So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13 (NKJV)
James’ wording in these two verses is pretty interesting. The idea seems to be that who a person is, their color, nationality, sexuality, religion, should have no bearing on how we treat them. We are to love people, reach out to them through our speech and actions regardless of who they are. We do this in part because God is going to judge on the basis of how we have treated them. The one who has treated others without mercy will face judgment without mercy. If we are merciless toward others, and that’s exactly what prejudice is, then God will be merciless toward us on judgment day. That’s a pretty tough thought right? Yet that’s exactly what we see here. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to face a merciless God on judgment day. The idea of God judging on the basis of our actions isn’t unique to James.
” A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:35-37 (NKJV)
On Judgment Day, we’ll all give an account for the words we’ve spoken. And these words will either justify us or these will condemn us. So on Judgment Day, salvation or damnation will be determined by the words we’ve spoken. Again, that’s a pretty tough thought, but exactly what Jesus said. But this isn’t the only place we find this sort of idea.
Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is far too long for me to paste into this post so look it up in your Bible. However, it is the passage where Jesus says on Judgment Day, “As much as you have done it to one of the least of these…you have done it to me…As much as you did not do it to one of the least of these…you did not do it to me…” This passage is a picture of Judgment Day where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. In verses 34-36 Jesus invites the sheep into Heaven on the basis of their compassion toward others and then in verses 41-44 Jesus sentences the goats to hell on the basis of their lack of compassion toward others. There is no mention of so many of the things we would probably mention. There is simply our doing what we could to help those in need or our refusing to do what we could to help those in need.
So in these three passages, we find judgment, salvation and damnation, conditioned upon actions we do or don’t take. Those who are merciless to one group of people will find God merciless toward them on Judgment Day. The words we speak will be used to determine whether we experience salvation or damnation. The compassionate acts we’ve done toward others determines whether we are sheep who go to Heaven or goats who go to hell.
Are these passages teaching us a works based salvation? No. We always have to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. Rather than seeing James teach that we are saved by being impartial, or Jesus saying we are saved by saying the right words or saved through acts of compassion, we need to see James and Jesus teaching that if we are saved we’ll not be prejudiced, we’ll be careful what we say, and we’ll be compassionate toward others.
Those who are saved by Jesus are changed by Jesus. This change is not merely a change in our eternal destiny. We are changed in the core of our very being. Jesus changes who we are so thoroughly that one can look at how we treat others and see what Jesus has done, one can listen to our speech and hear the difference Jesus has made, one can watch our lives and see the compassion of Christ be lived out by us. Jesus always changes us. Where there is no change, there is no Jesus.