For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.
So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
A couple of years ago I attended a competition where young people ran an obstacle course, sort of like the TV show American Ninja Warrior. They had to climb over walls, swing from ropes, walk across balance beams and scale high walls. It was a timed event, but if at any point along the course a competitor fell or failed to clear an obstacle on their first attempt, they were immediately eliminated from the competition. Only a handful made it all the way through without a stumble. What if life were judged that way? What if you were condemned the moment you made one mistake or broke just one law? None of us would make it very far, maybe not even through a single day.
James affirms what all of scripture teaches: we are sinners. You may not be a murderer or an adulterer. Maybe you’ve never committed grand theft or defrauded the government. There might be a whole host of laws and Biblical commands that you have never violated. But if you have broken even one, then you are a sinner, and no one, not even the most self-disciplined, spiritually-mature person in the world, can claim to have never, ever sinned. We are all law-breakers. Therefore, don’t assume that God will let you off the hook for failing to show mercy to others. In the previous verses, we have been challenged to love our neighbors and to care for those in need. These callings are not optional for Jesus’ followers, like some sort of extra credit project for the super-spiritual. For James – and more importantly, for Jesus – showing mercy to others is the necessary Spirit-led fruit of faith. Some might be tempted to believe that they don’t need to do any good works because they have not committed any heinous sins, as though works of mercy should only be done as penance. Jesus tells us not to do bad things, and He also commands us to do good things.
The key word in this passage is mercy. We are all in need of God’s mercy. As sinners who should rightfully be condemned to eternity apart from God, we must fall on God’s mercy and grace that washes away our sin. That’s the good news Jesus died and rose again to bring us. Now, as those redeemed by God’s mercy and set free from the penalty of sin, we are called to show mercy to others. We do what is right and good not to make up for our failings, but rather to show gratitude for God’s mercy and to join with Jesus in sharing that mercy with others.
Merciful God, You love me more than I deserve. Forgive me for all my sins, and teach me to share Your redeeming love with others. May my life show the world who You are as You make me more like Jesus. I pray in my Savior’s name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian