This is one of a series of reviews from a Christian perspective on the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
Sometimes just one verse of scripture can change the world. James 1:5 seems like a simple bit of counsel—if you need wisdom, ask God. But when 14-year-old Joseph Smith read that verse, “it seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of [his] heart” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12). Thus inspired, Joseph acted on James’s admonition and sought wisdom from God through prayer. And God did indeed give liberally, giving Joseph one of the most remarkable heavenly visitations in human history—the First Vision. This vision changed the course of Joseph’s life and led to the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. All of us are blessed today because Joseph Smith read and acted on James 1:5.
For one, I’m sure this book of the Bible was the one most anticipated in this entire series since two of the prooftexts often used by Latter-day Saints are found here: James 1:5 (as seen used above) and James 2:20.
First of all, let’s just say that James 1:5, as cited here, is out of context. Here is what the immediate context says:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
This is not talking about praying about faith, a religion, or a book of scripture, for that matter. Instead, it is talking about what to do when undergoing trials and temptations. Verse 2 says to rejoice whenever a person faces trials because these are provided by God for the purpose of growth and learning to depend more upon God. Perseverance will be the result with the ability to become mature and complete. Verse 5, then, says that “wisdom” (not “knowledge”) should be prayed for. It is very important to see that we’re not supposed to ask “what” but rather “how” (having wisdom to get through tough times). This is an important nuance and ought to be grasped to understand the meaning the original author (James) gives to it.
Anyone can take a verse and make it say whatever they want, if it is taken out of context. By no means should James 1:5 have been used by Joseph Smith to see “which of all the churches were true.” While Christians believe in prayer, they are not commanded to pray for things that have already been instructed. First Thessalonians 5:21 says to “test everything.” First John 4:1 says that it is vital to “test the spirits.” Why? “Because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
It would be silly to pray about whether or not I should steal my neighbor’s car since the Bible already commands what should be done. In the same way, a seeker after truth should not pray about which church is true. Instead, the person should see what the church teaches and compare that with what the Bible teaches. If the teachings contradict God’s Word, the answer is obvious: RUN out of Dodge!
Here are some additional resources you might want to consider to show what I am saying is biblical:
- For a Christian Research Journal article on this verse, click here.
- For more information, see “Does the Mormon’s testimony prove the LDS Church is true?” Also see a blog by Sharon Lindbloom.
- For other passages discussing common passages used by Latter-day Saints, click here.
What will you find as you study the Epistle of James? Perhaps a verse or two will change you or someone you love.
That’s the problem, as pulling a verse out of context (such as James 1:5 or 2:20) is very a dangerous interpretation tactic. It is something a Bible-believing Christian ought not to do.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Who was James?
It is generally believed that the author of the Epistle of James was a son of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and therefore the half brother of the Savior. James is mentioned in Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; and Galatians 1:19; 2:9. It appears from these scriptures that James was a Church leader in Jerusalem and had been called as an Apostle (see Galatians 1:19).
James 1:2–4; 5:7–11
Patient endurance leads to perfection.
After reading James 1:2–4; 5:7–11, what would you say was James’s main message about patience? It might help to ponder what Elder Jeremy R. Jaggi’s family learned about patience from these verses (see “Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work, and Count It All Joy!,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2020, 99–101). What is the “perfect work” of patience? (James 1:4). How can you show the Lord that you are willing to be patient?
I agree that that patience is required when dealing with difficult issues. This is why, according to verse 5, a person ought to approach the throne of grace and ask God for wisdom to deal with how to properly handle each situation.
James 1:3–8, 21–25; 2:14–26; 4:17
Faith requires action.
And in that statement, by itself, I do agree.
How do you know if you have faith in Jesus Christ? How do your works demonstrate your faith in God? Think about these questions as you study James’s teachings about faith. It might be interesting to also read about Abraham and Rahab, two examples James mentioned (see Genesis 22:1–12; Joshua 2). How did they show that they had faith in God?
Again, based on these words, I would agree that my “works demonstrate my faith in God.” But according to Mormonism, James 2:20 is about works qualifying a person for celestial glory. I know this is true personally because I often cite Ephesians 2:8-9 in many witnessing situations. So often, the immediate response is, “What do you do with James 2:20?” As if somehow the apostle Paul is contradicting James. Yet that is not the case. According to Paul, a Christian is saved primarily by grace through faith and it’s not by the things done in the past, present, or future. Rather, it’s by what Jesus has already done on the cross; thus, a believer is not saved in doing righteous things or otherwise grace is somehow earned, anathema to those who value God’s Word. Works are a part of a Christian’s life after being justified by faith, apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28).
