James is and probably always will be by favorite book of the Bible. It is bursting with weighty, meaty wisdom, and it doesn’t hold back the punches. James 4:8 is my favorite verse of that book; “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Of course, my favorite part of that verse being the “God will draw near to you,” I typically quote the first sentence and mumble my way through the second. No one wants to be referred to as “you sinner,” or “you double-minded.” That derogatory language should be reserved for the cursed and wretched, not the saved and the redeemed. But, oh, how naïve that is.
We, meaning all human beings, really like ourselves. Even if we hate ourselves, we still really like ourselves. We fall in love with our personalities and our quirks, and we call ourselves unique and free. That is the mantra of the world today: “Love yourself for who you are.” Rarely, if ever, do we impulsively admit that we need to change. Sure, we say things like, “I really need to lose weight.” Or, “I should be a more giving person.” But how often do we offhandedly say, “I really need to stop lying”? We call ourselves people-pleasers and then move on, proud of our individuality. James 4:8 is not just referencing the unsaved heathen. James is straight up calling out the Church. If you consider yourself a Christian, yet you don’t think that second sentence is for you, you need to do a major heart check. Because, that means you’ve gotten way too good at sinning.
In James 4, he begins by mentioning arguments that were going on within the church at that time. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” –here come the punches—“Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (v. 1, 2). James does not tell this church to put aside their differences and make friends; he’s not trying to put a band aid on the situation. He says it is you. He says look at your hands (you sinners) and look into your own hearts (you double-minded) and see the disgusting, sinful selfishness that lurks there. He tells the church to stop pointing fingers at the people and situations in their life that cause frustration and bitterness and look at themselves. For the modern-day church that means stop blaming your pastor on the lack of outreach in your church, stop blaming your boss for your bad attitude at work, stop blaming your family for your bitterness, and ask yourself what part of your heart needs a major dose of humility. Ignore the voice of the world that’s constantly telling you “sin” is just a dirty word for “personal problem.” Ignore your own voice that’s telling you it’s not that big of a deal and overall you’re still a good person. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and [the world, yourself, your job, your lust, etc.]” (Matthew 6:24).
The voice of our faith should be polar opposite from the voice of the world. Faith does not call us to accept our condition and love ourselves for who we are. No, the voice of faith calls us to look deep within our hearts and see the corruption and filth. Faith calls us to rip off these fancy labels that mask depravity. “I’m not an attention-seeker; I just have a big personality.” “I’m not demanding or disrespectful; I just know what I want.” “I’m not rebellious; I just haven’t met a leader worth following.” We work so hard to prove that our lives are worth loving and putting on display. But James challenges me to remember that the only thing about my life that is lovable or praiseworthy is the fact that God’s magnificent grace covers it. The only thing I have to boast about in my time on Earth is Jesus and when my mind begins to tell me otherwise, I need to choose holiness again.
Called Me Higher
All Sons and Daughters