James chapter 4. And we go back to the passage we began to look at last Lord’s Day, having to do with primarily verses 6 through 10, focusing mainly on verses 7 through 10. And I’m not going to belabor the point nor take time to give a lengthy introduction. We’re going to have a busy week. We want you to be here for baptism Wednesday night and for our praise service Thursday night. You’ll hear and experience a tremendous time. And so tonight I just want to share what we left off from last time regarding this passage. And if you weren’t here I would really suggest that you get the tape on it, it’s the heart of this whole epistle.
In this very powerful and very direct text, particularly verses 7 through 10, James is calling his readers to come to salvation. It is a call to saving faith. It is a call to repentance. It is a call to believe, to draw near to God, to be saved.
The invitation is directed, the context tells us, at people who are mingled in the church with the saved but are not saved, who are still captive to earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom, as chapter 3, verse 15, mentions, people who love the world and are God’s enemies, as chapter 4, verse 4, mentions - people whose inner spirit is still dominated by evil desire, as chapter 4 verse 5 mentions, and people who are still proud and still self-sufficient, as chapter 4 verse 6 mentions. These are the hearers of chapter 1 who are not the doers. These are those who claim to have faith, as in chapter 2, but do not have works.
So all the way through this epistle, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, and chapter 4, people who claim to believe but don’t believe are of concern to James. Finally, here in verses 7 to 10, he offers a rather comprehensive invitation to them to come in true faith to God. They are in desperate need of forgiveness. They are in need of salvation. They are in need of justification and sanctifying grace.
Now, in verse 6, James says, “He” - being God - “gives greater grace.” He does have grace available. The question then comes: To whom does He give that grace? And in answer to that, James quotes from Proverbs 3:34, “Wherefore He saith, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace unto the humble.’” That is also quoted in 1 Peter 5:5 and 6. You may remember that familiar text. Peter writes, “In like manner, you younger submit unto the elder and all of you be clothed one to another and be - be subject, rather, one to another and be clothed with humility for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
And then verse 6, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time,” which same verse is also quoted by James, as we shall see in verse 10. So this is a familiar concept taken from Proverbs 3:34. Twice quoted in the New Testament, here in James and also 1 Peter chapter 5, as we just read. To whom does God give grace? God gives grace to the humble, those who humble themselves. As we saw last time, God is looking for the man and the woman with a humble heart, a broken and a contrite heart, one who trembles at my Word, He says in Isaiah 66.
In Matthew 18, Jesus said, “Unless you become as a little child, unless you humble yourself, you will not enter the Kingdom,” chapter 18, verses 3 and 4. So when we say God gives grace and when we ask the question to whom, the answer comes: to those who are humble. That poses the question, then, what is the essence of humility? Or how do we describe humility that God blesses with His saving grace? How do we demonstrate the kind of humility that God expects? James answers that in verses 7 to 10 with ten imperatives, ten commands.
As I said last week, the Old Testament has its Ten Commandments, these are the ten commandments of James, and they are a call to saving faith. They are directed at people who have not submitted to God. They are directed at people who have not taken a stand against the devil. They are directed at people who are far from God, who are corrupt inwardly, who are corrupt outwardly, who hold onto the world, who hold onto sin, who laugh and celebrate when they should weep, and it is directed at people who are proud.
Obviously, such a characterization indicates unregenerate people, and they are even called, as you will remember, in verse 8 sinners. Sinners, a really technical term in the New Testament referring to those who do not believe the gospel and who live a life of disregard for the law of God and manifest flagrant sin. So it is a call, then, to sinners - and what is the call? Here come the Ten Commandments.
Look again at verse 7. “Submit yourselves therefore to God, stand against 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.” There you have the elements of humility that mark out one who will receive grace, the grace of salvation.
Let’s look at them again, and we started last time and we’ll review briefly and then move ahead. The word “therefore” is in verse 7 in order to show us the transition from what is in verse 6. God resists the proud, gives grace to the humble; therefore, here is how to humble yourself. Here is how one humbles himself or herself before God to receive saving grace. It couldn’t be more explicit.
