Let’s open our Bibles again for our study of God’s Word tonight to the wonderful epistle written by James. James chapter 4. I want to read to you verses 7 through 10, and then we’ll look together at what the Spirit of God intends for us to understand from this text. James chapter 4, beginning in verse 7.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up.”
What you have there is a series of commands, ten to be exact, all aorist imperative verbs in the Greek language. James in the middle of this epistle marshals ten straight commands, which really draw our attention, I believe, to the focal point of the whole epistle. This, in my judgment, is the heart of everything. It is one of the great and one of the clear and one of the precise invitations to salvation in all of Scripture.
You know as well as I do that there are many invitations to salvation throughout the Scripture. Since God is a saving God, since God is a Savior God, He desires that all men would come to know Him, to worship Him, to adore Him. God, our Savior, wills that all men come to the knowledge of Christ, Paul says to Timothy. And throughout Scripture, there are many invitations of a very general nature. Now, we acknowledge that God is sovereign. We acknowledge that God has all authority and that God has absolute prerogative within Himself to choose whomsoever He will to be saved and in fact does that before the foundation of the world.
And yet from a human viewpoint, paradoxically, there are a myriad of invitations throughout Scripture in which He calls generally to sinners to respond. For example, in Deuteronomy chapter 30, verses 19 and 20, we read these words, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, so choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice and by holding fast to Him, for this is your life and the length of your days that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them.”
And then we have in Isaiah 55, also in verses 6 and 7, a very familiar invitation, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake His way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord and He will have compassion on him and to our God for He will abundantly pardon.”
Another familiar invitation comes in Matthew chapter 7, verses 13 and 14. The Lord says, “Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and many there are who enter by it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” Then there is the invitation of Matthew 11:28 to 30, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek or gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And then the invitation of Matthew 16:24 and following, Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me for whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
And then that beautiful invitation of John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am there you may be also, and you know the way where I’m going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way? Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.”
And then the very, very direct and personal invitation of Acts 16:30 and 31 where the Philippian jailer said to Paul, “What must I do to be saved? And Paul and Silas replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.’” And then the invitation of Romans 10:9 and 10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. And then the invitation of Revelation 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come and let him who hears say come and let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who wishes to take the water of life without cost.’”
Invitations. Those are just a few of many, many invitations. None of them, either the ones I read or other ones, are any more complete or comprehensive than the one I just read to you in James chapter 4. Unfortunately, throughout the years of interpreting the epistle of James, most commentators and Bible students have assumed that verses 7 to 10 refer to Christians, that this is a call to Christians to get their act together. And because they have approached it that way, they have therefore missed the greatness of this invitation to salvation.
Now, as you know, in studying through these rich chapters in this great epistle, James is confronting a people who are made up, obviously, of possessors of eternal life and professors of eternal life, those who really know God and those who are just deceived and deceiving, those who are possessors of true and living faith and those who are possessors of a false, dead faith. And the heart of this epistle is to call out to the reader and the hearer and say, “Be sure your faith is real, test it.” His objective is stated in verse 19 and 20 of chapter 5.
The whole idea is to convert someone, convert the sinner from the error of his way and save his soul from death. The church, as we have been saying, is always occupied by those whose faith is not real, and it behooves the rest of us to be about the business of bringing into true salvation those around us in our fellowship whose salvation may not be real. He wants no one to be deceived. He wants no tares among the wheat. He wants no soil where the plant seems to spring up but no fruit is ever born. He wants not hearers but doers, not professors but possessors.
So James has definitely the heart of Jesus, for this was of grave concern to Jesus as well. Those who would say, “Lord, Lord,” but who didn’t really have any relationship to Him at all. So the epistle, then, is really the burden of the heart of Christ through James that no one would be deceived about the reality of their salvation and also the corollary thought that believers would then live up to the things that are true of believers.
Throughout this epistle, we’ve been looking at the tests of true faith. We saw in chapter 1 how a true faith handles trials, how a true faith handles temptation, how a true faith responds to the Word, how a true faith is concerned with purity of life. In chapter 2, we saw how a true faith is concerned about people in need, people who are poor, and is no respecter of persons. We saw how a true faith produces works, good works, righteous works, righteous deeds.
In chapter 3, we saw how a true faith can be made manifest in the use of the tongue, in the patterns of speech and also in the matter of wisdom; that is, the behavior by which your lifestyle is identified. And then at the beginning of chapter 4, we saw how true faith is separated from the world. It does not love the world, it is the friend of God and the enemy of the world, not the enemy of God and the friend of the world.
