We began our study of James 4 a few weeks ago by being confronted by James. He wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1 NIVO) These are not questions to help James gain information that he is lacking. These are rhetorical questions to make the point James desires to teach to his readers. The friction, dissention, and fragmentation of our relationships are caused by the desires that originate from within each and every one of us.
God has created us with desires, but because of the Fall, because of our sin nature, our desires have mutated, become misdirected, and as a result our chief desire has become focused on “self” and not on knowing, enjoying, and delighting in our relationship with God. As a result of this we find ourselves gorging on the fruit of our wayward desires. James describes the fruit as “envy and selfish ambition” (James 3:16). Our “envy and selfish ambition” leads to a life filled with “disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). This is what James calls “earthly wisdom” and it is prevalent both within us and around us each and every day.
Where does this spoiled, bitter fruit of our misdirected desires come from? Is there any way out of the predicament we find ourselves in today? Oh, those are such great questions! We can trace these misdirected desires back to the Garden of Eden. The opening verse of Genesis 1 tells us,
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 NIVO)
“God created the heavens and the earth.” Did you notice the description of the heavens and the earth in the beginning? “Formless, empty, and darkness.” Through the next six days of creation God brought form to what was formless, He filled that which was empty, and He created light to displace the darkness. On the sixth day, God created the crown jewel of His creation–Adam and Eve. Take a look at Genesis 1:27-28 with me.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:27-28 NIVO)
Adam and Eve were created to bear the image of God, to enjoy and reflect God as they ruled over, served as stewards of God’s good creation. There was one stipulation and we find it in Genesis 2:16-17. Read it with me.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIVO)
You know the story. The serpent was crafty, deceptive, and he led Eve and Adam to believe that if they ate from the fruit they would be like God. God had said that if they ate from the fruit they would die, but the serpent convinced them that if they ate the fruit then they would live, really live, even live like God! Eve’s desire, Adam’s desire, which had been created for God, to know God, enjoy God, and make God known in His creation instantly mutated into something it was never intended to become. Self shoved God off the throne of their hearts and the perfect fellowship they had enjoyed with God in the Garden died in that very place. Adam and Eve had once lived in God’s presence, naked and unashamed, but in Genesis 3:8-9 we read what happened when self became king.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9 NIVO)
Those who once walked with God, were blessed by God, now hid from God. And we’ve been hiding, running from God, ever since. God called out, “Where are you?” That’s an interesting question isn’t it? Did God really not know the whereabouts of Adam and Eve? God was not lost in the Garden, but Adam and Eve were lost, and humanity has remained lost until this very day. Pastor Spurgeon wrote,
As soon as man had disobeyed God, he ran away from Him. Our first parents hid themselves among the trees of the garden when they heard the voice of the Lord God calling them. They did not come to Him at once, confess the wrong which they had committed, and ask for mercy. The natural effect of their sin was to harden their hearts, and not to lead them penitently to the great Father, but it led them impertinently to run away from Him. So, when the Lord came walking in the garden, in the cool of the day, Adam did not seek Him, to plead for mercy from Him; but the first words had to come from God: “the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where are you?” It was God’s voice speaking in mercy to His wandering child. (Charles Spurgeon, The Double Drawing Near. September 22, 1878)
I’ve thought about that last line of Pastor Spurgeon so much this past week. God’s call, “Where are you?” was God’s voice speaking mercy to His wandering children. Our desires, given to us by God, have become so misdirected as we’ve wandered further and further from God. And yet He calls to us. He is calling to someone this very morning. That is why you are here my friend. He has brought you to this place, on this morning, so you might hear His voice calling, “Where are you? It’s time to come home.”
The desire which God had placed within Adam and Eve, a desire for God, to know God, enjoy Him forever, and make Him known in all of creation became a desire to find fulfillment apart from God. Worldly desire, earthly desire, the desires of the flesh, they are all one and the same thing and can be easily identified by our selfish ambitions and our envy of others. It’s the exaltation of self and the proclamation that I will get what I want, I will do what I want to do, and I will be what I want to be.
