James reminds the believers that the royal law can be summed up and followed as, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ ” and it is enough (James 2:8). Partiality is a definite deviation from this strict adherence and, if indulged, will lead the transgressor to be convicted of sin (v. 9). He then seems to change topics completely, mentioning murder and adultery, and focusing on complete obedience to the law.
Without context, verse 10 can sound as though any slip-ups in the Christian life disqualify the individual for all communion with God, because messing up “one point” makes them “guilty of all.” However, knowing the stories of Abraham (lied), David (murdered, committed adultery), Solomon (how many women?), Peter (denied Jesus), and Paul (killed Christians), that conclusion can’t be right. Looking closer at the following verses, the meaning becomes apparent: “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (v. 11). Here, James is warning against a selective obedience, one that says, “Well, I struggle with partiality, but I don’t lust over anyone, so I’m not that bad off.” In the same way that lack of adultery does not excuse murder, lack of some other sin does not excuse partiality. Allowing God to change us in nine out of ten ways is equivalent to not allowing Him to change us at all. We are either wholly His or not at all.
The “law of liberty,” James continues, is the standard that humanity will be judged by (v. 12). It is “of liberty” because it is not burdensome; it is freedom that Jesus secured by His death and resurrection. The freedom of Jesus should be taken as an opportunity to love others, not to judge them or treat them unfairly (Gal. 5:13).
James concludes with his own version of Matthew 7:2, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). On the mountainside, Jesus said that the merciful receive mercy, and those who judge will be judged with their same standard (Matthew 5:7; 7:2). Of even more relevance, the author of Proverbs warned that those who ignore the poor will themselves be ignored in their time of need (Prov. 21:13). God has called us to be an integral part to the cycle of blessing. He originates all blessings by giving first and without reservation, and He expects His children to give of the blessings He has shared with them.
While free from the bondage of the law, God calls His people to use the law of liberty as an opportunity to reveal His character: that of inestimable love.