When the Bible contradicts me, it’s time to sit up and take notice. The problem is never the Bible. The problem is always with me.
I noticed this recently when I read these words from James:
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:8-9)
“James!” I want to say. “That doesn’t sound very gospel-centered to me. Can we relax a little? You seem a little extreme.”
But the problem isn’t James. The problem is that I easily lose sight of two truths.
The Ugliness of Sin
Wretchedness, mourning, and weeping only seem extreme because I’ve lost sight of the seriousness of sin.
James compares our sinfulness to adultery (James 4:4). I guarantee you that if my marriage ever experienced adultery — God forbid — there would be plenty of mourning and gloom. To think otherwise would be to minimize the damage of infidelity. It’s like a bomb going off. Devastation is guaranteed.
If we understood the seriousness of sin, we’d understand the appropriateness of godly grief. I fear that I’ve sometimes lost sight of radical repentance. Jesus warned us to take drastic action against sin (Matthew 5:30). John Owen warned us to be killing sin, or it will be killing us. We lose a lot when we treat sin lightly.
Matt Chandler observes that the drug of choice in the modern age is levity. We’re prone to take sin lightly because we’re prone to take everything lightly. James won’t have it. He cares too much for our souls to allow us to think little of sin.
“My denial of my sin protects, preserves, perpetuates that sin!” writes Walter Wangerin, Jr. “Ugliness in me, while I live in illusions, can only grow the uglier.” Never lose sight of the ugliness of sin.
The Magnitude of Grace
When we grasp the ugliness of sin, we’ll be prepared to grasp the magnitude of grace.
James sounds harsh, but he writes with hope:
He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-8, 10)
Mourning for sin isn’t opposed to the gospel. It’s a precursor to grasping the magnitude of the gospel.
The more we grow in godliness, the more we’ll long for holiness. The more we long for holiness, the more aware we’ll be of our sin. The more we’re aware of our sin, the more we’ll repent with sorrow. The more we repent, the more humble we’ll become. And the more humble we become, the more God will exalt us.
As J.A. Motyer says, “The Lord sets the downward path before us because there is no other way up.”
I need to read this reminder from James. Just like I need to guard against adultery in my marriage, I need to guard against sin in my walk with God.
I’m glad James contradicts me. I never want to take sin lightly in my life or my ministry. The more we see the ugliness of sin, the more we’ll grasp the magnitude of his grace.