The Good Fight
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 9:38AM
Jeff Smith in Discipleship

James was deeply concerned with a problem among Christians, namely that at times they seem to grow complacent in their faith, waiting idly for the glorious day of judgment, which might not prove to be all that splendid if something does not rouse them out of their spiritual funk. That complacency allows for moral drift, always in the direction of the tempter, and so in the fourth chapter of his inspired letter, the brother of our Lord advises a reversal of course. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

I. Moral Drift

    A. Surrendering to Human Passions

        1. some commentators view this chapter as addressing non-Christians in an evangelistic way, and that interpretation is valuable if you happen to be a non-Christian, but the context here is surely not limited in that way

        2. the children of God are not completely immune to the enticements of the carnal lifestyle that is on display around us all the time (James 4:1-3)

        3. the surrender to human passions even feels natural and justifiable in many cases, as when people are unlawfully satisfying their needs for sexual pleasure through fornication or pornography, when they are fulfilling a need for food through gluttony or theft, when they are meeting a need for self-image by retail therapy or boasting

        4. the carnal lifestyle should become foreign to the disciple of Christ, but when one is drifting along with declining prayer, study or worship habits, worldliness reemerges subtly (Romans 8:5-9)

            a. and that, therefore, is the pivotal question – is Christ in you? (Second Corinthians 13:5-9)

            b. do not dare take that for granted because you have recited a sinner’s prayer, or occupied a mourner’s bench, or were told that a priest sprinkled water on your infant forehead, or even because you were once baptized for the remission of your sins


    B. Provoking Divine Jealousy

        1. some of these human passions are fairly universal, but most are felt more acutely by certain people than others

        2. each of us has a vulnerability, that while far from unique, is at least peculiarly strong in us

        3. recovering drunks and drug users describe their weaknesses in very stark terms; they describe cravings for certain substances and deny they can simply learn to use them in moderation

        4. while those addictions are very prominent, there are millions of other addictions that often go untreated and uncorrected – human longings that interfere with one’s faithfulness to God, but which are never confronted because they are socially acceptable or kept private

            a. in the sermon on the mount, the heart was divided over money (Matthew 6:19-24)

            b. Jesus advises us to be on the guard against any devil’s idol that might be erected in a darkened corner of our hearts, where it can be nurtured until it is ready to conquer the chamber 

            c. Paul described a few of them in his final letter, predicting a time when, “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, … without self-control, … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (Second Timothy 3:2-5).

        5. each of them is serious enough to provoke God’s jealousy – to provoke him to abandon the throne of the double-minded believer’s heart (see James 1:8)


    C. Moral Complacency

        1. the vigilant Christian is aware of his relationship to God, whether it is marked by warm affection and regular communication or cold estrangement and unfamiliarity

        2. the devil gets closer as the idol in the corner of our hearts grows stronger and asks for more and more territory, threatening the sanctity of the throne room with his corruption

            a. he wants more money dedicated to his habit or hobby, more time spent tending to his improvement and growth, more pride taken in his achievement

            b. like a leech, the idol drains the heart of its pious energy – witness the rich young ruler, who, when challenged to rid his soul of its avarice, instead walked away from the Lord; here was a morally righteous man with a blind spot for wealth, whose soul was lost to the devil by virtue of an idol

        3. moral complacency is a warning sign that such is happening to us, when we are asked to watch and pray, but instead go to sleep because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak (Hebrews 10:35-39)


II. Reversal of Course

    A. Submit to God

        1. reversing this doomed course begins with a renewed interest in rendering submission to the will of God, especially in those problem areas where we are personally more susceptible than others

            a. God’s will is not arbitrary, in that he does not command or condemn anything without reason; God does not condemn just to keep us from having fun or command just to watch us fail

            b. God’s will is for our benefit: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” (First John 5:3-4).

        2. submitting to God’s will requires an interest in discerning what his will is, not taking for granted that it must be whatever we are currently doing or have always done, or that moderation is always acceptable; “Walk as children of light … and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

        3. it is easy to submit to God’s will when it matches your own – when God’s will forbids you to drink and you hate drinking – but every person will have to meet the challenge of submitting to God’s will when it runs counter to our own desires and cravings – will we resist covetousness when we really enjoy making money and collecting stuff?


    B. Resist the Devil

        1. if Eve teaches us how to fall prey to the wiles of the devil, it took thousands of years and deity in the flesh to show us how to resist him

            a. the serpent showed Eve a delicious piece of forbidden fruit, “good for food, … a delight to the eyes, and … desired to make one wise, … [and] she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6)

            b. Jesus, when tempted by the devil, responded with scripture to the contrary (Luke 4:3-12)

        2. resisting the devil requires knowing both thy enemy and thy friend, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (Second Corinthians 2:11).

        3. “The true way of meeting him is by direct resistance, rather than by argument; by steadfastly refusing to yield in the slightest degree, rather than by a belief that we can either convince him that he is wrong, or can return to virtue when we have gone a certain length in complying with his demands” (Barnes).

        4. resisting the devil is a matter of interrupting the process of temptation as early as possible, before it gains strength or the idol takes root (James 1:12-15)

        5. resistance is hardly futile; “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (First Corinthians 10:13).


    C. He Will Take Flight

        1. this passage strikes me as one that is very simple and even logical; it is spatial in its description of the power of submission to God and resistance of the tempter 

        2. that language is borrowed from warfare, where opposing armies jockey for advantage as each tries to take or defend a hill; the soldier of Christ is ordered to submit to the captain of his salvation, standing courageously against the adversary with full knowledge that it must be the enemy who ultimately retreats or the battle is lost (First Peter 2:11, 5:6-10)

        3. the devil chooses to take flight when he is resisted so that he can go assault someone else or find a more rewarding target; beware in victory, however, lest you become overconfident, thinking you stand so firmly that you really can only fall, for the devil merely waits to return at a more opportune time 



Faith is the victory, but idle faith conquers nothing but itself.


Questions For Review

  1. What is friendship with the world?
  2. What distinguishes a carnal lifestyle?
  3. For what is God so jealous?
  4. How can we discern moral complacency?
  5. Why should we submit to God’s will?
  6. What is involved in resisting the devil’s will?
  7. Why does the devil flee resistance?
Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (
See website for complete article licensing information.