Those who put price tags on grace sometimes point to this verse:
The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:15)
“See – you have to confess and pray to be forgiven,” they say. “If you don’t do these things, God won’t forgive you.” Never mind that grace and works don’t mix (Rom 11:6). Never mind that God is not counting our sins against us (2 Cor 5:19). Never mind that every blessing is ours in Christ (Eph 1:3). Apparently you have to perform to be blessed.
Don’t be fooled. Fall for this and you will fall from grace.
James never says, “God won’t forgive you unless you do A, B, and C.” Read the verse again and you will see there is only one condition for forgiveness:
If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
Have you sinned? Then you will be forgiven!
How can James say such an audacious thing? Because Christ bore all your sins on the cross. You are not forgiven because you prayed, confessed, or repented, but because God is love and love keeps no record of wrongs. You are not forgiven in accordance with your acts of repentance, but in accordance with the riches of his grace (Eph 1:7).
How can James say the sinner will be forgiven?
Because the sinner already has been forgiven. It’s a done deal. A fulfilled promise. You just need to receive it.
So why doesn’t James say, “If they have sinned, they were forgiven”?
Aside from the fact that it’s really bad grammar, it doesn’t make sense – not to the sinner. If you are burdened with guilt, you need forgiveness today – not yesterday or tomorrow but right now. So go ahead and ask. I guarantee God will give you the forgiveness you need because he already has done it.
Some say, “Wait for the afterlife, and all will be well,” as though death were a savior. “The sick must die before they are healed.”
But James preaches healing and forgiveness for today (see v.16). The blessings of God aren’t postponed to the hereafter for now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
The question is not, will God forgive you? (He already has!) But will you receive his forgiveness? Will you cling to the sins of your past or will you take hold of his forgiveness today?
“I want this forgiveness. I need this forgiveness. How do I get it?”
The prayer of faith
The grace of God can only be received by faith (Eph 2:8). You have to believe it to enjoy it. If you don’t believe God is your good and gracious Father, you will waste your life trying to earn his favor. If you won’t allow your heart to be established in his righteousness, you will spend your life trying to become righteous. You’ll confess and repent and strive and it won’t improve your standing before God one bit.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God loved you before you did anything good and before you confessed any sin. Right now he is beaming at you with undiluted love and approval. You are the apple of his eye and his dearly-loved child. You need to believe this to be free.
The gospel of Jesus is the only message that proclaims unconditional forgiveness to a sinful world. “Pray the prayer of faith,” says James. What is the prayer of faith that helps us receive what we so desperately need?
It is saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”