So James has been saying put your life up against the tests, and having said all of that down through chapter 4, verse 6, he now calls for a proper response to saving faith and gives, in a sense, his invitation before he goes on with some closing things in this epistle. If we have studied cautiously and carefully through the epistle of James, and particularly if we’ve been listening to what has been said since chapter 3, verse 13, we are very much aware that he has been speaking about unbelievers who, for example, back in chapter 3, verse 13, have a wisdom that is not of God.
In fact, he says it’s characterized by bitter envying, strife. It is not from above, verse 15, earthly, sensual, demoniacal, again mentioning envy, strife, confusion, every evil work. If that’s the kind of lifestyle you have, if that’s the kind of behavior, if that’s your approach to life, you give evidence of a wisdom that does not come from God. And then, in chapter 4, very clearly says in verse 4 that people who are friends of the world are enemies with God. That doesn’t mean from the person’s viewpoint they are God’s enemy, that means from God’s viewpoint the person is His enemy. So he’s talking about people who have a worldly wisdom, a worldly affection, and who are the enemies of God.
Clearly, then, when you come to verse 7, this is an invitation to those people to come to saving faith. If you didn’t pass the test of trials and you didn’t pass the test of temptation and the right response to the Word being a doer and not a hearer and the right attitude toward purity of life and people in need and respect of persons and good works and use of the tongue and wisdom and the matter of relationship to the world, then here is an invitation to you.
The invitation is directed at those who are not saved, those who are still captive to earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom, those who love the world and are the enemies of God, those who, in the terms of verse 5, still are governed by the inner spirit which lusts. In other words, they’re driven by their fallenness. To those who, according to verse 6, are proud, not humble. Those who, to sum it up, are in desperate need of God’s grace. And as I tried to point out to you last time, two weeks ago, this cannot refer to believers for believers are nowhere in Scripture ever called the enemies of God. Even Abraham back in chapter 2, verse 23, is called the friend of God.
And 1 John 2 says if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. So clearly he has been giving his passionate appeal throughout this epistle to that person who is sort of occupied mentally with the gospel but whose faith is not genuine and been saying test yourself. It’s not that he doesn’t have anything to say to believers because secondarily he has been calling to believers to fully live up to the things which are characteristic of them.
It’s as if he says believers know how to handle trials, but they still ought to handle them better. Believers know how to respond to the Word and be doers but they still ought to do it better. Believers pursue purity of life but they ought to pursue it more. Believers are gracious to people in need but they ought to be more gracious. I mean there’s word here for us as well. We, too, speak the Word of God with our mouth but we ought to do it more often and speak evil less often.
Secondarily, then, these instructions definitely come to bring impetus on the life of a believer but primarily they have to do with that person who may be a professor of something he or she does not possess. And if that’s your case, the promise of verse 6 is wonderful. Even if you’re a person who is characterized by worldly wisdom, characterized by the lust of the flesh, an enemy of God, driven by your own fallenness, even if you’re a proud person, God gives more grace. That’s the wonderful promise of verse 6. That’s the grace of salvation, I believe.
He is saying no matter what your life is like, if you’re proud and you love the world, and your wisdom is earthly, demonic, and sensual, if you’re a person who didn’t pass the tests, God has grace for you. He gives more grace. I believe it’s justifying, sanctifying, glorifying grace that he’s talking about, the grace of salvation, saving grace. Literally, verse 6 says He gives greater grace - greater grace. A comparative word is used.
What is grace? What do we mean He gives grace? You know what it means, don’t you? It is God’s favor given to sinners who are undeserving. That’s what it is. And within that favor is forgiveness and love and the promise of heaven and the Holy Spirit and all spiritual blessings and understanding of God’s Word and joy and peace and all the fruit of the Spirit. And all of that comes as God’s favor given to sinners who do not deserve it.
And God has that grace available to all who will come in faith to Christ, greater grace than the strength of depravity, grace greater than the power of sin, grace greater than the might of Satan, grace greater than the pull of the flesh, grace greater even than death. No matter what your life is like, no matter how sinful you are, no matter how much you love the world, no matter how proud you are, no matter how your lusts drive you, no matter how your wisdom may be that of the world and even below, the underworld, still God has grace.
I love what Alec Motyer says, “What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs. He always has more grace at hand. He is never less than sufficient. He always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first, we cannot forfeit salvation for there’s always more grace. No matter what we do to Him, He is never beaten. We may play false to the grace of election, we may contradict the grace of reconciliation, we may overlook the grace of indwelling but He gives more grace.
“Even if we were to turn to Him and say, ‘What I have received so far is much less than enough,’ He would reply, “Well, you may have more.’ His resources are never at an end, His patience is never exhausted, His initiative never stops, His generosity knows no limit, He gives more grace.” Wherever the sinner is, wherever the saint is, when the sinner and the saint come to Christ, He first gives justifying grace and then He gives sanctifying grace and there is no limit.
