Our key verse – James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”
James speaks to us as brothers and sisters in the faith and as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to live as saved people and especially to put our faith into practice. In James 4:4-6, he has sternly rebuked his readers for their friendship with the world. If he were here today, he would also give a stern rebuke (as believers in Christ) for our friendship with the world and the enticements therein. They needed to understand (like we do) that involvement with the world makes them and us guilty of spiritual adultery.
Friendship with the world puts us in a relationship of hostility with God. When we are entangled with the world, we stand opposed to God and what He wants to accomplish in our lives. At the base of all this is the fact that we are fallen, sinful human beings, and as such, our spirits have an intense craving to envy or jealousy (v.5). At the core of our heart we are intensely selfish human beings.
The hope in all of this is the marvelous grace of God. His grace is greater than all our sin. His grace gives victory over the lusts and cravings of our sinful hearts. While God stands opposed to the proud, He is always ready to meet the needs of the humble. James demands that his readers change their proud and selfish ways, which have put them in opposition to God.
In verses 7-10, James gives ten crucial commands that form a very clear call to repentance and convey a sense of urgency and demand for immediate obedience. As we study these few verses we will see some commands that James give to his readers, which can also be applied to individuals today, who have been born-again by the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”
There are three key commands in this verse that James wants us to know and obey. This first command states the theme of verses 7 through 10.
The first command is SUBMIT
This word means “to align one’s self under the authority of another.” We are told in plain and concise words to submit to God. The picture presented here is one of an army in orderly arrangement under its commanding officer. However, the word “submit” doesn’t set well at all on the ears of many people in America. Within the Scriptures (God’s breathed Word) the word “submit” means to show humble love and respect toward someone. God himself came to this world and submitted to the laws and rules he had made.
He subjected himself to the governing authorities. He submitted to all the sinful people who so regularly disobey and defied him. So as Jesus showed humble love and respect for us, we most certainly can do the same for him. And as we submit to our King of kings and Lord of lords, that humble love will pour out, and will result in love and respect for one another. We need to keep the cross of Jesus before us and our eyes fixed on Him. He is our motivation and our model for humble love!
The second command is RESIST
The military metaphor continues with the word resist, which means “to oppose,” “to stand against.” The readers (not only them but you and I also) must take our stand against Satan who is our real enemy. We need to continually resist the devil; however, I believe that the majority of people today do not take Satan very seriously. The devil is a real person. One writer said this, “As a Christian, the existence of Satan as a real person is proved by the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ recognized him as such. He referred to him frequently by name (Luke 10:18; Matthew 4:10). The Bible calls him a “thief” “a murderer” and says that he has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.”
The world has changed drastically since my father stood his ground against the enemy in World War II. Back then, he and his brave comrades fought against nations that were threatening to destroy any country that dared stand in their way. We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who fought in that war and those thereafter. Their bravery issued from a cause they believed in and a mission they were willing to die for. They understood that if they didn’t go overseas, many people would lose their freedom, or even their lives, under the rule of ruthless dictators.
My brethren, a different kind of battle still rages today, a battle that we as Christ’s followers, must fight every day (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemy, the devil, continues to try to bring down our faith, take over our hearts, and stop the spread of the gospel. He is called by many names, one of which is “the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16), and he will always be our number one enemy.
My brethren, I submit to you that we need to stop opposing God and start opposing the devil. Submitting to God, our Creator is to resist the devil and submitting to the devil is to resist God. We are to fight, withstand, oppose and put up an active resistance to Satan and his influences each and every day. Thus, from this text there are two promises to observe.
(1) We are to resist the devil
I know it often doesn’t feel like it. Our desires and passions flame up within us and it seems impossible to do anything but commit sin to quiet those passions. But we are not bystanders who can’t do anything about these temptations. This is a hopeful statement from James. We can resist the devil, which isn’t a hopeless fight. How often do we feel that we cannot be victorious in this fight! How often do we think that we have sins that we will never be able to overcome! You can resist the devil and can fight against: drunkenness, alcoholism, sexual immorality, lusts, pride, anger and outburst of wrath. You can even fight against your tongue and selfishness. So, my brethren don’t give up but oppose, withstand and above all fight the devil.
