James warned that they are deceiving themselves when they are hearers only and not doers of the word. (1:22) He also warned that judging others without mercy will result in no mercy when it comes to God judging them. (2:13) Remember, he is not speaking to unbelievers but to believers. He has addressed them fifteen times as brethren in five chapters. So the logical conclusion would be that he is saying to them that ‘faith’ that does not produce mercy toward others will result in judgment without mercy.
This judgment is in reference to believers. How is a believer judged? First of all one can be judged in this life according to God’s discipline. (I Cor. 11:32) Did they want mercy in judgment or no mercy? They were risking no mercy in the disciplinary department for they were showing no mercy. He could treat them like the Corinthians, ‘many sleep’ or like Ananias and Sapphira who died immediately when their sin was exposed. (Acts 5:1-10)
Can a faith that does not produce works (in this case mercy toward fellow believers) save one from judgment (discipline) without mercy? The answer is ‘no’!
Because they are believers, their sin has been judged at the cross. Christ paid for all their sins once for all. Yet all believers also must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10) The apostle exhorted the Roman believers not to judge their brothers or show contempt for their brothers. The connection appears to be that when they wrongfully judge another brother they were “no longer walking in love.” (Romans 14:15) The implication is that this continuous unconfessed attitude and treatment of other brothers will negatively affect their reward at the judgment seat of Christ. (I Cor. 3:13)
A believer’s sin is forgiven, but the consequence of sin’s effect in this life has not been removed. For example a believer that struggles with drunkenness, will not produce the works that God intended for him. One might cut his own life short because of this kind of behavior. In this way sin can affect one’s service and works. Consequentially, the believer’s walk will result in reward or loss of reward. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:10) Again it’s not the sins being judged, but faithful service. Was it good or bad? Faithful service will be affected by ongoing disobedience.
Similarly those to whom James was warning were brothers in the Lord. They were judging with partiality showing favoritism to the rich (2:1-3). In doing so they were showing no mercy to the poorer brothers and dishonoring them. They were acting as judges with evil thoughts (2: 4). Those believers were not fulfilling the royal law of loving your neighbor as yourself (2: 8).
Rather than acting as evil judges, they should speak and do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (2:12). If they show no mercy they may risk being judged by the same standard at the judgment seat of Christ (2:13). “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned (judged). Behold the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9) In other words when Jesus comes back will He find you as a faithful or unfaithful steward? (Luke 19: 12-27)