To support that glorious statement at the beginning of verse 6, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34, “Wherefore,” he says, “God resists the proud but gives grace unto the humble.” He uses a verse out of the Old Testament to prove his point. And again, the major thrust here, as I said, is related to unbelievers. When it says in this verse, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” He’s not talking about two classes of Christians, okay?
To make that clear, go back for a moment in your Bible to Proverbs 3, and let’s just make sure we understand this very vital interpretive matter. And we back up to verse 33 in Proverbs 3 and we read this: “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but He blesses the habitation of the just.” In other words, He’s contrasting the regenerate and the unregenerate, the redeemed and the unredeemed, to use New Testament terminology, the saved and the lost, the wicked and the righteous. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, the blessing of the Lord is in the house of the just.
Then verse 34, “Surely He scoffs at the scoffers but He gives grace unto the lowly.” Now, the point is that the obvious contrast in Proverbs 3:33 and 34 is between an unbeliever and a believer, a wicked man and a righteous man, not two kinds of believers. And we can be sure that James assumes the same context, and when he refers to that passage and says God resists the proud, he is saying essentially what we just read, God scoffs at the scoffer but gives grace to the humble. In other words, He treats the wicked one way and He treats the righteous another. He treats the non-believer one way, He treats the believer another.
When James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says God resists the proud, he could never be talking about a believer. You say, “What about a sinning believer?” Read the rest of the verse, “He gives grace unto the humble.” Does that mean if you’re not humble, you don’t get grace as a Christian? Now, think it through. God doesn’t hold back grace from His own. Whenever we sin, He gives us what? Grace. If we confess our sins He’s faithful and still righteous to keep on forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
Constantly, God’s grace flows to us. He gives grace to the humble, the humble then become a category. That’s not a kind of Christian, that’s a definition of a believer. And all who have humbled themselves in coming to God through Christ for salvation are the ones who continually receive grace. To say that God is talking about two kinds of believers and that God doesn’t give grace to proud believers would damn those proud believers. You understand that? Once you come into the category of being a believer, you receive all His grace.
So this must be, as it is in Proverbs, a contrast between how God treats unbelievers who are called the proud and how He treats believers who are called the humble. Every believer - listen carefully - every believer, everyone who comes to God in Jesus Christ, is in a sense part of the category - well, I should say in reality, not in a sense, but in reality is among the humble. Why? Because you humbled yourselves in coming to God. You acknowledged your sin, you affirmed His lordship and sovereignty in your life, you humbled yourself.
So the humble refer to believers, the proud refer to non- believers. If you’re in the category of a non-believer, God’s going to resist you. If you’re in the category of the humble or the believer, He’s going to pour out grace for every sin, saving grace, forgiving grace, sanctifying grace. So what you have here is a contrast, not between two kinds of believers but between the proud, scoffing, wicked, cursed person of Proverbs 3:33 and the blessed, righteous believer who instantly receives grace and more grace for every sin. He gives greater grace, greater grace to those who are among the humble.
By the way, the word “resist,” I mentioned it two weeks ago, antitasso, means to place oneself in battle against an enemy. God places Himself in battle array against the proud. He is the active, aggressive enemy, antagonist to the proud, lovers of the world, the proud purveyors of human wisdom, the proud who are driven by their own envying, lusting spirit, as verse 5 defines it. But on the other hand, He gives grace to the humble.
We ask ourselves again, who are the humble? And the answer is they’re believers of all generations. Let me give you a little bit of a study on that, all right? This is, I think, just very fascinating and really seals our understanding of the passage. Humility is linked with saving faith in Scripture. Do you remember the words of Jesus, “Except a man become as a little child he cannot” - what? - “enter the Kingdom.” So humble yourselves, He says in the very next verse, that’s in Matthew chapter 18, verses 3 and 4. The only way into the Kingdom is the way of humility.
Let’s look at that for just a minute. Capturing that thought go back in the Old Testament to Job chapter 22, and let’s do a little bit of a Bible study and see if we can’t enrich our understanding of this. In Job 22:29, just a very simple but true statement. “When men are cast down then thou shalt say there is lifting up, and He shall save the humble person.” There is a truism about God stated there in Eliphaz’s speech that God saves humble people. That is carried through in much of Scripture. For example, Psalm 69 - Psalm 69, verse 32, it says, “The humble shall see and be glad and your heart shall live that seek God.”
