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The transformation of James


The transformation of James
Posted on October 17, 2021  - By Garrett Haley

One of the wildest verses in the entire Bible is in John 7. Describing the brothers of Jesus, the disciple writes, “For not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5). Can you fathom that?

Imagine if you grew up under the same roof as Jesus, had the Son of God as your older brother, saw the profound wisdom He displayed from an early age (Luke 2:42-47), witnessed supernatural miracles He performed (John 2:1-12), experienced firsthand the great crowds of people Jesus attracted through His teachings (Matthew 12:46)—and still did not believe in Him.

From unbelief to leadership

Based on Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:4, we know Jesus had several sisters and four brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Here is what’s also fascinating: we know from church history and Scriptural evidence that the same James—the brother of Jesus—went on to become a very influential elder and leader of the early Church. He went from unbelief to an extremely influential elder of the early Church.

God isn’t limited by our expectations and intuitions

For example, if you look at Acts 15, we see that it was James who settled the big Jerusalem Council debate about what new Christians should be required to do. Or, if you turn over to Galatians 2:9, we see Paul describe James as an influential “pillar” of the early Church (along with Peter and John). Likewise, with Acts 21:18, we see that it was James whom the apostle Paul reported to.

And then, of course, there’s the letter he wrote “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” which is now canonised in the New Testament. It is widely believed that James, the brother of Jesus, is the one who wrote that book.

So, wait a second. How in the world did James go from a sceptical, unbelieving brother to a sold-out, church-leading servant of Christ? What a 180° change! That seems like such an unlikely transformation. 

You would think that if someone lived with Jesus Himself for decades and still wasn’t a Christian, surely there wouldn’t be much hope for conversion later in life? But praise the Lord! God isn’t limited by our expectations and intuitions.

James’ redemption story

Last month, I had the privilege of preaching from the book of James. It was a profound encouragement to explore the life of this man who was both a brother of the Lord and a brother in the Lord—and piece together what his faith journey was like.

The crucial verse to understand how James was saved is in 1 Corinthians 15. Look at what Paul says: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

In His perfect timing, Jesus showed grace to His younger brother

Now, look at verse 7: “Then he appeared to James…”. Beautiful, isn’t it? After His resurrection, the risen Lord appeared personally to James—His unbelieving brother. Notice: Jesus wasn’t frustrated by James’s unbelief. He wasn’t bitter about the years James spent not following Him. In His perfect timing, Jesus showed grace to His younger brother. I think, from then on, James was a transformed man.

Notice, also, that James didn’t live in defeat and regret for the rest of his life. He didn’t let his past life define or discourage him. He simply acknowledged the reality of Jesus’s resurrection and let that truth change his life.

Brothers and sisters, God’s timing is perfect. May we not lose hope over unsaved relatives and friends—it’s never too late for the Lord to bring new life to someone we love. And may we never wallow in our past and let regrets haunt and cripple us. When we’re tempted to live in defeat, it will be encouraging to remember James, the brother of the Lord—and how God so powerfully redeemed his story. 

From mere sibling to servant of Christ—James stands as an example to us all.

Garrett Haley

About Garrett Haley

Garrett Haley is a native Texan and serves as a deacon at his local assembly in Lubbock, TX. He enjoys reading, writing blog posts, leading church discussion groups, and pondering life’s deep questions. Preaching on occasion and organising church get-togethers are a couple of his other favourite areas of service.



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