Theme: Satan is a Real Threat, but He has been Neutralized
1) Daily protection comes through humility
2) Eternal Freedom comes through God’s grace
James 4:7-10 Submit yourselves 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 wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
It’s hard to believe that October is already upon us. This time of year is well known for cooler temperatures, shorter days, and changing of the scenery through cloudiness and tree colors. However, October is best known for its final day, Halloween. Halloween is a beloved holiday in our country for many reasons. It’s a time for trick-or-treating, apple cider, hay rides, and other fall celebrations. But it’s most well-known for dressing up in costumes. Halloween has always had a scary side to it that involves many things that make our hair stand on end. But ultimately, despite how scared we get, we know that it is all make believe. None of the goblins or ghouls of Halloween actually pose a threat to us.
There are certainly many exciting things about Halloween and a lot of fun can be had at this time of year. But with that comes a warning. Sometimes, the playful side of Halloween can cheapen real dangers that do exist in life. One way this often happens is in our perception of Satan, the greatest enemy to our faith. It’s not uncommon to see Satan depicted in various ways throughout the Halloween season. In fact, he’s probably one of the most popular characters to dress up as. We often see Satan as a little horned figure with a tail and pitchfork. Sometimes he’s also depicted as a dirty angel on your shoulder, always trying to get you to relax and have fun.
These pictures are harmless in and of themselves, but if they cause us to loosen the reality of the danger that Satan poses they can be harmful. Pretty soon we begin to think that Satan is just a fictitious being, like so many others do. God is clear in a number of places in His Word that Satan, and all demons, are indeed real and dangerous. Satan is called a raging lion who seeks to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). We’re told at the very beginning how it was Satan who first tempted Adam and Eve to bring sin into the world. That’s certainly a reality that we have to deal with today, sin is not make believe. Jesus called Satan the “father of lies.” Paul instructed the Ephesians to use God’s Armor to withstand the attacks of Satan. There was no point to this if Satan doesn’t exist. Even Jesus was tempted directly by Satan, which means that our great foe is just as real as our one and only Savior.
And here in our verses for today James reminds us that the devil, Satan, is the one who is in direct opposition to God. The first thing we need to realize about Satan is that he is real and is a great threat to our lives, but we also know that he has been neutralized by Jesus. The last chapter of Romans records the victory that Christ achieved for us over Satan, by hearkening back to the very first promise of a Savior given directly to Satan: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (Romans 16:20).
We await complete and total victory over Satan while here on this earth. And though no one can take this promise from us, we can lose it on our own. This is the threat that remains. Not that God can somehow be overpowered by Satan but that we could be deceived and lose the precious inheritance that Jesus has won for us. Think of it this way. The battle for our souls is complete. Jesus won the war when He declared from the cross, “It is finished.” Satan can do no more with Christ in the picture. Satan is condemned to hell. The threat today for us is that we would lose our way on the path to God’s kingdom in heaven. Though Satan is conquered, he still works through the lies and trickery of sin to distort the only way to eternal life through Jesus. Satan can no longer fight, but he can cloud and conceal the truth.
This is the new battle we find ourselves in as we near the end of this world, and it’s the same battle that Christians from the time of Christ have been entrenched in. We see the forceful message that James gave to his fellow Christians who were engaged in this conflict. The seriousness and reality of this threat from the devil is emphasized by the Holy Spirit’s employment of 10 commands in these 4 verses. At first glance these commands make it feel as if we need to do these things on our own in order to conquer the devil in our lives. But that would contradict what Christ has already freely done in our stead.
Rather than shovel more responsibility on our plate, these imperatives stress the urgency of taking this threat seriously. Whenever the danger of Satan is minimized, and it is greatly minimized in our modern world, the great need we have for deliverance from God is made shallow as well. To help in understanding this, James points out two important things we can focus on. The first is the daily protection that God offers to the humble.
Discrediting the seriousness of Satan’s ploys is a result of spiritual arrogance. Therefore, James implores his fellow Christians to stay humble in their faith. He begins by exhorting them to submit to God. Submitting to God means that we acknowledge Him as the authority in our lives. It’s a concept that involves both self-denial and hope. Self-denial because we yield all things to God and confess that we are not the end all, be all of life. But hope because a humble and repentant heart trusts in God’s saving merits and grace. No matter which side of it you look at, humility is a good thing for your life.
But how many of you enjoy being made humble? I know I don’t. It’s not easy to be told you’re wrong or you’ve failed. It’s equally frustrating to know that you haven’t measured up to God’s expectations, and even that you can’t on your own. Because of these reasons, and others like them, humility is becoming rarer and rarer in our world. Yet, when it comes to your life with God, you can’t be with Him without humility. And furthermore, to submit to God means learning the painful lessons of humility day after day.