Seekers of God, then, are related to people who are humble. Humble people and seekers of God, one and the same. Isaiah 57 and verse 15, I believe it is, and you have the same idea. “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity whose name is holy” - that, of course, is Almighty God - God says, “I dwell in the high and holy place” - and who do I dwell with? - mark it - “with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the spirit or the heart of the contrite ones.” In other words, God gives life to humble people. Humility is linked constantly with this matter of saving faith and salvation.
In Micah 6:8, we read, “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee? But to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.” And then we come into the New Testament and we read, as I quoted a moment ago, from Matthew 18 that if anybody comes into my Kingdom, he comes like a little child, and the next verse says, “Humble yourselves as a little child.”
Then God grants - now keep this in your mind, this is the heart of the whole passage - God grants, verse 6 says - God grants to the humble His saving grace. God grants to the humble His saving grace. Now, listen carefully. We realize and the Bible affirms that God saves sovereignly those He chooses to save. Yet there must be a response on the part of man. And here, James is not concerned to discuss the theology of God’s sovereignty, he is concerned to plead for the response of man. And so James gives clear, unmistakable commands that call for the proper kind of humility.
Now, think this through with me. We’ve established so far that when the Bible says in verse 6 God resists the proud, He is saying I stand against those who are unbelievers. They are identified as proud. Why? Because they will not submit to whom? To God. On the other hand, He gives grace to the humble, and they are those who have submitted to God. The question then comes: If grace is only for the humble, how do you get to be humble or who are the humble? How can I receive saving grace? How can I take the gift of salvation?
If I were to title this message, I think I would title it, “How to Receive Saving Grace” - how to receive saving grace. And the overarching answer is to be humble. That’s stated in verse 6 and it’s repeated in verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” But the question then is how do you - how do you act humbly? How do you do that? James give us very clear instruction in verses 7, 8, 9, and then sums it up in verse 10. Now, let me read you those verses again, okay? Follow very closely.
Verse 7. “Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil, he will flee from you, draw near to God, He will draw near to you, cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded; be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness, humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” Now, you say, “Well are you sure he’s directing that to unbelievers?” Yes, because we’ve already seen that the people he’s talking to are people driven by internal lust.
That’s not true of a believer, that’s not the dominant force in a believer. They are people who are the friend of the world. They love the world; therefore, they’re the enemies of God. They are the people whose wisdom is that which is not from above, but is that which is earthly, sensual, demonic. They are people who are proud and against whom God sets Himself up in battle array. They cannot be believers.
But if you took nothing but verses 7 to 10, he could never be speaking to anybody but unbelievers, just reverse it. These are people who, by virtue of these commands, these are people who have not submitted to God. These are people who have not taken a stand against the devil. These are people who are far from God and need to draw near. These are people who are corrupt outwardly and corrupt inwardly. These are people called sinners. These are people who are double-minded, trying to hold onto God and onto the world at the same time. These are people who laugh and party when they ought to be weeping over their sin.
They are specifically labeled as sinners. Now, how could that possibly be a description of a Christian? There’s no way. And yet I am amazed - I read about 15 commentaries this week, not one of them said this passage was directed to unbelievers. One commentator who’s usually the most lucid in James says, “Every use of the word hamartōloi” - sinners - “in the New Testament refers to unbelievers except this one.” Period, paragraph, with no explanation, he said that.
Why do you say that? Why does this have to be to believers? It can’t be. And yet we’ve lost this great invitation because for some reason it’s been interpreted that this is directed at Christians.
Let’s look at the word “sinners.” You see it there in verse 8? “Cleanse your hands, you sinners.” Let me do a little bit of a study of that word for you just so you get your feet on the ground as to who he’s talking about if you still have any doubts. The word hamartōloi, the word for sinners, is used in the gospels, and not only in the gospels, but it’s used predominantly in the gospels of the New Testament to refer to the hardened sinner, the one who openly disregards the law of God, the one who had a reputation for public immorality.
When they really wanted to lambaste Jesus, they said He hangs around publicans and what? Sinners. Those were publicly immoral people, people who defied the standards of morality, who defied propriety, who defied the law of God. They were openly bad people whose wickedness was very apparent. They were sinners. The Jewish people, hearing James when he writes this, hearing as they listened to the reading of this, would never have assumed those sinners to be believers. Sinners in their environment were always those people openly wicked, openly bad, openly apart from God and His law.
For example, if you go back into the Old Testament, Psalm 1:1, do you remember this? “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the way of” - what? - “sinners.” In verse 5, “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” What is he saying? Sinners are one category that is exclusive of the righteous. In the twenty-fifth Psalm and verse 8, “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will He teach sinners in the way.” In other words, He’ll bring the saving message to sinners.
