16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Let’s remember that the phrase But as it is is in contrast to the previous verse, you ought to say, “if the Lord wills…” In other words, instead of seeking God for His guidance, we look to ourselves and boast in our own accomplishments. Even in “good deeds” we lift ourselves up as the ones who made it possible, who accomplished it on our own “good nature” and use fake humility to receive even more praise. James tells us plainly, all such boasting is evil. The question that popped in my head when I read that was, “why is it evil”. Not questioning the authenticity of it, but rather looking for an explanation.
The explanation is clear throughout the bible: it does not honor God and in fact directs our own hearts as well as the hearts of others away from God’s perfect love and glory. So as we seek out things separate from God (as James mentioned earlier) we turn our backs from Him, which is sinful and evil. If we accept that God, being perfectly “good,” then turning away from or distracting from Him is therefore evil. This is the point James is making and he is standing on the same principle that has been echoed throughout history in the scriptures.
Verse 17 hurts. It hurts because James is telling us that inaction and laziness is a sin. I believe this falls under “sloth,” one of the infamous 7 deadly sins. Christ calls us to action. He calls us to a life of serving others, making ourselves available to those in need. It is interesting, however, how James prefaces this in the beginning of the verse, “to one who knows the right.” This implies that there are some who do not know the right thing to do. I believe I have touched on this before. That as we accept Christ as our Savior and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, our hearts begin to change to align with God’s Will and His Spirit.
Certainly, there are people without The Spirit who do “good” things. I’m not negating this. What we are talking about here is the insight we get from the Spirit to guide us to fulfill His will on a consistent basis. It is that feeling you get to “do something” that isn’t necessarily natural. If we see an old lady who dropped some groceries while she is crossing the street, many people will be inclined to help her. This, in a global perspective, is something many people would rush to help with. Some because they want to help her out of the street because they want to go home, others because they have grandparents or great grandparents that causes them to relate, others jump to the occasion simply because they enjoy helping others. This, however, is not what I am talking about when I mention the urging of the Spirit. It could very well be in this context, however I’m focusing on more unusual circumstances.
The sudden urge to make an impact with the homeless and a plan to do so, the desire to move to a foreign country and facilitate change for the poverty stricken, the thought process that leads to a new direction in ministry or a church. These are the things from The Spirit’s guidance that James is talking about. We are given the desire or thought, however we fail to act because we are simply too lazy. We could make excuses or even design things in our lives that prove we cannot do it, however we fail to recognize that it is God’s will and to quote my pastor a few weeks ago, “if it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill.” If God puts these desires on our hearts, then who are we to say it cannot be done?