More Grace for those Walking Humbly with God
Sermon from James 4:5-10 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: James: Living the Implanted Word
Delivered on July 24, 2016
If you had to summarize the Christian life, what would you say it’s all about? Perhaps you’re not a Christian, and you’ve come seeking to answer that very question, “What’s the Christian life all about?” Over the centuries, the church has used a phrase that sums up the Christian life rather well. It’s a Latin phrase—perhaps you’ve heard of it—coram Deo. It means “in the presence of God,” or “before the face of God.”
“Jesus Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”—1 Peter 3:18. Being with God is the goal of the gospel. The Christian life is about living before the face of God through the Son of God to the glory of God. We might say that James directs our attention to this reality in verses 5-10, where we see that God gives more grace to those who walk humbly before him. Let’s read the inspired word of God, beginning in verse 5…
5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us? 6But he gives more grace.” Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Two weeks ago, we looked at the heart of conflict and the hope of God’s grace. All of us experience destructive conflict: fights, arguments, friction, disunity, anger. That conflict comes from wayward passions within us (Jas 4:1). We want something so badly that we sin in order to have it. Such passions disrupt our fellowship with each other (Jas 4:2); and they disrupt our fellowship with God (Jas 4:3).
God even compares it to spiritual adultery (Jas 4:4). His jealousy demands our exclusive faithfulness to him—James 4:5, “he yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” But we have forsaken him for lesser pleasures. And when this vertical relationship with God is broken—when our view of God is warped and our passion for God is weak—that problem wreaks havoc in all our relationships with others. We get angry and we argue and we get impatient first and foremost because something is wrong in our relationship with God. We’ve forgotten coram Deo.
So first things first. If we’re going to progress toward peace, toward patience, toward unity, toward order in our relationships that brings God glory, we must begin with our relationship to God. We cannot love others truly unless we love God, and unless we are humbly admitting our need and drawing from his grace day by day…
More Grace for the Humble
I want us to begin there with God’s grace, because everything else we’ll look at today is building upon it. In four verses there are ten commands he rattles off—ten imperatives, ten actions we must take as believers. But we must be careful to note that every command comes from a God who gives more and more and more grace to obey those commands. “But he gives more grace,” verse 6 says.
He then quotes a proverb from the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” If you go back and read Proverbs 3, you find a particular person portrayed: the wise person who walks humbly before God. Proverbs 3 portrays the person who walks humbly before God. His trust isn’t in himself but in the Lord. He bends his will to do God’s will. He doesn’t think too highly of himself. His life and possessions belong wholly to God. He walks with God as a son walks in glad submission to his father who loves him (Prov 3:5-7, 9-11).
In other words, the reason God opposes the proud is that they do not submit to him. They do not trust in him. They do not bring him glory with their attitudes. They think they’re ‘all that.’ They refuse to live for his kingdom. They despise his discipline. God must oppose them, because he alone is worthy of all our attention and adoration.
But for those who humble themselves before him—to those who don’t lean on their own understanding; to those who fear the Lord; to those who aren’t wise in their own eyes; to those who receive his discipline—he is happy to give more grace to produce the faithfulness he requires. He loves giving grace to the humble, because the humble are a stage for God to display his power and provision. So these commands are not divorced from grace; they’re rooted in grace and given for more grace.
Walking Humbly before the Face of God
So what does it look like to walk humbly before God, and position ourselves to receive more grace? That’s the connection between verses 6 and 7. “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” Whenever you see a therefore, ask yourself what it’s there for. The connection is this: because God gives more grace to the humble, the appropriate response is for all of us is to humble ourselves before God. What does that look like?
Submit to God’s rule while resisting the devil’s schemes
Number one: we submit to God’s rule while resisting the devil’s schemes. I’ve grouped these ten commands thematically. They seem to fit together into three main groups, with each group also having a gracious promise from God. The first grouping is this: we submit to God’s rule while resisting the devil’s schemes.[i]
First thing he says is, “submit yourselves to God.” Submission to God is not a natural thing for us. In Adam we’re naturally rebels. Romans 8:7 says that apart from grace, we cannot submit to God’s will. But, when we trust in Christ, the new Adam, grace so transforms us that we can submit to God’s will (Rom 6:17).
