We all want people to feel good about themselves, but we must tell them the truth. We must be careful that we do not try to pick and choose the portions of the Scripture that we like to hear, or that massage our egos best. The language of sin and evil, of what is truly good and bad are lost in our society today and also within the church. Our culture is not comfortable with these words. We don’t like to put labels on anyone and are quick to make excuses for people's behavior by pointing to a broken home or an abusive relationship. We find increasingly creative ways of identifying what we used to just call sin. Today we call it being damaged, or injured, or unhealthy. We don’t want to harm anyone’s self esteem, and we want to be sure everyone feels good about themselves. And telling someone that they are sinful just doesn’t build them up. The language of evil and sin has been diluted.
Why do we do this? Because we want to make people to feel good about their relationship with God, but we are trying to handle them with care so they don't feel too badly about themselves. But in our attempt to make each other feel good we’ve lost something very important. If we deny the fact that there is darkness, evil, and sin, then there is no need for light, goodness, love, or God.
This kind of talk makes us all feel uncomfortable. We all are guilty of lying to ourselves. I believe that most of us in church believe that we are doing the right thing. And most of us believe that we’re basically good people, most of the time.
James, the bother of Jesus says, “You know those conflicts that you’re having? Do you know where they come from?” They come from deep down inside of you. They come from cravings that you have. James says that the problems that we have, that we so frequently blame on each other or on outsides forces and influences, ultimately come from within.
"1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
7 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.
11 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. 12 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?" (James 4:1-12, NIV)
So, what are some of the lies we tell ourselves?
The first lie says I’M OK ON MY OWN. We think this because our lives are pretty respectable. We have made some missteps and mistakes, but overall we've done pretty well. We're pretty sure we'll make it into heaven, even if just barely, and going to church every now and then can't hurt. But we are off-course if we think this way. In fact, in Romans 3:23, Paul says, “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” It doesn’t matter how good we have been. It doesn’t matter if we've ultimately done more good than bad, because even the smallest of sins is enough to separate us from God. Let's drop this lie; we are not OK on our own.
The second lie that we tell ourselves is I’M BETTER THAN THAT. Do you remember the stories that Jesus told about the Pharisees? Have you ever thanked God that you’re not like your friend who has major problems with his temper? Have you ever told yourself that you’re a better person than your neighbor who’s been divorced and remarried? Have you ever thanked God that you’re not like all the other women in church who gossip constantly? It’s a lie. Everything’s level at the foot of the cross. No matter how sinful or righteous we judge ourselves to be, sin is sin to God. But, when we begin to judge others and look down upon others who we think we're better than, we place ourselves in even greater danger of being judged by God. Jesus said that we need to humble ourselves before God and he will exalt us. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that we are better than others. We're not!
The third lie that we tell ourselves is that a little dirt won't hurt, a little sin won't really matter in the long-run. After we’ve faced our sin and accepted the forgiveness that is offered through Jesus Christ, we go back to living our lives and regularly forget that we are called to live differently. This is a deception which we perpetuate within the church. It’s the lie that says that once we've been forgiven by Christ that the coast is clear, and we don't have to do anything else! We are a shoe-in for heaven, so there’s nothing else to worry about. It’s the lie that we tell ourselves that says that we can cruise downhill from the point of our accepting Christ. We tell ourselves that we don’t need to worry about our sin any longer, because we’re forgiven and have a "get-out-of-Hell-free" card. What this lie does to us is that it causes us not to guard ourselves, our minds or our hearts, living a happy-go-lucky life, allowing us time and space to get caught up in the work of the devil. It’s this lie that prompted James to write today's passage. When we tell ourselves this lie we begin to take advantage of, and take for granted the grace that we have been given. We begin to get careless, sloppy, and loose.
When we tell ourselves this lie we are buying into the plan of the evil one. His plan is to trap us and keep us bound by sin even though we have the power to overcome it.
God is calling us to uncover the lies that we keep telling ourselves. Only when we can identify the enemy can we make the necessary steps towards victory over him!