What’s up, guys! So today is our last week in our study over James. And while the business of what we go over today isn’t very groundbreaking, I think there’s some really good stuff we’ll all take away and be challenged by. So get someplace comfy and continue on…
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. -James 4:7-10
We read this passage and we think that James is wanting us face-down groveling in front of the Lord. To be fair, that’s partly what he is actually saying. But what James is outlining here isn’t a demand. It’s pleading. Since it’s James, our first reaction is that he’s barking at us like a drill sergeant in boot camp…
“Grovel, you filthy, worthless maggot!”
But as we look closer, we can see that he’s outlining our means to a saving grace. How we should come to God in repentance for salvation. And this is step 1 for any new Christian. But it’s absolute gold for we who have been following Christ for years. So as we go through this, think of it as a litmus test for your own relationship with God.
James uses this succinct little passage to list ten active ways a sinner turns to Christ. It’s funny that we don’t hear much of it though, because it’s quite possibly the clearest call to salvation in all of Scripture. But it’s not eloquent and it’s not even very compelling. Because at the heart of it isn’t a promise of future blessings or growing relationship with Christ. That just wouldn’t be James. James’ only mission is to encourage appropriate action. Just like everything else we’ve read! Man, James is so James. I love this guy!
But lets take a closer look at the ten actions a repentant heart needs:
- Submit to God – I love the idea of submission. So often, we give it negative connotations and think that submission is for the weak-willed lemmings that go through life with a need for others to make their decisions. But submission is one of the strongest and most unifying things we as people can do. Think about it. Without submission, no wars could ever be won. Without submission, no agreement could ever be made. Without submission, no relationship could last. Because at the heart of all of these is the idea that we as people must submit to each other. We fall under the same plan and commit ourselves to serving that plan and that person – i.e. submission. So if we say we’re unwilling to submit to anyone or anything, we’re basically saying that we look out only for ourselves and desire folly over unity. I think so often of submission in terms of military. I’m a huge nerd and love studying American history, specifically the Civil War. And I look at these men who fought on the lines and carried out the orders of their commanders. These men weren’t weak individuals willing to die on the whims of the elite. These were men who believed in what they were setting out to do. And they realized that they couldn’t win the war on their own, so they submitted to one another and came under the same plan. If they weren’t completely sold out to their cause, there’s no way they’d risk life and limb to take a silly hill. But because they submitted themselves to the cause, they willingly did whatever it took. And because they were part of the plan, they were resourced beyond what they themselves could do. In this case, the government and the people saw to their needs to give them what they needed to fight. James tells us here to submit ourselves to God. To come under His command. To take on His cause. To be in unity with Him and every other person who calls Him Lord. Because the life of a Christian is difficult. We can’t live it on our own. And the only way we’d ever be willing to face trials and help others is if we are sold out to God’s plan and using God’s strength. So when we submit to God, we aren’t becoming mindless robots who do what we’re told. We’re coming under God’s plan, to be fueled and resourced by God Himself. Our battles are faced with the infinite wisdom of an omniscient God and we’re given everything we need through the infinite strength of an omnipotent God. But a person must submit to God before His care can ever begin.
- Resist the devil and he will flee – The Bible doesn’t tell us to stand idly by and not fall into sin. It tells us to resist. Anthisetmi literally translates to stand against or to oppose. When temptation, accusation, hostility etc comes from the enemy, we are to stand against him. This is an active verb. This isn’t like running away from a bully. This is standing up to him and his tactics, just like Jesus stood up to him during his temptation in the desert. He battled with the devil and the devil fled. We are to arm ourselves with Christ and His Word. And we’re given assurance that we WILL have victory. As powerful as he is, even those under his oppression can resist him. Because he can only hold someone if he has their permission. And when we oppose him, he flees.
- Draw near to God – Here’s a thought we take for granted. James grew up in a culture where one couldn’t just draw near to God. Only priests could be in close proximity to God in the temple. As gentiles, we could never get closer than outside in the courtyard. But when Jesus was crucified, the temple was shaken and the veil between man and God was torn. And now we, through salvation, have access to an intimacy with God that was previously unheard of. As salvation begins the relationship, we get to see and taste just how good God is. And our natural reaction, as to any healthy relationship, is to draw nearer. This drawing nearer is an ongoing process that takes us further and further in.
