The book of James is one of the most practical books in all of scripture. Many pages could be filled exploring all that James teaches in five short chapters. However, four major themes stand out that greatly impact how we live everyday.
Joy in Trials
The book of James opens with some hard teaching. James tells his readers, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2) Nobody wants to hear this, because it is completely contrary to our normal reaction to trials. James goes on to say that trials test our faith and produce steadfastness in us. Through this process we become “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. Basically trials produce spiritual maturity. That is why, for the believer, there is joy to be found in hard places. We may not always be happy in trials, but our trust in the sovereignty of God allows us to have deep joy in Him, even in hard times.
The Law of Christ
One of the biggest themes that runs throughout the book of James is the idea that believers are no longer under the old Mosaic law, but rather a new law; the law of Christ. Simply put, the law of Christ, also called the law of liberty or royal law, is to love God and love others. James begins his discussion of this in chapter one by contrasting worthless religion that is without self control and pure religion that fulfills the law of Christ. He then continues this discussion in chapter two by setting up the law of Christ in contrast with the sin of partiality. The royal law of King Jesus prompts us to love freely, and without expecting anything in return. This is the law of Christ and it redefines everything about who we love and how we love them.
Faith and Works
One of the most well known themes in the book of James is his discussion on the relationship of faith and works. Maybe the most recognized verses from the book of James is James 2:17, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” What James is saying here is that true saving faith is always accompanied by works. He then says in verse 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”. James basically says, “I’m glad you have good theology, but so do the demons”. Faith that does not change you and lead to good works is not saving faith, it is demonic faith.
Sovereignty of God
The last major theme in the book of James is the glue that holds the rest of the book together. The only way we can have joy in trials, fulfill the law of Christ by loving others selflessly, and produce good works is because God is sovereign over all things. In James 4:13-17 he addresses readers that have arrogantly made detailed plans for their lives without acknowledging that ultimately God is in control. James quickly reminds them (and us) that in the grand scheme of eternity, our lives are a fleeting mist that is here for just a moment and then gone. In light of this we hold all our hopes, dreams, and plans in an open hand before God, knowing that in the end the only life that matters is a life that makes much of Him.