Fulfilling the Royal Law
It is common for someone to quote James 2:10 (i.e. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it”) out of context. This verse is used over and over again to prove that no one can keep the law because the law requires sinless perfection. However, I would like to point out a few problems with the idea that God requires sinless perfection.
First, the above interpretation does not fit the immediate context of James. The context of James 2 is about showing partiality in the church and being obedient to God’s commands. What matters to James is not whether or not someone is rich or poor but whether or not someone is fulfilling the royal law. James shows here that the law is capable of being fulfilled. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well” (v. 8). Would anyone object to the possibility of being able to love your neighbor as yourself? After all, he says, “you are doing well” as though he is encouraging us to do this.
I can see no other interpretation here than that James believes that fulfilling the law is possible. How? By loving your neighbor as yourself. Does this mean that we have to love our neighbor perfectly, without ever sinning? No. James doesn’t say that. Keeping the whole law without failing in one part of the law does not mean being sinless. It means you cannot pick and choose which commandments to follow and expect to love your neighbor as yourself. James shows this in v. 11, “For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” To go even further, the above misinterpretation makes even less sense when continuing to James’s defense of a living faith. Why would James talk about Abraham being justified by his works if God requires sinless perfection? One, because God does not count Abraham’s sin against him. Two, because God does not require Abraham to be sinless to count him as righteous.
Second, the above interpretation is reading a Covenant of Works into a place where it does not belong. Whether or not a Covenant of Works is a biblical doctrine, is not going to be debated at this time. My point is that even if God did make a covenant with Adam based on works, which Christ was to fulfill, this section has nothing to do with that doctrine. James 2, as shown above, is about the command and possibility of the Christian to fulfill the royal law by loving their neighbor as themselves. Nowhere does James 2 mention or hint that this is an impossibility. Nowhere does he say that Jesus fulfilled the royal law for us because we could not. James is clearly teaching that we can fulfill the royal law by loving our neighbor as ourselves.