Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge
Jas 5:9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.
The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’. Is it possible for salvation to be lost? I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.
The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin. Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.
But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t! Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’? Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing. Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us. The writer to the Hebrews understood this: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – “Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!
We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today. God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask? Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert” (Heb 3:6-8). There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it. Many of them died (Num 11:1-3). Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15). Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29). Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.
So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: “you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go. He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.
We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32). The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him. He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.
When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.
There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.