It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
James pronounces his judgment—that we should not make things difficult for those converting to God.
Does this mean that James stopped being serious about sin? NO! This is the same guy who said, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you MY faith BY my works.” James believed very much in living as much like Jesus as possible. According to Jews of his time, James was famously poor, giving every penny he had to the poor, and his church likewise was poor and massively altruistic. It is also said that he could barely walk in old age and his knees were deformed, because he spent most hours of every day kneeling in prayer. So he really acted upon following God.
But he also knew that God was quite capable of leading all of us to Him in His timing and in His ways.
We are told in the Bible that there will be no sin in heaven, and all who follow Him will be purified; but we are not told that you have to clean up in order to join the community of believers. There are very rare times in the New Testament in which someone’s sins force the church to break away from them and cast them out; generally, this is when people are teaching idolatry, pagan worship, or that grace means you just live however you want.
James does not say at all that we need to pretend as though sin isn’t sin.
But what he DOES say is that it is not our job to somehow put down a list of behaviors that you should engage in as a new believer, or start demanding that a person behave a certain way. It is not our job to make it difficult for new cultures or people from different backgrounds to follow the faith.
This is a common view of many Christians. They wouldn’t say it that way, of course. They would simply say, “We as the church have to make sure that people are TRUE believers.” Putting that ‘true’ statement in front is very interesting. They say that it is our job as a church to deny communion to those who we haven’t tested. They say that it is our job to examine their lives for the fruit of repentance.
Our job as a church is to love them and to teach them—and frankly, it isn’t even most church members’ jobs to teach new believers how to mature. That is the role of the Elders.
Many churches—some denominations are explicit, but most do this in subtler ways—act as though their role is to protect the church from the unholy elements of the world. That is not at all what the Scripture says. We are to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill visible to all, a people known for dining with sinners and tax collectors. The Gospel breaks barriers, frees slaves, unites peoples, forgives radically. The Gospel is Jesus protecting a prostitute from being stoned to death. The Gospel is Jesus and His disciples accused of being drunks and unclean because they hung out with unholy sinners.
The Gospel offends those from the “in” crowd because it does not seek to protect God from man, but to free man from himself so that he can go be with God.
If the Church is making it difficult for someone to come to God, then she is failing; if the Church ever finds itself saying, “So glad you are a Christian! Now just so you know, you must stop living like that,” then it is polluting the Gospel.
God will mature us—He always does. And we don’t have to hide that (in fact, James will not hide what to do to mature in just a few verses). But God does not need us running around being morality police for others. He was perfectly capable of maturing us, and He didn’t forget how to do it!