Identity in Christ. Who we should aspire to be as Christians.
At the end of chapter 1, James says that pure and faultless religion is this: too look after the orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by all the garbage out there that tells us to look out only for ourselves.
When James talks about religion…he’s talking about the external enactment of an internal reality.
A different way of saying that is: If we find our identity in Jesus Christ, our disposition will be one of mercy to those around us
And not one of individualistic self-preservation
The reason for that is: Jesus Christ is a God of mercy. Jesus came and instead of figuring out ways to keep from dying on the cross, he instead set aside individualistic self preservation
He let go of looking out for number one
And sacrificed himself so that all of us could be washed over with mercy.
If we find our identity in Jesus Christ
That’s going to be our tendency too…to show mercy, even when it’s uncomfortable.
If the command of God on our lives is
Love others like you love yourself
What is our response to the poor supposed to be?
The positive scope of verses 15 and 16 would be
If a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, you say to her: here is food. Here is a sweater. Let’s go together so we can make sure you stay warm and fed.
That’s our religion. That’s the enactment of our faith
That’s the external response to the internal reality that Jesus has changed our lives with his mercy and grace and hope and love.
But Listen to two things very carefully:
1. This is not a political discussion. This is a spiritual one.
When we talk about this stuff in the political sphere, we get into all these arguments about people needing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and prove that they are worthy of the help. Prove that they won’t waste the energy we spend in getting them some food or clothes or work or whatever.
We are not in a political conversation as this church
We are in a spiritual one. We are on a spiritual journey.
And we are to recognize that none of us merits the good things we have
None of us is more worthy of mercy than the one who has yet to receive mercy
All of us have fallen short and receive God’s mercy simply because
God is love
God loves us
And God showers mercy on us
Even though we prove all the time that we can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps
None of us can attain the perfection of God
So Jesus intervenes
And shows mercy to the human race
Even though he had to sacrifice himself to do that
Even though none of us deserve it.
So we don’t talk about what kind of poor people deserve help
We don’t say this poor person shows initiative, we should feed him
We don’t say, this poor person seems to be a bit daft and will probably not properly care for the home we helped her get into.
The second thing we need to hear…with careful ears
Is that most of us have a lot of room to grow with regards to this.
Even though most of us see the real need for Justice in our city
Even though most of us wouldn’t flinch if an obviously impoverished person walked into our worship service…and we do have some sisters and brothers in our fellowship who have just about nothing…
Most of us need to make more room in our lives to exhibit mercy and work for God’s Justice in this city.
On our streets
On our blocks.
We all need make ourselves available and show mercy.
Mercy in the context of verse 13 is all about physical needs
And we need to wrestle with the weight of this statement that those who have not shown mercy are in trouble.
Because if we are not people who show mercy, that means something isn’t quite right in our hearts.
It means that somehow our glorious Jesus and the mercy he has come to give us hasn’t had the room to grow in our hearts
Basically James is being super bold and says
If you aren’t a person of mercy, you haven’t really let Jesus into your heart. You’re not really bearing the glorious name of Jesus. You’re not really a Christian.
It’s important that we take the internal reality:
That we are people who love and trust Jesus
And turn it into our religion
watch for opportunities to throw your hat in the ring
Watch for opportunities that we as a church promote…
And make some room in your life for responding in mercy to the physical needs of people in our city.
And when we do that…the love of Jesus will be so evident to people
that people will want to know what motivates all this
They’ll want to know why we are people of mercy
And the Gospel of Jesus will be proclaimed through us
And the Kingdom of God will grow.
Because through our acts of mercy and justice
and our disposition of humility in Christ
will serve as a wonderful invitation to people
the invitation our wonderful Savior constantly gives to you and to me