In this episode, we continue through the fourth chapter of The Book of James. It will show us the impossibility of serving two masters. That it is not in our nature to let in just some of one thing and some of another. We must either choose God’s kingdom or this temporal world with its temporal promises. The choice is binary. Whom will we serve?
Today we’re going to do James 4. It’s the chapter with four therefores. So chapter 4 has four therefores. And, of course, anytime we see a therefore, we want to see what it’s there for. And these therefores are going to kind of drive the logic of this chapter.
In chapters 1-3 of James, we’ve seen that what James wants us to do is win at life through walking in the wisdom of God, in the ways of God by faith, instead of walking in the ways of the world. And it’s been a very consistent theme that he’s repeated multiple times, and nothing’s going to change today, so let’s just start with 4:1.
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore—so there’s our first therefore—Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Get on the winning team
So if you want to be a winner—this book is all about winning—what’s the easiest way to be a winner? If you want to root for the winning team, what’s the easiest thing to do if you’re going to root for the winning team? Figure out who the best team is, and then become a fan of them, right? Isn’t that the best way to do it?
You know, the biggest selling jerseys is the New England Patriots because they’ve won a bunch of Super Bowls. It’s a very logical thing to do.
So, what he wants us to do here is get on the winning team. And this kind of goes back to some of the other lessons we’ve had. There’s this gear-shift thing that we have in life where we’re either in the world gear, or we’re in the God gear. And there’s no in between. There’s no middle ground where you can have a little of each. We’re one or the other. So, the best way to get on the winning team is to choose the winning team. And the winning team is God’s team.
You can’t have some of the world
But what he says here is that if we try to have some of the world, it just pollutes being on God’s team. We can’t do it. And it makes us an adulterer or an adulteress. And lest you think to yourself, that can’t be talking about a believer, remember the word brethren is in here 15 times. He never changes audiences. He’s always talking to believers. And that’s made abundantly apparent in verse 5.
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
This reminds me of Galatians chapter 5. Let’s just go there real quick. It’s a classic text that we really can’t go over too often because it’s our daily existence. Galatians 5:16.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
We’ve got these two things going on inside of us all the time, lust of flesh, and the Spirit is lusting.
Verse 17. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another—They’re enemies! They’re competing! The Spirit and the flesh are. And what are they competing for? They’re competing for us.
We choose God’s team or the world
We are the chooser. We’re the ones that shift the gear knob to decide which of these is going to have the dominance in us. There’s no mix and match. There’s no little of this, and a little of that. It’s one or the other. We get to choose, but we choose one or the other.
Bride of Christ
So, which is it going to be? And it’s pretty strong words here. James says if and when we choose the world, we’re an adulterer and adulteress. Now why would that be? We are all the bride of Christ.
One of the things I like to tell women when I get a chance to talk to them about this subject is we need—we as males—need you to show us what it means to be a faithful bride because your example is how we’re supposed to act to our husband, Jesus. We’re supposed to be responsive. We’re supposed to follow that husband’s lead. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s not a bent of males to do anything anybody else says at any time. We kind of like to do things our own way. It’s a problem for us.
But it’s a problem for us all because we have this pleasure inside of us.
God doesn’t tempt us
Let’s just flip back to chapter 1 real quick. We have seen this before. He says, verse 13—
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”—because he just told us to have joy when we encounter various trials because God lets us go through difficult circumstances, and those difficult circumstances are a fantastic opportunity for us to prove our faith and have it refined like gold. It’s an awesome opportunity for us, but it’s not a temptation. Temptation comes from within us.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
So, we still, as believers, have this opportunity because we’ve got this problem inside of us, this flesh. The flesh is still there. And, to the extent we nurture it or to the extent we follow it, we get sin and death. The consequences still come.
Well, isn’t this an esteem problem? I mean, if we say, I’m a rotten miserable individual, aren’t we violating the thing that we’ve all been told in our generation that the most important thing we can do is love ourselves. The most important thing we can do is think highly of ourselves. You have to love yourself before you can love others. You have to esteem yourself before you can have the foundation to benefit others.
Isn’t that what we’ve been told? This seems to run in the face of that pretty severely, doesn’t it?
You know, they’ve done some surveys. You know what segment of the population has the highest self-esteem? Prison inmates. Turns out when you think really highly of yourself no matter what you do, you can do some pretty heinous things.
The Bible doesn’t really want us to have false enthusiasm about ourselves. It wants us to have reality about ourselves.
Does that mean that what we should do is just quit life and go to a convent or monastery and flagellate ourselves and say woe is me all the time?
Well, let’s go on because he tells us, therefore if we want to be a friend of the world, then we’re an enemy of God, so enemies of God are going to get negative consequences, right?
So we don’t want that. We don’t want the consequences of the world. We want the consequences of God.
God gives grace
So, what would we do?
Well, Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace—
Now isn’t that a cool answer? What do we do if we come to this reality that I’m a miserable, broken person that’s self-seeking and has these pleasures that are weighing me down. I’m just kind of sunk. I’m on the wrong team by my nature. What do I do?