In Genesis 13:13, the men of Sodom were called sinners. In Proverbs 11:31, the wicked and the sinner will be judged by God. In Proverbs 13:6, wickedness overthrows the sinner. And you come into the prophets even, in Isaiah 1 and verse 28, “And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.” Sinners are transgressors, sinners and transgressors are those who forsake the Lord and will be consumed in judgment.
Chapter 13 of Isaiah and verse 9, again the same emphasis is made. “Behold, the day of the Lord comes cruel both with wrath and fierce anger to lay the land desolate. He shall destroy the sinners out of it.” And then in Amos chapter 9, verse 10, same thing, “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword.” You come into the New Testament and it’s the very same thing. All throughout the New Testament. In fact, I could not find one use of the word “sinner” in the entire New Testament to refer to a believer. It’s patently obvious that the use of that word is strictly given to unbelievers.
Jesus says in Matthew 9:13, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice for I am not come to call the righteous but” - what? - “sinners to repentance” - sinners to repentance. That’s repeated in Mark 2:17 and Luke 5:32. One passage you might look at, just to follow along for a moment, Luke chapter 7. And I’m not in any hurry tonight, so we don’t have to get very far. But in Luke 7, I’m taking a little time with this because I think it’s been a sad thing to see this passage sort of misinterpreted because we’ve lost something. And I just really want to make sure that the case is strong.
And you remember Luke 7. One of the Pharisees desired that He would eat with him and He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down to eat and a woman in a city who was a what? Sinner, verse 37, a woman who was a sinner. In other words, she had a reputation for public immorality, that’s what it means, probably a harlot. “When she knew that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster box of ointments, stood at His feet behind Him, weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, did wipe them with the hair of her head, kissed His feet, anointed them with the ointment.
“When the Pharisee who had bidden Him saw it, he spoke within himself saying, ‘This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that touches Him, for she is a sinner.’” Probably had venereal disease, very real possibility. He’d know, if He was a real prophet He wouldn’t let that sinner touch Him. You see, the whole idea of that little passage in our thought is to point up the fact that the term “sinner” was used to label someone whose morality or immorality was so well known that they were identified by that more than anything else.
In Luke 15, again very, very familiar Scripture, verse 7, “I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one” - what? - “sinner that repents more than 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.” Verse 10, “Likewise I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” Look at chapter 18 of Luke. Luke seemed particularly to use this word. You remember verse 13, the tax collector standing afar off wouldn’t lift up so much as his eyes to heaven but smote upon his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me” - what? - “a sinner.” It’s a word of characterization.
Chapter 19, verse 7, the people said when Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner - a sinner. In John 9, the Jewish leaders called Jesus a sinner. Why? Because He publicly flaunted their tradition and so they labeled Him just as they labeled everybody else who violated not particularly the law of God but the law of men. And the epistles pick up the same emphasis of the word. I’m thinking of Romans 5:8, “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet” - what? - “sinners, Christ died for us.”
And verse 19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” And then I can’t leave out, although there are many others, 1 Timothy 1, “The law - verse 9 - “is not made for righteous man but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane.” And then do you remember this? “This is a faithful saying” - verse 15 - “worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to” - what? - “save sinners” - to save sinners.
Jude, verse 15, “God is going to execute judgment on all and convict all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed and all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Beloved, the point is established beyond any shadow of doubt in my own mind that when James uses the word “sinners,” he is using it in a context that everybody understood - everybody understood.
And then also going back to James, he uses the word double-minded, dipsuchos, double-souled, those of the divided heart, those who wanted to love God and love the world, those who wanted to love God and love sin, those who wanted one foot in both worlds - double-minded. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me, he that gatherest not scattereth abroad.” Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money. You cannot have two masters. For either you will love the one and hate the other or you will cling to the other and refuse the one.”
Who are these people who are sinners and double-minded? They are deceivers and deceived. They are people desperately in need of God’s grace. They are the people who may be in the church. They may be in the church active but they are proud and they’re driven by their passions and their affections are toward the world, and their lifestyle reflects an earthly, demonic, sensual approach in spite of what they profess. They desperately need grace, saving grace, sanctifying grace, glorifying grace. How do they get it? Well, they have to be humble. How do you humble yourself? What do you do to humble yourself?
Let’s follow the commands. They’re not in any soteriological order or sequence, I don’t believe. In fact, every time you look at an invitation to salvation in the Scripture, it’s different than every other invitation. It is a divine mystery and does not easily reduce to a formula. And the intent here is not to give you a sequence of things that always happen in this order, but simply to give commands, all of which are component parts of the humble heart that reaches out in true saving faith and receives grace.
