from Him.

    So the passage seems to be saying that the only way to receive God’s wisdom is to believe with absolute certainty that He will provide it. Is that what Greg was getting at. Certainty is required for wisdom from God, but when people take that verse and apply it to healing, etc., it’s twisted, right?

  5. Peter says:

    While Greg’s proposition is interesting, there is always an issue of the way we approach or view theological matters. The view I endeavour to hold to, is that issues should be presented, as far as possible, from a “whole of Bible” approach. That means looking how these issues commenced, usually in the OT, which led up to their NT development rather than focussing in either one verse or chapter or book or testament and virtually ignoring the rest.

    In the case of faith, there have been volumes written on this aspect which provides little chance of developing this matter to that extent in a blog such as this. However, there are there are some useful points, I believe, worth mentioning.

    Firstly, man, made in the image of God must have had complete affinity with God and therefore knew God. The gift of creation was sufficient to see God as ‘a faithful Creator’ (1 Pet. 4:19) and a ‘faithful God’(2 Cor. 1:18). It was in Eden that man’s first test of faith in God took place. Man chose not to trust God ie the statement that he would die if he disobeyed; that is he refused to fear Him in reverence and so to obey Him. Hence what trust man had, turned to slavish fear when he sinned. 2 Cor. 5:15 infers that man lives to himself ie he trusts only himself and that he died to God.

    The outcome of the Fall is partly described in Rom 1:19ff that when man rejects the nature of God as He is, he also rejects his own nature, and the nature of the universe. He lives in the context of fate since his world is not God’s true world. God, to him is not a faithful Creator, nor a faithful God, but is his enemy ie man is in conflict with creation because of his own rebellion. He essentially refuses to obey the authorities which operate as part of the God created universe. Hence he sees God as alien, hostile, uncaring. He sees no great destiny for himself. In other words, he becomes faithless. Further, man cannot be sure of himself, since he is not a faithful, obedient human being in the harmonious creation of God. He does not know what God is about and cannot discern the true nature of God. He is dead to God and does not wish to retain God in his memory or accede to the demand for godly obedience.

    Effectively, the faith that man was created with has been lost with no strong desire to go down that road to retrieve it…..which in some ways leads to the quandary that Greg is attempting to rationalize.

    Then, interestingly we have Abel, the first in the list of the faithful (Heb 11:4). He believed God. Hence, as a person, he was justified. He knew the nature of God and offered his gifts (sacrifices) accordingly. The promise of Gen. 3:15 was known and he knew God would triumph over evil, redeem man, and vindicate Himself. This is followed by Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the prophets etc leading to Jesus the originator and completer of our faith.

    God’s actions and plan are all related to His promises. What God has promised in history He contains and completes in Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes he comes to fulfil God’s plan (according to the prophets). In fact, there can be no real faith in God unless these are fulfilled. Effectively, faith ‘comes to life’ in what Jesus is and does, since it is God the Father doing the same.

    Secondly, the use of the noun, adjective, and verb, to indicate faith in the New Testament is profuse. Faith is the act by which one believes. One can believe the fact, the truth, or on the Name, or the Person of God or Christ. Faith is sometimes the act by which one believes, and sometimes what one believes, or the instrument by which one acts or does something.

    Commentators indicate that Paul uses the faith noun almost without exception, whilst John uses the verb. Sometimes the verb is used in the aorist form, meaning a completed action. One has believed, and that is that; it is committal which is completed. Sometimes the present continuous tense is used in which case believing is a permanent state, one which continues.

    While this is important to know, if we divorce our understanding of faith from its history, we will be preoccupied with its elements and immediate contexts and miss the general view of faith, that is, believing the acts of God, believing in
    God and His Son, and receiving the benefits of faith, namely the fruits of the works of God, and personal understanding of God as also the relationship of union with Him.

    Thirdly, and importantly, faith is described as a gift (Eph. 2:8–10-For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.). Taking this further, in Rom 10:17 ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ’. Rom 10:14 asks how one can believe without hearing, whilst I Cor 1:21 says it is by the foolishness of the proclamation (which one hears) that men are saved. Faith then comes when one accepts what one hears. What one hears is not acceptable to the attitude described in the fall of man, and the rejection of God. Therefore when a person accepts the Word, that person, in fact, ‘obeys’ the Gospel. This is clear from Romans 10:14–21. Verse 16 says ‘They have not all obeyed the Gospel’, so that believing is really coming to obedience. That the Gospel is a command is clear from II Thes 1:8 where unbelievers are said to not obey the Gospel, and so will be punished.

    Lastly, as one commentator remarks, “How then, do we understand faith? The answer is: Faith has ever seen God as He is. Faith has ever known the nature of God, His being, His plan, and His acts and operations, and faith has ever been in the plan and work of God. Fallen man cannot understand these things. He has
    devised his own false theology, cosmology, and anthropology. He is not simply in error. He is in pride; hence what he understands in the moral and spiritual realm is actually false. Indeed it is opposed to the truth. Until he renounces unbelief he cannot come into faith, for faith is the opposite of unbelief…….Hence faith is able to participate in the action. Paul says he has fought the battle or fight of faith. It is one we fight continually. We have warnings about being vigilant and sober, about withstanding the attacks of the evil world-system. We must be constantly renewed in the spirit of our minds, lest we fall back into worldly ways of understanding, and worldly ways of operations. How many know that when we revert – for some reason – to reasoning about the things of faith by the modes of faithless reason, that the world of faith disappears like a chimera, a mental mirage, and we are left with nothing but the unattractive and deadly derelict of faithless reasoning. Hence we must go on fighting in faith; go on being renewed in our minds; go on ‘enduring, as seeing Him who is ‘invisible’, and knowing that what we see has been made out of the things which do not appear, and that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

    While much longer than I would like, it hopefully opens up faith to a much wider vista and where faith sits in the life of a believer.