First of all, submit yourselves to God. That is a willing, conscious submission to the sovereignty of God. That is loyal allegiance to Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord. Submit yourselves to God. Secondly, we saw last time, take your stand against the devil and he will flee from you. There is no middle ground. When you submit to God, you take your stand against the devil. In other words, you’re exchanging your old lord for a new Lord, your old master for a new master. You submit yourselves to God and the flipside of that is you take your stand against the devil. You cannot do both.
As we learned this morning, no man can serve what? Two masters. Satan departs when we come under the lordship of Christ. What a promise. Satan is vanquished and we take our stand against him, against his lies, against his treachery, against his deceit, against his enterprises, against his worldly system, we take our stand. So the first two commands, then, clearly indicate that we are to submit to the sovereign Lord God, and in so doing, we take a position as enemy to our former ruler, Satan. We can then sum up those first two commands by saying the first element of saving faith is submission to the sovereign Lord - submission to the sovereign Lord.
Let’s look at the third command beginning in verse 8. And this is really a beautiful statement. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” That’s a very Jewish thought. And, of course, you remember back in chapter 1, verse 1, that this wonderful epistle was written to the twelve tribes scattered abroad with the great Jewish heritage. They would understand the richness of this concept of drawing near. The term “draw near” was originally associated with the priestly function. Priests were said to be those who draw near.
For example, just to give you a few passages of Scripture so you’ll be able to follow through in your thinking. In Exodus chapter 19, as God was laying down the standards for the functioning of the priests, in verse 22, He says, “And let the priests also who come near to the Lord sanctify themselves.” It was characteristic of the priests that they were the ones on behalf of the people who drew near to God.
They were the ones who approached the presence of God. They were the one who went in to the Holy Place and offered sacrifices. One of them, the high priest, is the one who went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and offered sacrifice for the nation. So the priests were those who drew near to God.
In Leviticus 10:3, Moses said to Aaron - Aaron, of course, being set apart for priestly function - “This is that the Lord spoke saying, ‘I will be sanctified in them that come near me.’” That is, I will be sanctified or set apart in the hearts of all the priests. Priests were known, then, as those who drew near to God. In Ezekiel chapter 43, we find a similar insight in verse 19. It talks about the priests who “approach unto me to minister unto me.” In other words, God again identifying them as those that drew near to His presence. Again in chapter 44 of Ezekiel and verse 13, it speaks of priests again as those who “come near to me.”
So in the Old Testament, then, those who drew near were the priests, and before they could draw near they had to have washed and cleansed themselves, hands and feet. They had to have offered sacrifices on their own behalf and had a right relationship with God. And ceremonially being clean, they could come into the presence of God under the regulations of the old covenant representing the people. Eventually, however, the thought of drawing near generalized to refer to anyone who came to God.
And, in fact, before the Mosaic economy, it says in the Pentateuch that Abraham drew near to God in prayer, and so there was reason to assume that not only priests drew near but the idea of the priesthood sanctified this concept of drawing near. It added a holiness to it as a priest would never rush into the presence of God ill prepared or unprepared, so no worshiper should, either. But it came to be a general term for one who approached the presence of God in worship, who approached the presence of God in prayer.
In Isaiah, for example, chapter 29 and verse 13, we see a more general use. “Wherefore the Lord said, ‘For as much as this people draw near to me with their mouth and with their lips do honor me but have removed their heart far from me.’” God was not pleased with coming near Him in terms of verbiage, drawing nigh, saying the right words, praying the right prayer, when the heart was really far away. But we learn from that passage that the term “drawing near” became a synonym for any worshiper, even one with a heart that was far from God.
What the Lord really wants is for those who draw near to draw near with a pure heart and a true heart. In Hebrews chapter 4, this beautiful, beautiful verse 16, it says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And God is saying draw near, draw near, there’s grace here, there’s mercy here if your heart is right. In chapter 7 and verse 19 of that great Hebrew epistle, “For the law made nothing perfect but the bringing in of a better hope did, that is in Christ, by which we draw near unto God.”
And then in chapter 10, verse 22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The writer of Hebrews, then, picks up this priestly, sacrificial, ceremonial language and sanctifies it in the new covenant and says as the priests of old drew near to God, having prepared themselves for such communion, so we are to draw near to God, having prepared ourselves as well.
