James 4:5-10

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealousy?”

But He gives more grace.  Therefore He Says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  

Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Do you know what the problem is with going on diets?

There is no grace.

If you cheat on your diet — say, you eat a dessert that is not allowed — then you fail, and your diet is no longer a diet.  Think about that person hovering next to you over the dessert trays at a barbeque … “I really shouldn’t,” they say, grabbing a half, then a whole cookie. “My diet doesn’t allow it.”  Well then, I ask, what is the point of you being on a diet?  No offense, but it just doesn’t make sense!

Diets have to be restrictive because our appetite is not.  And there is no grace in that because when our flesh gets an inch, it tends to take a mile.  A diet, for example, cannot accommodate for temptation, or for our sinful nature.

I’m no Bible scholar and I don’t plan on using the few free minutes I have today to research  … But it seems to me that James is writing to a group of people whose religion, whose diet, isn’t working because they are trying to use the freedom found in the idea of God’s grace to balance out their evil natures.  They seem to be using religion, not Jesus, to justify, to make right, their sin.

Again, I’m not making certain doctrinal or historical claims here, but it sure appears as though these are believers who have one foot in the world and one foot in spiritual things:  In other words, they are cheating on their diet.  They have useless religion because it is not saving them by grace through faith, but is creating in them the desire to hover long over the dessert table wondering if they have enough Spiritual credits to afford a sneak indulgence.

But James says in verses 5 through 9 (loose summary):  be radical, overthrow the diet.  Don’t make rules you can’t abide by; don’t make exclusions and restrictions in legalism; don’t be Christians who are known by what they don’t do, but Christians who do the things they do freely because the love of Christ compels them.

Why?

Because with rules, it always becomes a matter of zeroing out our balance.

But He gives more grace.

I love accounting, and so this doesn’t make any sense to me.  I love balancing equations!  Along with chemists, I suppose, accountants are right up there on the list of those who love to balance an equation.  It seems that life should function this way:  we should live on the scale of good and evil and that if we do more good things than bad things, then our ending balance should be positive and therefore acceptable; anyone who has made a moral income during their time on this earth receives reward.

But this is not the way the radical God of the Bible loves us.

And praise Him for it, because the truth of the matter is that it often looks to us like cheating on our diets at the dessert table in the name of balancing an equation isn’t a terrible thing (and hey, I didn’t eat breakfast and I worked out this morning, so I can have this cookie and it doesn’t count) … But the problem, as any nutritionist — or accountant — will tell you, is that you can’t cash in credits with things that are of a different value or nature.  A cookie has such a different nutritional make up than a healthy breakfast — they can’t really cancel each other out on the diet of equations.

And so, evil has an entirely different make up than things that are of value to God, and despite our attempts to justify ourselves, our sin doesn’t weigh the same as our good works on this make believe scale of life.  The worth of our sin — any and all of it — is death, says Romans 6:23, and good works?  Well, I read that they are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  It would take a lot more than one lifetime to accumulate enough filthy rags to outweigh death itself.  Right?

What’s the solution, you ask?  I believe it is right here in these same verses: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” …  “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” … “Cleanse your hands you sinners, purify your hearts, you double-minded” …

1. Draw near to God (See John 15).

2. Resist the devil (See Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).

3.  Cleanse your hands by the Word (“How can a young man cleanse his way?  By taking heed according to Your word” Psalm 119:9)

4.  Purify your hearts by faith (“And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself” 1 John 3:3; “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit” 1 Peter 1:22)

These are all framed in a positive way, not in a restrictive way.  Let’s not make something that is not restrictive feel restrictive!  He gives more grace.  When we need it, He gives us more.  When we are stuck in legalistic ways, He gives us more grace to get out of it.  When we fail in obedience to Him, He gives us more grace to stand up, repent, and get back in line.  When we step out in faith and seek life in a way we’ve never known before, He gives us more grace to be bold in prayer and Spirit.  At all times, and in all things, He offers us more grace.

What we don’t understand as human beings is that we are constantly on the cusp of overflowing and abounding grace; He is always there to give us more.  Always.  It is our vanity, not God’s, that sustains useless religion and a life marked by a spiritual cup never quite filled.

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