Another aspect of humility and submission comes forth when James speaks of being sorrowful. Sorrow seems like a strange thing to look at as a quality, especially since we have hope in Christ. But James is not pointing to the end of our faith, but rather combating sinful pride that we encounter along the way. At times, there are so many things going on in life that we forget why we are here. This is especially true for us as Americans, since we are told daily that we have a God-given right to happiness. God certainly created the world for our benefit and He wants us to have a happy and fulfilling life. The problem is not with happiness or with God, it’s that we often change the meaning of happiness. God does not give us the right to pursue whatever we want under the context of happiness. There are indeed many things present in the world that are attached to a worldly view of happiness but only involve sin. James makes the point that submission to God means showing sorrow over things that are sinful, even though they may bring happiness to our sinful flesh.
True, Godly sorrow over sin is absolutely necessary to guard against Satan’s deceptions, because he will try to deceive you into thinking that sin is harmless happiness. The fact that many people believe that pursuit of worldly happiness is a God-given right is further proof of how devious Satan’s temptations can be. Even as he did before Jesus in the wilderness, Satan will stop at nothing, even twisting our understanding of God and His Word, to lead us into sin. And the first step on that path is keeping us from submitting to God in humility, and all too often Satan accomplishes this by making it look as if sin is simply happiness.
Humility is certainly needed to help in the everyday struggle against Satan’s ploys. But something even greater was needed to ultimately destroy his works and to promise us future glory with God. That something is the grace of Jesus Christ. This grace comes in view through the commands to “cleanse” and “purify.” Again, these actions do not point at our works, but that we would cleanse and purify ourselves through Christ’s atonement on the cross. This cleansing and purification is the forgiveness that takes away our sins. It is the same hope that was expressed by David concerning his sins of lust, adultery, and murder, as we read in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Wash me from my sin and cleanse me from my iniquity.”
In his first letter John wrote at length about this connection. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he (God) is pure. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (God) is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:1,3,7,10)
Cleansing and purification of sins come only through Jesus because only Jesus has destroyed the devil’s works. Yes, Satan is real. His hold on your life was real. The need to destroy him was real. So real, in fact, that God’s own Son had to come down to earth and do it for all of us. Our desire to pursue this cleansing and purification is only evidence of what Christ has already done. We draw near to God by staying as close to Him as we can, not by working to achieve His favor. Many ask, well, where is God that I may stay close to Him? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” God is in His Word. God is the Word. When you stay close to the Word, you are close to God, the conqueror and victor over Satan. In the Word, Satan can’t get close to you. In the Word, you are safe.
Doesn’t sound like a dangerous threat from that perspective, does it? But the problem is, Satan can reach you in everything else. His deceptions and ploys are abundant in all areas of this sinful world. Hi twisted fingers can grab you through money, possessions, education, politics, your occupation and hobbies, and even your own heart. We forget this all too often. We are so quick to think of Satan only in the evil things of the world, only in those things that we can clearly see as sins. But he can get through to you with his lies and deceit in every area of life, because every area of life has been corrupted by sin. Satan often will reach out to you in something that seems innocent. He will often use those things that God created to be blessings but have been corrupted by sin. Things like: your family and friends, your marriage, your food and drink, your time, your bank account, and your freedom. We already mentioned one big one in happiness. These are all blessings from God, yet corrupted by sin and able to be used by Satan to deceive you.
The devil can even use your most precious resource and your only safe-haven, the Word of God, when it’s meaning and contents are twisted. Think of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. What did Satan use to tempt Him? Fame, wealth, and kingdoms. But also the very words of God when he deceptively misquoted Psalm 91. Satan can do all these things because his objective is simple. He only has to get you to forsake Christ. There are plenty of ways to do that. Satan has no strict dogma or well-defined theology that he needs to abide by. He is loyal to all religions except Christianity, and even in many cases he finds a way to distort that. There is nothing specific that Satan has to get you to believe. It doesn’t matter to him, just as long as whatever you believe denies salvation through Jesus Christ.
And therefore, Satan can use just about anything, even the many blessings in God’s creation. The message for you today is to use what God has given you as a defense. The threat is absolutely real, Satan is no fairy tale. An attitude of humility will keep you close to God by repenting of your sins and looking alone to forgiveness in Christ. Christian humility will also keep you where you belong, as God’s obedient servant, instead of falling into the fatal sin of denial through arrogance and pride.
But, in the end, even humility has its limit. Even Satan has a found ways to turn well-intentioned humility into a human service that forgets about Jesus. That’s where the gift of grace comes in. Even though Satan can just about throw anything at you to lead you astray, God only needs one thing to keep you with Him – His love for you even though you’re an underserving sinner.
Don’t be a double-minded Christian who tries to look good on the outside but is happy to follow Satan’s schemes in every other area of life. Be aware. The danger is real. The threat has eternal implications. But you have victory today! The only thing that can keep you from God is yourself and how much of a foothold you allow Satan to gain in your life. There is only one way to God and one way to be with God for eternity. Humility helps us for a while, but grace alone is what unlocks heaven to us. Grace in Jesus is what makes us untouchable to Satan. It’s what protects us at all times, because grace is also what chained Satan to hell. The victory message is that we are cleansed and purified in the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us on the cross. The very thing that proved to be Satan’s demise, is our promise of eternal life. No one can take God’s grace from you. You always have it in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.