Even though God is a consuming fire, Psalm 73:28 says it is good to draw near to God. That’s a call to salvation, beloved. That’s exactly what that is. But what is inherent in it? What is it saying? It’s saying when a person comes to God, it isn’t just confessing Him as Lord and submitting under that, it isn’t just exchanging the old master, Satan, for the new master, it is the longing of the heart to worship God. It is a drawing near that longs for an intimate, loving relationship with God, coming into fellowship with Him as a true worshiper.
Do you remember John chapter 4? Look at it for a moment, verses 20 to 24. In John 4:20, Jesus is speaking to the woman of Samaria, the woman He had met at the well, and He talks to her about worship. And down in verse 23, He says, “The hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” - that means both in fervency and in fact - that is, with emotion and with content, spirit and truth - “for the Lord seeks such to worship Him.” In other words, in calling this woman to salvation, He is calling her to worship.
And there’s not one thing wrong - in fact, it’s very right when you evangelize to call people to worship the true God. That’s what we’re doing. For we are those, Philippians 3:3 says, who worship God in the spirit. That’s a definition of what we are. We are not just those who submit to the sovereign lordship of Christ, we are also those who long for an intimacy of worship. We seek to know and adore and love and draw near to the true God.
In Acts chapter 17, another perspective is given. As he speaks to those on Mars Hill who knew a lot but didn’t know the true God, he says of the true God who made the world and everything in it, verse 27, “That if they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though He is not far from every one of us for in Him we live and move and have our being.” What he’s saying there is that salvation has an element of seeking a communion with the living and true God. Can you grasp that?
We have made such a shallow reality or such a shallow pseudo-reality out of the call to salvation. We have talked about being saved or accepting Christ in such shallow terminology that rarely do we ever say, “Is there a longing in your heart for communion with the living and true God? Is there a longing in your heart to bow the knee and worship and adore the true God?” Commitment to worship - we’re worshipers, and even there he says you may feel after Him if you desire to do that and He’s not far from you for in Him you live and move and have your being.
And I would say probably the clearest command that God ever gave, obviously, from what the New Testament says that sums up everything else is that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That is the purest and truest definition of a believer. We love God. And John says in his epistle we love God because He what? He first loved us. We are characterized as those who love God. And when you love someone, you long to fellowship with them.
Once we were haters of God, once we were enemies of God, once we were rebels against God, once we ran from God, now we long to know God, we long to love God, we long to fellowship with God, we long to pray to God, to hear His Word, to worship Him. That’s part of it. And if that’s the desire of your heart, borne of the prompting of the Spirit of God, and you desire to draw near to Him, He will what? He’ll draw near to you. What a promise. What a promise.
Back in 1 Chronicles, next-to-the-last chapter, chapter 28, verse 9, do you remember this? Instruction from a wise father, David, to a son, “And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father.” Get to know God. “Serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts, and if you seek Him, He will be found by you but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.” It’s the same idea. Seek to know God. Seek to commune with God. Seek to worship God. Seek to love God. And in response, He will come to you.
Second Chronicles chapter 15 and verse 2, “The Spirit of God had come upon Azariah, the son of Obed, and he went out to meet Asa and he said to him, ‘Hear me, Asa, and you hear me also, all of Judah and Benjamin, the Lord is with you while you’re with Him.’” Isn’t that interesting? The Lord is with you while you’re with Him, and if you seek Him, He’ll be found by you. If you forsake Him, He’ll forsake you. God calls us to seek Him, to long to know Him, to draw near to Him, and He’ll draw near to us.
In Psalm 145 and verse - I think it’s verse 8, it says, “The Lord is gracious, yes, and full of compassion and of great mercy.” That’s the underlying issue. You say, “Why would God want to draw near to sinners?” Because of grace, because of compassion, because of mercy, and down in verse 18, it then says, “Though the Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works, the Lord is near to all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” He responds to the seeking heart. He responds to the worshiping spirit.
In Zechariah chapter 1 and verse 3, Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Turn unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you. Turn to me, I’ll turn to you; draw near to me, I’ll draw near to you. Just a basic principle.
