Wisdom from Above

Jane Olson

READ : James 3:13-18

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle . . . full of mercy and good fruits. (v. 17)

Being holy is not the same as being holier-than-thou. James has told us that faith without works is dead. But good works by themselves are not necessarily a sign of inner righteousness.

People who take personal holiness seriously can fall prey to the temptation of legalism—believing that they earn God's favor by works. This mistake can turn Christians into prigs—the sort of people who think that because they don't swear or have promiscuous sex they somehow deserve God's love. This form of “righteousness” is really self-righteous pride and is incompatible with true holiness.

Those who seek true holiness aren't smug at all. Instead, they look a lot like the type of person James describes in verse 17. That's because the more we seek holiness, the more aware we become of how unholy we actually are, and how dependent on God's grace. This self-knowledge makes us humble, teachable, and gracious toward others.

James gives us a simple test to distinguish self-righteousness from holiness. The self-righteous love to talk about themselves and their good works. The holy don't talk about themselves; instead, they show the meekness of the wisdom from above and they are “full of mercy and good fruits.” Once again, James emphasizes the importance of doing over merely saying.


Lord, I want to be a person of wisdom. Help me to humbly serve those around me.