Lesson 141

James 2

“Lesson 141: James 2,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)


James encouraged the Saints to reach out to the downtrodden and taught that true followers of Jesus Christ are not to give preference to the rich over the poor. James also taught about the relationship between faith and works.

Suggestions for Teaching

James 2:1–13

James teaches followers of Christ not to show favoritism toward the rich

Randomly select a student, and give him or her a small treat. Tell the class that you gave this student a treat for some reason that you have arbitrarily chosen (for example, because that student wore your favorite color or because he or she brought a certain object to class).

  • How did my treatment of this student make the rest of you feel?

  • Why do people sometimes show favoritism?

Ask students to think of other times when they have seen someone being treated better than others and to consider how it made them feel.

Invite a student to read James 2:1–4 aloud. Ask this student to also read footnote a in James 2:1, which includes an alternative translation from the Greek as well as the Joseph Smith Translation of James 2:1. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what James warned the Saints about.

  • What did James warn the Saints about?

Point out that to “have respect to persons” (Joseph Smith Translation, James 2:1) means to show favoritism for one person or a group of people while mistreating others because of their circumstances or characteristics.

  • What example of favoritism did James share?

  • What are some examples in our day of individuals showing favoritism toward some people while mistreating others because of their circumstances or characteristics?

Summarize James 2:5–7 by explaining that James continued to reprove the Saints who showed favoritism to the rich. He taught them that God had chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs to His kingdom. James also reminded the Saints that it had been the rich who oppressed them and blasphemed against the Lord.

Invite students to read James 2:8 silently, looking for what James reminded the Saints to do that would help them eliminate favoritism.

  • What did James remind the Saints to do?

  • Why do you think this commandment was referred to as “the royal law”? (James 2:8).

  • What principle can we learn from these verses about how faithful disciples of Jesus Christ treat people? (Students may use different words but should identify a principle similar to the following: Faithful disciples of Jesus Christ love all people regardless of their circumstances. Write this principle on the board.)

  • During His mortal ministry, how was the Savior an example of loving others regardless of their circumstances?

Ask students to think of someone who strives to love all people. Invite a few students to share with the class who they thought of and why.

Ask students to consider how they treat others. Encourage them to look for opportunities to follow the Savior’s example of loving others.

Invite students to imagine that, after hearing James’s teachings about loving all people, they hear someone say that it is not a big deal if we show favoritism to some people while mistreating others. This person also says that there are far worse things we could do.

  • What problems can come from having this mindset?

Invite a student to read James 2:9–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why it is a serious matter to not love all people regardless of their circumstances.

  • Why is it a serious matter to not love all people regardless of their circumstances?

  • What truth can we learn from James’s teachings in these verses? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify a truth similar to the following: If we commit even one sin, we become guilty before God.)

  • According to James 2:10, what is the eternal consequence of breaking even one of God’s commandments? (We become as if we were “guilty of all” in that we are unclean and therefore unable to dwell with God [see also 1 Nephi 10:21].)

  • Why can we still have hope, even though disobedience to God makes us unclean to live with God?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“All is not lost.

“The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope.

“Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice [see Alma 42:15] ‘and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance’ [Alma 34:15].

“Our sins, though they may be as scarlet, can become white as snow [see Isaiah 1:18]. Because our beloved Savior ‘gave himself a ransom for all,’ [1 Timothy 2:6] an entrance into His everlasting kingdom is provided unto us [see 2 Peter 1:11]” (“The Gift of Grace,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 108).

  • What do we need to do to be worthy of entering the Lord’s kingdom through the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

  • How might the principle we identified in verse 10 help us more fully appreciate the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

Summarize James 2:11–13 by explaining that James provided an example of the principle taught in verse 10. He then encouraged believers to treat others mercifully, for those who treat others without mercy will be judged without mercy.

James 2:14–26

James teaches about the roles of faith and works in our salvation

Invite students to suppose that a young man has recognized that he has sinned. He believes in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and in the Savior’s ability to save him. He says that all he has to do is believe and the Lord will forgive him, with no other effort on his part.

Ask students to consider whether this young man’s belief alone is sufficient for him to be forgiven for his sins.

Invite a student to read James 2:14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what James asked the Saints about faith.

  • What did James ask the Saints about faith?

  • What type of works do you think James was referring to?

Explain that James was correcting a false idea about faith. Some people had misunderstood faith to be simply a verbal expression of belief. In the context of James 2:14, James used the term works differently than the way the Apostle Paul had used it. When Paul used the term works, he referred to the works of the law of Moses. When James used the term works, he referred to acts of devotion or works of righteousness.