As Paul continues to teach in verse 10 of Ephesians 2, believers are God’s workmanship who were created by Him to do good works. In other words, a Christian is saved by grace (period) and good works come as a reult. The context is obvious. A true believing Christian is baptized by the Holy Spirit and commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result, the fruit of the Spirit pours out.
Let’s say it very clearly: Christians are not saved by what they do but rather by who they are (regenerated believers through the blood offered on the corss). Who they are then has a direct impact on what they do (good works). This understanding must be communicated to the Latter-day Saint who often wants to take grace and then add personal righteous works in order to qualify for celestial glory. Titus 3:5-7 says,
“he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Here are a few examples from LDS leaders who have used their scriptures to support just a case. For one, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie taught:
“This is the word: Man cannot be saved by grace alone; as the Lord lives, man must keep the commandments (Eccl. 12:13; Matt. 19:17; I Ne. 22:31; D&C 93:20); he must work the works of righteousness (Matt. 7:21; James 2:18-26; D&C 78:5-7); he must work out his salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord (Philip. 2:12); he must have faith like the ancients—the faith that brings with it gifts and signs and miracles.”Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie , 76.
After citing Ephesians 2:8-9 as verses used by “some people” as a way to somehow avoid obedience to the commands given in the Bible, twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball said,
“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. . . . And however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206-207.
On the next page, he wrote,
The Miracle of Forgivess, 208-209. Italics in original.
“The gospel is a program of action–of doing things. . . . This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation . . . Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.”
Here’s the point: Adding anything to the grace of God–whether it’s baptism, church attendance, temple qualification, or not working on the Sabbath–negates the concept of grace. Indeed, grace is a gift that cannot be paid for. If those things are required for the justification that comes by grace (see Rom. 3:28), then what other work is required? And just how are you doing at doing all of these things?
Reading James 1:3–8, 21–25; 2:14–26; 4:17 may help you think of ways you could be a better doer of the word. Record any impressions you receive, and make plans to act on them.
See also Alma 34:27–29; 3 Nephi 27:21.
Interesting, the writers bring up Alma 34:27-29 at this point. These verses talk about not being hyprocrites. But if you keep reading in this passage, it is clear that the good works must be done in this lifetime, not the next. Verses 32-35 teach:
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many awitnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of edarkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful acrisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
If you wait until the next life to make yourself perfect, “ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his.” This is the Book of Mormon speaking quite plainly, I might add.
Spencer Kimball used these verses to support his claim that these works must be done in this lifetime. Citing verse 32 in his first chapter titled “This Life is the Time,” he wrote,
“It thus becomes the overall responsibility of man to cooperate fully with the Eternal God in accomplishing this objective. To this end God created man to live in mortality and endowed him with the potential to perpetuate the race, to subdue the earth, to perfect himself and to become as God, omniscient and omnipotent.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 2.
“Repent in mortality. I have referred previously to the significance of this life in the application of repentance but will emphasize it here in relation to the eventual judgment. One cannot delay repentance until the next life, the spirit world, and there prepare properly for the day of judgment while the ordinance work is done for him vicariously on earth. It must be remembered that vicarious work for the dead is for those who could not do the work for themselves. Men and women who live in mortality and who have heard the gospel here have had their day, their seventy years to put their lives in harmony, to perform the ordinances, to repent and to perfect their lives.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 313-314. Italics in original.
If you are a Latter-day Saint, you are required:
a) to keep the commandments (all of them, all of the time)
b) to finish the work in this lifetime
If you fail at either point, you are put into the power of the Devil and he seals you to himself. What a scary thought! This concept is not just the teaching of McConkie and Kimball but even leaders today. I encourage you to talk a look at the following resources concerning this concept:
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
After reading James 1:5, your family could summarize the account of the First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:8–20) or watch the video “Ask of God: Joseph Smith’s First Vision” (ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Invite family members to share their testimonies of the Prophet Joseph Smith and experiences when Heavenly Father answered their prayers.
As talked about above, this verse was taken out of its context to make it say something it never said. A verse taken out of context should not become a major conerstone doctrinal passage for anyone.
Consider watching the video “True Christianity” (ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Then read James’s definition of “pure religion” in James 1:26–27, and discuss ways your family can make your practice of religion more pure.
James 1:26-27 says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
This is part of James’s theme to be sanctified not only in word but in deed. As mentioned before, Christians certainly believe in doing good works, which they were created to do before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 11; 2:4).
Why should we “draw nigh to God” (James 4:8) when we face temptation?
As chapter 1 explained, God can help us to withstand temptation. And we can know that He will not allow use to be tempted beyond that which we can bear. First Corinthians 10:13 promises,
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
It’s discouraging when Latter-day Saints inaccurately cite from the Book of James, acting as if Bible-believing Christians have never read this important book. James 1:5 and James chapter two must be studied in their context. Only then can we make sense of what the writers are telling us in their ancient letters.