November 20, 2011

Overcoming Spiritual Adultery

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 4:7–10


Overcoming Spiritual Adultery

James 4:7-10
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

The whole concept is rather amazing. Apart from the Bible declaring it, I'd have a tough time believing it's true. I mean, after all, who am I? I am one of five billion people roaming the earth. My insignificance is even greater when you consider the zillions of animals, towering mountains and ocean depths on this planet. Add in the vast expanse of the entire galaxy, and all of a sudden my existence seems rather irrelevant. But with all that said, God the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe has chosen to love me. Moreover, a perfectly holy God has chosen to enter a relationship with a fallen and finite sinner like me. The same applies to you if you are in Christ Jesus this morning.

Last week we learned just how intimate this relationship is. God loves His children so much that He wants them all to Himself. He wants them to find all their hope and fulfillment and satisfaction in Him. He wants a relationship that is personal and dynamic and interactive. As a matter of fact this relationship is so close He calls it a marriage. He displays a righteous jealousy for our affections (Jas. 4:5). He is actually grieved when we chase after other gods to have our needs met. He is angered when we pursue a love affair with the very world system that is in opposition to Him. We may think it is innocent, but the God who wants our hearts calls it spiritual adultery (Jas. 4:4).

We learned last week in James that such a love affair with the world makes us "an enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4). That should bring us fear. But it should also bring us grief that the great Lover of our soul has been placed on the shelf because we have deemed Him inadequate. The very One who sent Jesus Christ to redeem us from hell and who is always faithful to meet our needs and is always ready to forgive our sins and is always eager to receive our prayers is no longer the first love of our hearts. Such a thought should break our hearts as much as it does His. All too often we act as if our divine Spouse doesn't exist.

We need a cure to this spiritual adultery, and James says in verse 6 that the cure is God's grace. With the pull of the opposition so strong to forsake God, the only hope we have to remain faithful to our Lover is from the very strength that is supplied by our Lover. The world appears very attractive, oftentimes it appears greater in attractiveness than God, but as verse 6 says, we can overcome because God gives a "greater grace." And this grace is available according to the verse, not to the proud, but only to the humble.

Since humility is the key, in today's message I would like to cover ten ways from our text that we can humble ourselves to be recipients of God's grace and maintain an intimate and faithful relationship with God. These ten terse statements are found in verses 7-10 (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5-9) and are perhaps the most jarring commands found in the entire Bible. And perhaps they are jarring and strange because so much of the world has already entered our hearts. So beware and enter this study with a humble heart that is prepared to understand that God's ways are always opposite from the world's ways. For in God's economy, the way up is always down. These ten commands will bring humility, but I must admit we will need humility to accept them.

Goal: Spiritual fidelity with God-Jas. 4:4-5

Means: Overcoming the world with God's grace-Jas. 4:6

Responsibility: Receiving God's grace through humility-Jas. 4:6-10


First and foremost, the pathway to humility is seen in verse 7. We are called to "submit therefore to God."

"Submit," the compound word in the original Greek ("hupotasso"), literally means "put in order under." So submitting to God means placing ourselves under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is simply getting real with God and acknowledging that He is our ultimate authority and that doing it His way is the proper way to go through life. He is the boss. And though such a concept grates likes fingernails across the contemporary chalkboard, putting God at even a close second is obviously the epitome of unbelief and pride. Grace comes to the humble and the humble have relinquished control and have acknowledged God's rightful ownership over their lives.

The question was once asked, "What is the correct procedure when one is invited to the White House but has a previous engagement?" The answer was, "An invitation to dine at the White House is a command, and it automatically cancels any other engagements." When we came to the Father through Jesus Christ, we surrendered control of our lives to Him. Self has been dethroned. It has got to start here. Are we in full submission to God?


As we move to the second point, James will now specifically unpack how we submit to God. Still in verse 7 he says, "Resist the devil."

Before you became a Christian your old lord was the devil. Jesus actually said he was your father (Jn. 8:44). You were a pawn in his diabolical games. Whether you realized it or not, your submission was directed to him.

But now thanks to God's grace you can be victorious. Your eyes have been opened to a whole new perspective. The Bible warns us of the devil's destructive nature (1 Pet. 5:8). It tells us we can be aware of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). And it encourages us that we can emerge from his attacks victorious. It is hand-to-hand spiritual conflict, but when we arm ourselves with the weapons God provides like truth and righteousness and the gospel and faith and salvation and the Scriptures and prayer (the spiritual armor of Eph. 6:14-18), we can stand firm (Eph. 6:11, 13, 14).We can be victorious. We can as James said resist our ancient foe.

And look what happens when we resist him! According to verse 7, he flees! There is nothing here about casting out demons or memorizing certain chants that need to be repeated to Satan. It is simply submitting to God and not falling for the temptations of the evil one. Stand firm! Eventually, the Bible promises us he gives up, he flees, he leaves us just like he did Jesus during the temptation in wilderness (Mt. 4:11). Remember this beloved, Satan was already conquered at the cross (Jn. 12:31). And though he still is powerful for the short time he has remaining, his power is only as strong as the power we permit him to have in our lives.

So for starters we must submit to God and resist the devil. My friends, how often do we do the opposite? How often do we submit to the devil and resist God. To use James' words, that is "hostility toward God [and] friendship with the world" (Jas. 4:4). Is it any wonder we have so little grace in our lives? Someone once described it as our need to continually see the devil's back and behold the face of Jesus Christ.


Moving on, number three, we care called in verse 8 to "draw near to God."

Our hearts draw after so many things. But God wants them to draw after Him, to pursue His face through righteous living. He wants us to forsake our love affair with the world. He wants our hearts before He wants our words and actions (cf. Isa. 29:13; Mt. 15:18). He wants communion with us and as it says here, He wants us to want that communion with Him.