As recorded in James 2:15–16, James used an analogy to illustrate the answer to his question in verse 14. Invite two students to come to the front of the class. Ask one of the students to act as a beggar who is pleading for the food, clothing, and shelter he or she needs to survive. Invite the other student to act as someone who can help the beggar. Invite a third student to read James 2:15–16 aloud while the two other students act out what is described in these verses.

  • What is wrong with the response that was given to the begging student? Would the other student’s response be enough to save a beggar?

Invite a student to read James 2:17–18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what James taught about faith.

  • What do you think the phrase “faith, if it hath not works, is dead” (verse 17) means?

  • How does James’s analogy of the beggar help us understand what this phrase means?

  • According to verse 17, what truth did James teach about true faith in Jesus Christ? (Students may use different words but should identify a truth similar to the following: True faith in Jesus Christ is made manifest by our righteous works. Write this truth on the board.)

Invite a student to read James 2:19–20 aloud. Make sure the student also reads the Joseph Smith Translation of James 2:19 (in James 2:19, footnote a). Ask the class to follow along, looking for the example James used to show that believing in God does not necessarily include having faith in God.

  • What example did James use to show that believing in God does not necessarily include having faith in God?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder David A. Bednar

“True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action. … Action alone is not faith in the Savior, but acting in accordance with correct principles is a central component of faith” (“Ask in Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 95).

  • According to Elder Bednar, what is “a central component of faith”?

  • Why is it important to understand that faith in Jesus Christ means both believing in Him and acting according to correct principles?

Remind students of the young man in the scenario at the beginning of this section of the lesson.

  • How might understanding that faith includes both belief and action help someone who seeks forgiveness for his or her sins?

Summarize James 2:21–26 by explaining that James referred to Abraham and Rahab as two examples of people whose faith in God was made manifest by their works. (The account of the courageous woman Rahab is found in Joshua 2:1–22.)

Invite students to use their class notebooks or scripture study journals to write about a time when they demonstrated faith in Jesus Christ through their works and how they were blessed for doing so. Encourage students to include their testimonies of the Savior and how they will demonstrate that belief through their actions. Ask a few students to share what they wrote with the class.

Invite students to prayerfully consider how they can more fully exercise faith in Jesus Christ by obeying Him. Encourage them to follow any promptings they receive.

scripture mastery iconScripture Mastery—James 2:17–18

To help students apply the truths taught in this scripture mastery passage, provide each of them with a small piece of paper. Invite them to write down the words of this passage on one side of the paper. Then ask them to complete the following sentence on the other side of the paper: I will show the Lord my faith in Him by … Encourage students to keep this piece of paper in their pockets throughout the day and to keep a running list of ideas for demonstrating their faith to the Lord. As they add to their lists, they can review the scripture mastery passage. Encourage them to place the piece of paper where they will see it often and be reminded of their goals.

Commentary and Background Information

James 2:10. If we are guilty of one sin, are we really guilty of all?

James’s teaching recorded in James 2:10 is important to understand but can also be easily misunderstood. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the following regarding this verse:

“James in his epistle said: ‘For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all’ [James 2:10]. This has appeared to many as a hard saying, yet it is true. The laws which govern in the celestial kingdom are perfect and before we can enter there we must place ourselves in harmony with them all. A person who is in rebellion against any one eternal commandment cannot be justified and cannot enter the celestial kingdom. If he were permitted to do so he would take into that kingdom confusion, and such a condition cannot be justified” (“The Standards of the Church,” Improvement Era, July 1957, 506).

James 2:14–18. We are not saved by our works

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency clarified that it is not our obedience to God’s commandments that saves us:

“Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God [see Acts 20:28]. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth” (“The Gift of Grace,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 109).

James 2:18–26. “I will shew thee my faith by my works”

“James responded to reports of people who were speaking simplistically of faith as something separate from one’s actions, or ‘works’ (see James 2:14–26). …

“… James was not teaching that faith has no saving power; he was teaching that a passive belief that resulted in no action was not true, saving faith. When James challenged his readers to ‘shew me thy faith without thy works’ (James 2:18), he was pointing out that it is not possible to show one’s faith except through one’s actions—true faith cannot exist apart from righteous works” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 495).

James referred to Abraham and Rahab as two examples of people whose faith in Jesus Christ was made manifest by their works. James explained that Abraham and Rahab were “justified by works.” To be justified means “to be pardoned from punishment for sin and declared guiltless. A person is justified by the Savior’s grace through faith in Him. This faith is shown by repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Justification,” scriptures.lds.org). Therefore, Abraham and Rahab were not saved because of their works, but their works and obedience to the Lord demonstrated that they had true faith in Jesus Christ and in His power to save.