8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
This text teaches us three things: 1) Our cleverness in convincing ourselves of our own righteousness; 2) our utter guilt before God Almighty; 3) the blessedness of mercy.
1. Oftentimes, we like to trick ourselves into thinking we really fulfill God’s Law. “If you really…” James says (v8). James makes a rhetorical statement meant to prompt us to self-examination. We are to contrast ourselves with the Law of God. By the last phrase, ‘you are doing well’, James makes law-keeping the deciding factor in whether or not we meet the standard of well. But in verse 9, James slays his audience with their own sin. James mentions partiality here because he has just finished teaching about and because it is a less heinous sin. Of course, murder or adultery will condemn us before God, but will a subtle, not-so-gory thing like partiality condemn us before God? Yes, it will. It is easy to ignore small sins like laziness, effeminacy, unsubmissiveness, and disobedience to parents. But when we take them into account, our standing before God seems to us as bad as it is. Remember Paul mentions that the law made him aware of his covetous heart rather than his murder of Stephen.
2. James’ teaching here is that sin is not an affront to the Law—it is an affront to God. It may be offensive to some that we become guilty of everything by breaking just one commandment. It is offensive because our human justice penalizes a man for only the particular thing done. But when we sin against the Law, we are sinning against the holy, omnipresent, all-glorious God. The first two words of verse 11 provides the reasonableness for the offensive principle of verse 10. James says, “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.'” It is one thing to fall into the hands of an angry man, but whole other thing entirely thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. This is why we ought to fear God and not man.
3. James teaches us that mercy is a blessed, or happy, thing. The Law is a strict, virulent taskmaster which has no power to justify. It will only condemn, condemn, condemn because we cannot keep it. Paul uses the phrase law of liberty. He uses the term law here to refer to the principle of liberty, that is liberty in Jesus Christ. For if we are judged outside of the liberty of Christ, we will surely not be able to bear the wrath of God for our sins. When we fancy ourselves righteous, we put ourselves under the Law. But the Law will always slay us because we are not righteous. But when we, by the Spirit, fancy ourselves helpless before God and fling ourselves upon Jesus Christ, we will find mercy for our guilty souls. The blessedness of mercy is that in Jesus Christ the guilt of all our sins, both big and small, can be lifted. When Jesus Christ died and bore the wrath for our iniquities, he bore it in full and was raised to life. At the Resurrection of Christ, mercy triumphed over judgment. Cast yourself upon Jesus Christ, the man of mercy, and find rest for your weary, guilty soul.