The Disney movie, Aladdin, tells the story of a poor, outcast boy who runs a lamp and is granted three wishes. When Aladdin first rubs the lamp, the genie (through a humorous song) explains to the boy, "You’ve never had a friend like me." It was Aladdin’s lucky day because now he had a powerful friend who could do everything. It is a staggering concept if we will let the idea sink into our hearts. You’ve never had a friend like God. You can be friends with God. You can be friends with the One who created all things, has all knowledge, and has all power. You can be friends with the One who can change the course of events. But what must we do to become friends of God? What is the key so that we can have this exciting relationship with God, who wants to be friends with us?
Submit To God (4:7)
To find grace and to return to being friends with God we need to yield to God’s wisdom. We need to stop thinking that we can live our lives our way. We must do all the things that God says. We cannot reject his words. We cannot oppose God or resist him. It is far too easy to come across a command we do not like and either ignore God’s command or go to another church that won’t preach on that. We must put our lives under God’s control. We must arrange our lives to be under God’s direction. We will yield to God’s commands even when the commands are difficult or uncomfortable. We will listen to the wisdom of God and avoid the filth and sinfulness of the world. Submission is what James’ statement looks like. In verse 6, James states, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The proud will not bend to the will of God. Only when we see ourselves with humble eyes will we be willing to listen and follow God. Our first step is a decision to follow God.
Resist The Devil (4:7)
Stop opposing God and start opposing the devil. Submitting to God is to resist the devil. To submit to the devil is to resist God. Fight the devil. Withstand him. Oppose him. We are to put up active resistance to the devil and his influence. Would you describe your life as an active resistance as the devil? I hope so because that is what it means to be friends with God. Our encouragement is to fight. Stop giving into the devil. Stop letting him drag you into sin by enticing you with the desires within you.
There are two promises to observe from this text. First, it is possible to resist the devil. I know it often does not 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 cannot do anything about these temptations. This is a hopeful statement from James. We can resist the devil. This is not a hopeless fight. How often we feel that we cannot be victorious in this fight! How often we think that we have sins that we will never be able to overcome! But you can resist the devil. You can fight against drunkenness and alcoholism. You can fight against sexual immorality and lusts. You can fight against pride. You can fight against anger and outbursts of wrath. You can fight against your tongue. You can fight against selfishness. Do not give up. Oppose the devil. Withstand him. Fight him.
The second promise is just as valuable and encouraging. You can resist the devil and when you do, he will run from you. Resist the devil and he will leave you alone for a time. We see the example of this truth in the life of Jesus. Jesus 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 can fight and we can win. We do not 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 oppose the devil.
Draw Near To God (4:8)
This is the same call that God has made throughout history to his people who have turned away from him becoming 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 ESV) 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. Even if you have destroyed your life, God will come to you if you will come to him. This is the practical teaching of an observation we make in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The son destroys his life in wild living. The father does not go after him and drag him back home. But he is waiting outside the house each day hoping that his child will return. You must come to him. God will not fix your problems for you. God will not make you be his. But when you humble yourself, submit to him, and draw near to him, God is waiting for you and draws near to you. Our Father opens his arms and brings us back into a covenant relationship as his child.
Cleanse Your Hands and Purify Your Hearts (4:8)
Coming to God requires radical repentance. Too often coming to God is pictured as merely saying, "I want to follow God." But that is not a commitment. That is not entering a covenant with God. That is nothing more than telling a boy or girl that you like them. That’s great and all, but it really does not mean anything and is certainly not a commitment.
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 equals 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.
Purify your hearts also teaches us that God demands more than just clean actions. God also wants a clean heart. 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. We are drawing near to God with sincere hearts that truly desire God’s will. The psalmist described this process in Psalm 24.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 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. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (Psalm 24:3–6 ESV)
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 fake. Pursue God with full devotion.
Be Wretched, Mourn, and Weep (4:9)
Be devastated by 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. We need to be crushed by sin. Sin causes grief in those who are friends of God. We mourn at sin, whether we are caught or not. We will not treat sin casually. We will stop ignoring the gravity of our sinfulness before the Almighty God.
We have a choice: we can laugh at our sins now and mourn later when we stand before God in judgment or we can mourn at our sins now and rejoice in God’s grace on the day of judgment.
Humble Yourselves (4:10)
James returns to the need for humility, just as he pointed out in verse 6. Humble yourselves. God does not teach us to humiliate others. We must humble ourselves. Humble yourselves before the Lord. This is an important truth. We need to see ourselves as "before the Lord." You are living your life before the Lord. Live your life in the presence of God. Stop comparing yourself to others. This is when we lose our humility. When we compare our lives to other people we start thinking fairly highly of ourselves. We like those comparisons. But this is not how James tells us to humble ourselves. Humble yourselves before God. Compare yourself to God and see how far short we fall before God’s absolute standard.
James gives us his fourth promise. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." What does it mean that God is going to exalt you? It does not mean that God is going cause people to pay homage to you. This is not teaching that if you will honor God, God will make your boss honor you, or your spouse honor you, or your friends praise you. What exalting does God give to his children?
God has promised to redeem your life, deliver you from sin, heal your soul, forgive your sins, and save you from the wrath to come. But the exalting will come in eternity when we receive the full inheritance of the Father. We will be exalted in God’s eternal kingdom and receive all the blessings of being his children. Paul touches this thought in his letter to the Ephesians.
Four great promises:
- You can resist the devil and his temptations. You do not have to sin.
- The devil will run from you when you resist him. You can win those battles with Christ as your help.
- Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. God will not reject you when you humbly come to him.
- Humble yourself and God will exalt you. Exaltation from God and the riches of God are far greater than the exaltation from people and the riches of this world.