Is there a way out of the quagmire we find ourselves in today? James told his readers, “But He gives us more grace.” If it were not for God’s grace there would be no solution to the predicament we find ourselves in, in this battle against our wayward desires that deceive us, mislead us, and left unchecked will destroy us. Oh, but He gives us more grace, He has made a way for you and me. Let’s listen in on Pastor Spurgeon just one more time.
The making of that way cost the Savior His life; but He did make it. His heart bled out its life that He might make plain that way of expiation by which alone a sinner can come near to God; but the road is made, and there is nothing in the way now—no divine anger, no righteous wrath, no avenging law—to prevent your coming, O you who desire to return to your God! Christ has made the way, and cleared it; and “no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.” So, draw near, for the road is open. Draw near, “without money, and without price,” for the road is free to all who believe in Jesus. Christ has completed it; He has not merely made it half way, but He has finished it all the way, and He Himself has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Oh, then, with what force does the command come, “Draw nigh to God,” when there is an open road by which you may come unto Him! ( Charles Spurgeon, The Double Drawing Near. September 22, 1878)
Jesus’ death and resurrection have opened the door of reconciliation for you and me to enter into fellowship with God, to have our desires reoriented, and to find our greatest satisfaction and delight in Him alone. Because of this James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God…” Let’s read together from James 4:7-10.
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10 NIVO)
For many followers of Jesus today, they have somehow been led to believe that all we need to do is believe, to agree that Jesus is the Messiah who has died for our sins, redeemed and reconciled us to God, and then continue on, just go on living life and doing whatever we want to do. It seems like this was the same mindset of many of those James had in mind when he wrote his letter to those early followers of Jesus. James makes it crystal clear that “believing” in Jesus, trusting in Jesus, is the first step. What follows our initial belief is of utmost importance in growing in our relationship with God, in coming to experience the fullness of life that God intends for all of His children. Let’s take a look at the direction James provides for us in verses 7-10. James says,
- Submit yourselves, then, to God.
- Resist the devil…
- Come near to God…
- Wash your hands, you sinners
- 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…
It seems to me that all of these commands from James really hinge upon the first command of submitting ourselves to God. Until we make the decision to make God’s will for our life our primary ambition, our singular passion, none of these other commands will hold any importance to us whatsoever. When we consciously decide to set aside our goals, desires, and dreams in order to make God’s will and ways of greatest importance to us then resisting the devil, drawing near, purifying our hearts and actions, taking sin seriously, and humbling ourselves before God becomes vitally important to us.
There is something I’ve learned about this decision in my own life and it is this: It is not a once and for all time decision. I’ve made the decision in the past to seek the Lord above all else and with the passage of time the newness of the decision, the urgency of the decision, faded. I’ve learned that the decision to seek His will and ways is a moment-by-moment decision which must be made again and again and again throughout our lives. What’s wonderful about James’ advice, his commands, is that he gives clear direction for those who want to seek the Lord with all of their heart.
As we submit our lives to God we will then see our desire to “Come near to God” increase exponentially. Some read the command of verse 8 and think that James must have it backwards. Wouldn’t God’s drawing near to us stir us to draw near to Him? My question to those who think these type of thoughts is this: “Is God not near to you and me already?” We may turn a blind eye to all that He has done, all that He continues to do in each and every one of our lives, but my friend, make no mistake about it He is near. Let me give you an example.
In Acts 17, Paul was in Athens, Greece when he noticed that the city was full of idols. Paul began to share the Good News about Jesus in the synagogue as well as in the marketplace. A group of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers listened in. It was a strange teaching to them, they called Paul a “babbler,” and then took him to the Areopagus and said, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean” (Acts 17:20). The men were not followers of Jesus and yet Paul let them know that God was intimately involved in their lives, and for a purpose. Read along with me from Acts 17:26-27.