And submission to God simply means this—we acknowledge his authority and order our lives according to his revealed will in Scripture. Submission is very active. I remember working in high school as a welder’s helper. Part of being a welder’s helper isn’t just waiting on him to tell me what to do. Submission was so learning that welder and how he operates that I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew his will for me in whatever project we came to because I knew him, I knew what he had told and taught me before. I knew how deep to cut, how smooth to grind, how close to put the ladder, what to hand him next.
Same here, we order our lives around God and what we have seen about him in the word. The world will tell you that’s slavery. The Bible says that’s freedom, folks! True freedom is living as we were created to live under God’s perfect rule. It’s being able to do what you ought to do as his image-bearers.
I remember attending a church service one night in College Station. This young man came forward. He was part of a gang. And this gang wore colors—a blue bandana was tied around his arm. The Lord had saved him, and he was there to tell the church about Jesus’ work in his life. But when he finished his testimony, he took the bandana off his arm, held it out, and dropped it. If you know the hold a gang can have on your life, that was a big statement. His allegiance now belonged to Jesus. He was now ordering his life by God’s word.
Listen, you dropped your colors, too, when you put your faith in Jesus and identified with him in baptism. God is your King. We submit to him…
He also says, “resist the devil.” This is war-time language. Our Fighter Verse used it a couple weeks ago. Ephesians 6:13: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand [or resist] in the evil day.” No room for apathy or you will die in this fight. Put on God’s armor!
But what does it mean to resist? It means you stay alert to the devil’s schemes and oppose whatever he does or says to lead you astray from God and the truth of his gospel. I say “oppose whatever he does or says,” because his schemes are so many. And it may surprise you how close to home they can be.
For instance, Ephesians 4:26-27, “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Have you ever considered that anger without swift resolution and forgiveness leaves you vulnerable to the devil’s attacks? Resistance looks like getting to the heart of your anger problem, reconciling swiftly, and not giving the devil an opportunity to wreak havoc in your relationships.
Or in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, the church has disciplined somebody and it looks like the guy repents; and so Paul tells them, You go and comfort him and reaffirm your love for him and forgive him, “so that we wouldn’t be outwitted by Satan.” Resistance looks like forgiving someone as God in Christ forgave you—getting off your high horse and reconciling with your wife or your brother or your friend or your church, bearing with one another in love.
Or, Jesus says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. He twists the truth. It’s also part of his work to skew the truth with even nice-sounding teachers in the church who are really teaching the doctrine of demons. How do we resist that? By confronting his lies with the truth and the clarity of God’s word. By teaching sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict it.
The devil also tempts us morally. For instance, he tempts us with sexual immorality—1 Corinthians 7:5, 9. Resistance looks like not using your iPhone and Netflix inappropriately; and getting an internet filter and bringing your sin into the light and seeking true intimacy with Jesus alongside other brothers and sisters; and, if you’re married, not neglecting each other in marital intimacy. James also said in 3:15 that jealousy and selfish ambition are of demonic origins. Jealousy. Doing things from selfish motives. Demonic origins. We resist those things by replacing jealousy with contentment in God and thanksgiving, and replacing selfish ambition with gospel ambitions that spread Jesus’ glory instead of your own glory.
The devil tempts us with fear of death, Hebrews 2 says. How do we resist the fear he provokes with threats and terrorism? With faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Through his death, Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil; and Jesus delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. We resist by resting confidently in Jesus’ resurrection victory.
I’m just scratching the surface here. But what I want you to see is that the devil’s schemes are numerous—they come from all kinds of directions—and resistance is quite practical. It’s not magical and full of all kinds of man-made formulas. It works itself out through believing the truth, and choosing the moral path God approves of, and relating to others in grace and forgiveness and love, and praying for God’s power to protect us from evil.
But please note that our fight of faith cannot stop with just resisting evil. It must also wholeheartedly embrace what is good. It cannot stop with just getting devils out, so to speak, but ensuring that Christ is within (cf. Matt 12:43-45). It cannot stop with sin-management, but presses forward with passionate pursuit of God.
And of course we see this in our Lord Jesus Christ, don’t we? When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he not only resisted the devil’s schemes successfully. He resisted those schemes to do what God asked of him. And by doing both—resisting the devil and submitting to God—he saved us. He overcame where Adam failed. He didn’t win the nations by bowing to the Serpent’s lies; he won the nations by crushing the Serpent beneath his feet with a bloody cross and resurrection power.
