But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
In looking to Christ to become more like him, we indeed look to scripture and to the church. We need both, although we have to measure all that is said from scripture. But the church together, not least, the church from its beginning to the present day, must hold prominence in our deliberation over scripture and its meaning. Of course it points to the Word, Jesus, in whom the scriptures come to life.
One of the important emphases of the church through the centuries has been sin in the sense of deadly sins (“mortal”) and sins which do not take us out of the realm of God’s grace in Jesus (“venial”). James decries sin at a number of places in that letter. I was struck by an emphasis against envy and selfish ambition and I realized that those sins can and have been a significant factor and part of my existence even as a Christian and professing follower of Christ.
I have been going slowly through scripture for awhile now in addition to my normal Bible reading, and now in James, was struck and remained on (even went back to) this point James makes, quoted above in both considering my own life, and acknowledging as well as confessing such sin to God.
Of course we won’t be sinless in this life. 1 John 1 makes that clear. But we should be making progress in holiness, becoming more holy in our growth in grace. Even while at the same time realizing that at times we may not well understand our true condition or what is happening in our lives since it is God who is at work in ways that we often can’t track or comprehend.
Hardly aware of this, I’ve been in a process for some time of removing myself from that which feeds my foolish self-ambition and fuels my envy of others. In very tangible ways actually over matters which in themselves are not necessarily bad at all. In one case simply abstaining completely from a practice, in fact removing myself not only physically, but in every other way from a particular pasttime which for me too easily became sin. In the other case, accepting humility when others are better than I and hopefully learning to be content with that humility over the self-ambition which had been all too prominent before (even while I was to some extent blind to that) and the envy which naturally accompanies it.
The goal? Not to arrive to sinless perfection (an impossibility), but to live in God through Jesus, in his grace given to us in Jesus. A grace through which we can continue to receive forgiveness and be changed, helping us to live more and more in his will, in the eternal life present in Jesus.