(2) He will flee from you
What a valuable and encouraging promise we have here. You can resist the devil and when you do, he will flee from you, and he will leave you alone for a time. We see the example of this truth in the life of Jesus. He resisted repeated temptations until finally the devil left him until a more opportune time. James says that this is true for us. It is not that we will experience one temptation and if we fight it we will not have any more temptations that day. The point is that we can win the fight. We don’t have to give in and we can overcome these temptations. Not only can you fight against drunkenness, sexual immorality, pride, anger, the tongue, selfishness, and the like, but you can win the battle.
You can become strong in the areas where you are currently weak. Your weaknesses do not have to be a lifelong battle. You can resist and win so that the devil will flee from you. As James wrote about in the third chapter, you can gain mastery and discipline over your life. But you have to fight and resist. Your hope is that you can win and will win if you will daily oppose the devil and his temptations. The Scriptures tell us that Satan has been defeated, and now as believers in Christ, we share in that victory.
James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
The third command is to DRAW NEAR
This is the same call that God has made throughout history to his people who have turned away from Him and became friends with the world. “Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3). When we make mistakes and fall back into sin, it is not too late to come back to God. God does not shut us out, never to let us back into a relationship with him. James offers us another precious promise: Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. Come to God and God will be there. Seek after God and you will find him.
We have all been rejected in life in one way or another and it hurts. Again this is where we need to see God as a loving Father. Though man may reject you, God will never reject you. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you feel rejected? Have you let this affect your relationship with God? In Luke 15:20, we can see God’s compassion. The story of the prodigal son has been told up to this point, but now the narrative shifts from his condition to the loving acceptance of the father.
God has his arms open wide for every child of His, who knows that they’ve strayed and wants to run back into those arms. Drawing near to God, however, is something that is a second-by-second action. Jesus spoke of abiding in Him: “if you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you.” Notice that drawing near to God requires action on our part. We must stay in His Word and in fellowship with Him through prayer. As we have already seen, the world, the flesh and the devil would all like to draw us away from Christ. We must draw near. Although we might feel like our load in life is extremely heavy. Peter tells us to “cast all of our cares on Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). We have so many promises telling us that the closer we get to God, the closer He will get to us.
The last part of this verse tells us what we need to do in order to draw near to God. The commands are to CLEANSE YOUR HANDS you SINNERS and PURIFY YOUR HEARTS and don’t be DOUBLE MINDED.
(1) CLEANSE YOUR HANDS you SINNERS
Coming to God requires repentance. Cleanse your hands is a common picture in the scriptures. Sometimes we read of lifting holy hands. The symbolism is that we are showing God that our hands our clean. Think of it in the way that we check the hands of our little children. Clean hands equal clean actions. Lifting holy hands to God means that we are saying to God that our behavior is clean. Our hands are not doing sinful things. Our hands are not active in wickedness. We have removed everything in our lives that are not single-minded to God. Live your lives in purity. We cannot draw near to God while dragging our hands in the dirt and filth. Let God cleanse you and hold up holy hands showing that you are no longer putting your hands in the trash of this world. Keep your lives pure.
We cannot continue living the way we are living and think that we are coming near to God. James drives at our hypocrisy by calling us “double-minded.” He spoke of the problem of our double-minded attitude in James 1:8. When we are trying to pursue God and pursue our passions and desires we are the double-minded person that James is addressing. Stop being a fake and pursue God with full devotion and obedience. The words “you sinners” is a strong form of address that would normally be used of the unsaved. Certainly what James says would fit the unbeliever, but here it seems to serve the purpose of rebuking these worldly Christians.
(2) PURIFY YOUR HEARTS refers to inner cleansing and purity.
The Bible tells us the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is” (Jeremiah 17:9). Thus, every human heart as described in the Scriptures is:
(a) Naturally evil (Hebrews 3:12;
(b) Wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)
(c) Weak (Ezekiel 16:30)
(d) Double (Psalm 12:2)
(e) Hard (Ezekiel 3:7)
(f) Stony (Ezekiel 11:19)
(g) Haughty (Proverbs 18:12)
(h) Proud (Proverbs 21:4)
(i) Perverse (Proverbs 12:8); and
(j) Foolish (Romans 1:21)
We need to purify our hearts because God demands more than just clean actions. God also wants our heart to be:
(a) Clean (Psalm 51:10)
(b) Good (Luke 8:15)
(c) Faithful (Nehemiah 9:8)
(d) Honest (Luke 8:15)
(e) Soft (Job 23:16)
(f) New (Ezekiel 18:31)
(g) Tender (Ephesians 4:32)
(h) Pure (Matthew 5:8)
(i) Perfect (1 Chronicles 29:9); and
(j) Wise (Proverbs 11:29).
