Sin's Partiality; Faith's Impartiality

Text:  James 2:1-10, 14-18

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As human beings, we naturally admire certain people more than others.  To a certain extent this is alright.  For example, it is o.k. to show favoritism and preference towards a spouse or a child or a close family member like a mom or dad.  There is nothing wrong with this because it is a part of your vocation as a parent, spouse, and/or child. There is also nothing wrong with having certain friends that are closer than others.  Logically, people with similar vocations in the workforce are going to tend to bond together more than others.  Farmers are going to connect with other farmers, white collar people are going to connect with white collar people.  Moms will connect with other moms, and so forth.  In your vocations—whether at church or downtown or at work—you will naturally rub shoulders with different individuals of similar callings.  However, where things go tragically wrong is when we purposefully exclude others, look down on them, rank them, categorize their worth, and show favoritism in our acts of love based on external appearances and manmade criteria.

This is what we hear about in today’s Epistle reading from the Apostle James.  The Apostle James is talking about a faith, which unlike God Himself, is partial.  He is talking about a so-called faith—which really is no faith at all—that makes social distinctions among people where there ought not to be.  As already stated, this kind of faith really does not exist, but the people that James is addressing apparently were calling it faith nonetheless.  Otherwise stated, James is calling attention to those who go on and on and on about faith, yet at the same time honor certain people while knifing others in the back on the basis of their manmade standards.  James is calling out the fact that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the partiality described in our Epistle reading are totally inconsistent.  They do not go together.  They are not complimentary. 

Tragically though, as human beings, we often do not recognize contradictions like this, for we spend countless hours of our lives trying to affirm our insecure egos, rather than living by faith.  As implied from our Epistle reading, one of the ways we do this is to form small ‘exclusive’ groups (i.e., cliques) that will give us kudos, affirmation, and support.  We are not talking about small support groups or family gatherings, but rather, unhealthy clusters that evolve into exclusivity.  The reason why these clusters become exclusive is because these groups usually fuel the ego, which to our sinful nature is worth protecting.  Furthermore, what makes these exclusive cliquey groups unhealthy is that individuals can become guarded because they do not want anyone to upset the balance and chemistry of the group. 

These cliques become a much more serious problem when they spill over and/or are conceived in the local church. The reason being, churches can become a private country club where individuals are excluded on the basis of appearance, money, and status. 

You see, the problem with all of this is that the idea of giving love to one another in the church can become contingent on a person’s possessions, gifts, abilities, personality, group identification, etc…  This though is not compatible with the Christian faith.  This kind of selectiveness is the mark of the unbeliever, not the baptized Christian; it is a mark of the sinful nature, not the new man in Christ. 
My friends, a person’s worth does not come from their possessions or lack of possessions; it does not come from their status in the community, their appearance, and their last name.  The reason being, in God’s eyes no one is inherently inferior compared to someone else, ‘everyone’ that has been born has been created in the image of God.  The old Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer once said that no matter how fallen or messed up a person is, we can never forget that they were created in the image of God.  In other words, James is confronting the sin of looking down upon any group or person based on appearance, status, or wealth. 

What this means is that there no such thing as inferior or non-inferior people in God’s eyes, because scripture categorizes everyone into the same category.  We all are created people, people who were knit together in our mother’s womb.  All having value: from the preborn to the old.  We are all created in the image of God.  And, yes, we have all fallen into sin and guilt; marred by sin.  It is true, just look around and consider this church.  All of us in this church stand and confess our sins together in the Confession of Sins and we all hear the same absolution of our sins in the Gospel.  We are the same: sinners forgiven in Christ. 

What does all of this mean though in light of the predicament that the Epistle of James is addressing? 

Very bluntly put, you and I sin when we believe that there is something inherently better about ourselves, that we have something in ourselves that makes us better before God or not as sinful in God’s eyes compared to other people.  To think of others as inferior to yourself is sinful because you are essentially basing their worth and your worth on worldly criteria and possibly your own measuring stick.  The end result is that you and I will try to justify ‘ourselves’ by snubbing others and then comparing ourselves to them, all while distancing ourselves from the Gospel.  This is not the Christian faith: it is not of the faith, from the faith, or for the faith.  This kind of mentality—these kind of actions and works—are worldly.  The Christian faith—real faith—does not yield this kind of evil. 

So, with all this said, is James calling for this idea of tolerance in the church?  Is He advocating for some equal protection clause?  Is James basically saying that we are not to call out sin and that we are to become saturated with love so that we are a bowel of moral mush?  No, of course not!  What James is confronting is the idea of you and me basing a person’s worth or non-worth upon ‘our’ criteria and convincing ourselves that this is morally o.k. or that this is a part of the Christian faith.  James is showing us that we sin when we exclude and withhold love on the basis of our so-called faith and favoritism.  In other words, you and I have no right to call something sin that God hasn’t called sin from His Word.  We have no right to withhold love based on our favoritism, for this violates the royal law of love. When we look down on someone in our heart and when we do not love them as ourselves, we sin; this perversion of love is not of the Christian faith. 

In a nutshell, James is showing us that when we convince ourselves that this sinful favoritism is righteous, it is because we have delusions about faith.  When you and I yield heartless, selective, superficial, and childish clique tactics with people, we are not yielding true good works, but sin.  This is not of the faith.  Jesus Christ is not the author of sin.  Grace is not a license to sin.  The faith that you are given does not smile on such garbage.  To indulge, welcome, support, and encourage acts of sin is not a byproduct of faith, but the result of a phoney faith, which is no faith at all, but basically the old Adam masquerading around. 

Repent dear friends of this favoritism, of this phoney faith. 

Hear the good news of the Gospel.  Hear the great news.  That great news is that the Lord did not look with partiality upon you and me.  Indeed, even though you and I were inferior in every way, full of sin, stained by sin, and even enemies of the Lord, it was the Lord’s desire to die for you.  Even though you and I are completely unworthy, it was the Lord’s yearning to make you worthy by His shed blood.  Even though you and I wrongly base people’s value on superficial things, God covered you with the image of His Son in Baptism because He values you. 

Truly, the Lord Jesus Christ was crowned with thorns to rule over redeemed sinner, dying with the weight of your sin upon Him so that you would not be crushed by that weight.  He filled you with His Holy Spirit.  Now Christ is not ashamed to call you His brothers and sisters.  For God creates objects worthy of His love and does so without sinful favoritism.

The reality of this my friends is that in Christ there is neither Jew, nor Greek, slave or free, there is neither male or female… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  You are the church of God located here in Gwinner, North Dakota with one baptism into Christ.  Do not forget, there is one baptism, one Christ, one way of salvation, one Savior of all.  Each and every one of us is condemned by great sin, yet redeemed by a greater redeemer.  Therefore, there is no distinction.  Yes, there are different vocations, different tastes, different personalities, but at the core there is one and only one Gospel—for you and me.  This Gospel does not come to you in snippets or through factions or through installments. 

You all have the same faith because the same Lord forgave you all of you sins.  You all have the same baptism because you were baptized into the same name of God.  You all have the gift of good works because the Lord gave you these good works with His enlivening gifts.  Therefore, how on earth can we show partiality to one another?  God did not show partiality in saving us, which means that we are freed from this kind of mindset so that we can freely serve our neighbor without favoritism! 

Create in us a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit with us.  Amen.

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