James 4:7-8 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.
Verse 7 gets quoted very frequently, and most frequently just the second half of the verse. That leaves the door open for a lot of misunderstanding. In the first place, successfully resisting the devil is entirely dependent on submitting to God first. The Japanese makes that clear by putting a “Then,” in the middle of the verse. That’s extremely good and helpful. However, verse 8 gets quoted very seldom, and that’s a shame. The first half of the verse brings to mind what God said to Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Those are comforting words indeed, both in Jeremiah and James. However, James goes on to say how we can draw near to God. Rephrasing it, James says, “If you have sin in your life, cut it out. If you are straddling the fence, commit to Christ alone.” We don’t like the instructions that follow in verse 9 – or at least I didn’t – because we like to be happy, but if we are casual about unrepented sin in our lives, we certainly won’t be close to God and the devil will laugh at our attempts to resist him. We are indeed saved by grace through faith, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but how we live demonstrates our heart attitude. Too many people are in the company of those Paul basically yelled at in Romans: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2) Repentance means forsaking sin. If we are unwilling to do that, we are spitting in God’s face. God doesn’t show us every bit of our sin at once; that would destroy us. However, as soon as the Holy Spirit shines His light on something that is not pleasing to God, we are to ask and receive His help to get rid of it. Like Jesus said, we aren’t to run around telling other people how they need to change, we are to get rid of the wrong attitudes and actions in our own lives first. (Matthew 7:1-5)
This is doubly applicable to me, because as a pastor I am charged with helping people understand how they are to live. I am to be humble, before God and before people, (verse 10) welcoming the light of the Holy Spirit in every corner of my life and not hanging onto anything He says goes in the “discard” pile. I am to be a demonstration of what it is to submit to God. Of course I am to resist the devil, but my focus is to be on God and my relationship with Him. If I focus on the devil, he becomes bigger in my imagination than God, and he loves that. I deal with people all the time who want to resist the devil’s attacks on their lives, but they can’t seem to understand that the first order of business is submitting to God and drawing close to Him. Church attendance in itself won’t save us, but it can be a clear indicator of heart attitude. If someone can’t make corporate worship a priority, it says more than they want to about them. Actually, the same goes for private worship, that is, devotions. Perhaps my biggest battle as a pastor is in trying to get people to understand that they need to take time every morning to start the day with prayer and Bible reading. The devil has convinced them that “it’s too much trouble,” and “they can’t make time because they’re too busy.” Those are lies from the pit of hell, and they seek to pull those deceived by them into that pit. I’m not to get mad at people, but I have every reason to be mad at the devil, and I’m not to draw back from that. At the same time, I’m to recognize that my anger won’t get the job done, (James 1:20) so I’ve got to submit each person, each situation, to God for Him to deal with. If He wants to use me in the process, I’m not to draw back, but I’m not to try to do anything on my own.
Father, this is a strong Word, and it makes a connection that I hadn’t made before. Thank You. Help me live it out, in my personal life and as a pastor, so that the strongholds of the enemy may be demolished and people set free (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) to be all that You have called them to be, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!