And for all who join him by faith, he gave us hope that God will soon crush Satan under our feet, too—Romans 16:20. That’s why the gracious promise is, “and [the devil] will flee from you.” That doesn’t mean your life will be smooth without any more temptations. It’s not that the devil will leave you alone forever till Jesus returns. His influence will remain until Jesus finally casts him into the lake of fire. What the devil fleeing does mean is this: as we stand firm, we make known to him that in Jesus he has no power over us (cf. Eph 3:10; Col 2:15). He must retreat again and again—“for he who is in you, namely Christ, is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Draw near to God while forsaking impure deeds & desires
Number two: we draw near to God while forsaking impure deeds and desires. This too is part of living coram Deo, before the face of God. Look at verse 8: “Draw near to God, and [as a result] he will draw near to you.” When you look at people drawing near to God in the Old Testament, it was often associated with prayer and service in his presence (e.g., Gen 18:23; Exod 12:48; 28:1; Lev 9:7). Someone might even draw near to God looking for help and safety in time of need (Ps 73:28). But any time people drew near to God rightly, it was based on the revelation of himself to them.
James has similarly developed the way we draw near to God in his letter already, and that is through prayer and the word (Jas 1:5, 21; 4:3). We cultivate fellowship with God through prayer that is grounded in God’s prior revelation to us in the word. We need to hear this. We cannot expect change and spiritual vitality in our lives without communion with God.
Many of us want change. We want greater boldness in evangelism. We want more gentleness in our speech. We want deeper love for each other. We want more patience with our children. We want anger to be gone from us. We want no more laziness and excessive time wasted on entertainment. But a big problem is that very often we want change without any willingness to draw near to God.
Listen, no communion with God means no change for God. We cannot expect God to draw near to us, if we don’t care to live near to him. Nobody drifts into fellowship with God. We must act in drawing near to him in prayer and the word, whether that’s alone or with the church. There’s nothing more important in your day than cultivating fellowship with God, nothing.
But we also need to see this: drawing near to God carries a moral response to his holy presence and his revealed will (cf. Exod 16:9; 34:32; Zech 1:3-6). James says, “cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The experience of God’s presence produces profound moral transformation. Listen to the way Paul brings this together in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1…
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
The nearness of God compels moral change, the pursuit of holiness. Drawing near means getting rid of all that doesn’t belong in God’s presence. James mentions cleansing hands and purifying hearts. In the context of his letter, this seems to illustrate the whole person. James is about faith in the heart producing works toward others. What I do sinfully in outward deeds toward others—my hands—and my inner desires that are wayward and getting mad when I don’t get my way—my heart—I need to purify both.
Mistreatment of the poor, the misuse of our tongue, the quarrels and fighting—these kinds of outward deeds have no place in God’s presence. Nor do those inner desires that have competing loyalties. We should be very familiar with the double-minded man by now: he prays one way but lives another; he claims to have faith but shows no works; he blesses God but curses man. James is saying that drawing near to God means shedding this double-mindedness. Repenting of all loyalties that compete with our loyalty to God—sinful anger, bitter jealousy, selfish ambition
Now, it’s true that Jesus purifies us (Tit 2:14), but his purifying work for us produces in us a desire to purify ourselves till we see him face to face (1 John 3:2). Why would we want to hang on to anything that won’t follow us into his celestial city? Why would we want to hang on to anything that won’t be part of our joy in the kingdom to come? We cannot coddle what the cross killed and God’s presence drives away.
And when we live this way, here’s the gracious promise: “God will draw near to you.” One of the amazing things about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is that he makes himself accessible to us. Even though we are sinners, and don’t deserve to be in his holy presence, he sent Jesus to open a way for fellowship with him (Heb 7:19, 25). No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you can draw near to God through Christ. And God will draw near to you.
He will be like the father who sees his prodigal son from afar—walking down the road after squandering his inheritance. And “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). And with joy he clothes the son and sends the servants to prepare a feast, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:22-24).
God…infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth…God will draw near to you like a father. There’s no greater gift, folks, than God’s gift of himself. That doesn’t mean we’ll experience some heavenly vision, or that our circumstances get any easier. But it will mean that he will make his gracious presence and saving purposes known to us in an intimate, all-satisfying way. It’s like Psalm 145:18-19, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them” (cf. Pss 34:17-18; 65:4). There’s no greater gift.
Be broken over sin while trusting God alone for salvation
Finally, number three: we must be broken over sin while trusting God alone for salvation. Verse 9, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” This kind of vocabulary comes from the prophets when they were calling Israel to repent before the day of God’s judgment. James is likewise calling the church to repentance.
