James 4:8-10 (NKJV)8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Two weeks ago we remarked that there are critical places where the modern church draws contrasts between the Old Testament and the New Testament but the Scriptures themselves make a parallel. The practical implications of this parallel come to roost in our text today. Many an earnest Christian has read the verses from James today and imagined that the proper Christian demeanor is one of sour gloominess, that laughter is not fitting for someone who is really spiritual, and that the safest course in life is to walk around with a frown.
But we must remember that for James the Church of God is composed not only of earnest Christians who hunger and thirst for righteousness and desire to please and honor their Lord but also of hypocrites who abuse the grace and mercy of the Lord. It is to these tares among the wheat that James addresses his exhortations today. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
In reading James’ words, it is imperative to recall the life of Israel and the words of the prophets. To recall that there are those who claim the name of Christ and live in a way that defames him and causes the enemies of God to blaspheme. It is to these folks that James issues his exhortation – much like the words of the prophets Joel and Zephaniah years before – Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! For what benefit will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light. Put away your laughter, put away your insipid joy, repent and seek the face of God.
Notice then the way James responds to grievous sin in the Church. He does not deny that such folks are Christians in any sense of the term. Rather, he exhorts them for their unfaithfulness and their lack of genuine devotion to the Lord. He treats their hypocrisy seriously, viewing their fawning deception as a blot on the Church of God. The sin of hypocrites and apostates is far more grievous than that of an unbeliever in the same way that an adulterer is committing a far worse sin than a fornicator. One who has been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, covenantally bound to Him and identified with Christ, and who rebels and rejects this word is in far worse condition than he who never heard the word at all.
So give heed to the words of James all you who bear the Name of God. You children particularly, growing up in the midst of a Christian home, hear the word of James. Greater revelation brings greater responsibility. Do not reject the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not imagine that merely going through the motions of religiosity is a sufficient hedge against the coming judgment. Your only escape – even as it is the only escape of us all – is to throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ and ask Him to deliver you. Shun hypocrisy. Shun worldliness. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Reminded of the need to seek the face of the Lord and to shun hypocrisy and worldliness, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness.