What we just read is all about identity.
When you read it through first, though, it’s quite intense. That’s one of the things we acknowledged at Bible Study on Tuesday. James seems to jump around from topic to topic laying all of this really intense stuff on us.
Stuff about the poor and Rich
Stuff about temptation
Stuff about holding your tongue
Stuff about mirrors and forgetting your face
Stuff about the widows and orphans
And then we’re done.
And we’re sort of out of breath
Because that seems like a lot of stuff.
Poor believers: Your identity is in Jesus who secures for you an everlasting home in God’s presence. Your current lowly estate can’t rip that from you.
Rich people: All the status your wealth gives. All the earthly power you’ve grabbed because you have a bankroll…it means nothing. You’re identity in Christ is what matters in the end. If you are hoarding your resources and grabbing for status and power…you’re hoarding and grabbing things that will fade away.
The temptation James is talking about here is the temptation to give your loyalty to something other than God.
We all get tempted to do that. We all get tempted to seek wisdom or fulfillment from sources other than God. Whether we are well off and get tempted to rely on our money and status to bring us happiness. Whether we are desperate for a sign from God, but can’t hear God’s voice so we seek wisdom from ungodly sources. Whether we seek for comfort in food or booze or sex.
We all get tempted to divide our loyalties. It just comes with being human.
But James encourages us in a couple of ways
He points out that resisting the temptation to divide our loyalties when we are tested comes with a promise. A promise that God has a wonderful reward for us. The promise that no matter our trials, when we fix our hearts on Christ, there is a life so full and so rich that our current trials become extinct. Right now it’s difficult. No one is denying that. But God is the only one who provides true peace in the end. So rest on that promise.
God didn’t create us to have these temptations.
But they exist because humanity in the beginning divided its loyalty and gave into the temptation to seek wisdom outside of God…that’s what the story of eating the forbidden fruit is all about.
So what is natural?
What’s natural is what 16-18 talks about
What’s natural are the good things God has made available to us. What’s natural is the life available when God’s true word takes up residence in us. God’s true word is the recipe for our true and natural identity.
You can spend all the time in the world reading the Bible and letting it’s words rattle around in your intellect…but if you aren’t open to the fact that your very identity resides in the Messiah who came to make these words mean something…it doesn’t amount to much.
That’s why we have to slow down our speech
and give the Word a chance to take hold of us.
And the Word of God was given to say: You’re free. Here’s how you can remain free. Here’s how you can live into the identity that will bring peace and hope and joy and life.
What does the law say…well it gets summed up like this:
Love God with everything in you
And love your neighbor as you love yourself.
So what’s the purest way we live into our identity? What is a guage for us? what is a way we can know we are living into this freedom?
It’s not by relying on wealth
It’s not by buying into this notion that we have to lash out with indignation when people disagree with us
It’s by caring for people
Caring for the poor
Caring for those who bear the Image of God
And not letting all the garbage that’s out there corrupt it.
And how do we get there?
We let the Word of God take up residence in our hearts
We don’t just read it and intellectualize it
But we let it shape us.
We fall in love with it
And we let it guide our lives