For the Christian, there’s much to rejoice in—forgiveness, a Father of love, a family in the church, the unfailing march of the gospel to all peoples, the coming kingdom. There’s much to rejoice in—rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:8). But sin is never something to rejoice in.
The world thinks little of sin. It gives hearty approval of it, Romans 1:32 says. It laughs over sin, cracks jokes over sin, justifies sin, makes money off sin. Living before God’s face will mean the church responds differently to sin. We cannot treat sin lightly. We cannot try to justify our sin. Rather, we must see our sin for the horrific offense to God that it truly is and grieve. One of the marks of conversion is godly sorrow over sin.
I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 6 in this regard. Isaiah has just delivered six woes on the people of God. God’s message of pending judgment has shredded and exposed the people’s wickedness. Then, in chapter 6 of Isaiah, you’re waiting for the climactic seventh woe to finish off God’s people. But when Isaiah sees the Lord of hosts in all his glory, the presence of the Lord makes him undone. He’s an upstanding guy, too, and yet before the Lord all of his sin is uncovered.
All Isaiah can do is cover his mouth and pronounce the seventh Woe upon himself: “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” He deserves judgment too. You will not think lightly of your sin, when you’re walking closely with God. Where there’s no brokenness over our sin, there’s likely no beholding of God’s glory. That’s not where we want to live. It will not go well for us at the judgment, if we’re not broken over sin now.
The answer is to humble ourselves once again before the Lord. What does that look like? We get a perfect picture of it in the Gospel of Luke, and can’t help but think that this is where James is getting his words here. You’ll see why in a minute. But in Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” He says this
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
No pretending like you’ve got it all together. You get off your pedestal. You recognize that you’re spiritually bankrupt. You’ve got nothing but your sin before God. “You acknowledge your desperate need for God’s help,”[ii] and you throw yourself upon his mercies: “Lord, save me, forgive me, cleanse me, change my heart, help me follow you!”
And that should be our attitude not just at the beginning of our Christian walk, but throughout the entirety of our Christian walk. That humility even works its way into other areas of life that James mentions in his letter. We will receive God’s trials with patient endurance, knowing that we deserve nothing good to begin with (Jas 1:2-4, 12). We will not boast in our wealth to save us but in the Lord alone (Jas 1:9-11). We will own our wrongdoings and not blame God for sin (Jas 1:13-15). We will admit our need for wisdom and depend on God through prayer (Jas 1:5, 17). We will be slow to speak and slow to anger, because we know we’ve got a big sin problem too (Jas 1:19). We will show his mercy to the orphan and the widow, and seek to do justice for the poor, because God is merciful to us (Jas 1:27-2:7). We will give our tongues wholly to the Lord to be used for building up and not tearing down—who am I to curse others when I’ve received such kindness from God lifting my curse (Jas 3:1-11).
And when this is our approach to the Lord, Jesus says this in Luke 18:14, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For [and here’s the connection to James] everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” James sounds like Jesus: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” That’s the promise: God will exalt you.
That could mean that God will exalt you to some position in the present.[iii] But more likely James is setting our sights once again on the future crown of life that he mentioned back in 1:12. He will lift us up to reign forever with Jesus. For people who make much of themselves, the final judgment will be total humiliation. But the humble will be exalted.
How do we know he’ll be faithful to that promise? Because he already lifted up Jesus. Jesus walked the path of humility before us—only he didn’t humble himself before the Lord because of sins. He didn’t have any. He humbled himself before the Lord because of our sins. And in his humble state, he received all that God had for him, including the cross. He became obedient to the point of death, even death under the wrath of God for our sins. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Phil 2:6-10).
We can be certain that God will exalt us at the proper time, because he has already exalted our Savior. God’s gracious promises are incomparable with anything the world could offer us. When we walk humbly before him, he makes the devil flee, he draws near to us, and he will lift us up. There’s always more grace for those who walk humbly before God. Let’s live our days coram Deo, before the face of God.
[i]The ESV leaves out the Greek particle de, making the connection less obvious. Translating particle de as an adversative renders the following: “Therefore, submit yourselves to God but resist the devil and [as a result] he will flee from you.”
[ii]Moo, James, 196.
[iii]We find these same words throughout the New Testament to speak of God exalting the humble in service to others (Matt 23:12), in social settings like a marriage feast (Luke 14:11), in salvation—which we just saw in Luke 18:14—and at the second coming (1 Pet 5:6).
other sermons in this series