To “wash your hands” means more than just saying “I’m sorry!” It means getting rid of the dirt! That only happens when God comes to us through Word and sacrament and works a change in us to hate sin and love righteousness. True repentance leaves no room for a “double minded” person. Your devotion cannot be divided between God and the world. True repentance means discarding any love for the world and the sinful philosophies which shape the world. God simply does not tolerate a divided heart.
“Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
I have a physical this week and I already know what I’ll hear. Take a seat. We will call you. Stand on the scale. Roll up your sleeves, sit on the table, say “ah,” take this paper to the receptionist.” Commands can make life easier. It takes the guess work out of what we ought to do. Follow those commands and the doctor will send you on your way with a clean bill of health or a prescription to fix whatever is wrong. James gives us commands and a prescription to fix what’s wrong with our spiritual life.
But before we get into the various commands, it is important that we remember who we are. We are Christians who know what God has done for us in Christ. Our motivation for following God’s commands comes from remember that Jesus Christ has made us the children of God. He followed the commands of God perfectly and then he died on the cross because we didn't! Three days later Jesus rose from the dead to assure us that our sins really are forgiven, and we have eternal life through faith in him. So, we live with the certainty of salvation for the sake of Christ.
But we are not in heaven yet. There are many dangers that we face every day. Like a person who does not follow doctor’s orders, if we abuse the privileges we have as children of God and do not take the medicine God has prescribed, we become spiritually unhealthy and are at high risk for losing our faith altogether.
God’s Prescription for Healthy Living
Examine your heart
Examine your life
Examining your heart requires that we ask ourselves some questions. The first question is “whom do we serve?” Listen to God’s 1st prescription for your heart exam. He says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The word “submit” really sets the tone for this entire portion of Scripture. It fits in nicely with the theme of humility that runs through this book. To submit is to voluntarily place yourself under another. A Christian places himself under the leadership and direction of God. He gives himself completely and without hesitation to God. He takes his one will and desires, his own words and actions, gifts and abilities, everything that he is and has and says “use me Lord as you see fit.”
Submission to God means resisting the devil. Every temptation that you face is an attack on your self-submission to God. The devil loves to see you rebel against that submission and to arrogantly claim yourself to be a free agent – subject to no one, not even God himself! The devil loves to play on human nature which is proud and arrogant and tends to do whatever one pleases regardless of God’s will for our life. Do not underestimate the devil’s passion, power, or zeal to destroy your submission to God! You can overcome him. Arm yourself with God’s word and stand firm in Christ. The devil will flee! The 1st question was “Whom do I serve?” The answer is: “I serve Christ.”
Examine your heart and ask yourself “how do you feel?” James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James wants you to remember that you already possess the power of the Holy Spirit to cooperate with God. The new man of faith in your heart wants to draw near to God. But the old man of sin within us runs the other direction. You know you are not worthy to be in God’s company. You know you cannot clean your own dirty heart. You know you have run away from God so that you could live according to your own will. And you have made a mess of your life.
To “wash your hands” means more than just saying “I’m sorry!” It means getting rid of the dirt! That only happens when God comes to us through Word and sacrament and works a change in us to hate sin and love righteousness. True repentance leaves no room for a “double minded” person. Your devotion cannot be divided between God and the world. True repentance means discarding any love for the world and the sinful philosophies which shape the world. God simply does not tolerate a divided heart. The answer to the 2nd question of “how do I feel?” is “I feel forgiven and grateful for all that God has done for me.”
Ask your heart, “Do I take my spiritual life seriously?” James said, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Certainly, James isn’t condemning laughter and joy in general. God wants us to rejoice and be glad, but when the laughter and joy springs from sinful behavior that is an entirely different matter. Sincere sorrow over sin leaves a person dejected because he knows that his sin offended God and merits death and eternal torture in hell. If you take your spiritual life seriously, you will not joke about sin or make light of it. You will realize the high price God paid to earn your forgiveness. You will live a life that says, “thank you.” As you examine your heart, the answer to the 3rd question “Do I take my spiritual life seriously?” is “I am sorry that I have offended God by my actions.”
God’s finding from his examination of your heart as recorded by James is this: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” In other words: “Swallow a little humility and God will make you feel better.” That’s a little different from the doctor telling you to take two aspirin, go to bed, and you will feel fine in the morning. Clearly, arrogance, sinful pride, and self-righteousness have got to go. Instead strive for submission, repentance, and thankful living.
God promises the humble, “He will lift you up.” God lifts us up with his forgiving grace. God has accepted the payment that Jesus made for our sins. The Father accepted Jesus’ suffering, torture, and death on the cross in our place. Our sin is gone. Our guilt is gone. The threat of punishment is gone. Eternal death in hell is gone. You have received a clean bill of health from God himself! He has found you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You are at peace with God. You have been lifted up to the position of God’s own child and a co-heir with Christ of the eternal treasures of heaven. Don’t you feel better now?
God’s prescription for healthy living also includes an examination of your life. The 1st question is: “Have you got control of your tongue?” James wrote, “Brothers, do not slander one another.” It is as much a problem today as it was then. An uncontrolled tongue does immeasurable damage to the reputations of the people for whom Jesus bled and died. Examine your life and keep your tongue in check because you are God’s ambassadors in the world.
The 2nd question for life is: “Do you judge others?” James is talking about judging that portrays an attitude which says “I know better than God” what you deserve. This kind of judge thinks he knows better than God what is acceptable and what is not. This kind of judge doesn’t know God’s law or keep it. He only criticizes God’s Word and says that God’s word has erred in its demands. He makes himself a judge over God! James wrote, “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” Be careful. Only God’s Word serves as judge over mankind. In other places, God compels us to judge sinful actions. He urges us to use his word to “teach rebuke, correct, and train.” That is judging humbly on the basis of God’s Word. That is the only kind of judging for Christians.
Question # 3 on your life exam is posed by God himself. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” A careful self examination reveals that no one of us is in a position to judge the heart of our fellow man. We know that salvation is only by the grace of God in Christ. God himself will destroy the wicked. Let him do his work.
Anyone who has spent considerable time in a doctor’s office or hospital bed will quickly tell you that you have got to swallow your pride. You control nothing. You sit or lie and wait. At last your doctor comes in to your room and give you his diagnosis. You anxiously await his arrival and yet a little apprehensive about what he will say. God has done some tests on you today. He has examined your heart and your life. He has exposed the sin that dwells in your heart. You have felt the weight of guilt on your shoulders and you have been grieved by your sins. Now your God enters the room, the great Physician of souls, and he declares, “I have good news! You’re in perfect health. Your sins are atoned for. You are at peace with God. You will live forever!” He hands you his hand written prescription. It says simply, “Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up.”