The Letter of James was a controversial book in the Bible for many of the Protestant Reformers. This letter seems to emphasize action rather than faith, and they didn't like that. "Faith is what saves," they said, and "action has nothing to do with the equation of salvation."
The Medieval Church emphasized action to almost the exclusion of faith; the Reformers countered this with their emphasis on faith to almost the exclusion of action. Martin Luther said James was a "book of straw," and wanted it removed from the canon (the eccelsiatically accepted books for a Christian community to read). But James remained, and I am glad it remained, for theological truth is always a matter of balance not exclusion, and not one side dominating the other.
Sometimes I think we Protestants have emphasized justifying faith to almost the exlcusion of sanctifying faith. Methodist have always striven to keep them in balance. Faith is the trust that God loves you and saves you in Jesus Christ. It is the blessed assurance of the peace of mind that comes from knowing that joy. It is the acceptance of your accpetance, as one theologian put it.
But is that the end of the story - self-satisfaction that you know the love of God? "No!" John Wesley said. now your santificaiton comes, now you move on to perfecttion. God gives grace to make you into a new person, and the new person listens to James with new ears - "what good is faith if you say you love God and hate your brothers and sisters, or do nothing to aleviate their suffering; what good is faith if you mouth your praise songs to God and yet you use your mouth for gossip and tearing down another brother or sister on Monday morning; what good is fath if it is only a matter of hearing the word and not doing the word?" These are good questions that remind us if the joy and thankfulness that comes from knowing God's love means anything it must mean that you will express that joy and gratitude with actions that match that love you have from God. This is James' contribution to the discussion of salvation. And frankly, I think it is an important one.
We are to labor ( how appropriate for Labor Day) for the Lord!
Happy Labor Day! Pastor Dave