Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? But God gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
When you read this relatively short book or letter of James, at least I get the sense that this is from one, a James who is a pastor at heart, but at the same time minces no words. And you also get it plainly that he’s writing to believers in Christ.
What James is getting at is about real life. And what people do and fail to do, including true believers of Christ. We might believe, but do we always follow Christ in our attitudes and actions, our behavior and words? We all know the answer to that. We know it firsthand, and by what we witness. And James saw through what was happening in his time, with a pastoral concern coming from both the wisdom and prophetic tradition of Israel, along with the fulfillment present in Christ.
James makes no two ways about it. When we’re caught up in sin, specifically here sins of division due to sinful attitudes on our part, he gets right after them (and by extension, us), calling them sinners, and telling us and them among other important things that we’re to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. It’s up to us, period. We’re to get it together, humbling ourselves in submission to God, resisting the devil and drawing near to God. And then in no uncertain terms, the ultimatum to take care of what’s wrong in ourselves.
Yes, we can only do this because of God’s unmerited grace to us in Christ. But we must do it. Or else what James says here means nothing. Or at least means nothing to us. It’s a poor theology that can’t figure out how to include and somehow apply all for us, especially that which is written in Christian Scripture (“the New Testament”). Position in Christ is one thing, practice is something entirely different. Because of our position or place “in Christ” we have the responsibility to deal with what’s wrong in our own lives. And within community, as James is getting at, to live well together in the harmony of Christ in the unity of the Spirit. In and through Jesus.