This will be your shortest reading ever! But it was a verse that packed a powerful punch, and it didn’t seem to fit with what came before or after. I chose to reflect on this single verse on its own. Here it is again from the NLT translation:
“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
James’ audience would know about sin. Those Jewish believers would even have flashbacks to following the law of Moses and all the sacrifices they now didn’t make. But what James is talking about here is not being sinful by breaking a law you should know better than to break, but to not do good when doing good is the right answer. Does that make sense?
I like the meme that lists all the sins I haven’t committed yet today, adding “now it’s time to get out of bed!” We sin all the time. And, we’re probably even oblivious to much of our sinfulness, but God sees. Today’s text convicts us to be mindful of our sinning, especially if we’re continuing to sin in the same way over and over. It doesn’t matter the reason or purpose we’ve created to minimize the guilt, we are to avoid deliberate sin. Period!
These would be the sins we do on purpose or do even though we know they are sinful. When is the last time you did a deep dive into your own faith life and uncovered some sins that might have soon become “deliberate”? Maybe you’ll find some deep dark sin tucked away, but you’re unable to give it up. Examples that come to mind are addicts and atheists. Whether you’re doing things that distract you from God or you’re not living to honor God, you are sinning.
This whole idea of being unclean seems a little foreign to us today. It would be easy to say being unclean is when people need a shower or forget their deodorant. We may even picture a vagrant on the street who hasn’t changed their clothes in weeks. But in Biblical terms, being unclean was a state of being “unworthy” of being in God’s presence due to some circumstance, action, or lack of action, etc. When you were unclean, you were not allowed access to God and often shunned by the community.
It was interesting to see the different things that Moses declared deemed you unclean. Eunuchs, illegitimate children (and their descendants), Ammonites and Moabites (and their descendants), and men having wet dreams. This was the short list. Clearance and exclusion from this list were the Edomites and Egyptians. But the Ammonites and Moabites were also distant relatives of the Israelites, being from the family of Lot (Abraham’s nephew). But the promise to be God’s people was given to Jacob, several generations beyond.