    Not seeking to ignore your question Vince, but as I have indicated here my view of faith may be in part at odds with Greg’s, but when we receive the gift of faith we exercise it in the acceptance of the gift of salvation. Assuming the gift stays with us and is not relinquished through unbelief, it does become strengthened through our ongoing knowledge of Christ such that, we can have those who are strong or weak in the faith. James talks about testing faith and producing steadfastness and, assumedly, having the wisdom to stand the test of those trials. The parallel may be the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and, of course, Adam in Eden.

  6. Dave Pritchard says:

    V,

    I think that’s an interesting way of stating it. Looking backward – Alexander MacLaren said in his commentary on verse 5 – ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask.’ –

    “It is a gift, and it is to he obtained from that Holy Spirit who dwells and works in all believers. The measure of their desire is the measure of their possession. That wisdom can be had for the asking, and is not to be won by proudly self-reliant effort.”

    I find the – “The measure of their desire is the measure of their possession” statement to be very profound!

    However, he goes on to say –

    “But let us not think that any kind of ‘asking’ suffices to put that great gift into our hearts. The petition that avails must be sincere, intense, constant, and accompanied by corresponding conduct.”

    I can see what he’s saying and agree with it to a point, but when one applies a “certitude formula” [not saying you were] to other prayerful needs such as physical healings or a victory over specific sins, – it’s like using “lobster trap logic” to then attempt to corner God afterwards and say, “See, you didn’t do what I thought you could”. God then becomes a Genie-like figure whose lamp you rubbed the wrong way!

    Conversely though, in James 1:5 the Koine Greek says – “….tou didontos theou” – the [one] giving God, so it’s a “gerund attribute” of God that James is pointing out and so, our asking and potentially receiving, would not be contingent on our own personal level of certitude.

    I think that clicks in well with what Pete is saying about verb form usage. Out of the abundance of his love for us, he will always exceed our expectations but whether we are able to see and appreciate it, often is a matter of timing – His timing, not ours! It also depends on how someone defines “certitude”. Is it – “God’s gunna do exactly as I have prayed for” or is it rather – “God will work this out, I’m “certain” of his love for me”. (?)

  7. Vince says:

    Hi Dave! I completely agree that all true wisdom is a gift from God. Would it be correct to say that wisdom, according to James, is a gift from God which He gives to those who continually humbly ask for it, and do not doubt that they will receive it as they continually seek Him?

  8. Dave Pritchard says:

    V,

    Yea, that sounds like really solid reasoning but I think it’s important to link the concept of “wisdom” found in James to other places in scripture where it’s mentioned such as:

    Psalm 51:6 – “Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”

    Or Proverbs 2:6 -“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

    Or Daniel 2:21 – “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

    And of course most relevant, James 3:17 – “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

    It’s interesting though that the word for Wisdom – “Sophia”, which is used for the Greek in James, is somewhat different in flavor and context than the word “Hokmot” i.e. (hak-mah) or “Chokma” used for Wisdom in the Hebrew. In the OT Wisdom is often personified as being “female” – and there are speculations by some theologians that this is left over from either their time spent in Egypt and or regional influences from other “Goddess” worshipping people.

    “Kmote” at [Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange] came up with this answer as to the “Why Wisdom is Personified as a Woman? question. I think it a great way to look at it inner-textually, although it might come a cross as being slightly sexist –

    “Great question! I had never thought about that before, so I dug in a little. And as I examined the passage, I found a very significant literary device that I had never previously noticed:
    Set Proverbs 7 and 8 side-by-side and you will notice several remarkable similarities/parallels between the two passages. Both present a long speech by a woman. Both women are described as “roaming the streets” (7:12, 8:2,3); both are inviting men into their homes (7:14-19; 8:34, 9:4), both have set an inviting table (7:14; 9:2,5), both chapters end with the word “death” (although chapter 8 has a postlogue in the first verses of chapter 9 that ends with “life”). Both mention the woman’s “path” (7:8,25; 8:20), her “kiss/lips” (7:13; 8:6), her “love” (7:18; 8:17), and (maybe) even her “husband” (7:19; 8:22,30).*
    Perhaps most significant is the contrast between how the speech in 7 begins and the one in 8 ends:

    He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house (7:8)
    vs.,
    Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors waiting at my doorway. (8:34)

    So, from just this cursory comparison I think it is evident that Solomon was intentionally juxtaposing these two women in order to make a stark contrast between the two “voices” that all men must choose between. (Both voices make one more curtain call in chapter 9 as well). In one, seduction is personified; in the other, it is Sophia personified — both beautiful, attractive ladies.

    I guess it is Solomon’s way of asking: “So who’s door are you going to knock on?”

    I like that conclusion, but as Maclaren would say, – “The freeness of the gift [of wisdom] does not do away the necessity of our [continuing] diligence”.

    Cheers

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