For only five chapters, the book of James has an uncanny way of making you feel unfit to follow Jesus. There’s a verse in that epistle that gives me chills every time I come across it. It reads, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17). All of a sudden sin stops being just something you do. It’s also something you fail to do.
That scares me.
It scares me because I know me. And I am a coward.
When I was in the sixth grade I witnessed a classmate fight a kid half his size. I remember watching it happen, knowing I should do something but being paralyzed in the moment. The kid’s shrieks brought me back to reality. My classmate and I took off in opposite directions but before I could get anywhere, a teacher apprehended me and told my father how I stood by idly as a sixth-grader beat up an eight-year old. I learned that day that neutrality is still an option and doing nothing makes you just as guilty as the one perpetrating the crime.
In solitary moments I often contemplate the man I’ll be twenty years from now. I wonder if historians will write about the issues of this generation and if they do will I be on the side that stood for justice or did I capitulate to the prevailing notions of the culture (history shows us they’re not always the same). It’s why I’m drawn to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These men looked societal evils in the face and proclaimed the will of God – even died for it. My greatest fear is that when the fight of my generation comes, when the moment of need arises, I’ll punk out on Jesus.
Part of who I am is a people-pleaser. Wisdom says you can’t make everyone happy. Most of my life’s been spent trying to prove her wrong. Perhaps a characteristic of courage is not caring so much how people feel as much as caring about doing the right thing. Sometimes neutrality is cowardice and courage rests in the decision to do something. It isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the strength to overcome it (fear). It’s the recognition certain things are more important and more costly than our cowardice. The gospel reminds me of that reality.
At the beginning of every semester I spend at least the first week doing my best to faithfully invite as many students as I can to investigate Jesus. During a club fair one semester, a Hooters-eque restaurant was recruiting girls to work in their establishment. As terrified as I was to share my faith it was a real picture of what was at stake. I could either offer these students living water or I could punk out and allow the enemy to shortchange them. They were my motivation all week.
I believe a byproduct of the gospel is a more courageous life – namely because Jesus can’t leave well enough alone, but also because in Him we have eternal security and the promise of resurrection. Yes, danger is real but so is our heavenly Father who protects his children. When we find our security in Him, we are freed up to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We have not been given a spirit of fear.
I want, with all my heart, to live a life that embodies this philosophy, a life not plagued by fear and self-preservation. Like Bonhoeffer and King I want to be bold in the face of evil even if that means my end. It starts with living courageously today. It starts with deciding God’s will is ultimately more important than my life.