Judging the Law is Pride
The New Creation Man, being “Christ in you,” is also characterized by humility, rather than self-righteousness. James says in 4:9 and 10,
9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.
This is not an admonition to be miserable and gloomy throughout life. It is a reference to Joel 2:15-17, where the prophet says, “Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly. . . Let the priests, the Lord's ministers, weep between the porch and the altar.” It describes the Day of Atonement and its prophetic significance—the great day of National Repentance. James applies it more personally, no doubt, but like the book of Joel, his letter was addressed to the twelve tribes as a whole.
The Day of Atonement is the preparation day for the feast of Tabernacles, in which that final outpouring of the Holy Spirit will take place, “the early and latter rain” (Joel 2:23). James calls the twelve tribes to cleanse their hands and hearts, so that they might be delivered as the prophets foresaw.
“Humility is the root of all grace,” said A.W. Tozer some decades ago. In the flow of topics raised by James, he speaks first of God's grace (4:6), then humility (4:10), and then its fruit—being non-judgmental toward others (4:11).
James 4:10 speaks of humility,
10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
James implies that those who truly understand the grace of God will see its fruit, which is humility. Men may talk about the grace of God, but if humility is lacking, so is their understanding of grace. Yet true humility is also made apparent to all by fruit of its own. James tells us that the fruit of humility is being non-judgmental toward others.
Those who do not truly understand the law are likely to be judgmental. I have observed a strange paradox in my study of the law. The less one understands the law, the less one understands the mind of God. True understanding of the law of God is shown by humility, rather than pride.
Hence, Jesus pointed to many of the scribes and Pharisees as examples of those who claimed to know the law and yet were full of pride. For example, we read in Luke 18:9-14,
9 And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” 13 But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
The law was designed, not to make one proud, but to make one humble. It was designed to set forth the perfect standard of the mind of Christ—in contrast to the carnal mind of man. When we see that contrast, we cannot help but be humbled.
Those who earn an exalted position may have reason to be proud of themselves. But those who are granted a position by grace alone can only accept it with humility and tears.
Those who are satisfied with their own righteousness before the law are lawless without realizing it. They have come to accept a wrong understanding of the law, that is, “traditions of men.” Such men use the law legalistically, rather than lawfully. Paul wrote in 1 Tim. 1:8,
8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.
The Pharisees used the law in an unlawful manner, because most of them were legalists. Legalism is a man-made application of the law. It is quick to judge others in order to exalt one’s self.
How Men Judge the Law
Men judge the law in various ways. Today we find many religious leaders passing judgment upon the law as if it were an evil thing—or at best, irrelevant in an Age of Grace. But in the time of James, few Christians would have held that view. The Scriptures usually assume that only non-believers were lawless, although we are always admonished to be watchful for wolves dressed as sheep (Matt. 7:15).
James’ concern was not for blatant lawless behavior, but for a more subtle variety that is often found in the Church.
11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it.
Any time a believer disagrees with the law, he judges it to be wrong and presumes himself to be right. James gives us a common example of this in that believers often judge one another in an unlawful manner.
The divine law applied to all men individually, and all were expected to live accordingly in harmony with their neighbors. Furthermore, the judgments of the law were placed in the hands of the priests who acted as judges in the land. Individuals were supposed to try to resolve their conflict, but if they could not come to an agreement, they were to take it to the gate of the city, where the judges met in open court.
12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
The judges represented God and were supposed to speak God’s verdict. Hence, they were supposed to know the law and the mind of the Law-giver in order to render a righteous verdict.
In this, James sounds very much like the Apostle Paul, especially in Romans 14:4,
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul had already laid the foundations of this instruction earlier in Romans 12:19,
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
The law of God forbids men judging one another without going through the proper channels of divine government. God did establish judges in the earth, who were instructed to judge men's disputes as spokesman for the Lawgiver Himself. They were not to render judgments according to their own opinions, desires, or understanding. Thus, the judgment that they were supposed to render was not theirs, but God's, for they represented God Himself.
When men took revenge on their own, they were out of order. All injustice was to be recompensed at the hands of the divine court and the judges who represented God Himself. It is unfortunate that our English word “vengeance” now has connotations of a personal vendetta, when in fact it was meant to prevent such vendettas. Through His judges on earth, God upheld the rights of those who had been victimized.
It seems to be a basic tenet of human nature to strike back on a personal level. It is commonplace among children everywhere, and unless we learn the spirit of the law, we may never grow out of it. It is common to think that we have an inherent right to retaliate or take vengeance when others do us injustice. But James says that if we do this, we have judged both the law and the Lawgiver. Leviticus 19:18 says,
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Again, the law says a second time in Deut. 32:35 and 36,
35 Vengeance is Mine, and retribution; in due time their foot will slip, for the day of their calamity is near... 36 For the Lord will vindicate His people. . .
Hence, if we take the law into our own hands (other than in direct self-defense), and refuse to abide by the lawful procedure established by God, we judge not only the law but the Lawgiver as well. It is as if to say, “God, you did not do right in this matter, so I myself will make the correction and do what is right to make up for Your failure.”
James tells us that if you do this, “you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it” (4:11).
The Law of Love
We see, then, that the law itself commands us to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. This law of love did not begin with the New Covenant, but was commanded from the beginning. This is only logical, because Jesus Christ was the Lawgiver in Moses' day and issued His legislation under the name of Yahweh. His character is unchanging and cannot be improved upon. Love was therefore the basis of the entire law, and thus, Paul writes in Rom. 13:10,
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
Unfortunately, the scribes and Pharisees did not know the mind of the Lawgiver, so they misapplied it in accordance with their selfish motives. They interpreted the law to mean that they should love their fellow Jews or Israelites, but thought they could withhold love from foreigners. Likewise, many believed that the law demanded justice without mercy, so justice became a duty with no provision for grace.
They did not understand the underlying principle that the victim always has the right to extend grace to the sinner. While the law has no power to reduce a sentence of the law, the victim is fully empowered to do so. A thief convicted by the law must pay full restitution to his victim—unless the victim extends grace either by reducing the debt or eliminating it altogether.
Such grace was the foundation of biblical law even under the Old Covenant, but it was not well understood until the New Covenant was instituted. Jesus demonstrated this principle on the cross, where, as the greatest Victim of all, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). As the Victim for the sin of the world, He obtained the lawful right to extend grace to the whole world (1 John 2:2).
This was a principle of law not well understood under the Old Covenant. Hence, many Christians think it is unique to the New Covenant. They do not realize that the law applies to us under both covenants. The only difference is that the Old Covenant made man's obedience a prerequisite to obtaining immortal life, while the New Covenant put conditions only upon God Himself (Heb. 8:8-12). Hence, our salvation is no longer dependent upon our own ability to keep the law, but upon God's ability to fulfill His promise to overcome all the sin in the world.
In the Passover Age (from Egypt to the Cross), the light was dim. In the Pentecostal Age the light was greatly increased. Yet as we come now into the Tabernacles Age, the light will fully illuminate the law so that we can understand and apply the full glory of the mind of Christ.
As we obtain greater understanding, we see with greater clarity the unity between Paul and James, even though they ministered to different audiences. We see that both men honored the law and found grace within its precepts. Paul emphasized grace to his audience; James emphasized the law to his audience, but they extracted their teachings from the same living Word. Both preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In my view, as long as we do not fully understand the unity between Paul and James, our view is yet skewed in one direction or the other. To understand the writings of both men is to obtain the balance of understanding the full Gospel.