Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Frankly, I don’t doubt that this is somewhat confusing to people. It sounds like it is our responsibility to show up at God’s door, and if we don’t then he’s not going to come anywhere near us.
I don’t think this is an if-then kind of situation. If you don’t go near God, which from the rest of the chapter clearly means repentence, then it doesn’t much matter if he comes near to you, you’ll be unresponsive to his forgiveness.
My little nephew, when he was just learning to walk, refused to let go of whatever he was near, like the couch or the coffee table, and step out into the room. We would try to encourage him to walk out towards us, but most of the time he wouldn’t even look. Sometimes we even tried putting stuff in front of him that would make him turn and look at us, but even then he wouldn’t let go of his hand hold.
Finally, he took that first step towards my brother, and he’s been running ever since. The boy is going to be a wind sprinter, no doubt about it.
God isn’t waiting in some heavenly la-z-boy for us to walk up and tug on his pant leg. He’s actively calling us, trying to lead us away from all the things we won’t let go of. He’s trying to show us how wonderful life can be when we run, and how much he longs to run with us. The things we hold on to are just holding us back.
Like I said before though, this is part of a passage in James which is clearly about the repentance-forgiveness relationship we’re to have with our Lord. Honestly, I don’t think people really understand forgiveness.
Many moons ago, I went to visit some friends of mine in Houston. When I showed up down there, a few of my buddies and I decided to go grab a few beers and kick back and relax. At the time however, I was the only one who was 21. It turns out that the kick back and relax portion of the evening happened with a few dozen other underage kids, all from the same church youth group.
A few weeks later I got a call from my mom. Sobbing, she asked if it was true that I bought alcohol for a bunch of minors. I told her it was, and she asked me to talk my youth counselor in Ft. Worth. He asked me to call the youth counselor in Houston. When I called the Houston youth group’s leader, we had the following conversation.
Fuwjax: Howdy, I need to apologize to you, I really messed up. A few weeks ago I bought alcohol for a bunch of your kids. I’m really sorry.
Leader: I forgive you. When are you coming down next?
Leader: When are you coming down next?
Fuwjax: Well, I wasn’t exactly planning on ever coming down again. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be very welcome.
Leader: When are you coming down next? I want you to talk to my kids.
Well, a few weeks later I went down, and apologized to the kids for buying them alcohol and not setting anything even remotely like a good example. I then drove the hour and a half to that church every Sunday morning for the next 3 years. Not out of guilt, but because I had a family who loved me even though I had made myself unlovable.
This is forgiveness, taking something ugly, something which divides two people and turning it into something beautiful. I had violated the trust of that youth leader and a few dozen families, and they brought me back, and trusted me with tons more.
Forgiveness isn’t about sweeping the past under the rug. It’s about taking the past dusting it off, putting it on the mantle and saying it is the start of a something wonderful. Without the separation, there could be no reunion.
This is what our God did. He didn’t erase our sin, he didn’t forget about our sin. He washed our sin away and left it beautiful, completely covered over with the blood of Jesus Christ. He turned our ugliness into something beautiful, and brought us from death into life.
I bet you’ve heard “I forgive you” less than you’ve heard “I love you”. I bet you say it less too. Forgiveness and love are inseparably bound, as are repentance and forgiveness. There isn’t one without the other.
Repent, turn back to your God, leave behind the things you think are supporting you, but which are just holding you back from running the race God is leading you to run. Live in his forgiveness and love which by his grace and mercy he showers you in overabundance. And in the freedom this forgiveness has won for you, forgive and love those around you, that they might share in the good gifts of our God. This is life, and what it means to be a part of this family.