May I illustrate it to you? Look at Luke 15. Luke 15, one of the most beautiful parables of salvation anywhere in the Scripture, the parable of a loving father who had two sons. You remember the story. Verse 18, the son who had gone off into the world and lived in sin, profligacy, and wasted all of his privilege said, “I will arise and go to my father. And I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee and am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants.”
There is repentance, penitence, sadness, brokenness, mourning over sin. There is a longing to return to God. “He arose and came to his father.” Please notice this: “And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, had compassion and” - what’s the next verb? - did what? - “ran, fell on his neck and kept kissing him.” You start out toward God and God what? Moves toward you. What a beautiful picture. Beautiful picture.
So saving faith has as an element to it submission to sovereign lordship and an element to it of commitment to adoring worship. But how do we worship? Let’s go back to James and keep following what he says. How do we offer that worship? Isn’t there something else that’s a part of saving faith? Isn’t there something else inherent in it? Yes. Verse 8 says, “Cleanse hands, sinners.” That’s the fourth command, “Cleanse hands, sinners.” It says in the original text, katharizō, catharsis in English, a purging, a purifying, a cleaning, a cleansing. The origin, again, of this thought is in Jewish ceremonial prescription.
The cleansing of the hands that was done by the priest before he ever went before God is described in Exodus 30, verses 19 and following. The high priest’s cleansing is described in Leviticus and particularly verse 4. The priests, before they could ever go in before the Lord, had to go through a cleansing process. And what James is saying, “Now that you’re drawing nigh to God, cleanse hands, sinners.” A cleansed life is what he speaks of. That’s not a new thought, not a new thought at all.
In Isaiah 1:15, “And when you spread forth your hands, I’ll hide my eyes from you,” God said. “Yea, when you make many prayers I will not hear, your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves.” Verse 16, “Make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Then He says, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ saith the Lord, ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool if you are willing and obedient.’”
Cleanse yourselves, that’s what the Scripture says the sinner is to do. Cleanse your hands, sinners. Why hands? Why hands? Well, because hands are the symbols of what? Of action, the symbols of behavior, of deeds done. And it is always, Scripture says, our iniquities that separate us from God, is it not? Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.”
So in approaching God, we remember the promise of 1 John chapter 1, verse 9. If we confess our sins, He’s what? Faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When the heart submits to sovereign lordship, when a heart commits itself to worship the true and living God and longs to know Him and love Him, that heart will be moved to the recognition of its own sin. Confession of sin is part of it. But let’s call this a longing for righteousness, a longing for holiness.
Do you remember the beatitude, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness? That’s what this is - that’s what this is. We draw near to God. You say, “Is this in chronological order?” Not necessarily - not necessarily. These are all components of saving faith. It isn’t that one happens and then the next happens and then the next happens and then the next happens, it’s just that where there is true saving faith, the heart responds to all these commands. The heart submits to a new Lord and says no to the old one.
The heart longs to love and adore and worship and praise and to know God, and the heart hungers for righteousness and for clean hands. It hates what it sees about itself, its sin, the heinousness of it is repulsive. But there’s more. It’s not just the hands which symbolize the outside, but look again at verse 8. Then he says, “And purify hearts, double-minded.” Very pointed statements. Purify hearts, double-minded (implied, your hearts).
And here, James adds the inward dimension, the heart. He says, “I’m not asking only that you turn from the sin that you do but that you turn from the sin that is really you on the inside.” The inner person includes thoughts, motives, desires, the heart. It’s the heart, Jeremiah said, that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked - desperately wicked. And the sinner comes not just longing to be delivered from the things he did that are wrong but from the wrongness that’s deep within him - deep within him.
The psalmist - what was the psalmist’s cry? Psalm 24 - I think it’s verses 3 and 4 - comes to mind. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in His holy place? Who can draw near? Who can come to God? He who has clean hands” - that’s one half of it - “and a” - what? - “pure heart.” And a pure heart. “He will receive the blessing from the Lord, he will receive righteousness from the God of salvation.”
What are we crying out to sinners today? Are we crying these things to them? When we give the gospel, do we say, “Submit yourselves to God as your Lord and master and turn your back and take your stand on your former master, Satan”? Do we say, “Give your life to love the living God and have in your heart a longing to know Him personally and intimately”? Do we cry out to people, “Turn from the sin that you do and the sin that dominates who you are and have a hunger in your heart for righteousness”?
Jeremiah chapter 4 and verse 4, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your heart,” he says. Not just ceremonial cleansing but heart cleansing - heart cleansing. Ezekiel the prophet cried out similarly. Two great passages, one in chapter 18 and verse 31, “Cast away from you all your transgressions by which you have transgressed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit for why will you die?” he says (implied, in your sins). And then that magnificent thirty-sixth chapter, verses 25 and following, it says, “Then will I sprinkle clean water on you, you shall be clean from all your filthiness; from all your idols, I will cleanse you; a new heart also will I give you. I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
The call of God, then, is for a transformed heart. But perhaps the most beautiful passage along that line from the Old Testament is in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. Listen to these familiar words. Verse 6, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near,” sounds like James, doesn’t it? Then this, “Let the wicked forsake his way,” that’s the hands, that’s what you do, “and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” that’s the inward, that’s what you are, “and let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy upon him and to our God for He will abundantly pardon.”
The call to sinners, beloved, is crystal clear. Whether you’re in the Old Testament, the gospel record, or the New Testament, the call to sinners is this: Submit to God, love Him with all your heart, and turn from your sin and hunger for righteousness. That’s the call of God. Approaching God must include true and earnest longings and endeavors after purity and beauty of spirit and of life.
So what are the components, then, that make up the humility that God honors by granting the grace of salvation? One, submission to sovereign lordship; two, commitment to loving worship; and three, a hunger for righteousness. Fourthly - and number six in the commands - let’s look at another thing that rises out of the next few commands. The sixth command comes in verse 9: “Be afflicted.” That’s it. What does that word mean? Well it means to feel wretched, to feel absolutely totally miserable.
That’s the gospel, folks. Did you realize that? I don’t know that we often say that to people, but that’s the gospel. We always say, “Wouldn’t you like to feel good?” when we perhaps ought to say, “Folks, I want you to feel miserable. You have to feel bad before you can feel good.”
This is the feeling - now get this - that follows the true estimate of one’s sinfulness. It refers to the inner feelings of shame over sin. Shame over sin. James is not denying the joy of the Christian life, he is just saying it doesn’t start that way. It doesn’t start that way. He’s not denying rejoicing as a Christian experience, he is just saying it doesn’t start that way. All that joy rises out of God’s grace, given to us in our misery. This statement, “Be afflicted,” means to feel worse before you can ever feel better. It means to have a deep, penitential sorrow over sin. In a word, a spirit of penitence.
I say again to you, what are the components, then, of a saving faith? What are the elements of a true humility? One, submission to the sovereignty of God; two, commitment to love and worship Him; three, a hunger for righteousness; and four, a spirit of penitence, which is a turning from sin. It’s very much like the prior one. The emphasis on the prior one seems to imply the longing for righteousness and the desire to be pure and the desire to be cleansed, and here is the emotion that goes with it that is broken over sin. And some people don’t come to true salvation because they’re not miserable enough in their sin, you understand that? This is a call for frivolous, worldly people to grieve over their sin against God.
Notice in verse 9 the next command, number seven, “and mourn,” he says. It reminds us again of the Beatitudes, chapter 5 of Matthew, verse 4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Mourning over what? Mourning over their sinfulness. That’s the response to misery, that’s the response to sin. Beloved, it speaks of the broken spirit. It speaks of a self-contained, nonviolent grief that makes the heart ache. James has in mind the demeanor of misery. He says be miserable in verse 9 and then he says it will show in the demeanor, you’ll mourn. That’s the inner pain. That is to lament. The word, in fact, is used to lament for the dead, a funeral-like grief.
One writer very wisely said, “To repent is to accuse and condemn ourselves. To charge upon ourselves the dessert of hell. To take part with God against ourselves and to justify Him in all that He does against us. To repent is to be ashamed and confounded for our sins. To repent is to have them ever in our eyes and at all times upon our hearts that we may be in daily sorrow for them. To repent is to part with our right hands and eyes; that is, with those pleasurable sins which have been as dear to us as our lives, so as never to have to do with them again.
