The Bible is not a set of commandments, nor a standard to try and live by, neither the New Covenant a set of instructions to follow.
When we are given a command under the New Covenant (especially throughout books like James & Peter), this is not for us to try and follow by the book, because this would mean that we are putting ourselves under a “law” again, we are just calling it something else, namely a “command”. Rather these books are to be seen as an example of what a Christian life can look like when people under the power of God manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
The Desires of the Spirit… In Us
When we live this way, walking according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1) and delighting ourselves in the Lord, we will automatically obey the commandments and manifest the fruit of the Spirit. But the commandments are not to be seen as a standard, rather they are an example. A key revelation that we as new covenant believers need to have is that we have been made fully righteous:
2 Cor 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NKJV)
It’s easy to misunderstand some of the verses in James when we read them in the wrong context. In the context of the new covenant that says we have been saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), and that we can not do anything to earn God’s blessings or approval, let’s look at a few of these verses:
Jam 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
Jam 2:17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (NKJV)
Jam 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)
These verses are not supposed to condemn you and make you feel you have not been doing enough. Let’s quickly look at a commonly misunderstood principle:
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (NKJV)
When we are born again, we are IN Christ, but we don’t necessarily walk IN the Spirit. When we walk IN the Spirit, it means we are doing everything right. But when we walk ACCORDING TO or AFTER the Spirit, it means we are making a sincere effort, we are trying, but not necessarily getting it right. Now look again at Rom 8:1 (above). This verse says that when we try, there is no condemnation, even if we miss it. You see the old covenant dealt with the outward problem, with sin and godless deeds. But under the new covenant God changes our hearts (He deals with the inward problem), and when our hearts are changed, the good works will automatically follow. This is what it means when Paul quoted the prophet Jeremiah:
Heb 10:16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them. (NKJV)
First we have to believe the right things (that God loves us regardless of our performance and that we can not earn His approval) before we will start doing the right things. Right believing will lead to right living, but simply living right in itself will not lead to right believing.
Thus back to the James verses, the writer is saying that if we are truly saved, there will be evidence of our faith in the form of good works. But since our minds are not fully renewed, we sometimes make mistakes, we don’t always walk IN the Spirit, and we neglect to do the good works God meant for us to do. But this is where the grace of God comes in, God does not condemn or judge or punish us if we don’t do the works the writer of James talks about. He simply keeps on loving us the same.
Not to take away any of the power of the words in James though. Think about it this way: When you really love God, your life will be a light in the darkness, you will be the salt of the earth and people will see your good works and praise God for them. But Jesus came and took away the “Have To’s” and replaced them all with “Want To’s”.