The heart represents our motives and intentions. It is hypocrisy to try to only clean our actions but not clean our hearts. God sees both. Are we drawing near to God with sincere hearts that truly desire God’s will. The psalmist described this process in Psalm 24:3-6, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob”.
(3) You DOUBLE MINDED
These people are trying to enjoy a relationship with the world and with God at the same time. This is why they are rebuked as adulteresses in (4:4). In our Bible reading James talks to those who are double-minded (James 4:8). This is not the only time he has used this phrase. In chapter 1 James says some Christians are double-minded when it comes to prayer (James 1:8). They believe God answers prayer and yet they doubt God answers prayer. They ask God for wisdom, yet they also depend upon human wisdom. One moment they trust and believe in God; the next moment they rely on self. These people are like the waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James is thinking of waves on the Sea of Galilee. One moment the wave is driven North, South, East, West, or points in-between; the next moment it is driven in the exact opposite direction (James 1:6). Those who are double-minded are like the waves of the sea.
This time James is talking about Christians who act exactly like the world. The Bible is filled with stories of double-minded people. I think of Jacob who pretended to be Esau and stole his brother’s birthright. I think of Abraham who used his wife’s maidservant to father a child. I think of David who grabbed his neighbor’s wife and had her husband killed. I think of Peter who denied knowing the Lord when faced with danger. I think of Israel at the time of Elijah and Ahab. If ever there were a people who were double-minded, it was Israel limping between two opinions; Israel tried to follow Baal and God; they tried to serve Baal and God; they bowed in worship before Baal and God. These are God’s people we are talking about. Yet, they are double-minded.
Is it any different today? Regrettably, in much of the world today it is quite difficult to observe any difference between those who have been saved by the blood of Christ and those who have not. Many surveys have been conducted, which shows that many church members are double-minded, professing faith in Christ, while embracing the lifestyles of this fallen and wicked world, which is controlled by satan. Some of these areas would be:
(2) Having pre-marital sex.
(3) Controlling the tongue.
(4) Exalting the rich and catering to them as the world does.
(5) Anger management.
(6) Alcohol and drug problems, and lastly.
(7) Unable to exercise self-control.
James has expressed concern about most of this double-mindedness in the course of his letter. We claim to confess Christ as Lord and Savior of our life; yet, we act like the world. This is what James means by “double-minded.” Now if we were to be honest. To a certain extent each one of us has areas of our life in which we are double-minded. I have that and you have that. We claim to be Christians but we don’t act like Christians in every area of life. We are that way because we don’t really want to put every area of life under the control of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are that way because we all have some reluctance to be full doers of the Word.
Elijah told Israel to stop being double-minded (1 Kings 18:21). He said, (1 Kings 18:21) “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Jesus tells us to stop being this way. Jesus said, (Mat 6:24) “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” James tells us to stop being this way. (James 4:8) Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. So, my brethren in light of the above are you a double minded believer in Christ?
James 4:9, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom”
The commands GRIEVE, MOURN and WAIL in this verse go together to stress the inner agony and misery James’ readers should feel over their unfaithfulness to God. We should be devastated by our sin. In our desire for a pure heart and clean hands we will have great sorrow when we do not live up to that standard. The apostle Paul used this word of his own condition in Romans 7:24 when he said, “Wretched man that I am!”A true grasp of the awfulness of our sin will lead to true sorrow, grief and repentance.
The command that laughter and joy should be turned to mourning and gloom shows the thoughtlessness that sin breeds in a life. These believers had become involved in the merriment or foolishness of the world and were totally insensitive to the tragedy of their sin. This does not mean that believers should be gloomy people, but we should always have a deep sensitivity to sin. Our response to it should always be grief and mourning. The light and indifferent attitude of many believers in the face of sin is an indication of a selfish pursuit of a relationship with the world. We should remember that the pleasures of sin are short-lived (Hebrews 11:25).
James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”
The command is this verse is to HUMBLE YOURSELVES.