“To repent is to hate them so as to destroy them as things which by nature we are wholly disinclined to do for we naturally love and think well of ourselves, hide our deformities, lessen and excuse our faults, indulge ourselves in the things that please us, and are mad upon our lusts and follow them, though to our own destruction.”
But a person who comes to Christ isn’t simply a person who signs on a dotted line or makes an emotional response to some hearing of the salvation story. A person who comes to Christ is a person who is overwhelmed with the sense of misery due to sinfulness, and the inner spirit of that person is in deep lament and grief over that which eventually comes out in the eighth command in verse 9, “weep.” Misery is a recognition of the state. Mourning is how the spirit responds. And weeping is how the body responds. Crying, shedding tears. Inner sorrow works its way to the outside.
What did Peter do when he had just betrayed Christ? He went out and what? Mark 14:72 says he went out and wept bitterly. Tears are the outward evidence of brokenness over sin. Tears are the way penitence is very often released. They are a gift from God to release the aching heart.
In Isaiah 22, verse 12, “In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping and to mourning and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth.” In other words, God looked at you in your sin and called you to weep and called you to mourn. But instead, joy, gladness, slaying oxen, killing sheep, eating flesh, drinking wine, let us eat, drink, for tomorrow we die. All the wrong responses.
One writer has said, “There is a tear that spots the cheek and speaks more than the tongue can speak in words without a name that tells of many a pang within, of many a foul and deadly sin, it is the tear of shame.” Tears of shame. That all points to a genuine sorrow over sin, a godly sorrow, Scripture says, 2 Corinthians 7, leading to repentance.
What, then, are the elements that make for saving faith, the true humility which receives the grace of God? One, submission to the lordship of God; two, commitment to a loving, adoring worship and a desire to be intimate with God; three, a hunger for holiness; and four, a genuine repentance that involves pain over one’s sinfulness. Those have to be there.
The ninth command comes at the end of verse 9. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.” Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness - what a statement. You people that are living it up in the world, you people who are described in chapter 4, verse 4, as those who are friends of the world and enemies of God, you people who are into the wisdom that descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, and demonic, you good-time-Charlies and partygoers of the world, you who are laughing and having your big time - by the way, the word “laughter” is used only here in the New Testament, gelōs, it’s only here.
It’s a word that isn’t used. It indicates the leisurely laughter of men indulging in their desires and pleasures. It is the laughter of fools who reject God. It is the silly laughter of a pleasure-loving gang of people indulging themselves up to their proverbial ears in the things of the world. It pictures people who give no thought to God, no serious thought to God, no thought to life, death, sin, judgment, holiness. Stop that, he says. Stop getting caught up in the music and the parties of the world and turn your laughter into mourning. Why? Because you see your sin.
And turn your joy into heaviness - means gloominess, shame, sorrow, a downcast look on the face, hanging the face in shame. You remember in Luke 18, the spirit of the penitent publican who wouldn’t so much as lift his face toward heaven but having his head bowed, looking down, beat upon his breast and cried out, “God be merciful to me” - what? - “a sinner.” And Jesus said that man went home justified. Why? Because he had turned his laughter into mourning, and his joy had become heaviness, overwhelmed was he with his own sin - his own sin.
As it says in Lamentations, I think it’s verse 15 of chapter 5, “Our dance ought to be turned in to mourning.” You people swallowed up in the world, you need to become seriously disconnected from that. And so we could add a fifth principle here, and that is that saving faith and a proper humility not only involves submission to sovereign lordship, commitment to a loving worship, and knowledge of the true God, a hunger for holiness, a genuine brokenness and repentance over sin but also a separation from the folly of the world.
Do you remember what we said in 1 John 2? It says, verses 15 to 17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for if any man love the world” - what? - “the love of the Father is not in him.” James gives us an invitation that calls us away from the world, to be the enemy of the world and the friend of God, not the friend of the world and the enemy of God.
And then James wraps it all up in the tenth of his commandments in verse 10, and this is the summation of everything. This pulls it all in to one statement. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” He’ll save you with His grace. Lifting you up is equal to verse 6, He gives grace, He gives greater grace. Lifting you up and giving you grace is the same thing. When you humble yourself, He does that. So humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord.
