In this episode, we explore the give and take of pursuing relationship with God. If we submit to God, he engages with us and blesses us. If we resist the devil, he will flee. As we draw near to God, he draws near to us. We will walk through a personal testimony of wisdom and obedience. Our days are limited and it is time to make a decision. Whom will we pursue?
So submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
That’s pretty cool. We’ve seen already that our flesh is kind of connected to the world, which is connected to Satan, which is connected to the demonic world. It’s all kind of part of the same thing.
So, step number one is resist it. We know we have these pleasures inside of us. We know we have this flesh thing. So, resist it.
Paul says put it to death. Resist the devil, and he’ll flee from you. That’s pretty cool. Demonic forces are huge, huge power centers. Incredible power. But if you resist, we get the favor of God chasing them off, apparently.
Draw near to God
Draw near to God, and he’ll draw near to you.
What method do we use to draw near to God? Whatever you want to do. Whichever method you want to apply. It doesn’t say what method to use. All of those methods that could be used to be prideful and to be self-improvement can equally be used to draw near to God. It depends on what heart you do it with.
You can be in here today seeking to find some sort of gem that you can use to beat other people up over the head with, and that’s not going to do you any good.
Or you can be here today saying I want to draw nearer to God, and this helps me do it, which means you’re following the winning team, trying to figure out how to get on the winning team.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Now, how do we do this? Does this mean we’re always supposed to be moppy people?
I actually have experienced this. I’ll give you a little bit of my personal testimony.
It’s one thing to say, yes, I believe in—what is that phrase the theologians use? Depravity. I believe in the depravity of man, and I’m depraved. It’s easy to say that.
But, really, what I mean by that is, I know I fall in this whole category, but I’m fundamentally better than most everybody else. That’s what we really ingest.
I grew up in a very fundamentalistic, judgmental, legalistic self-improvement program. That was my church orientation. So, there were some things you would do to be holy, like be 20 years out of fashion. Not 40! Forty’s probably prideful. Twenty out of fashion.
You know, I was in a Bible study group one time when they said people that wear bell-bottomed pants—this was in the 70s—people that wear bell-bottomed pants will go to hell. And, I do not dispute that there will be bell-bottomed pants in hell. That’s probably where that fashion belongs from reality.
But it was just indicative of “that’s the world.” And it’s what you do that puts you in the world, not who you are. You know, the emphasis wasn’t on the thought thing; it was on these externalities, which you can understand. You can understand that it’s much easier to deal with tangible things than this intangible faith thing. It’s something we gravitate to.
So, I developed this ability to take my brokenness, my desires for pleasure, my lusting and not having, which for me is basically arrogance and control. I’m a very controlling person. I want to be in charge without having responsibility. That’s my flesh nature. Anybody identify with that?
I want to blame others when something goes wrong but I want to get credit when things go right. And I’m actually pretty good at pulling it off which gives me positive reinforcement for negative behavior.
So I went through my life with this and certainly had plenty of wake up opportunities to realize this is counterproductive. But, I’m also really hard headed. I came by that naturally too.
Coming to face with reality
And then I came to the point in life where circumstances of life made me come face to face with the reality that I’m not getting better. I would mess up, and then I would say—this is my self talk: Boy I messed up. I would never do that again. See, I’ve learned now.
I actually said that to myself, over and over again. Does anybody else identify with that?
So I came to this point of realizing I’m an arrogant prick that wants to get control. And I’m a terrible leader. I’m not a good leader. I’m a terrible leader! I’m like the inverse of a leader.
You know what that did to me? It made me depressed.
I was in this group of people who only knew me after this had happened, and I was going—I went through two years or so of just really being—I just had the wind knocked out of me for, like, two years.
So, they had these caricatures they put up on a banner, and they said—there were four partners in this operation I was in, and they had characterized us. And they said, “Now, which one’s you?”
And I looked up there, and “Well, I don’t know.”
They said, “Well, obviously, it’s this one.” And they had this Eeyore-ish character who was just sitting there kind of like this, emotionless. You know.
Oh my gosh. It was a shock for me because normally I was the class clown growing up. I was always the happy guy.
