By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Last year, I jokingly posted to social media an online order for a cattle prod. I don’t have cattle. It was a tool I wanted to carry with me to keep people the full six feet away from me that we were learning was part of the guidelines for dealing with the pandemic we were just beginning to face.
But all of Scripture isn’t about keeping people at a distance, it’s about God wanting us to be with Him, free from His judgment of our sin.
James 4: 7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James gives us just one of several direct references in the Bible of God wanting us to draw near to Him. Here, he is stressing the importance of turning from sin and repenting, first by telling us to submit to God, fight the devil and the temptation of sin and to turn to God instead.
James tells us if we move toward God, God will come toward us but stresses we approach God with a heart purified of sin.
Regardless of how people have felt about the pandemic and how it has been handled across the country and around the world, we’ve spent the past year either fighting against being kept apart from each other in our communities and churches or we’ve been willingly staying apart in effort to protect people we care about like vulnerable grandparents. Either way, it’s been difficult and challenging for Christians who understand we’re meant to be in community together just like we’re meant to be close to God.
We’ve been dealing with a lot of situations that have felt contradictory to what we believe.
And James gives us another seemingly contradictory statement in verse nine.
Here, he tells us something that sounds like it’s contradictory. We know through other books of the Bible and through our own experiences that our salvation brings about joy, understanding that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, we have gained a perfect eternity in Heaven. Fruit of the Spirit is something that forms in us when our salvation is real and one of those fruits is joy. Yet James is telling us to grieve and move from joy to gloom.
But what James is telling us in this single verse is just how serious our repentance of sin should be.
Our sin separates us from God and He will judge and condemn it. But He sent Jesus to briefly live among us, close to us, fully God and fully man. While his disciples didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was here to die and take the full punishment that was meant for them and all of us. Through his sacrifice, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. Through believing Jesus was the son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, we must repent of our sin and ask to be forgiven. When our faith and repentance is real, we’re given a perfect, eternal life in Heaven instead of eternal punishment in hell.
James wants us to grieve our sin that has kept us separated from God. He wants us to be humble before God but with the understanding God will come close to us—close enough to ‘lift us up.’
How wonderful is that to worship God who despite all our mistakes and failings, wants to be that close to us?