The word tapeinoō means to make yourself low. Voluntarily put yourself down in the sight of the Lord. Conscious of His presence, conscious that He is watching, conscious of who He is, infinitely holy, sovereign, majestic, God. He is so great. He is so mighty. He is so pure. He is so perfect. He is so holy. We must be humbled in the light of who He is. We have to become like Isaiah who, in seeing God, cursed himself. And when he said, “Woe is me,” he was saying, “Damnation to me, eternal destruction to me, for I am a man with a dirty mouth, I dwell among people with dirty mouths.”
You see, when he saw God and then looked at himself, all he could see was his sin. And so that is exactly what James is saying. Look at yourselves when you see God, humble yourselves in the sight of God. As you see who God is, you’ll humble yourself. Look, whenever you see the reality of who God is, infinitely holy, majestic, glorious, God, all you can see about yourself is your own sin. That’s how it is.
I pointed that out in the book I wrote on worship. You remember that every time a person in the Old Testament was face to face with the reality of the presence of the holy God and that person had a proper response, they were overwhelmed with one great surpassing emotion and that emotion was fear. Because a sinner in the presence of an infinitely holy God is overwhelmed by his sense of sinfulness, which he knows is now exposed, and has every reason to fear.
That’s why the disciples were more afraid when Jesus stilled the storm than they were of the storm. It says they were afraid of the storm, afraid they might drown. Jesus stilled the storm and it says they were exceedingly afraid because more fearful than having a storm outside your boat is having a holy God in your boat. And when Jesus came to the shore in Luke 5 and told Peter where to put his net and he pulled in all the fish, Peter’s response was, “Go away, depart from me, I am a sinful man.”
Why? He knew he had just seen the living God control nature and he was afraid to be exposed to the living God, whom he knew to be holy, for he was a sinful man. That’s the reaction. But when you come in that kind of brokenness and that kind of humility, you come in the essential - in the essential form, in the essential manner, and He will lift you up. Oh, what a great statement.
The perfect illustration is the prodigal. He came home, he drew near, the father drew near to him. He had cleansed his life, he had left the pig slop, he had left the wild living, he had left the drunken orgies, he had come back, he had put that all behind him, he’d done all the things that James says to do. He was now submitting to his father. He says, “Make me a servant, I turn my back on my former manner of life, I draw near to you, you draw near to me, I’ve cleansed the outside, I want to cleanse the inside, I’m sad, I’m broken, I’m afflicted, I’m mourning, I’m weeping, I’m humbled before you.”
And what did the father do? Say, “Boy, it’s about time, buddy, get out in the shed, you’re going to get it,” is that what he said? He said, “Kill the fatted calf, put a ring on his finger, get the best robe, we’re having a party.” And he lifted him up. That’s grace, isn’t it? That’s grace. He giveth more grace, greater grace than we can even imagine.
To what are we lifted? We’re lifted by saving grace to sanctification; ultimately, to glorification. What does it bring to us? Do I need to remind you of Ephesians? Look at it for a moment, chapter 1, verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Does that sum it up for you?
What do we receive, what does He lift us up to? To the heavenlies, to the dominion of God, to the dwelling place of Christ, to the spiritual sphere in which are all good things. We receive, verse 7 says, redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace. Beyond that he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence, made known unto us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself - and on it goes.
And in the second chapter, I love so much verse 6, “He raises us up together,” that’s lifting us up, “seats us in the heavenlies,” that doesn’t mean takes us to the actual heaven, that means puts us in His Kingdom. And then through all the ages to come, pours out His grace richly through kindness toward us. He lifts us up to salvation, He lifts us up to sanctification, He lifts us up to glorification.
James is calling for saving faith, that’s what he’s calling for. And as I said last week, I don’t know how so many people have missed the intent of this marvelous passage. May well be the clearest, most comprehensive, concise invitation to salvation on the pages of Holy Scripture - profound. And what does it seek? That the sinner submit himself to a new Lord and master and turn and take his stand against the old one, that the sinner have a heart longing to know and love and worship the true God, that the sinner have a hunger for holiness and a genuine brokenness and repentance over sin, and that he come with a spirit that separates him from the past and from all that the world was. The sum of it is he humbles himself.