But what happened to me was I was mourning. I had my laughter sucked out of me. I was mourning the reality of my condition as a sinner, a fleshly, controlling, arrogant person.
Now why was I mourning something that’s good to know? Just think about reality. Don’t you want to get away from that thing?
Well, what I was mourning was my own death. I had spent 40ish years grooming this thing. I put lipstick on this pig every day. I dressed up this ugly dog every day and pretended it was my child. And now it has to die.
It was painful. It was debilitating for a while. But it was reality. It was coming to see reality for what it is.
And when you see reality for what it is, there’s a mourning that happens. There’s a wake you have to do for yourself to say, look, I’m a [whatever you are.] I’m a manipulative, undermining person. I’m a self-destructive person because I know self-destruction gets me attention. Whatever it is. Whatever your thing is.
But then, verse 17. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
My problem was I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be somebody who made a difference in the world, and I realized I’m just an arrogant prick that’s trying to control people. I’m the opposite of a leader.
So I had to totally retool everything I am. Hermann helped me a lot. A lot of people helped me by showing me, this is what a leader really is. And I had to realize, a leader is somebody that takes responsibility for other people’s mistakes. That’s what a leader is.
So I had to turn everything I did totally upside down. And I think I’m way better for it. I think it helped me start to figure out how to get on the winning team. I think that God gave me grace to show me a path to take, at least to this point.
Now, go back to verse 4. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world—
I do not want to be a friend of the world, I just was.
It’s our inner desire. When God sees where you want to go, he’s going to feed things to you. Probably will be painful, and there’ll be a lot of mourning associated with it. But that’s the way it goes.
That’s the one therefore.
Then the next therefore. Verse 11.
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
There’s a book called The Shack that has a really, really great picture of this where there’s this courtroom scene, and the question is, who’s going to sit in the judge’s chair?
And this is me. I often get a tap on the shoulder. “Yes?”
“You’re sitting in my chair.”
“Oh, I sure am! Sorry!”
I need to be out in the courtroom, not up on the dais in the judge’s chair. Because the reality is, when we judge, we are committing idolatry. You know, when we judge in the way that God I’m supposed to judge, and when we’re doing his job because we’re not God.
Paul says judge nothing before the time. Paul says I examine myself all the time. This is 1 Corinthians 4. I examine myself all the time, but I don’t know of anything bad against me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get a good grade at that judgment seat. I’ll find out. You know?
Who are you to judge another? God is the judge. And when we judge, we’re saying, I’ll make the law. I’ll make my own rules, and I’ll sit in God’s chair.
You don’t know what other people’s stories are. We don’t know why other people are doing what they’re doing. We understand strengths and weaknesses, trying to meet people where they are. People are counterproductive. Let’s see if we can invite them to take a better step. We’re not the judge. We don’t know.
That’s another way to humble ourselves before God. Don’t do God’s job. Let him do the judging.
Think about how much weight is lifted off our shoulders when we can let that job go. It’s really a weighty thing to judge the whole world. So we can stop.
We can discern without judging
Why don’t we just go through the judging passages here in James. There’s like ten of them.
The judging passages in James
Here’s James 2:1-4. And it says don’t judge people with evil motives, which is when somebody comes into your fellowship, and you say, here’s a rich guy. So you judge, what can this person do for me?
What you want to do instead is judge what can I do for them?
Both are judgment, right. One is evil; one is good.
Another one is James 2:13, and it says Mercy triumphs over judgment.
I can see that someone’s an idiot, but I give them mercy. That’s more important than condemning them. And I think the condemnation is the key thing. It’s not assessing. You know, you’re assessing. You don’t know why that person’s doing it. You don’t know what their heart is. And there’s no basis upon which to pronounce condemnation.
“This person isn’t worth my time.” What that always is doing is saying, what can they do for me? Right? In one way or the other.
James 3:1. Teachers get a stricter judgment. That’s judgment from God. So be careful if you want to be a teacher.
James 4:11-12. When we judge others, we elevate ourselves above the law, the one we just did.
James 5:9. Always remember that judgment is right around the corner for us. 5:9 says, Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
What measure you measure to others will be measured to you, right? You can assess—ah, this guy’s an idiot. But if you then say, I wonder on what basis I’m an idiot too. How can I learn from that? And you say, I wonder what their story is? And then just go on down the road.