- Cleans your hands – Going back to the temple, priests had to ceremonially cleanse themselves before they could enter God’s presence. Here, James is telling us to repent. To turn from sin and seek forgiveness. A bride would never walk in off the street for her wedding day. She bathes, she wears her best dress, she does her hair and makeup. She wants to look perfect for her groom. So we should present ourselves before God. Not satisfied with just showing up, but wanting to give Him the best of us. And neither James or I are saying anything about Sunday. This is an attitude that carries us every day into every situation. Not an occasional event.
- Purify your hearts – This takes the cleansing one step further to find the root. “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” Matt 15:18&19. Jesus says that our sins start in our heart. This is why David prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts” Psalm 139:23. If we strive to honor God with our life, our hearts must be purified.
- Be miserable – God’s grace doesn’t matter if sin has no consequence. The only way we can truly love grace is if we truly hate sin. And misery isn’t a command, it’s the result of knowing what our sin cost us: a broken relationship with God. Our misery is a result of facing up to what we’ve done.
- Mourn – Detest sin for what it really is. If something came in the way of your marriage, you’d hate whatever it was that broke you apart. You’d want it to be gone and out of your life. You’d have no love for it. And you would mourn that it ever found its way in.
- Weep – The manifestation of misery and sorrow. The brokenness between us and God isn’t just spiritual. It’s physical, emotional – it’s part of our whole being.
- Laughter to mourning, joy to gloom – James isn’t condemning legitimate joy and laughter. He’s regarding the sinful pleasures that we willingly seek and take part in. That our sensual laughter gives way to mourning what it’s brought on. Where we once, while lost in the world, took our lives lightly and enjoyed the desires of our flesh, we now mourn our wayward self and that time is regarded as sorrowful.
- Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord – And we’re back to square one. We humble ourselves in acknowledgement of who God is and who we are. Written on the board in my office are words that I pray often. “You are God and I am not.” It’s so simple, but to be honest I often have to remind myself. In my arrogance, I think that I can solve the problems that people give me. In my pride, I think that I have what it takes to save the world. But the truth is, I have very little to offer. On my own, I can’t do much. Which is why I also have written on the board the words God gave to me one day when struggling with how little I could do for someone: “you be you and I’ll be Me.” I’ll do what little I can do help someone and I’ll lead them to the one who can do infinitely more. And when I do what I can, I can be sure that God will do what only He can. I am weak. He is strong. God can’t use a heart that thinks God isn’t needed. God can’t save someone who believes they can save themselves. We must recognize who we are and who God is.
So this is how James instructs us to come to God. And it sounds so extreme and miserable that we think maybe he’s going over the top. But be James for a minute because I believe his perspective is one we should all see.
James is the earthly brother of Jesus. Born the natural way between Joseph and Mary. The Bible tells us that not only did Jesus’s siblings not believe He was the Messiah, they mocked Him publicly and scorned Him. They urged Him to move against Jerusalem and Rome so the authorities would take Him away. Pretty harsh! “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind”” Mark 3:20&21. And “…Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the words you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him” John 7:1-5.
James did an awful lot that he would later regret. He mocked Jesus, tried to hide Him away from people, urged Him to take dangerous action. And while scripture doesn’t tell us how James finally saw the truth, we do see just how much of a 180 he did. In James’ own letter, he called Jesus Lord and Savior. He humbled himself to the level of a servant. He testifies to Jesus being the King of the Jews and the long awaited Messiah. Imagine for a moment that you’re James. How would you be feeling? Saying what you said and acting how you did, only to realize who Jesus was! You’d be heartbroken! You’d have no words for how awful you treated your own brother. You’d be miserable thinking of what you said to and about the Messiah. And this was pain he would have to deal with.
So when we says to humble yourself, submit, be miserable, mourn, and weep: he isn’t being a masochist who enjoys seeing people suffer. He’s depicting his own repentance and attitude toward God. And if we were truly honest, we’d see in ourselves the same mockery and betrayal that James did. So our response should really be the same. We have done no less. We have pursued other gods. We have lusted over money and influence and success more than we’ve yearned for God. We’ve taken His teachings so lightly and have treated our sin as if it’s of no consequence.
So today, I want to ask you this: when you look over these ten actionable steps, where do you see yourself falling short?
Maybe you allow sin in your life and don’t regard it for what it is. Maybe you shy away from proclaiming him at work and in the world. Maybe you chase after your own plan, rather than ask God for His. But going over this list, and thinking about James’ response: how’s your heart? How’s your humility? How are you on board with God’s plan? And ultimately in life: who do you follow? Because this, my friends, tells you just who it is that you truly worship.