A Perfect Work: Trials and Sanctification in the Book of James -- By: Ron Julian

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:3 (Fall 2000)
Article: A Perfect Work: Trials and Sanctification in the Book of James
Author: Ron Julian

A Perfect Work:
Trials and Sanctification in the Book of James

Ron Julian

Ron Julian teaches biblical studies at McKenzie Study Center, tutors at Gutenberg College, and pastors at Reformation Fellowship, all in Eugene, Oregon. He is the author of Righteous Sinners, published by NavPress.


Nobody enjoys the trials of life, yet the Bible consistently urges us to find them valuable. In the book of James we find the most straightforward and challenging of all such statements: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (1:2).1 I cannot be the only one who, as a young believer, choked on this strange exhortation. Surely joy is our response to things we eagerly desire; how can “trials” be considered desirable? Is James merely using hyperbole? No, James means what he says. Trials are truly something to rejoice in, not because they are desirable in themselves, but because they lead to a most desirable outcome: They lead to our sanctification. How James connects trials and sanctification is the topic of this essay.

Before I begin my analysis of James, some explanations are in order. First of all, my use of the word “sanctification” needs to be clarified. I have no intention of exploring the Bible’s use of the word “sanctification” (hagiasmos). James is very much concerned with the believer’s growth into Christian maturity, and modern theological dialogue tends to borrow the word “sanctification” to refer to that process, a term that James himself does not use. I will argue, however, that James makes a strong contribution to our concept of change in the Christian life—to our concept of sanctification.

Second, while I will focus on the first twelve verses of James, I will regularly highlight the connection between these verses and the coherent picture of sanctification that unfolds in the rest of the letter. Given the history of James studies, however, I need to say something about my use of the word “coherent” and the assumptions I am making. Normally, a careful interpreter approaches an epistle looking for two important and related things: (1) The situation(s) of the readers that the author addresses; and (2) The flow of thought that gives unity and coherence to the author’s individual statements. Some commentators, however, argue that we should downplay James’s letter-like opening and treat the book as an example of wisdom literature, something like a New Testament version of the book of Proverbs. If James is indeed a book like Proverbs, then it lacks the very things the interpreter is most eager to find: (1) a situation that the author addresses and (2...

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