Good examples are found in the Psalms: "O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psm. 63:1). "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God" (Psm. 42:1). "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord" (Psm. 84:2).

And look at what happens when we draw near to God. At the end of verse 8 He promises to draw near to us. So do you want a pure relationship with God? Do you want the world and the devil out of your life? Then resist Satan and pursue God, and God will come closer. This is the cure for spiritual adultery. And this is the remedy to have a vibrant and deep and growing relationship with your spiritual husband, Jesus Christ. So the best test to see how much you want God is seen in how much you are committing yourself to Him. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (Jas. 4:8). Kent Hughes said in his commentary, "Inch toward God and He will step toward you. Step toward God, and He will sprint toward you. Sprint toward God, and He will fly toward you" (James, p. 187).

Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart." Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."


The intensity picks up. Number four, still in verse 8, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners."

This is a call for radical repentance. In the Old Testament clean hands were a symbol of moral purity (Job 17:9; Psm. 18:20). The priests were commanded to cleanse their hands before offering sacrifice again as an outward symbol of their outward purity (Ex. 30:18-21). God spoke to Israel through Isaiah, "So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight" (Isa. 1:15-16). Even in the New Testament there is a reference to "lifting up holy hands" in prayer (1 Ti. 2:8). What we are talking about here is a figure of speech that calls for external righteousness.


If the fourth point talks about external righteousness, the fifth point talks about internal righteousness. Verse 8, "Purify your hearts, you double-minded."

As Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8). Contrast what Jesus just said with what James just said in 4:8. Contrast a pure heart with a "double-minded" heart (cf. Jas. 1:8). Either our heart is going for God or it is going for the things that oppose Him. Either Jesus is our King or someone else like the devil or yourself is the king. Either we are in the Spirit or we are living in the flesh. Either we love God or we love the world. God is too glorious to accept double-mindedness.

The point of number four and five? Humble are people committed to both inner and outer purity. God will only meet with such individuals. This is how we "draw near to God" (Jas. 4:8). Psalm 24 puts it all together, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psm. 24:3-4).


Numbers six, seven and eight are often confusing to many readers of the Bible. In verse 9 we read, "Be miserable and mourn and weep." Aren't we called to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4)? Isn't Christianity supposed to be a religion of joy? Of course that is true, but we must consider these three commands in the context of the letter.

We have seen that the people to whom James wrote were marked with sin. And the heart of their sin was arrogance and selfishness and pride. Such a spirit is the rank opposite of humility. And therefore such a spirit because of what it does to the heart of God should bring the individual extreme disappointment. Misery…mourning…weeping.

I think back to the days when I coached. I had no problem if the athletes played their best but we lost the game. But if we lost because of mental mistakes, lack of effort or poor discipline it was quite another story. Few things would bother me more than to witness this effort on the field and then see the players in the locker room jovial. Shouldn't there be some shame and embarrassment?

How much more should this attitude apply to God?

Frequently these commands are seen in the Old Testament when the prophets called God's people to repentance (Isa. 15:2; Hos. 10:5; Mi. 2:4).

"Be miserable." This is that sick feeling we should get inside when we know we have broken God's heart through our disobedience. It is no different than that feeling a child receives when she or he deliberately lets a parent down after the parent has shown great love for the child.


Number seven, "mourn."

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt. 5:4). We mourn over so much from the death of a loved one to a loss from a sport's team to the weather. But how often do we mourn over our sin? You see, the sin grieves God and therefore it should grieve us because we know how much it grieves Him. We know how much Jesus needed to suffer for it on the cross.


Number eight, "weep."

Again, another product of godly sorrow. I think of the extreme pain the apostle Peter brought upon himself when he denied Jesus Christ. The Bible says we went out and wept (Mk. 14:72).

It was once penned…
There is a tear that spots the cheek,
And speaks more than tongue can speak,
In words without a name,
That tells of many a pang within,
Of many a foul and deadly sin -
It is the tear of shame.

The Behavior of Belief, 2:287


Number nine in verse 9 is more of the same. "Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom."

Again, laughter and joy are special gifts from the Lord. What is being condemned here is the carefree, trivial, flippant, pleasure-driven, God-ignoring attitude of the world (cf. Lk. 6:25b). And as we see here, even Christians can slip into this state when we pursue a friendship with the world and presume upon God's grace and mercy. There is a seriousness that God expects toward Himself from His people and too often we act no different than the world. We settle for a counterfeit joy. We act as if sin in insignificant, and we live as if God is non-existent. I mean, we want God, but in many ways we really do not. We oftentimes only want Him on our terms without having to die to self.

All these commands are along the lines of what we see in the Bible to be broken and contrite over our sin. And I must add that all these commands are the evidence of a soft and humble heart. These states of emotion are not end results. Rather they are there temporarily to produce repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-11), which results in a renewed relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9), which leads ultimately to true joy and true peace.


Lastly, number ten found in verse 10: "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." Jesus made the same statement: "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Mt. 23:12).

The section started in verse 6 with God only giving grace to the humble and now like a bookend the section promises that God will exalt those who humble themselves in His presence. It is simply this: recognize who you are in God's presence. Contemplate your spiritual bankruptcy. Acknowledge your need for God's help. Submit your life to His lordship.

Beloved, please remember, God is not against you pursuing joy. He is only against you pursuing a temporary, cheap joy apart from Him.

Though it should baffle our imagination, God wants a relationship with you. It is an intimate marriage relationship based upon love and fidelity. It is one where we love Him and hate what He hates. And when we pursue this relationship by drawing closer to Him, looking to Christ in a spirit of humility, He draws closer to us. He gives us a greater grace. He continually fills our hearts with what brings true satisfaction which can only be more of Him!

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James