The first group calls themselves “Christian” but is practically little more than superstitious atheists. They don’t make very much effort in the spiritual disciplines (bible study, prayer, church attendance, service) but they still prefer to use the title “Christian.” To them being a Christian is more about a onetime event that happened years earlier than in their daily being what the term Christian implies, namely, a follower of Christ. They view their relationship with God like a professional athlete views his relationship with a corporate sponsor – when they are a little low on cash or luck, they can just do a couple of commercials for him and he will throw some help their way.
The second group calls themselves “Christian” and is actually committed to striving to fulfill the term that they have taken on themselves. They view themselves today as they viewed themselves years earlier when they were converted, as a helpless sinner in constant need of the grace of a loving God. They constantly pursue the same things that the Apostle Paul pursued, chiefly, ‘That I may know Him,” and their life seems to have a holy discontentment about not yet having achieved a fully satisfactory relationship with God. In their minds, God has revealed himself and they must do everything in their power to see Him and know Him. He deserves their life, health, breath, and everything in them, so they live in constant dependant faith on God, trusting Him for their every need.
In James 4:13-17, James continues his comparison between earthly wisdom and the wisdom that is revealed by God. The example that he gives paints a portrait of a person who is almost exactly like the first group of Christians that we mentioned above. This character in James’s story uses the wisdom of the world to pursue and to get gain in whatever way he can. He develops a business model and then carries it out with seemingly flawless precision. Except that there is a problem, but not in something that he has done, rather it is in what he has not done.
In living life as a practical atheist, he has failed to acknowledge that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and that all blessing comes from the hand of God. In his flawless business model, he has flawed in the most basic way – he has failed to trust God for anything that has come into his life. Rather, in place of God, he has placed himself as the god of his own life, determining his own destiny and carrying out his own fate. In his mind, success and failure are products of his business model and nothing more.
James rebukes this type of Godless self-idolization. The worldly wisdom that neglects a relationship with God forgets the frailty and weakness of mankind. Like a greedy child tearing through presents without ever turning a word of gratitude towards those who have showered them with gifts, these “self-made” “Christians” view God as little more than another part of their insurance portfolio. They have health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, and eternity insurance (God).
May it never be so with us! May we never become so sure of ourselves and our efforts that we forget that all things are in the hands of God, and that our very life and breath is in his hands! May we learn to trust Him daily, and not to be so presumptuous as to live our lives without faith in the God who made us and who saved us. May we never succumb to such a primitive view of Christianity that we neglect the one loves us and takes care of us.
Reflect: Read Luke 12. What illustration does Jesus give in Luke 12 that mirrors what James is writing here in James 4?