Come Near to God

James 4:4-10

I’m not confrontational.  Some of you are – you just lay it out there and don’t worry about the consequences.  If it needs to be said, you’ll say it.  And that can be a great trait – we need people who can “speak the truth in love.”I’m not wired that way and I’ll agonize for a week before saying something to someone about a sin going on in their life.

I get nervous when Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites, snakes, brood of vipers.” I wince when Paul says he hopes the false teachers in Galatia  “castrate themselves.” And when James calls his readers, “you adulterous people” I’m thinking, I would have been a little more tactful.

The Bible just doesn’t pull any punches.  When the writers saw sin, they called it sin.  They didn’t care who they insulted, they weren’t afraid their attendance numbers would drop or that they might get run out of town. 

James loves these people too much to let them think their sinful behavior is okay with God.  He needs to wake them up and get their attention, and this does it:  he says, “You adulterous people.”

We figure out from what James says, he isn’t talking about sexually immoral people, but spiritually promiscuous people. 

This is spiritual adultery – these are Christian people who have committed themselves to God, but are in love with the world.  It’s like a husband saying, “I love my wife, but I’ve also fallen in love with another woman.”  Well, welcome to the Jerry Springer show – it doesn’t work that way.  You cannot love two women at the same time.  The moment you begin loving the second, you have betrayed your love for the first. 

We understand that clearly enough in human relationships.  And the same principle is true spiritually.  When we are baptized, we enter into an exclusive relationship with God.  Our love, loyalty, priorities belong to him.  And when we start letting the world back into our life – letting materialism and power and popularity take over – we have betrayed that relationship with God.  And James calls it adultery.

James isn’t singing solo here.  Listen to others:

Jesus – Matt. 6:24  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Paul  – Rom. 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Eph. 4:7-10  Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light and find out what pleases the Lord.

John – 1 Jn 2:15-16  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world.

So, when James writes, “don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God,”  he’s not just off on some radical tear – he recognizes what everyone in the Bible recognizes – you can’t have it both ways, God doesn’t share loyalties.  He either has all of you or none of you. 

And he punctuates it by quoting Scripture: “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?”  James has some scriptures in mind – Ex. 20:3-5  “You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”

Ex. 34:14  “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

And James is reminding us of the character of God – he is a jealous God who demands our exclusive loyalty.  Jealous, not in the human sense of suspicion and distrust and envy, but in the sense of fiercely protective and demanding exclusive devotion.

So, are you in love with the world?  Do you keep something going on the side, thinking God isn’t aware – that you can have it both ways?

James says, “Anyone who chooses…”  I don’t think any of us wake up one morning and think, today’s the day I commit spiritual adultery.  We just unintentionally let the world have a little piece of us.  But it’s never satisfied with just a little, so it keeps demanding more and more, until one day we look at our life and say, “How did I get this deep?”  But then we think, “How can I turn around now? I’ve got too much invested to walk away now.” 

And we try to make it work – our lives entrenched in the world, with Sundays (well, make that Sunday morning / worship, not Bible class / at least 3 Sundays a month / make that 2 / unless the weather’s really nice – or really bad – you’ll see me when you see me) for God.  “But God you know I really do love you, and you have my heart.”

But suppose you do take an honest look at your heart and life and realize that the world does have a pretty tight grip on your life?  What do you do?  How do you begin to unravel those tentacles and restore that relationship with God?

There are 10 imperatives in vss. 7-10  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Listen to the words James uses:  submit, resist, come near, wash, purify, grieve, mourn, wail, change, humble.

These are not suggestions, or food for thought – these are demands / requirements for the Christian life.  Some of them really fly in the face of certain assumptions and prerogatives we just take for granted.  We don’t like to be told to submit to anyone, we resent somebody telling us we have to change how we live, I’ll tell you to take a flying leap if you suggest I’m not humble enough.

But if you want to get back to God and recommit your life to him, this is what it takes.

When James says “Submit yourselves to God”  he’s saying something very foundational to your Christian life. 

