Be Merciful (James 2:12-13) ~ A Daily Devotion for January 20, 2014

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” ~ James 2:12-13

Explanation of the Text: James closes out this particular section with a short discourse on the nature of the law in light of what he just taught regarding their need to live in a way to fulfill it. John MacArthur sums up this particular section best when saying “The admonition to speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty is tantamount to saying, ‘Live and act as a true believer who has been saved by God’s grace and who will be judged on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness.’”[1]

Every person will be judged according to the law of God. Those who are not believers will be judged in a stricter sense (in a manner of speaking) because, having not responded to the Gospel, they do not have the imputed righteousness of Christ and face an eternity in the pit of fire. While those who are judged according to the law of God, find freedom in it because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is freeing for all individuals. It is not a freedom to sin (Romans 6:2-11) but it is liberating because those who have rightly responded to the Gospel call recognize that through Jesus Christ, they are able to meet God’s righteous standard, something that they could not do on their own.

Examination & Application of the Text: The ability of any person to meet that righteous standard through Jesus Christ comes from the mercy that God has lavished on people by allowing them that opportunity. For that reason, believers should not withhold mercy from anyone else. “We are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. But those who are truly saved cannot live as if they have never been touched by the mercy and grace of God. Those who know mercy cannot withhold it from others.”[2] In Matthew 5:7, Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Here James says the reversal by indicating that those who do not show mercy will not receive mercy. By looking at Mathew 5:7 side-by-side with James 2:13, it is reasonable to conclude that in the context of these verses, mercy is an attribute of a true believer of Jesus Christ, while a lack of mercy is characteristic of one who is not. As Mathew 5:7 says the merciful will find mercy. The exemplification of that mercy can be seen in Hebrews 8:12, in which God, who is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Psalm 103:8; Jonah 4:2; Luke 6:36) will be merciful in His judgment by no longer remembering the sins of His people. Therefore, based on Matthew 5:7 and Hebrews 8:12, if one is to be a believer to receive mercy, using rules of logic, we can determine that one who does not receive mercy is not a believer. This is evidenced by the fact that they do not show mercy to others, but rather they cultivate judgment. But as James says in his conclusion, mercy will triumph over judgment. “The person whose life is characterized by mercy is ready for the Day of Judgment and will escape all the charges that strict justice might bring against him because by showing mercy to others he gives genuine evidence of having received God’s mercy.”[3]


[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 116.

[2] Roger Ellsworth, Opening up James, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 86.

[3] John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 1879.

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