26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:26-27 NIVO)
For those feel that God is distant, for those who might even deny His existence, you need to take heed to these verses. God is so intimately involved in your life that He formed you in your mother’s womb, He knows the number of hairs on your head, and the number of days you will live. He has even chosen the place where you live. Why has He done this even though you refuse to acknowledge Him? If Paul were here this morning he would tell you the same thing he told the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Oh, isn’t He good!? Isn’t He good!?
When our eyes are opened to what God has done on our behalf through Jesus’ death and resurrection then God intends for something to take place within us that never even enters the minds of unbelievers and it is this: We take our sin seriously. Sadly, talking about sin, our own sin, is passe today. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga, former President of Calvin Theological Seminary, wrote,
The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it, grieved over it. Some of our grandparents agonized over their sins; a man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still go to Holy Communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might worry that this sin threatened her very salvation. But now the shadow has faded. Nowadays, the accusation you have sinned is often said with a grin and a tone that signals an inside joke. At one time, this accusation still had the power to jolt people. Catholics lined up to confess their sins; Protestant preachers rose up to confess our sins. And they did it regularly. Their view was that confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage: once is not enough. (Plantinga, Cornelius. Earthquake in the Mainline. Christianity Today. November 14, 1994)
I’m not sure when things began to change, but I’m certain that things have dramatically changed. Many preachers and churches refuse to talk about sin today because it is too risky. Talking about sin, personal sin, is bound to drive people away from the church. Some of you may feel that we talk about sin too much, but my friend I want you to consider something: If your doctor was hesitant to talk about what ails you, what may very well threaten your very existence, because of his or her fear of losing you as a patient, would you not demand to know the truth? Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free you.” God spoke to His people through the prophet Isaiah and announced,
1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. (Isaiah 59:1-3 NIVO)
Our sin has separated us from God. We can deny it, we can dream up excuses, blame others, or try to eradicate the word “sin” from our vocabulary, but we all know we are guilty as charged in the presence of our Holy and Righteous God. The great Bible teacher, Dr. J.I. Packer once said, “A sense of defilement before God is not morbid, neurotic or unhealthy in any way. It is natural, realistic, healthy, and a true perception of our condition.”
The late Dr. Karl Menninger, a world renowned psychiatrist, wrote a book in 1973 called, Whatever Became of Sin? In the opening paragraph of his book he wrote about a stern-faced man who stood on a street corner in the busy Chicago Loop. As people hurried by on their way to lunch or a meeting, the man would lift his arm, point at the nearest person, and shout, “GUILTY!” The man stood for hours pointing and shouting at those who passed by, “GUILTY!” Dr. Menninger said the effect of the man on those who passed by was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, look back at him again, and then hurriedly continue on their way. One man, turned to another, who later told the story to Dr. Menninger, and said, “But how did he know?”
We may try to dull our sense of guilt, we can shift blame to others, but there’s no doubt in my mind that when we come into the presence of God, who is Holy, Holy, Holy we have no choice but to respond like Isaiah who, when he found himself in the presence of God, said,
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIVO)
So, what do we do? Do we continue to play games? We certainly can, but we will never alleviate our guilt by merely playing games. James has a better solution for us.
9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:9-10 NIVO)
We must take our sin seriously. We must acknowledge that it is our sin, and our sin alone that nailed Jesus to the cross. When we admit our sin, own our sin, refuse to blame others for our actions and our ungodly thoughts, then God will forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The way out is to get down, down on our faces before God in confession, brokenness over our sin, and come clean like David when he said in Psalm 41:4,
4 I said, “O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” (Psalm 41:4 NIVO)
I pray the Lord has spoken to you this morning. I pray that before you leave here today you will humble yourself before the Lord, ask Him to search your heart to reveal any sin that He desires to expose before you this morning. Won’t you do that as we close in prayer?
Britton Christian Church
April 22, 2018
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIVO)