For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
James had been discussing the sin of showing partiality (2:1ff), urging Christians to “fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” and thus “do well” in God’s eyes (2:8). If they did the opposite and showed partiality and favoritism for some over others in how they treated them, then they would be “committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:9). It is at this point that he points out that even those who keep all of God’s laws – except one – are still guilty of violating God’s laws (2:10ff). Christians need to be reminded of this at times.
Mankind has the tendency to minimize our faults and focus on our achievements. Granted, there is a need to do this up to a point. To not do it at all is actually counterproductive. The person who ignores what they do right because they are always dwelling on their mistakes and shortcomings will end up having low self-esteem and other spiritual and emotional problems which could keep them from growing in the areas in which they need to improve. Acknowledging our strengths and the areas in which we have grown is both encouraging, exciting, and motivating. To not do so keeps us discouraged and leads us to be more easily motivated to give up. However, to go to the opposite extreme (which we tend to do) is equally counterproductive. By focusing only on our strengths and achievements while ignoring or downplaying the areas in which we need to repent and improve, we fall into Satan’s trap of thinking that we are acceptable to God when in reality we are letting certain sins reign in our lives (cf. Rom. 6:1-2).
It is like getting pulled over by a policeman for speeding and using your turn signal and coming to a complete stop at the stop sign as you turn off the street. If you point out to the officer that you obeyed the laws about using your turn signal and coming to a complete stop at the stop sign, he will still point out that you are guilty of violating another law: driving faster than the posted speed limit. In like manner, we might be very faithful and obedient to God in how we became Christians (through faithful, penitent baptism into Christ), worship (in spirit and in truth, with no man-made innovations, according to the New Testament pattern), prayer (regularly and habitually), and Bible study (daily, meditatively). However, what if at the same time we have the unrepentant habit of using vulgarities, spreading gossip, lying, lusting after those who are not our spouse, and/or being quick-tempered and impatient with others? What if we make no effort at all to bring the gospel to the lost?
As James pointed out, both adultery and murder are condemned by God. If we avoid adultery but commit murder, we are still guilty of sin in His eyes. So if we make no efforts to penitently improve in the areas in which we fall short of God’s will, then we will be found guilty of sin in His eyes in spite of our obedience to other areas of His will. On the other hand, God will continually forgive us and be pleased if we continually examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) and are encouraged and motivated to work to do better in our faults because we see how we’ve improved in other areas which are now our strengths (1 John 1:7-9).
None of us will ever find ourselves in a sinless, perfect state (1 John 1:8, 10). There will always be areas in which we need to improve. Don’t be discouraged, though. God’s grace and mercy is more than capable to bring us into heaven in spite of our shortcomings. All He wants is for us to continually make the wholehearted effort to “grow up in all aspects into…Christ” (Eph. 4:15). When we fall off that bicycle, He will help us get back on and pedal even faster than before (Matt. 28:20).