The Book of James in the Holy Bible shows us the place of works as a manifestation of our faith in Christ. James teaches us how to live pure religion.
What Is Pure Religion?
James 1:27 tells us what “pure religion” is a sort of rewording of the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbor.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
When Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) refer to “works,” this is what they are talking about. As a manifestation of their faith in Christ, they repent and they serve. They know their works will not save them; for this they rely on the atonement and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they know they cannot be exalted into the very presence of God without manifesting their faith through action.
Enduring Afflictions Patiently
The writer of the book of James is generally thought to be the brother of Jesus Christ. After Jesus was resurrected, James served as an Apostle and was an important leader in the early Church (Acts 12:17;15:13–20). In James 1:1–4; 5:10–11 the apostle teaches us about having faith in affliction, which all of Heavenly Father’s children will have to face. In the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the phrase divers temptations is changed to many afflictions.
Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God” (quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle , 98).
The important thing is to turn to God in our afflictions. Someone who turns away from God in his or her afflictions shuts him- or herself off not only from God’s help, but from the perfecting aspects of the trial. There is a law that always applies in the case of trials. If we turn to God in our trials, the Lord gives us gifts to help us to navigate, to strengthen us, or to give us patience. When the trial ends, we get to keep the gift(s). In that way, we grow spiritually and become more like Him.
James used Job as an example of someone who bore with patience his afflictions and ever turned to God…”Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11.)
We Should Pray to God in Faith
The prophet Joseph Smith went to a grove of trees to pray after reading a few verses in James, James 1:5–6.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
These verses caused the boy to resort to God to try to find out which church he should join. He had realized he couldn’t resort to the Bible for this answer, because the doctrines of the various Christian churches disagreed with each other, but they claimed to be based upon the teachings of the Bible. Joseph received direct revelation from God and saw the Father and the Son. He was told the original Church of Jesus Christ was about to be restored and to join none of the existing churches.
President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Because the fourteen-year-old boy went out in the woods to pray, having read in the scriptures, … because he did live the revelations from on high, we have The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have all of the blessings that can make us the happiest people in the whole world, because a boy of fourteen went out into the woods to pray” (in Conference Report, Melbourne Australia Area Conference 1976, 23).
Our opportunity to pray personally to God, and for Him to answer us as the loving Father in Heaven that He is, is a very great blessing. We are counseled to pray always, both in private and in public, over all of our concerns, no matter how minor or how mundane.
We Should Watch our Words and Be Slow to Anger
James taught that we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). We should avoid gossiping, lies, quarreling, swearing, and angry words. Instead, we should use our tongues to speak kind words, to speak truth, to pray, and to make peace. James also taught we should be “slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
We Should Be Doers of the Word and Not Believers Only
James 2:14–26 teaches that faith without works is dead. Faith is an action word. We show our faith by how we think, what our motives are, and how we act. A person who believes one thing and does another is a hypocrite like those Jesus denounces in the Bible. A person with true faith will follow Christ by keeping His commandments. Yes, we are saved by grace. But a person who does not manifest his faith through his works will not be accounted as a believer at the heavenly judgment.
We can live our religion more purely by being patient in affliction, praying to God in faith, mastering ourselves, and doing good works.