This is looking at salvation from the side of human responsibility, from our side. Yes, it is a sovereign act of God, but it also demands a human response. The benefits of grace are not poured out freely on us without requirement. They are not poured out freely on us without response. There is no effortless holiness. You aren’t made holy against your will. Freely receiving grace also means obeying commands, and so James is in the command mode here.
These are the response factors, the necessary elements in a humble faith. In fact, we can go simply to the point where we say this is the stuff of which saving faith is made, from the human viewpoint, ten imperatives. Number one, verse 7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. What does that mean? Very simple. Align yourself under the authority of God. Come under God’s authority. That’s exactly what it means. It’s from hupotassō, which means basically to line up under. It’s used of troops under the general. Get in your rank under the authority of God.
It is used, by the way, this verb is used in the human realm. In Luke 2:51, Jesus was subject to His parents. Romans 13, “Be subject to the powers that be, governmentally they are ordained of God.” Ephesians 5, the matter of the wife’s submissiveness to her husband. It’s used in Titus, I believe it’s chapter 2, verse 9, where it talks about servants being subject, coming under the authority of their own masters. It’s used also in 1 Peter 2:17 for coming under the authority of those who are over you, submitting to those in authority. Verses 17 and 18 talk about that, verse 18, “Servants, be subject to your masters.”
It’s a word, then, used in the human realm to point up someone’s responsibility to come under the authority of someone else. It is also a word used in the divine realm as well. We also are to come under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to submit to Him, to submit to God, and that’s exactly what James is calling for in this passage. Humbling oneself, then, begins with a willing, conscious submission to sovereign authority. Can you get that? That’s basic.
So when you go to evangelize someone and you’re talking about their salvation and you want to present to them the need to put their faith in Christ, you can just recite this. First of all, submit yourself to God. What does that mean? Come under His authority. If He speaks, are you willing to obey? If He designs your life, are you willing to follow in that design? It’s not a - it’s not a word that means a passive giving in, it’s like enlisting in military service. In fact, some of have translated the word enlist. Enlist under God, in the service of God, give your allegiance to God, to obey His commands, to follow His leadership.
It speaks of a readiness to do whatever you’re bidden to do. It’s exactly where Paul was when, slammed in the dirt, he looked up and said, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” Give me my orders. Because he understood that submitting to God, submitting to the Lord, was putting himself under His command. It means to do the will of God from the heart, no matter what the cost. It’s the same thing Jesus said when He said if you’re not willing to lay down your life, you’re not worthy to be my disciple. If you’re not willing to take up your cross, if you’re not willing to do my will, if you have to go do your own thing, you’re not worthy to be my disciple.
The word indicates an act of taking one’s proper place under God as sovereign Lord and ruler. This, by the way, is a total change, total transformation, because prior to doing this you were under what ruler? Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of darkness. This is a total change. You used to be the enemy of God, and now you’re becoming His loyal subject. And people say - I hear this so often, and I’ve just been working on the book on the subject of salvation and am reminded again of how many people say, “When you come for salvation, you don’t have to submit to the lordship of Christ.” That’s absurd. That is absolutely absurd.
You are saying no to self and yes to His authority in your life, the Christian life. The reception of grace begins with a surrender, with a yielding. There is a line out of a very popular book that says, “When you come for salvation, you don’t even have to have a willingness to yield.” That’s not true. You have to have more than a willingness to yield, you have to yield. It’s a heart of obedience.
Oh, I understand you don’t fully understand the implications of that, but James is giving an invitation. The first thing he says is submit to God, humble yourself. Romans 10:3 says, speaking of Israel, “They were ignorant of God’s righteousness and went about to establish their own righteousness” - here it is - “have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” That’s the definition of their lostness, they’re unsubmissive to God. They’ve not submitted. They’re not eager doers of the Word.
So when you call someone to believe and someone says, “Well, what do you mean by that?” Well, you can start out by saying, “Submit yourself to God.” “Well, what do you mean by that?” I mean are you willing to do whatever God commands you? If He says to you, “Go take everything you have, give it to the poor,” are you going to say, “I’ll gladly do that, I’ll do whatever you ask, I submit my whole life to you” or are you going to be like the rich young ruler who said, “Forget it, I’m gone”?
You see, the issue with him was an issue of who’s in charge, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that he gained any redemption by giving away things, it was that he would have received redemption had he been willing to do whatever the Lord told him, whatever that might have been. Saving faith begins, at least in the list here that James gives us, with the willingness to submit to a new Lord and a new master. That shouldn’t be too hard to understand. You’re just switching the old one for a new one. So it starts at that point.
