If we read our passages carefully, we see that sin is depicted less as a violation of rigid rules and more as a sickness that spreads. Even for James, the lines blur between sin and sickness, and the answer to both is prayer: "The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” It is in this communal context of confession and forgiveness that James famously states "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Notice also Jesus’ final command: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
There is no separation between personal holiness and social holiness. Mark places Jesus’ body mutilation metaphor immediately after his millstone metaphor. This sickness spreads not only through the soul but through the society. One of the most tragic effects of my sin—and one of the most compelling reasons to confront it—is that it makes me a stumbling block to others. The sin in my hand and eye threatens the health of the rest of the Body of Christ. Temptation is therefore more than a private matter. It can happen deep within us but have drastic consequences outside us. And we need more than our own devices to discern and defeat sin within: for “who can discern their own errors?"
Imagining sin this way helps us to understand how the psalmist can sing so exuberantly about Law. Holiness does not mean austere insistence on letter of the law. Holiness means healing—for ourselves and our relationships. Pray the translation below of Psalm 19:7–14, taken from The Message. Let its different language awaken you to the true nature of God’s commands which heal and make whole. Pray then for discernment to see where and how temptation is making you sick with sin. As James urges us, confess your sin and ask forgiveness. As Jesus urges us, recognize the occasions and incentives that cause it. Resolve to cut it off, to tear it out—for sake of your health and the health of others.
The revelation of God is whole
and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
and easy on the eyes.
God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of God are accurate
down to the nth degree.
God’s Word is better than a diamond,
better than a diamond set between emeralds.
You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring,
better than red, ripe strawberries.
There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
and directs us to hidden treasure.
Otherwise how will we find our way?
Or know when we play the fool?
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins,
from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed,
scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
These are the words in my mouth;
these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,