This is not a new message. Somebody said that they heard a radio program the other day and somebody on the radio program called up and said, “Well, there seems to be a new doctrine running around about salvation, and I think it’s somehow connected to John MacArthur.” Folks, this is not a new doctrine. I got it from the Bible. But listen to George Whitefield’s statement, great evangelist of past centuries, he writes, “Every man by his own natural will hates God, but when he is turned to the Lord by repentance, then his will is changed. Then his conscience, now hardened and benumbed, shall be quickened and weakened.
“Then his hard heart shall be melted and his unruly affections shall be crucified, thus by that repentance the whole soul will be changed, he will have new inclinations, new desires, and new habits.” Charles Hadden Spurgeon wrote, “There is a vital connection between soul distress and sound doctrine. Sovereign grace is very dear to those who have grown deeply because they see what grievous sinners they are.” We ask ourselves the question, Whatever happened to that kind of preaching that cries for men to repent?
J. C. Ryle listed seven characteristics of the preachers during the great awakening of the eighteenth century. I want to give you these seven. One, they taught the supremacy of the Holy Scripture. Two, they preached the total corruption of human nature. Three, they taught that Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin. Four, they preached the doctrine of justification by faith. Five, they taught the universal necessity of heart conversion and new creation by the Holy Spirit.
Six, they spoke of God’s eternal hatred against sin and of God’s love for sinners. And then seventh - and get this - they preached that there was an inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness. They never allowed for a moment that any church membership or religious profession was the least proof of a man being a Christian if he lived an ungodly life.
They were right on target. Right on target. And what is the message? Very simple. The message to sinners who sometimes get mixed in the church is, one, submit yourselves therefore to God; two, take your stand against the devil and he’ll flee from you - what a promise; three, draw near to God and He’ll draw near to you; four, cleanse your hands, you sinners; five, purify your hearts, you double-minded; six, be afflicted, be miserable; seven, mourn; eight, weep; nine, let your laughter be turned to mourning, your joy to grief; and ten, humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.
You say, “But John, you’re calling on sinners to do that. How can they do that?” I’m calling on sinners to do it because James called on sinners to do it, because Jesus called on sinners to do it, because the prophets of old called on sinners to do it, and I know full well what you know full well and that is the only way sinners can do it is when the powerful grace of God overwhelms their fallenness.
As it says in Psalm 110:3, “It is in the day of His power that His people are willing.” And when it is done it is all to His glory. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, such a direct Word leaves no question in my mind or the mind of any of us who have listened as to what you ask. You have grace for those who are your enemies. You have grace for those who are but victims of worldly, demonic, sensual wisdom. You have grace for those who have a faith that has no works.
You have grace for those who are merely hearers and not doers. You have saving grace, sanctifying grace, glorifying grace, grace that pours out blessings beyond imagination for time and eternity, grace undeserved, unmerited, unearned blessing.
But you have said that grace is for the humble, and you have said the humble are those who come in the manner we have seen described tonight. To that end we pray, O God, that there might be in this congregation some who look to their own lives and say, “I want to submit to sovereign Almighty God, I want to give Him my life, I want a new master and Lord, I want to know Him, I want to love Him and worship Him and serve Him and spend eternity in His presence.
“I want righteousness for sin. I want purity for evil. I want virtue for vice. I’m broken over my sin, I’m sick of it, I’m tired of it, I want to set it aside. I want to stop the foolishness of the world and weep when I need to weep. I humble myself.”
O Lord God, may that be the prayer of many hearts as they come and kneel at the foot of the cross where Jesus shed His blood to purchase salvation for worthless sinners such as we are.
While your heads are bowed in just the quietness of this closing moment, if the Spirit of God has directed the message in some specific way to your heart, the call of God’s Spirit is clear, you’re the one who must respond. If it’s in your heart to do that, if you sense the prompting of God’s Spirit, you say, “I want to commit myself to the Lord Jesus Christ”, just say that silently in your heart, “I submit. Turning from my sin, I seek to know you, to love you, to serve you, to have a pure life, to turn from the world and all its folly to that which is so surpassing.” Pray that prayer, Amen.