Tuesday, December 27, 2011

James 4:6-10 - Grace in this Spiritual Battleground

I’m really excited about today – tons of fascinating stuff in this passage.  Let’s dive right in! J

6 But He gives a greater grace.  Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
7 Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

A Greater Grace

Let’s start with a couple of definitions.  Firstly, “greater” is the Greek word megas, meaning…mega.  Translated 34 different ways in the New Testament, its renderings include loud, mighty, fierce, and (my personal favorite) huge.

As for “grace,” it is the Greek word charis, and its primary meaning is simply grace.  Yet, we use that word a lot without really understanding what it means.  I recently read A.W. Tozer’s book The Attributes of God, in which he spends two chapters clarifying the matter: mercy is not giving us what we deserve (punishment), and grace is giving us what we don’t deserve (honor, opportunity, etc.).  He arrives at this conclusion (echoed by many others) based on the overall context in which the words are used: “mercy” is used primarily in the Old Testament, in which the major theme in transferring our guilt onto the Lamb, and “grace” is used primarily in the New Testament, in which the major theme is the Lamb transferring His holiness onto us. 

So, to summarize, “But He gives a greater grace” means “He gives us a gigantic spiritual present that we don’t even come close to deserving!”

And yet, as the latter half of the verse makes clear, we must acknowledge that we don’t deserve this gift in order for Him to give it to us – if we (falsely!) think we are religious, holier-than-thou, etc., of course He is not going to give us anything to puff up our pride any more.  Opposite to the thinking of this world, God is not in the market of giving gifts to those who deserve it most, but to those who acknowledge their dire need for it.

Resisting the Devil

I’m going to put a larger disclaimer than usual on my commentary on this verse, because this is an issue I continue to debate my stance on and am not entirely comfortable teaching.  However, it is in today’s passage and I do not believe in skipping over topics in God’s Word just because they are “difficult.”  So, I will share what I have found so far, but again, please bear in mind that I am not solid on this issue, so pray about it and study it out for yourself, as well.

This is a subject that sparks fairly intense debate.  Some contend that to resist, you should meditate on God’s word and not give in to temptation; others argue that you can and should order Satan and his demons to leave you alone in the name of Jesus when you feel oppressed.  Based on my study, I think both are correct, and that those who stick exclusively in one camp are making a mistake.  Here’s why:

1.      When you look up the Greek word rendered here as “resist,” it is anthistemi, meaning to withstand, to oppose, to resist, to cope, and to set against.  Most of the times this word is used, its context indicates that it means resist as in don’t give in, but we see exceptions in Matthew 5:39 where resist means a verbal fight escalated to a physical altercation, and in Galatians 2:11 where resist (translated as “opposed” in the NASB, but still anthistemi) means an intense verbal rebuke.

2.      In Matthew 4:10, after Jesus has been tempted by Satan, He commands him, “Go, Satan!  For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.”  Remember that in John 14:12 Jesus teaches, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”  We as disciples are also given authority to cast out unclean spirits from possessed people in Matthew 10:1, Mark 3:15, and Luke 9:1 (side note – Christians can not be possessed [Luke 11:24-16], but teachings throughout the New Testament demonstrate that demons can oppress us through temptations, illnesses, and problems in our lives – and we know for a fact that Biblically, we do have the authority to order off demons making us sick).  So, my thinking here is that, in Jesus’ name, we have the authority to command Satan and his demons to stop something specific they are doing, if it is God’s will (sometimes He allows it to continue for a reason – see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

So, based on all this, the balance I have arrived at so far is our primary defense is, indeed, to not give in to temptation by meditating on God’s word (we see this modeled in Ephesians 6 in the passage on spiritual armor, and in Jesus’ example of how He resisted temptation in Matthew 4 and Luke 4).  However, when I become particularly aware of spiritual oppression (e.g., repeated temptation or particularly intense temptation that I sense comes from the spiritual realm, and not from my own flesh or the world), I feel completely comfortable praying that God would take it away, and, at times, ordering the demonic influence to leave me alone by saying something to the effect of, “If it is my Lord Jesus Christ’s will, [name it – pride, fear, whatever], leave!”

Personally, I feel this approach is Biblical, and I employ it only with much prayer.  However, once again, I am not *solid* on the issue, so I again strongly encourage you to pray about it and study it out on your own.  A final word of caution: some people take this to a “name-it-and-claim-it” extreme where they think there’s a demon behind every piece of furniture; remember, meditating on His Word and not giving in is our primary defense, so don’t go nuts with this.  Getting too obsessed and too comfortable with the demonic realm is opening you up for some bad juju magumbo.

Drawing Near and Repenting

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  I again point to A.W. Tozer’s teaching, who explains that as God is omnipresent, He is never actually physically/materially far from us, because His presence is always everywhere.  But, just as you can be in the same room with someone and feel relationally very distant from them, so it is with God – when we pull away from Him emotionally and spiritually, the relationship is strained and we no longer have access to what Tozer terms His manifest presence.  The solution?  Repent!

James’ appeal in verses 8-9 sounds much like the prophets of the Old Testament – sin is not something to be dealt with lightly; we need to genuinely mourn it, knowing that it deeply wounds our Savior (physically once, and emotionally always).

Verse 10 ties back to verse 6 – we need to humble ourselves, admitting our sin, and He will extend His grace to us – he will exalt us by extending His Son’s holiness to us.

Discussion Starters

1.      What are your thoughts on the issue of resisting the devil?  Sharing your personal experiences and relevant Scriptures are both welcome. :-)

2.      What is your experience with feeling emotionally distanced from God?

A Heads-Up

I anticipate four more posts in James, then we’ll do a short topical series on spiritual gifts, and after that we’ll return to a verse-by-verse format in the gospel of Matthew. 

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