Well, he’s going to tell us what to do here.
He says, therefore, given this condition of reality that we’re going to see ourselves with, what’s the first step? The first step is to realize God gives a lot of grace. Isn’t that the opposite of what you’d think?
Let’s just go through this, and you’re saying to somebody, “You’re a miserable, wretched sinner. You’re a drunk. You’re a self-aholic. You’re arrogant. You’re controlling.” Have I stepped on everybody’s toes yet? What else do I need to do? Somebody help me if I haven’t gotten you. Those are pretty broad categories.
You are this problematic person, and you need to get better.
What have people tried to escape their desire for the world?
Let’s just think about what we’ve done throughout history. What have we done through history to get better?
I’ve mentioned monasteries. I can’t do anything but evil so I’m just going to go off where there’s no negative environment. I’m going to spend all day in prayer and reading the Bible, and I’m not going to speak. That way I can’t have an evil tongue because if I never say anything, if I never say anything, I can’t have an evil tongue. I’m completely walled off, and I’m going to be a holy person.
And because everybody can’t do that, if you can’t do that, then you support one of those monastics, and your money that you used to support the monastic gives you the bragging rights for their holiness.
That’s been a big movement in our history.
Or, you set up a system of rules. We’ve got to get better, so let’s have a program. Let’s have a daily spiritual boot camp. We’ve had all kinds of those.
We’ve had relics. Go get the magic relic, and get connected with that somehow.
We went to a cathedral in France, this beautiful, fantastic cathedral. These amazing stained-glass windows. It was in Chartres. The cathedral was built in, like, 11 years. I’m thinking, how did that happen? I thought all these cathedrals took, like, a hundred years to build. And they said, ah, no. The reason it took a hundred years to build wasn’t because it took so long, it was because they just built it as the money came in.
But this one had tons of money. Why? They had a relic everybody wanted to be in on. I forget what it was. I think it was like Mary’s covering or Jesus’ covering, or something like that.
Everybody wanted to get in on this relic. Why? Because they realized this problem here. I’m really a miserable, wretched person. I need to get better. So, what I’m going to do is get in on this relic, and the magic of the relic makes me okay.
Or we have the daily things. For a thousand years in Christianity, you have to go get the magic wafer every week. You’ve got to go to confession consistently. You have to light your candles. That’s a thousand years.
Then, of course, Protestantism came along, and we replaced that with the daily devotional, the Methodist movement, which was started by the Wesleys. You have a method, and you get up every morning at 5:00 am, and for two hours you sing hymns and do Bible study.
And that’s carried over into the segment of evangelism we’re in. “How is your devotional life?” If I want to ask you a real spiritual question I would ask, “How is your devotional life?” Like, somehow, how long and when you get up is a measure of how you’re doing.
God gives grace
Well, this doesn’t say any of that. This doesn’t say anything about, because we have this massive problem inside of us, we have this lust for pleasure, this flesh, therefore, find a method. Therefore, do a retreat. Therefore—it doesn’t say any of that. It says therefore God gives more grace.
That’s why we need more grace all the time because we can’t fix this. It’s just a fundamental problem.
You know what’s cool about that? It means we don’t have to justify ourselves. We can just receive daily God’s grace.
Therefore, He gives more grace.
But then he goes on.
Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Now here’s the problem with all of those things that we’ve talked about: monasticism and everything else. They’re all self-improvement programs.
And you know what? If you have a fundamental nature problem, you can’t improve it. I’m a living example of this. All of us are.
So what do we do?
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Now this is a problem for us because we’ve all been taught that grace is unmerited favor. So, when we say he gives grace to the humble, it’s hard for us to process what that means because it sounds like he gives grace to people based on what they do, and we’ve been told you get grace not based on what you do.
So, let’s work this out.
What is grace, and is it earned?
Let me work with you on this word grace for a minute. It’s the Greek word charis. We get our English word charismatic from this. A person who’s charismatic is a person who gets great favor based on the way they act. They act in a very favorable way.
Well, all charis means is favor.
And I want to show you. If you look at Luke 2:52, I’ll show you this. Luke 2:52 says—This is about Jesus when he’s a boy.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor—charis, could be translated grace because it’s the same Greek word—and in favor with God and men.
And this is a bone that I have to pick on an ongoing basis with the theologians and translators. They give us these technical theological definitions as though the Bible always means that when the word pops up, and then they use the English word when it fits the technical definition. They use a different English word when it doesn’t.
This just means favor.
Now look: There’s two kinds of favor that Jesus came under. One was from God, and one was from man. And he increased in favor. Now why would you increase in favor? It’s because of what you’re doing.
So, is grace always unmerited favor? It’s certainly not when it comes to men. We judge based on a standard. We give people favor when they measure up to some standard that we have. And different groups of people have different standards, right?