Man always puts himself and his desires at the center of his world. It is the arrogant desire to be god that is really being demonstrated. But God will exalt those who humble themselves before Him. This is the consistent emphasis of Scripture (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14; Philippians2:5-11; 1 Peter 5:6). This pattern of humbling and exaltation begins at salvation. When a person bows before God and believes in Jesus Christ, he is exalted to the position of a son of God (Galatians 3:26). God also promises the added glory of rewards in His presence if we faithfully serve Him in this life (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
During a talk-show interview that I watched some time ago, a celebrity confessed that she spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours each year on her hair and its styling. She recognized that it had become an addiction and admitted that her problem was “submission to the hair.” The word submission means “an act of yielding to the authority or control of another.” Because of her desire to look and feel beautiful, this celebrity was allowing her hair to be in control of her life.
My brethren, the story of this woman could lead us to wonder about our own hearts’ desires and what we’re submitting to. Do we at times want something so badly that we submit to doing anything to get it? Here are just a few areas that we unfortunately submit to:
The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans said, “to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves” (Romans 6:16). When our desires “war” within us (James 4:1), we are to submit ourselves to God as “slaves of God” (Romans 6:22). Humbling ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10) and asking Him to show us our heart will help us to recognize our own submission problems. Being in charge of our own destiny is a fantasy many of us cling to. However, when God takes us through a “desert experience,” we learn that our only hope rests in Him.
After 40 years in the wilderness, with the Promised Land finally in sight, Moses challenged God’s people to remember a lesson from those years: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna …, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). If you’re in a desert today, take heart. God is still in control. He’s teaching you to depend on Him.
There are at least three areas mentioned in this study that most of us desire in our life. The first would be the devil to flee from us, secondly that the Lord be near to us and lastly, that the Lord would lift us up. Those are all good, but what steps of action are we to do to make it happen? The steps would be as indicated in our study:
(1) Submit yourselves to God – Not my will but Thine! Surrender your will and heart to God. James 4 4:7, “Submit to God,” and Romans 12:1 tells us, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Be willing to sacrifice your agenda for His greater purposes.
What if Abraham had refused to offer Isaac as a sacrifice? What if Noah had told God, “I don’t do boats?” What if Joseph had not forgiven his brothers and failed to protect them from the life-threatening famine? Or what if Jesus had refused to die on the cross?
(2) Resist the devil, and he will flee from you – Just say no!
(3) Come near to God – Make a choice to go God’s way.
(4) Wash your hands, you sinners – Confess your sins (1 John 1:9)
(5) Purify your hearts, you double-minded – Bathe yourself in God’s Word and do not be conformed to the world and the mold it wants to put you in.
(6) Grieve, mourn and wail – Experience brokenness for the lost.
(7) Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom – Recognize that this world will pass away and eternity is waiting.
(8) Humble yourselves before the Lord – turn everything over to God and rest in His provision for your life.
We have all seen bumper stickers on the back of cars. The bumper sticker “Jesus is my co-pilot” may be a well-intentioned sentiment, but is it always true? Whenever we are in the driver’s seat of life, the destination isn’t good. Jesus is not meant to be just a spiritual “co-pilot” giving directions every now and then. He is always meant to be in the driver’s seat. Period! We often say that Jesus died for us, which of course is true. However, there’s more to it than that. Because Jesus died on the cross, something inside of us died – the power of sin. It’s what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We were essentially co-crucified with Him. With Jesus in the driver’s seat, the old destinations are off-limits. No more turning down the streets of self-centeredness, greed, or lust. No more off-road ventures into the swamp of pride or the ditch of bitterness or hatred. We were crucified with Him and He is at the wheel now! He died so that He alone can drive and define us.
So, if you’ve died and Christ lives in you, He’s not your co-pilot, but the pilot of your life. Your joy is to let Him drive and define your life. Yes, there may be a few bumps and detours in the road, but you can count on it, that He’ll take you somewhere good. Are you still at the wheel of your life? If so, it’s time to let Jesus drive. The next time you pray for God to do something for you, stop and ask yourself if you have been obedient in doing the things He calls each of us, as His disciples, to do for Him. Perhaps it would be better to pray: “Lord show me what You want me to do or be”, not just “What I want You to do for me.” So, my brethren:
(1) Are you still at the wheel of your life?
(2) If you are, it’s time to SUBMIT, RESIST, DRAW NEAR and let Jesus drive!
True freedom is not in choosing our own way, but in submitting to God’s way.