The Gospel is the Perfect Law of Liberty: Why James 2:8-13 Dispels the Myth that it is the Ten Commandments

Discover the True Meaning of James 2:8-13 and How it Relates to the Gospel

Perfect Law of Liberty

There are three main points that Seventh Day Adventists want to make regarding James 2:8-13. First, they assert that the passage refers exclusively to the Ten Commandments. Second, they claim that the Law of Liberty is the Ten Commandments. Finally, they argue that violating any one of the commandments, particularly the Sabbath, constitutes a violation of all of them. However, it is worth examining whether these assertions are accurate. Let’s take a closer look.

James 2:1,8-13 CSB
My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. [8] Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. [9] If, however, you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. [10] For whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all. [11] For he who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you murder, you are a lawbreaker. [12] Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. [13] For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Point One: This passage is exclusively referring to the Ten Commandments.

This cannot be the case. Verse 8 directly refers to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, while verses 1 and 9 relate to the commandment not to show partiality or favoritism, both of which are found in the Book of the Law of Moses. These verses clearly reference the entire Mosaic Law and are not part of the Ten Commandments.

Leviticus 19:18 CSB
Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 1:17 CSB
Do not show partiality when deciding a case; listen to small and great alike. Do not be intimidated by anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too difficult for you, and I will hear it.

Deuteronomy 16:19 CSB
Do not deny justice or show partiality to anyone. Do not accept a bribe, for it blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

Pretty clear these verses are not referencing the Ten Commandments.

Point Two: The Law of Liberty is Not the Ten Commandments but the Gospel.

The Law of Liberty, also known as the Law of Christ, is not synonymous with the Ten Commandments, but rather refers to the Gospel. This can be seen in James 1:18, 21-25. The Law of Liberty involves believing in and having faith in the Good News of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and then following His example and His commands.

James 1:17-18,21-25 CSB
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. [18] By his own choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. [21] Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. [22] But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [23] Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. [24] For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. [25] But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

Romans 1:16-17 CSB
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. [17] For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.

1 Peter 1:13,22-25 CSB
Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [22] Since you have purified yourselves by your obedience to the truth, so that you show sincere brotherly love for each other, from a pure heart love one another constantly, [23] because you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God. [24] For All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, [25] but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you.

1 Thessalonians 2:9,13 CSB
For you remember our labor and hardship, brothers and sisters. Working night and day so that we would not burden any of you, we preached God’s gospel to you. [13] This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe.

Romans 8:1-2 CSB
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, [2] because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

In these passages, James is contrasting the Two Covenants and their commandments, rather than referring to the Ten Commandments alone. He emphasizes that the Law of Liberty is the perfect and eternal Gospel, and through obeying the Gospel and the command to love one another, we can demonstrate our love for others by treating everyone with impartiality. Essentially, as we have faith and are guided by the Holy Spirit, our actions towards others will reflect our love for them.

Point 3: You must keep every Command if you are going to keep the Law. 

James 2:10 CSB
For whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all.

Galatians 3:10-12 CSB
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed. [11] Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. [12] But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them.

James 2:10 and Galatians 3:10 are directly quoting this verse…

Deuteronomy 27:26 CSB
‘Anyone who does not put the words of this law into practice is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’

Galatians 3:11 is directly quoting this verse…

Leviticus 18:4-5 CSB
You are to practice my ordinances and you are to keep my statutes by following them; I am the LORD your God. [5] Keep my statutes and ordinances; a person will live if he does them. I am the LORD.

Christians do not break the Ten Commandments; instead, we obey the Gospel by placing our trust in Jesus and loving our neighbors as ourselves, as the Royal Decree commands us. In chapter 2, verses 8-13, James suggests that if you rely on the Ten Commandments, you must keep them all, or else speak and act as if you are controlled by the Law of Liberty, which demonstrates mercy even to our enemies.

Look how clear the Biblical definition of love is. And, God is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 CSB
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, [5] is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. [6] Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. [7] It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [8] Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. [9] For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. [12] For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. [13] Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.

It’s remarkable how everything discussed ties back to the Sermon on the Mount. The Royal Scripture or New Covenant Command given by Jesus is perfectly contextualized in Matthew chapter 7.

Matthew 7:12 CSB
Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Click here if you want to learn more about what James is referring to regarding WORKS.