- How Good Is Good Enough
- James 2:8-13
- Lyndol Loyd January 20, 2019
How many holes does it take to sink a ship? One. Even the Titanic sank due to only one hole in the hull. The entire disaster, the loss of hundreds of lives, the sinking of a ship over nine hundred feet long was due to a single hole about the size of a refrigerator. There were some long gashes, but when they were all measured, the entire space of the hole was only about fifteen cubic feet. It takes only one hole to sink a ship.
How many strikeouts does it take to ruin a perfect batting average? Just one. If a professional baseball player has one strikeout, one pop fly, one infield grounder, he will never again bat a thousand. He might hit some great home runs and break records for RBI’s, but he will never have a thousand batting average.
James asks us a similar kind of question, how many biblical laws must you break in order to fit in the camp of people called “lawbreakers”? His answer is clear – Just one. It can be a big law like “Thou shalt not kill” or it can be a little “white lie.” But when we break the law of God, we become a transgressor.
In my family, it was made very clear to me at an early age that if I ever got in trouble at school that I could expect to be in further trouble once I got home. With this firmly in mind, I tended to walk the straight and narrow.
My school record was unblemished until one fateful day in third grade. My teacher was Mrs. Wood, and she had over forty years of teaching experience by the time I had her for class.
Mrs. Wood had practices in her classroom that would never fly today. If you told on someone, you had to wear a big red ribbon with the words, “Tattle Tale” attached to the backside of your pants.
But Mrs. Wood was most notorious for her spelling tests. On each and every spelling test the last word you were required to spell was “Third Grade.” If you got it wrong you got one spanking.
I was a good speller, and I knew how to spell “Third Grade,” but the fear I felt each week made me a nervous wreck when it came time to spell “Third Grade.” One fateful day I succumbed to my fears and misspelled “Third Grade,” and sure enough I got a firm swat on my backside from Mrs. Wood’s paddle.
My parents would never have agreed with this practice, but remember I had been taught that if you get in trouble at school, you’ll be in trouble when you get home. When I got home I didn’t say a word to my parents about what had happened. What I wasn’t counting on was that Mrs. Wood would come into my parent’s store that same afternoon and tell them what had happened.
My parents asked me later, “So Lyndol, did anything interesting happen at school today?” “Uhh, No. I don’t think so.” “Are you sure nothing happened?” “Yep.”
Well, you guessed it. It was then that I got in trouble for lying to my parents. If I had come clean to begin with they probably would have marched up to the school for a chat with Mrs. Wood and the principal. But I didn’t. With that one decision I made, I was now a liar.
Interestingly enough in our culture today there are some big, blatant violations of God’s law that most people would agree are offensive to God. Things like murder, rape, and stealing. At the very same time there are some of God’s laws that people break that might seem little, insignificant or acceptable in our day and age.
James doesn’t see it that way. With James, there is no relativism when it comes to God’s law. In James 2:8-11 he writes,
8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
10 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. 11 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.
At that point, James is making a clear reference to the Ten Commandments. They are a good starting point when we talk about what it means to be a lawbreaker. They give a clear outline of how God expects us to live with Him and with each other.
1 Then God gave the people all these instructions:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
7 “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You must not murder.
14 “You must not commit adultery.
15 “You must not steal.
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
One plain example that James sights for lawbreaking is favoritism. Why does he use this? Possibly because we can all identify with this sin. All of us, at one time or another, play favorites. It starts when we are young and lasts for a lifetime. Prejudice and favoritism is a breaking of God’s law, and we are all lawbreakers.
James then gets a little more specific and asks us how many of the Ten Commandments must we break before we have to admit that we are commandment breakers? His answer is, just one. It doesn’t matter which one we break; once we transgress any of God’s law, we are numbered among the commandment breakers.
We might wonder why James is asking these questions. What is he driving at? Quite simply, he is trying to get all his listeners (including us) to pull our heads out of the sands of denial and admit freely that there is a streak of lawlessness in all of us. We are all rebellious; there is a dark side in all of us that rears its ugly head from time to time.
Granted, some of us are pint-sized lawbreakers, and others are prolific lawbreakers. But this does not matter in the scheme of things. We are all lawbreakers. We all make moral mistakes. We have all sinned.