I don’t think that creates a measuring stick for you. But if you condemn that person and compare them and say I’m better than them. I’m justified. This self-justification is the main reason we judge. And we say I’m okay because Dave’s obviously insufficient or because Wally’s insufficient. That makes me okay.
Well, now what we’re doing is elevating ourselves, and God does not bless that. He blesses people when they say I don’t know what their story is. I don’t know why they did what they did. How could I help them? Is there some way I could help them?
Now we’re judging, but not with evil motives. We’re not taking God’s job.
And then 5:12 says speak the truth. Don’t just speak the truth when you’re under oath. In other words, don’t just speak the truth when you know you’re going to get in trouble, there’s going to be an immediate negative consequence. Speak the truth all the time.
And part of the truth may be, Wally, you’re being an idiot. Let me tell you what you need to be thinking about.
Let’s finish this up real quick. There’s once more therefore in verse 17.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Now why would he put that in there?
Verse 13. Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
We don’t get to hide away
We’ve been told all these things not to do: Don’t choose the world. Resist the devil. Put to death the flesh. Don’t speak evil of other people. Don’t judge.
That could lead you to say, okay, awesome. I just won’t do anything. I will just go monastery. Everything’s good by me. I’m fine. Whatever you want to do. Que sera sera; whatever will be will be. Whatever you want to do is fine. I’m not your judge. Whatever.
Nope. It doesn’t work that way. No, if you judge, and you say, gah, this person’s being an idiot, you got to go through this thing of asking myself, is there anything I could do that would help this person? Not condemning. Not self-justifying. Not comparing. But asking yourself is there a ministry for me here to this person because if there is something you can do, and you don’t do that, that’s prideful too. That is also sin. We’re supposed to be serving others not lording over them and not avoiding them.
Are we not supposed to make plans? Absolutely, we’re supposed to make plans. We’re supposed to make plans to help other people. We’re supposed to make plans to bless our communities. We’re supposed to make plans to help our families be holy for generations.
But here’s the thing: We can’t control the outcome. You make the plan and then you say, God would you please bless this because that is humbling yourself.
If we try to control the outcome, try to control the result, what are we doing? Actually that all comes back to self-justification again. See, I’m okay because my child turned out this way. I’m okay because my child graduated from college. I’m okay because we don’t [fill in the blank].
No. That’s trying to control the future. That’s just a function of self-justification.
We’re just a vapor that’s here for a little time. So let’s make absolute use of all the time that we have.
What are we supposed to be doing? Well, this is the only chance we get to know God by faith. So, learn. See. Know. Judge with wisdom. But don’t condemn and don’t self-justify. Instead put a plan together and then say God bless this plan however you choose. I don’t demand certain outcomes. I just want to be faithful.
Now, look at what that does. That is winning. That gives us the opportunity to say, I am, by faith, dealing with the circumstances I have, doing what I can do to bless others. That’s refining your life as gold, like chapter 1 told us.
That is submitting yourself to God, and he says, what? If we do that, he will lift us up. That is taking advantage of the time we have here. Because remember, next life, no faith. No faith. Everything will be seen. Heaven will come to earth, and we’ll live in the new earth. Everything will be by sight.
So, by faith, we have this opportunity to know God in this life that we don’t know any other—But we can’t have faith if we’re demanding certain results.
Think about the practicality of that. Now we have all the meaning in the world because only we have this assignment, where we are, in our station of life, with the people we touch, the way we touch it. Only we have that.
Now that’s something to esteem, right? Because God has given us this amazing gift. We have the power of the Spirit within us that we can unleash. And, at the same time, we have the opportunity to be lifted up by God. And we don’t have the burden of the world on us. We don’t have to self-justify. We don’t have to judge other people. And we don’t have to control outcomes.
So the weight of the world is lifted off of us to boot. All of the good; none of the bad, if we adopt this perspective.
So winning at life by walking in wisdom, walking in faith, being on the right team. It isn’t just about having a blessing in the next life. It creates an immense blessing right now because it takes all the pressure off, and it gives us an enablement to live life constructively, every day, all day long.