The flipside of that, look at verse 7. Not only submit yourselves therefore to God - and the “therefore,” by the way, takes you into these ten commandments off of the idea of what this humility is. Since God gives grace to the humble, therefore, here’s how to be humble. Number one, submit yourselves to God. Number two, and here’s the flipside, resist the devil or literally - it’s not the word resist, it’s the word to take your stand against - take your stand against the devil and he will flee from you, that’s command number two.
There’s no middle ground. You are either under the lordship of Satan or under the lordship of God, there is no middle ground. You don’t take Jesus as Savior and later on hope that He gets around to being Lord if you let Him. There’s no place for some middle ground. Becoming the friend of God means immediately becoming the enemy of Satan. You used to be the child of the devil, you used to be submissive to his mastery, and now you are taking your stand against the devil.
And that means you take your stand against everything that he stands for, everything that he perpetrates, everything that he propagates, everything that he instigates. You take your position against Satan, against his system. In Ephesians, do you remember what it says in chapter 2? “In time past, you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now is working in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all had our manner of life in times past.” Do you know what he’s saying? No person on the faith of the earth operates on his own.
Did you get that? No one is out from under authority. No one is floating around, doing his own thing. You are either following the orders of your lord and master Satan, or following the orders of your Lord and master the true God, even the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s no middle ground, none at all. And Satan, it says in Hebrews 2, has held mankind in bondage. He says really we’re in bondage all our lifetime, Hebrews 2:15.
Christ severs that bondage. The unregenerate person loves to think about his independence and his freedom. They’re not free at all. They’re in total bondage to Satan. Jesus said it in John 8:44, “You’re of your father, the devil.”
So what does James say? Look, if you’ve come this far in listening to the epistle and you’re examining your life and comparing yourself against these standards, and you look at your life and you know you’re not qualified to call yourself a Christian genuinely, then here’s an invitation. God will give you grace, but you must humble yourself.
How do you do that? Number one, you change your allegiance. You take your stand against diabolos, the slanderer, that means, the accuser, the devil. That’s the title for the chief enemy of God, the chief power, the chief evil, the chief personal evil is bound up in Lucifer, the fallen angel, now known as the devil and Satan, God’s personal antagonist. You formerly served him, you formerly were in bondage to him, you formerly did his bidding, you formerly fulfilled his desires. In fact, 1 John 3:8, “He that commits sin is of the devil.” And this is how the children of the devil are manifest, by sin.
So you were his child, you were his subject, you were his loyal soldier, as it were, carrying out his orders, and what James is saying is transfer your allegiance away from Satan and everything he’s involved in. Transfer your allegiance to the true God, and Satan will flee from you. Isn’t that a wonderful promise?
You know, I think if we could approach evangelism that way, it might take on a new meaning. If we said to people, “Yes, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is essential, but what does that mean? It means that you believe not only who He is but what He did, not only who He is and what He did but what He said. And what did He say? He said to humble yourself. Are you willing to do whatever He asks you to do for the rest of your life? Are you willing to turn from your present master and lord, the devil, and live for God? When you do that, Satan flees.”
I love that. He’s vanquished. Satan departs when we come under a new Lord. It’s much like Romans 7, when your first husband dies, you can marry a second one and you’re no longer bound to the first one, Paul says there. It’s very similar in conversion. You no longer have that old master, you have a new master. And God gives us in that new master a new relationship and Satan flees. Oh, he pokes around all the time, but if we keep the armor on, we can handle him. If we understand the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but mighty to the pulling down of strongholds through the power of God, we can handle him.
But he’s a vanquished lord. He goes around as a roaring lion, it’s kind of interesting, he’s a toothless one, but he’s roaring a lot. For the believer, he poses no threat at all. He’s a vanquished foe. Satan can’t control me. Do you know that? Satan can’t make me do anything. Before I was a believer, before you were a believer, we were totally under his control. Now he cannot cause us to do anything against our will. Oh, we may do things, but we do so on our own choice, prompted by the flesh.
What a tremendous thought. Salvation begins when I understand that I am submitting myself to a new Lord and master, submission to sovereign lordship. That’s where it begins.
Look what he says next in verse 8. And I’m just going to introduce this to you, I won’t even dig into it. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Beloved, what does that mean? Listen, to sum it up very simply - and I’ll leave this with you. The first thing that James says marks the humility of true saving faith is an affirmation that I commit my life to obey Jesus Christ as Lord, to put myself under God as my sovereign, to give my allegiance to Him and take it away from my former master. Secondly, my crying heart desire is for intimacy with the living God. That’s what it means to draw near to God.