What one group says—“The President is fantastic” because they have one set of measurements—and another groups says “This President is evil and horrible,” because they have a different set of standards. Or fill in the blank with whatever other athlete or famous person. They have different standards.
Men judge based on standards.
What does God judge based on? Does God judge based on a standard? Well, yes and no.
God’s standard is himself
The standard is himself. What God doesn’t do is have a standard external to himself. There’s no standard that’s above God.
When we judge, there’s always a standard that’s above us somehow, even if we don’t think there is.
Think of an Olympic diver. The guy comes out in his little too small swimsuit. And then he does his little dive. And it’s so fast, you’re like, “What happened?” He’s just turning in the air.
And then the judges all hold up a card. And there’s like eight of them. Why do they need eight? Because they throw out the high and low. Why do they throw out the high and low? Because they’re humans. They’re fallible.
And then there’ll be somebody—you know, 8.5, 8.5—5! And they’ll say—this doesn’t happen so much anymore, but it used to back, like, during the Cold War. They’d say, “Why is that person a five?” “Oh, it’s because they’re a Russian, and this is America.” They’re biased. They’re not following the rules. Because there’s a standard. And the judge is saying, based on the standard, this is what I gave them.
And that’s kind of what we do in life. We’re all kind of diving judges, you know? The lady comes by, “Hey, how are you?” And all the women say, “Oh, did you see her makeup? It’s not smooth. You see her! Look at those shoes. Those are hideous, aren’t they?” Especially in junior high.
Or the guys: “Hey, how’s it going?” “Oh, that guy. He’s—” I can’t think of an example—Grumble, grumble.
We have these external standards that we judge with.
God doesn’t have that. God judges based on himself.
Now, does God give unmerited grace? Yes, in the sense that he gives favor based on what he decides to do. He always decides.
We will never be able to stand before God and say, “Hey, you gave me a 7.0, and you weren’t following the rules! My dive with my life was a 9.5! And let me show you why!” And God says, “Oh, I kind of messed up. I didn’t see those.”
There isn’t anything like that.
God grades how he wants to
When God judges, he judges based on himself for whatever reasons he decides to judge, and that’s it. That’s the way it’s going to be.
Now, is God going to make distinctions? Well think of the parables.
One guy comes in at 8:00, works all day long. God comes in at the end, the master does, and says, “I’m going to give you a day’s wages.” And another guy comes in at 3:00 p.m. and works for two hours. He says, “I’m going to give you a full day’s wages.” And the guys that worked all day say, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! That’s not fair to us!” And the master looks at them and says, “You got a problem with me wanting to be generous to somebody else?”
God is going to grade however he wants to. To whom much is given much is expected. What does that mean? To whom little is given, little is expected. And who’s going to decide who’s given much and who’s given little? Us? No.
So, God judges based on however he wants to judge. But does he judge based on what he sees? Does he judge based on what we do? Yes, he does. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Here’s the question: Who decides what’s proud and what’s humble? Is there some standard, external to God, that we can use to argue with God? No.
But is God going to look at us and say, “Who needs more favor?” based on what we do? Yes.
Humility gets us off the losing team
So, we have this problem. We have lust, and we have desire for pleasure. And we have the flesh. And that will put us on the losing team.
So, how do you get off the losing team onto the winning team? You get humility. You become humble. And you get more grace, more favor, the more humble you get.
So, if you’ve got this fundamental problem, you can’t fix it. There is no self-improvement program that will make it better, and that’s going to keep you off the winning team. You’re not going to get consequences of winning if you don’t get away from that. And there’s nothing that you can do to overcome it, but there’s more grace and more favor available, if you take the path of humility. Therefore, what?
Let’s figure out how to get humble, right?
I was talking to Dr. Anderson one time, and he said, “You know, I got a medal for humility from my church, and then I started wearing it, and they took it away from me.”
How to get humble
So, we’ve got to figure out how to get humble.
Verse 7. Therefore—he’s going to tell us now how to get humble. We’ve got this problem. Therefore—And the problem puts us on the wrong team. Therefore get on the right team. We can’t fix this. Therefore God gives us more favor. And the more we’re humble, the more favor we get.
So, let’s figure out how to get humble. That’s what we do next.
Therefore—this is the third therefore—submit to God.
This seems way too simple, doesn’t it? Because we would prefer a complex self-improvement program. Why? Because then we’re doing it. And what is that? It’s pride.
Now here’s an interesting thing. Is going to a monastery necessarily going to make you proud or humble? The circumstances aren’t going to determine, right?
Do you think God blessed a lot of people who went and got the magic wafer every week? I surely do because I bet you a lot of them went because they were submitting themselves to God as best they knew how.
Or the daily devotional, the Methodists. If you get up at 5:00 in the morning for two hours, is God going to honor that or is he going to consider it pride? Well, it depends, right? It depends on the reason you’re doing it.
So all these things can be fantastic, and all of them can be self-improvement that God would reject. It’s not the thing we do. It’s the reason we do it that’s going to matter.