Vexing Verses

What book of the Bible do you find to be the hardest to understand, and the scariest? Most would probably say it’s Revelation, and who would deny that the images found in Revelation are hard to interpret and are indeed frightening. It might surprise you, however, to discover that the verse many believe to be the most difficult to interpret, as well as a verse that causes many to live in anxiety, are both found in the little book of James.

A couple weeks ago we confronted James 4:5 in our Wednesday night study. Confusion about that verse centers on two things. When James says, “Or do you think that the Scriptures speaks to no purpose,” it’s impossible to determine if he is referencing what he has just said, or quoting an unknown Scripture. The other problem relates to the possible quote no one can find; “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.” Is he talking about the Holy Spirit or our spirit, and is he saying God jealously desires a relationship with us or that we have a jealous spirit? We decided any way we looked it, it was true, and that we’d leave the debate to the theologians.

The verse that many find frightening is one we ended on last Wednesday night.“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) It is from this verse that “sins of omission” arise. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the opposite of “sins of commission.” They aren’t what you do, but what you don’t do.

If this verse is read in isolation, it does sound like a blanket warning about failing to do whatever you know you should do. If it’s kept in context, however, James may simply be saying that we must do what he’s been telling us to do.

If this is a warning about failing to do everything we know we should do, I think it takes away any sense of peace in our relationship with God. How would we ever know if we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do? Some have suggested this can be addressed by praying for forgiveness for everything we did, and didn’t do, but I’m not sure if that would really be confession of sin, or just a lame attempt to cover the bases.

Last Sunday we were reminded that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. I think it would be hard to feel alive to God if we’re always walking under the cloud of unknown sin. I think it might be best to simply walk confidently in grace, and do our very best to walk in obedience.

God Bless, Rick

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