It isn’t just to believe in a system, it is to know God. It is the cry of my heart as I come to the point of salvation that I might know thee, that I might draw near and commune with the living, eternal Almighty God. Tremendous truth. It’s the pursuit of an intimate love relationship with God. It’s the desire to come into fellowship as a true worshiper. It’s a beautiful thought.
As the priest of old drew near to God, so the one who comes with saving faith, the one who comes with humility is literally in awe of the majesty of an infinitely holy, loving, gracious, merciful God, and the cry of the heart of that sinner is that he may know that God in a personal, intimate way. So that salvation, then, isn’t something you get, it’s a communion that you begin. Understand that? True salvation is a living communion, and the one who is really redeemed sees it that way. His heart cries out for a new Lord and then it cries out to know that Lord in intimacy.
We could say the first element of the humility of saving faith is submission to the sovereign Lord and the second one is commitment to love and adore Him - to love and adore Him. Is that so strange? Isn’t it true of a believer that he should be marked by loving the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength? What was Paul’s great cry? “O, that I may know Him.” His desire - he says it’s wonderful to be here, far better to depart and be with Christ. Why? Because the longing of the heart of a true believer is for communion with the living God.
Do you understand that? I understand that. I understand what it is to want God’s power in my life. I understand what it is to want God’s energy flowing through me. I understand what it is to want to know all there is of the intimacy of a living communion with the holy God. That’s - that’s the pursuit of the heart of a believer. It’s not a system of doctrine, it’s not so I can get insurance so that I won’t die and go to hell. I want a new Lord and I will submit myself to you and I want a communion with you, the living and true God.
Well, that’s just the start of this great, great invitation, but maybe it’s enough for tonight to say to those of you who are here, if you don’t know what it is to have received the grace of God, that is undeserved favor which includes the forgiveness of all your sins, past, present, and future, undeserved favor from God, which includes all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, undeserved favor from God, which includes the giving of the Holy Spirit to dwell within you and in which He produces love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and all other godly virtues.
If you don’t know what it is to have received all of that from the good and gracious hand of God, then the call of Scripture to you is to humble yourself because He only gives it to the humble, those who don’t want to master their own life anymore, those who don’t want to be mastered by Satan anymore, those who want to submit to the living God and say, “You are my Lord and master, and I will do whatever you ask,” and those whose deepest heart longing is for living, intimate fellowship, an adoring, loving relationship with the true God.
Those are the impulses, you see, in a heart where the Spirit of God is producing a saving faith. And that’s why it’s very difficult to do that in just a brief momentary contact with somebody because they don’t understand enough. How can a person be willing to take his entire life and submit it to the lordship of Christ unless, number one, he’s understood the bankruptcy of his own life and the desperate situation he’s in, following his own will and the will of Satan, unless he also understands who this sovereign God is and what He’s going to ask him to do and be?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones on one occasion had a lady come to him after he was preaching in his church. She said, “Dr. Jones, I have been coming to your church for two months and I want to be saved.” He said to her, “Good, keep coming.” You might say, “What? You mean, he didn’t give her the gospel on the spot? Good, keep coming?” I’m not here to defend that kind of answer but I’m here to tell you this, that when a person puts his life under the lordship of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ, when he does it with any kind of understanding, it’s because he’s heard enough of the Word of God to trust God with his life. He knows the nature of God. He understands something of the purpose and will of God.
And secondly, who is going to have in his heart a driving, passionate longing to commune with a deity he doesn’t understand? All of this is part of the preaching of the gospel. And so James says, “Come, be that humble heart who receives saving grace, and that means submitting and that means drawing near.” And that’s just the start. There are other elements, and we’ll see those next Lord’s Day. Let’s pray together.
Lord, I’m personally overwhelmed by the power of this portion of Scripture. Find myself so captivated by it that I resist leaving it. I want to stay here until it’s just wrung dry of every drop of truth. It seems so urgent, so vital. But even more, Lord, to my own understanding is my desire that it might penetrate the hearts of some who are here who have not yet received grace because they’ve not humbled themselves, who are still walking pridefully in the lust of the flesh, whose affections are still committed to the passing world, whose lifestyle is that of this earth, sensual, demonic.
Even though they may be good people, they’re children of the devil, they’re victims of the prince of the power of the air who rules them, who dominates them. Lord, I can only pray that they might humble themselves. And having prayed that, Lord, I have acknowledged that only you can make it happen. In the flesh our pride remains, only in the Spirit is it shattered.
So we would plead with you, O God, to be gracious and send your Spirit to convict and to cause the hearts of many to long to submit to the lordship of Christ, to long to commune in fellowship with the living and true God, our Savior. For those are the things that cause men humbly to receive your grace. Work that work in every heart for your glory. In Christ’s name, Amen.