Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:8-10
I can clearly remember the first time I used my medical license to divert opioid pain medications for my own use. I pondered it for weeks before I actually did it. I knew just how wrong it was and I was terrified someone would find out. I was addicted though, so my logic eventually surrendered to my diseased hunger. Once I did it, I was racked with guilt and anxiety for days. You know what happened then? Nothing. No one found out and nothing happened. Then, when those pills ran out, I examined my recent experience and realized I could get away with it. The second time I did it, I felt less guilt and anxiety. As I repeated the diversion numerous times, I numbed my conscience enough so that I felt nothing. Then, when I was eventually discovered, and my toxic behavior was laid out before me, my dreadful conscience came roaring back to life. What have I done? This is horrific. By then though, it was too late.
In today’s passage, James reminded us that we should mourn our sin. When we fail and when we engage in self-destructive behavior, we should feel bad. Sin damages us and our loved ones, while it turns us from God. It is a big deal, and we shouldn’t simply dismiss it because we feel like we’re getting away with it. James taught that an appropriate response to our sin is to grieve, humbling turning to God and doing whatever it takes to separate ourselves from it.
As Christians, we rightly believe that, because of Christ’s sacrificial death, we’re forgiven by God. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12). We’re saved by God’s grace, and nothing can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). The temptation of God’s grace though, is that we can easily succumb to a theology that is soft on our flaws. Who cares if you fail? God still loves you. You’re forgiven. Do whatever you want.
While God still loved me, even in my addiction, I was pursuing disaster. I should have listened to my conscience when it was screaming at me. Instead, I silenced it through repetition of the behavior. If I’d have listened to my guilt, it would have saved me from a mountain of misery. Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). When I fail, the appropriate response is to feel pain and stop the behavior.