Previously, we saw there are wars happening within ourselves and wars happening with each other. Today, we will discover the primary reason we are at war with ourselves and, consequently, with each other: we are at war with God. We will also discuss how this war can be stopped.
At War with God (James 4:4–10)
The root cause of every war, internal and external, is rebellion against God. At the beginning of Creation, mankind beheld perfect harmony, but sin came into the world and this led to conflict. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and lawlessness is rebellion against God.
How does a believer declare war against God? By being friendly with God’s enemies. James names three enemies we must not fraternize with if we want to be at peace with God.
The world (v. 4). This means, of course, human society apart from God. The whole system of things in this society of ours is anti-Christ and anti-God. Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23); Lot was the friend of the world. Lot ended up in a war and Abraham had to rescue him (Gen. 14).
Many pastors today are terrified at the thought of offending their people. But James did not concern himself with that. He called them “adulterers and adulteresses!” They were giving to someone else the love and devotion that belonged to God and God alone. Who was this rival lover? It was the world.
Dirty hands and defiled hearts! That’s the position many Christians are occupying these days. They go to places they ought not to go. They say things they ought not to say. They do things they ought not to do.
A Christian gets involved with the world gradually. First, there is “friendship with the world.” This results in being “spotted” by the world (James 1:27), so that areas of our lives meet with the approval of the world. Friendship leads to loving the world (1 John 2:15–17) and this makes it easy to conform to the world (Rom. 12:2). The sad result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32) our souls saved “yet as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:11–15).
Friendship with the world is compared to adultery. The believer is “married to Christ” (Rom. 7:4) and ought to be faithful to Him. The Jewish Christians who read this letter would understand this picture of “spiritual adultery” because the Prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea used it when rebuking Judah for her sins (Jer. 3:1–5; Ezek. 23; Hosea 1–2). By adopting the sinful ways of the other nations and by worshiping their gods the nation of Judah committed adultery against her God.
The world is the enemy of God and whoever wills to be a friend of the world cannot be the friend of God. Neither can he or she be if they live for the flesh, for this is the second enemy James named.
The flesh (vv. 1, 5). This refers to the old nature we inherited from Adam, that which is prone to sin. The flesh is not the body. The body is not sinful; the body is neutral. The Spirit may use the body to glorify God or the flesh may use the body to serve sin. When a sinner yields to Christ, he receives a new nature within him, but the old nature is neither removed nor reformed. For this reason, there is a battle within: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).
Living for the flesh means grieving the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us (v. 5). Just as the world is the enemy of God the Father, so the flesh is the enemy of God the Holy Spirit. There is a holy, loving jealousy that a husband and wife have over each other and rightly so. The Spirit within jealously guards our relationship to God and the Spirit is grieved when we sin against God’s love.
Living to please the old nature means to declare war against God. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). To allow the flesh to control the mind is to lose the blessing of fellowship with God. Abraham had a spiritual mind; he walked with God and enjoyed peace. Lot had a carnal mind; he disobeyed God and experienced war. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
The devil (vv. 6–7). The world is in conflict with the Father; the flesh fights against the Holy Spirit; and the devil opposes the Son of God. Pride is Satan’s great sin and it is one of his chief weapons in his warfare against the saint and the Savior. God wants us to be humble; Satan wants us to be proud. “You will be like God,” Satan promised Eve and she believed him. A new Christian must not be put into places of spiritual leadership “lest being lifted up with pride he falls into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).
God wants us to depend on His grace, but the devil wants us to depend on ourselves. Satan is the author of all “do-it-yourself” spiritual enterprises. He enjoys inflating the ego and encouraging the believer to do it his own way. In spite of Jesus’ warnings about Satan’s plans, Peter fell into the snare, pulled out his sword, and tried to accomplish God’s will in his own way. What a mess he made of things!
One of the problems in our churches today is we have too many celebrities and not enough servants. Christian workers are promoted so much there is very little place left for God’s glory. Man has nothing to be proud of in himself. There dwells no good thing in us (Rom. 7:18); but when we trust Christ, He puts a “good thing” in us and makes us His children (2 Tim. 1:6, 14).
Here, then, are three enemies that want to turn us away from God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These enemies are left over from our old life of sin (Eph. 2:1–3). Christ has delivered us from them, but they still attack us. How can we overcome them? How can we be the friends of God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil?
James gave three instructions to follow if we would enjoy peace instead of war:
Submit to God (v. 7). This word is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.” When a buck private acts like the general, there is going to be trouble! Unconditional surrender is the only way to complete victory. If there is any area of the life kept back from God, there will always be battles. This explains why uncommitted Christians cannot live with themselves or with other people.
Is there anything more vexing than a child who refuses to submit to his or her parents? When told to do something, the child obstinately refuses. When told not to do something, he immediately does it! We all detest rebellion in children, especially when we see it coming from children who have exceptionally good parents. God is our heavenly Father, yet we often rebel against Him.
“Do not give the devil a foothold,” cautions Paul in Ephesians 4:27. Satan needs a foothold in our lives if he is going to fight against God and we give him that foothold. The way to resist the devil is to submit to God.
After King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband, he hid his sins for almost a year. There was war between him and God, and David had declared it. Read Psalms 32 and 51 to discover the high price David paid to be at war with God. When he finally submitted to God, David experienced peace and joy. Submission is an act of the will; it is saying, “Not my will but Thine be done.”
Draw near to God (v. 8). How do we do this? By confessing our sins and asking for His cleansing. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The Greek word translated purify means “make chaste.” This parallels the idea of “spiritual adultery” in James 4:4.
The more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. I may be sitting in my living room with my cat on my lap and my wife may be twenty feet away in the kitchen; yet I am nearer to my wife than to the cat because the cat is unlike me. We have little in common.
God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our lives, which keep Him at a distance. He will not share us with anyone else; He must have complete control. The double-minded Christian can never be close to God. Again, Abraham and Lot come to mind. Abraham “drew near” and talked to God about Sodom (Gen. 18:23) while Lot moved into Sodom and lost the blessing of God.
Humble yourselves before God (vv. 9–10). “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.” Few verses of Scripture are looked upon with less favor than these. This is the day of lightness and frivolity, a day in which we prize laughter so much that we have turned it into an idol. We prize it so much that we regard as good anything that makes us laugh.
James is not calling for his readers to be joyless and miserable. But he is clearly telling them that our sins are not things we should be laughing about. James wants us to be happy Christians, but he also wants us to understand that any joy which co-exists with a worldly spirit and practice, and includes the assurance of being right with God, is a dangerous mirage. Gloom is not a Christian characteristic, but mourning over our sin is. Why should we mourn over our sins? Because (1) they defy the authority of the God who has made us; (2) they grievously impede the work of the Lord; (3) they rob us of true joy.
It is possible to submit outwardly and yet not be humbled inwardly. God hates the sin of pride (Prov. 6:16–17) and He will chasten the proud believer until he is humbled. We have a tendency to treat sin too lightly, but sin is serious. One mark of true humility is facing the seriousness of sin and dealing with our disobedience. “A broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
Sometimes we hear a believer pray, “O Lord, humble me!” That is a dangerous thing to pray. Far better that we humble ourselves before God, confess our sins, weep over them, and turn from them. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word” (Isa. 66:2). “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
We have looked, then, at James’s prescription for getting back to where we as Christians should be. If we obey these three instructions, then God will draw near to us, cleanse us, and forgive us; and the wars will cease! We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves. This means we will not be at war with others either. “And the work of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17).