Thursday, July 31, 2008

Contrasts versus Parallels

James 4:4-6 (NKJV) 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

One of the persistent problems that nags the modern church is the tendency to draw contrasts where Scripture draws parallels. We pit portions of the Word of God against one another and soon end up endorsing a version of the faith that bears little resemblance to the faith introduced by Christ.

James’ stark language in our text today highlights a couple areas where the modern church has gone astray in this regard. As a result, his words make us uncomfortable.

Take, for instance, James’ sharp contrast between being a friend of the world and a friend with God. One of the practices that our Church has embraced with all the abandon of a football fan when his team wins the Superbowl is the singing of the psalms. And one of the things that happens when you start singing the psalms is the frequency to do double takes. Here you are singing along merrily with narry a thought for what’s on the page when – pow! – the words leap up and smack you in the face.

“Treat them like Midian, like Jabin’s army. Treat them like Sisera at Kishon’s brook.”

Sisera? Wasn’t that the fellow who had the tent spike stuck in his head? Treat them like Sisera? Who’s that “them”? Oh – it is the enemies of God. Enemies? God has enemies? I thought God loved everyone. Hasn’t all that nasty stuff changed with the coming of Jesus? God doesn’t actually have enemies anymore, does he?

These questions and comments reveal how far removed we are from a biblical mindset. But notice how well the stark language of the psalms meshes with the language of James in our text today. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Consequently, he who desires to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” An enemy of God? Yes. James draws a parallel where the modern church draws a contrast.

And notice, as a second instance, that James draws this parallel in the Church of God. There is a tendency in some pietistic circles to imagine that the historic church is composed only of those who have been regenerated – whose hearts have actually been transformed by the grace of God. These folks argue that whereas ethnic Israel, the people of God in the OT, consisted both of people who were personally saved and of others who were unsaved, the church consists of only those who are actually saved. As a result of this teaching, some churches frequently go to great lengths to make sure no bad apples ever get in the bunch. “Yes, in order to be a member of Praise the Lord Church, we require you to write a ten page essay describing your wretched, sinful condition prior to your supposed conversion and, if we judge that you’re really converted, we’ll let you join.”

But note how James’ words don’t mesh with this perfectionistic doctrine of the church. To whom is James writing? To the Church of God – saints dispersed throughout the Roman world. And what does he routinely call them throughout the letter? Brothers. And what does he call some of them now? Adulterers and adulteresses. In other words, James is poignantly aware that bad apples do get in the bunch – and the job of leaders in the church is to exhort and discipline such folks as necessary. There are personally saved and unsaved folks in the historic or visible church even as there were in ancient Israel. Once again, where the modern church draws a contrast between Old and New Testaments, James draws a parallel.

And so James’ words serve as a wake up call to all of us who are in the Church of God. Whose side are you on? Are you trying to be friends with the world, friends with the system of belief that sets itself against God? Then beware! No amount of kneeling in confession, listening to sermons, or eating the Supper will save you from the wrath to come. Repent, turn from your sin and acknowledge that you have been unfaithful to the Lord. No man can serve two masters – for he will love the one and hate the other.

Reminded by James’ words that we stand in constant need of the grace of God to deliver us from our duplicity, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.