In this four-week series on the church, we have covered three things that the church in Jerusalem did that was doing harm to the Bride of Christ. For a quick review.
Argumentative Spirit (James 4: 1–2a)
There was quarrelsomeness spirit dividing the church. People would church for the wrong reason. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Prayerlessness (James 4: 2b–3)
“You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”
James’ people allowed prayer to become another thing that caused divisions and fights among the body of Christ. They were wanting the wrong things as they came to church. They were wanting their own desires gratified. God refused to grant their requests.
Worldliness (vv. 4–6)
4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.
James points out that the church in Jerusalem was committing spiritual adultery. They claim to be joined with Christ, but we’re cheating on the groom with this love affair with the world.
It is never a good preaching or teaching practice to leave your people in despair. Once you lay out what is wrong, where their error when sin is crouching at the door, you must then lead people on a pathway to restoration. James creates such a path. In verses 7-11, he charts the course.
The Pathway Back (vv. 7-11)
7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 8 Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
What is the first step in this journey? The most difficult step, stop submitting to the devil and submit to God! Sounds simple. But that is the most difficult step. Sin is comfortable. Obedience isn’t, but James says we have power over Satan, if we will resist the devil, he will flee. Don’t just skip that section. We have the devil on the run. Not because of who we are but because of what Jesus has done.
Once we acknowledge we are not trapped by our sin, but more than overcomers, if we turn our attention to God, he will draw near to us.
What is preventing the repentance we need is a purification. Purification comes by drawing near to God through a process of cleaning up both our behavior (‘hands’) and our inner lives (‘hearts’). In Mark chapter seven Jesus teaches His disciples about what defiles us, the heart. If we are honest with ourselves many Christians find themselves with dirty hands and defiled hearts. We falsely assume we have struck a balance between being a Christ-follower and success in the world. Somehow, we have learned where others have failed to live in the world and think we can be completely unaffected by the world. Our hands are dirty. We are doing worldly things, things that are out of line with God’s will for our lives. We hang out in places in which should not be caught dead in, doing things we should not be caught doing. We say things they ought not to say and dismiss it as no big deal. Every one of these small acts of defiance makes our hands just a little bit dirtier.
The hands reflect what is in the heart. A. W. Pink observed that the hands and tongues are the shops, and the heart is the warehouse. To call people to cleanse their hands without also calling for them to purify their hearts is pointless.
Thus, we have James’ call to purify the heart. A call to cleanse the hands and mind is accomplished by washing away unbiblical thinking. Here is the tough part, this means we must stop making choices that are based on worldly values and to make our choices and decisions based on the Word of God. That is only done through faith. Christ creates the pathway through faith in His death and resurrection. Faith is the renewing of the mind, the new life in Christ is how we are clothed in righteousness.
Paul would point us to this verse for reflection and I will leave you with this to ponder. “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth.”(Col. 3:1-2).
God’s heart is to seek the lost (Ephesians 2:1-5). And bring back those who stray.
At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else. 4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!
Repentance is prompted by the Holy Spirit point us to our need for a Savior and turning or returning us to God. He even works repentance in spiritually dead people in conversion.
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