On November 10, 1583 a miner named Hans Luther and his wife Margarette had a baby boy, which they named Martin. Excelling in school from an early age, by the time young Martin reached 18 he had received masters degrees in logic, grammar, rhetoric, and metaphysics. Under his Father’s direction Martin continued on for a law degree at the University of Erfurt. Then the evening came that would change the world as we know it. In July of 1505, Martin now 22, was traveling home for holiday when a sudden thunderstorm sprang on him. Frightened and afraid for his life, Martin cried out to St. Anne (the patron Saint of miners) saying this, “Save me St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk.” The storm subsided, Martin arrived home scared but safe, and to the extreme disappointment of his Father, Martin told him he was going to become a monk.
In the Augustinian order of the Catholic church Martin did not have an easy go. He became increasingly aware of his own sins and shortcomings, fearing the wrath and judgment of God. The church had taught him that salvation was earned through works, while his experience taught his were weak and foolish. Well, once he received a doctorate in theology he was sent to preach in the church at Wittenburg, Germany. His guilt increased, and one night wrestling with Paul’s words in Romans 1:16-17 Luther was set free. I’ll give you the verse, than Luther’s quote. In Romans 1:16-17 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther than said, “Upon reading these words I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” It was this season of life that the Scriptures came alive to him, God saved him, and set him on fire.
So after being comforted by Paul and the truth that salvation comes by faith and not works Luther than read James 2:24 (in our text today) which says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” He did not like this, because to him Paul and James do not seem to agree. Thus in 1522 Luther, in the preface of his German New Testament he wrote this: “In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”
Why did Luther feel this way about James? I’ll propose an answer from the text after we look into the text. I want to walk through this passage by taking it in two pieces.