- We know what is wrong, but we do it anyway.
- We know the right thing we ought to say, but we refuse to say it.
- We have a sense of what God would have us do, but we do just the opposite.
James wants us to not only admit the sinful streak in ourselves but also to accept full responsibility for what this behavior makes us in the eyes of a holy God. In short, we commit cosmic treason.
We are violators of the commandments of God. This makes us lawbreakers. Honestly, none of us wants to look at ourselves as sinful lawbreakers. But for the message of Christ to make sense, we must realize our condition before a holy God.
If anyone can look at the Ten Commandments and still claim they are sinless, then they should read Jesus’ teaching on these commandments. Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus expands on this and says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ Again, anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” Matthew 5:21-22.
In Exodus 20:14 we read, “You shall not commit adultery.”
Jesus clarifies this by teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” Matthew 5:27-30.
The Ten Commandments, along with the teaching of Jesus, make it clear to all of us that we are lawbreakers and therefore in desperate need of a Savior. The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” In other words, we are all sinful, lawbreakers.
James gives us some tough love by telling us to be honest with ourselves about who we really are. We have to be honest and commit to stop all the pathetic rationalizations and pleasant euphemisms. It is time to call lying exactly what it is. Slander is slander. Gossip is gossip. Adultery is adultery. Stealing is stealing. Sin is sin and lawbreaking is lawbreaking.
James is calling us to admit the depth of our spiritual sickness and in so doing, see the reality of our need. We all fit squarely in the camp we call sinners.
For certain James realizes that there are those of us who are what we might call “Spectacular Sinners” and others are somewhat boring sinners. But this is not the issue. We are all sinners.
We all face a moment of truth. At some point we have to decide if we are going to keep running, covering our tracks and making rationalizations for our lawbreaking activity. Or will we seek forgiveness and mercy from God? Will we finally cry out to the holy God we have offended and ask for the grace He is so ready to give?
James is pleading for sinners to stop running away from God and to run toward Him. Only here, with humble honesty, can we find forgiveness and a new beginning. “12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 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.”
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey writes:
Grace costs nothing for the recipients and everything for the giver. God’s grace is not a grandfatherly display of “niceness,” for it cost the exorbitant price of Calvary. There is only one real law – the law of the universe. It may be fulfilled either by way of judgment or by way of grace, but it must be fulfilled one way or the other. By accepting the judgment in his own body, Jesus fulfilled the law, and God found a way to forgive.
In the movie, “The Last Emperor,” the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury with a thousand eunuch servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten.
In Christian theology, Jesus reversed the ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished. Grace is free only because the giver Himself has born the cost.
What makes biblical Christianity so remarkable is that guilty lawbreakers, who by rights should pay dearly for their misdeeds, can all have their moral and ethical crimes paid for by a third party- namely, Jesus Christ. As a result of his death on the cross, the formal case against us lawbreakers can be dropped permanently from the heavenly courts.
In short, we are set free and now live under the law of grace. This gives us a sense of freedom. We are no longer under judgment. When we experience God’s mercy, we want to turn and extend this same loving care to others. We are changed forever.
Our whole world operates on a system of justice and retribution. Our entire legal system rests on this principle. If you break a law you will pay a price. School systems, military systems, and corporate systems operate on a similar foundation. Break the rules and you will pay.
But in the cosmic judicial system, God takes the crimes that we have committed and arranges for His Son, Jesus, to stand in our place, pay our fine, bear our consequence, and receive our punishment. Then, in an amazing display of mercy, He lets the guilty lawbreakers go free.
He goes a step beyond this. He formally declares that we, on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, are no longer guilty. We are blameless.
Through God’s grace given freely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are set free. Free from the power of the Devil and sin. Free from judgment. Free from fear, guilt and eternal separation from God. Free to spend forever, starting today, in a relationship with the God who loves us more than words could ever express.
Some of us here this morning know this and live in the truth of it. Others of us need to be reminded of it and embrace it once again. Still, for others, this is incredibly good news, if you’ve never done so I would highly encourage you to join the club of those who have broken the laws of God, but through the grace of Jesus Christ have found forgiveness and redemption.