When to Look Inward, When to Look Upward
Sin comes from our hearts and leads to ruin, while righteousness comes from God and leads to restoration. This is the message of Scripture, clearly taught in the first chapter of James. In James 1:13-14, we see the source and result of sin.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 14.Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
We don’t need to be convinced of the result of sin. Each of us knows firsthand the sting of death that our sin and the sins of others brings about. What’s hard to grapple with is the origin of sin: our own hearts.
It’s easy to feel like a passive bystander when it comes to sin. We resonate with Aaron who, when confronted by Moses after constructing the idolatrous calf, responds, “I threw [gold] into the fire, and out came this calf.” Most of us can remember a time when we felt like we were minding our own business when all of a sudden, “out came this idol.” Whether it’s greed, lust, or envy, sin has a way of sneaking up on us as if from the outside. But James wants us to know that sin comes from the inside, not from our circumstances and certainly not from God.
To be sure, God tests us, but never does he tempt us to sin. “When Scripture ascribes blindness or hardness of heart to God,” says John Calvin, “it does not assign to him the beginning of the blindness, nor does it make him the author of sin, so as to ascribe to him the blame.” While Scripture clearly teaches that God delivers some over to the sinful desires of their hearts, God is never the source of sin; we are. When we taste of the death that sin brings, we ought to be honest about the source of that death - our own hearts.
Not only is James eager for us to see the source and result of sin; he also wants us to see the source and result of righteousness.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Just as we’re tempted to view sin as an external phenomenon, we’re conversely tempted to see righteousness as an internal accomplishment. We look to our own grit, our own merit, our own determination to achieve righteousness. But James is clear; righteousness is a gift from heaven. If we’re to be made right, it will require an outside actor. It will require the God-man Jesus, living, dying, rising and interceding on our behalf.
The “word of truth” brings the result of heavenly righteousness; we’re made new creatures. We’re given new life. We’re “born again,” as it were. But it’s only after looking inward to our sin and recognizing our need for a savior that we can we look outward to him and receive the gift of his righteousness. “He that has learned to feel his sins and to trust Christ as a Savior,” says J.I. Packer, “has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity.”
Pastor for Faith Formation at All Saints Anglican Church in Downtown Dallas, TX.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.