When we submit ourselves to God we are abdicating the throne in our lives to God.  I willingly give up the rule of my life to him.

Once you choose to follow Christ, there are decisions that are automatically and non-negotiably chosen for you.  There may be certain demands that God makes that I don’t understand.  There may be certain restrictions on my lifestyle that I don’t like.  But when I choose to submit myself to God, I am saying, “Understand it or not, like it or not, God is in control and I will obey his will.”

If God says give up something, I’m going to give it up.  If the Bible says I have the wrong attitude, I’m going to change my attitude.  Submitting to God means that there is absolutely nothing in my life that is off limits for God to examine and change.

The second order of business is to “resist the devil.”  And most of us are sitting here thinking, “Well, duh.”  But there are people, there are even Christians, for whom it would never dawn on them that they are anything but victims. 

They don’t think they stand a chance against Satan – every temptation is irresistible, every attack on their faith is shattering.  There are others who just don’t see any point in resisting – God is a God of grace and my sin is taken care of so why worry about it?

James says “resist the devil.”  You are not a victim, God gave you a choice and he paid for it with the blood of his son.  Paul writes, “You are no longer slaves to sin.” 

You can stand up to Satan and say “No” – You put on the armor of God there in Eph. 6 – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit – and you look Satan in the eye and send him packing.

There are other times you lace up your Nikes of better sense, and like Joseph in the bedroom of Potiphar’s wife, you run as fast as you can in the opposite direction – you get out of the car, leave the party, turn off the TV, exit the internet, get a different job – you do whatever it takes to put distance in between you and Satan.

And when you run from Satan, James says the direction you run is toward God – “Come near to God.”  And when you head in his direction, you will find that an amazing thing takes place – “he will come near to you.”

Remember the jealous God who longs for you?  Remember the God of grace who sent his son to die for you?  He’s waiting for you to take one step in his direction.  He’s waiting to hear those words, “Get behind me Satan.”  And he will come running to meet you.

Then James clarifies what he means by “come near to God.”  There are certain actions and changes that will characterize that life that is drawing near to God:

·         “Wash your hands, you sinners” – He begins with our outward lifestyle.  We come to God on his terms.  He calls me to come “just as I am,” but he loves me too much to let me stay that way.  There are sinful behaviors in my life that are keeping me at arm’s length from God.  And if I am to come into his presence, I need to cleanse my life from them. 

·         “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” – He then deals with my inward motive.  Just changing the outward actions isn’t enough.  It’s my heart that needs to change.  The change in my life needs to represent the desire of my heart.

·         “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” – James is really describing a funeral.  These are the sounds of grief that accompany a death.  It is  the repentance that accompanies our death to sin. 

And most of us left brain folks are thinking, “Isn’t all this a little bit dramatic and emotional?  I’d like this to be cut and dried, a business transaction, private and impersonal.”

But James doesn’t see it that way.  You know why we want it private?  We’re concerned with what other people will think – it’s our pride that keeps us from coming back to God – it’s our pride that makes us hang on to the world (after all, we’ve worked hard for what we’ve accomplished – you don’t just throw that away).  It’s pride that keeps us where we are instead of running to him. 

Isn’t that what James said back in vs. 6, “That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”  He knows it is pride that keeps us from God.  And so in vs. 10, he begs us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

When we humble ourselves before God, we’re not worried about what other people will think, only what God thinks.  When we humble ourselves before God, we’re not worried about what we’re giving up, because God is the only one worth having.

Pride is thinking I can do it on my own.

Humility is realizing I cannot do it on my own.

God’s promise is that you do not have to do it on your own – “I will lift you up.”  And we experience the real meaning of those words in James 4:6 “But he gives us more grace.”

Oh, to be lifted up by God, to experience his grace when I leave everything to come back to him.

And when you get a taste of God’s grace it becomes addictive.  When you really experience God’s grace, you find yourself wanting to give grace to others.  When you realize how much you have been forgiven, how much mercy God has had toward you, you can’t help but give forgiveness and mercy to others.