Ya’aqob/James Chapter Two is often cited by traditional, evangelical Christianity as proof text that we can’t keep the Torah and should not try to. After all, none of us is without sin, so, by implication, toss out the standard for sin and carry on. That is what man says. But what does Yahweh Elohim say? What does the Scripture really say?
The context of Ya’aqob Chapter Two is discussing our attitude to the brethren. It isn’t about whether we should keep the Law of Elohim or not. It’s about how we keep the Law, the Torah of Elohim, and our heart attitude towards it, and towards one another. The letter deals with partiality in judgment. It does not set aside the standard for judgment. In fact it upholds the Standard of Torah.
Ya’aqob talks about the Law of Liberty. It has been said that this is a new Law, not being the Torah that Elohim gave Mosheh/Moses. Being called the “Royal Law” it is thought to transcend and replace Torah. But a careful reading, in context with Torah, shows that this cannot be.
In Verse 8 Ya’aqob, in speaking of the Royal Law, quotes Wayyiqra/Leviticus 19:18. Most people who read Ya’aqob don’t know that he is quoting from the Torah of Yahweh, as given to Moshe. This is not a new law that supersedes the Torah. It is Torah. The context is rightly judging your brother. Scripture does not teach us that we are not to judge, as some have suggested it does. We are told to judge rightly, according to Torah. But even in that we must not be arrogant, or use a different standard for one brother over another, based on position, social standing, or wealth.
So, what is Ya’aqob saying in the following portion of his letter?
“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ also said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
The “Royal Law,” is Torah, the Law of the King of Kings. To fulfill the Torah, according to Torah (Scripture) is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Scripture teaches us that “Elohim is Love.” To rightly apply His Torah it must be with an attitude of love. There can be no partiality, nor can there be arrogance in believing that I have attained and my brother is lesser than me because he is not at the same level of growth in walking in Torah as I believe I have achieved. Likewise, a brother who has been walking longer than me, or has had Truth revealed to him that I as yet haven’t seen, should not behave that way to me. The focus has to be on our heart’s desire to walk in His Torah, based on a commitment to repentant change when we see what His Word says and requires of us.
Ya’aqob speaks a truth that we would all be humbled by, and subsequently blessed by, if we take heed. He is simply telling us the same thing as Yohanan/John said, in 1st Yohanan. We all sin! We still have to deal with our flesh, that part of us that does not want to submit to the Torah of Yahweh. Recognizing this Truth means that I fall short. We all do. We cannot ever apply Torah from the perspective that we have attained a perfection in performance of it. But we must understand that it is our heart that is the focus of Torah. This is keeping Torah. It is how our heart and mind regards Torah. Do we want to obey, and are we yielding to His Spirit, and His Truth/Torah, that He might cause us to be obedient. This is the true work of favor, called “grace” by traditionalism. It is not that favor is the path to ignore and set aside Torah.
The one who is born again, and has entered into the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Yahusha, will have the Torah written on their heart, placed in their mind, and will be caused to walk in His Commandments, if they submit to it, and to Him.
Here’s the question we each must answer: Do we want to obey Torah? If our answer is “Yes” we will acknowledge our sin and be willing to confess, repent, and be cleansed by the blood of Yahusha, each and every time we are convicted of trespass. In this application we are judged by the “Law of Liberty,” called the Law of life in Messiah Yahusha, by Shaul. It is contrasted to the Law of sin and death. Each is a reflection and a reality of our relationship with the Living Torah, Yahusha. Same Law, yet we have a different relationship with that Law/Torah. It is in Yahusha.
Liberty was purchased by Yahusha on the stake for you and me. He set us free from sin, which is defined as “transgression of the Torah.” He did not set us free from Torah, otherwise the standard for sin is no more and we can do, each man or woman, as seems right in his or her own eyes. We know that perspective is condemned in Scripture. He set us free from sin/lawlessness, just as He delivered Israel from Egypt to serve Him as He prescribed. He set us from sin/lawlessness, in order that, in Him, we might be found lawful, if we choose to walk in His Truth.
Being set free from sin means each of us have a choice. By the work of grace, changing our hearts, we have entered into the New Covenant in His blood. He has written His Torah on our hearts, put it in our minds, and will cause us to walk in His Commandments, if we will humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and submit to His Torah. We can now choose to walk in Truth. Prior to accepting Messiah, and His atoning sacrifice, we had no choice in the matter. We were in bondage to sin. But, being set free, we can recognize our sin for what it is, “transgression of Torah.” We can repent because we now are the recipients of mercy. Remember what He said in Shemoth/Exodus Chapter Twenty? He said that His mercy is there for those who love Him and guard/keep His Commandments. Yahusha said, “If you love Me, keep My Commandments.” He is Yahweh Elohim! His mercy triumphs over judgement for those who love Him and guard/keep His Commandments. We guard what is valuable to us. Torah is of high value to Elohim! It is who He is! Is it valuable to us?
Likewise we are to show mercy to one another in Torah community. That doesn’t mean we overlook transgression, but that we have an attitude of love and of helping one another in our walk. We need to provoke one another to good works, and encourage each other. This requires submission to Yahusha and submission to workmanship, and submission to one another, in Him. In this we have fellowship with one another, as we walk in the Light of Torah, as He is in the Light, according to what Yohanan wrote in his first letter. I have to be willing to hear exhortation from my brother, just as he must be willing to hear it from me, as each of us speak Truth, according to what is written and established, and as His Spirit directs. The goal is that the entire body grow together into a spiritual house of worship; the Body of Messiah.
The Law of Liberty means we have a choice. Yohanan said that, when we sin, and we will, we have an advocate who has been given in mercy to those who love Him, submit to His Torah, and allow His workmanship in and through us, both to will and do for His good pleasure. His good pleasure is that we, like loving, obedient children, submit to His Commandments given in Torah, and submit to chastisement when we sin. Ibrim/Hebrews Chapter Twelve says that this yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness, if we submit to the discipline of our Heavenly Father. This is the “Law of Liberty.” A way has been made for us. We are free from sin, if we choose to accept the atoning sacrifice of Yahusha. Then we can truly walk in the “Law of Liberty.”