The last verse in our James reading today 3:13-4:8 (“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”) doesn’t sound very Lutheran. This verse seems to imply God works through transactions. If you do something for God, then God will do something for you. If you say the right prayer, donate to the right cause, or act like you are really sorry, then God will respond by showering you with grace and love. In this kind of faith scheme, God is an accountant, waiting for our move before God gives out the goods. But God isn’t into transactions and there’s nothing we can do for God to love us more. So what should we do with a verse like 4:8?
We need to remember James 1:17-18 when we read any passage in James: “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” We are, through the gift of faith, born anew. It’s through the Spirit when we finally learn to trust God. Our faith needs to come from God or else we’ll create a personal faith that always wonders what we’ll get out of it. Faith is a gift from God that awakens this truth: we truly are God’s beloved children.
Since we are beloved, God invites us to live as if we are truly loved. That isn’t always easy. The Bible isn’t a guidebook with detailed instructions on how we are supposed to act in every possible situation. Instead, God trusts us to see the gifts God gives us and respond accordingly. James in this passage, I think, doesn’t see God as an accountant waiting to give us gifts after we do the right thing. Instead, God is always there even when we fail to love like God does. Drawing near to God is an invitation to embrace our need for repentance. We need to, over and over again, admit our failures and our sin. We need to remember there is a God and we are not it. We, through worship, prayer, study, and confession, return to God as a way to embrace who we already are. We are loved. We are God’s. We are with Jesus. And so we make the conscious choice to re-engage with God knowing that God has never disengaged from us.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/23/2018.