How to be God's Enemies

James 4:4-10

11 November 2007

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


On this Remembrance Sunday we remember those who died in war, and we thank God for the peace we've had in this country for more than 60 years.

It's so important to remember these things. But we should also take the time to remember that there is another war going on, just as real, and with frightening eternal consequences. Outwardly this country is peaceful, but spiritually the battle for our souls is raging and vicious. James' question to us is "Which side are we fighting on?"

I want to look at our passage this morning under two headings: first, how to be God's enemies; second, how to be God's friends.

How to be God's Enemies

First James tells us how to be God's enemies. To do so, the main image he uses is not war, but marriage.

"You adulterous people!" he starts. This is quite different from his normal way of addressing the Christians he is writing to. Usually he calls them " my brothers" or "my dear brothers", but now suddenly they are "you adulterous people!"

James is accusing these Christians of being unfaithful to God. The church is sometimes pictured as the bride of Christ, and the picture of marriage is often used in the Bible to describe how God and his people are bound together in an unbreakable covenant relationship.

But now, James says, these people have been unfaithful to God. They have betrayed the one they are wedded to. They have committed spiritual adultery.

What have they done to deserve this outburst? Well, James calls it friendship with the worldref. Instead of remaining faithful to God, they have struck up a close intimacy with the world, and this makes them adulterers.

Now, we need to understand what "the world" means in Biblical language. When the Bible talks about the world, we are not supposed to imagine a blue-green planet hanging in the sky. The Bible views the world in spiritual terms, and it means "creation organised in opposition to God". The world was created by God and for his glory, but now the created world is fallen and broken and is organised in opposition to him.

We can see what this means in the book of 1 John. Just flip over a few pages with me to 1 John chapter 2, verse 15. John says,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever.ref

So, the world is everything that takes us away from God: it's stuff that we crave with our flesh instead of desiring God; it's stuff that we lust after with our eyes rather than looking to God; it's stuff that causes us to boast in ourselves rather than glorifying God.

When I turn anywhere but God to meet my deeply felt needs then I am being worldly. So, instead of coming to God, if I fill the holes in my life by watching television, going shopping, using pornography, drinking alcohol or any of the thousand-and-one things we do, then that is friendship with the world.

Similarly, when I live my life to glorify anyone else but God, then I am being worldly. In my work I can either glorify God, or build up my pride. I can use the money I have for the glory of God, or for the glory of me.

Worldliness is hard to see in ourselves. It is subtle and deeply ingrained: we are not good at analysing our motives. Am I glorifying God or glorifying me? Am I desiring God or just desiring stuff?

But, on the other hand, worldliness is easy to spot in others, isn't it? You know the train of thought: "Ooh, he's got a nice car. I wonder what it cost. I wonder how much he gives to the church." We must take care! If we are spotting worldliness in others' lives we can easily become guilty of it ourselves, because it simply feeds our pride: "My car's 8 years old: I'm not worldly like him; I'm a better Christian than he is" . What a worldly way to think! Instead, we should learn from what we see in others and use it to search our own hearts: in what ways has the world got a grip on my heart?

If we turn back to James, we find that he says, along with John, that being too close to the world makes us enemies of God. He says it twice to make sure we don't miss it. don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of Godref.

In verse 5 we see why that is: God is jealous. There is some ambiguity about how verse 5 should be understood, but I think the first version the NIV gives in the footnote is right, God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in usref. In a marriage, one spouse is rightly jealous — consumed by jealousy — if the other is unfaithful. Likewise, God is passionate about our relationship with him! He guards it jealously. He has done everything to build that relationship, from creating us to saving us. And we are prepared to throw it away for a fling with the world.

We can see evidence of worldliness in the believers James in writing to in various ways in the letter. In chapter 2 their worldliness causes them to discriminate against people: they judge people according to the world's standards, and not how God values them. In chapter 3 their worldliness causes them to be careless in what they say, and to curse one-another. They have forgotten that people are made in God's likeness. Later in chapter 3 they harbour bitter envy and selfish ambitionref to the detriment of the church. And at the beginning of chapter 4 we read about their quarrels and fighting.

All these have their origin in the world, James teaches. When our churches are dysfunctional, it is because the world has infected them. It ought to be so different! We ought to be taking the glory of God out of the church and into the world, but so often it works the other way round. So often we simply import our worldly attitudes and desires into our church life, leading to all the sad and destructive behaviours James is writing about.

I don't know if there is factionalism, or judgementalism, or quarrelling, or slander, or greed, or self-promotion, or immorality in this church. I simply don't know you well enough. But if there is, then it has come from the world, and has no place here. The Lord knows you very well indeed, and friendship with the world makes us enemies of God.

How to be God's Friends

So, what can we do when we've been unfaithful to God? How can our relationship ever be restored? If James's readers had got it so wrong, then how could things ever be put right?

Well, the amazing thing that James tells us in verse 6 is that we can again be friends of God. In the first part of the sermon we looked at how to be God's enemies; in this part I want to look at how to be God's friends.

What James tells us is that despite our constant turning away from God, his grace is still available to us. Look at verse 6, But he gives us more graceref. However much we have sided with the world and turned our backs on God, his willingness and ability to forgive us is greater: he gives us more graceref.

The apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 5, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Sonref. This is God's grace! By nature we are his enemies, hostile to him in every way, but God can make us his friends, reconciling us. We don't deserve to be his friends; we cannot make ourselves his friends. But God's grace is so great that he did everything to reconcile us with himself. He laid the punishment for our rebellion on Jesus his Son in his death.

James tells us that however deeply our lives are entwined with the world; however much we feel we have made God our enemy, still God's grace is greater. And it's free to us. It wouldn't be grace if it weren't. It was immensely costly to God, but we haven't earned it in any way.

God's grace is free to us, but James makes sure that we understand that it is not cheap.

To make the point, James quotes Proverbs, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humbleref. God does not waste his grace on those who do not value it. God does not waste his grace on those who will not take hold of it to become closer to him.

If I have a costly medicine that can cure an otherwise incurable disease, and I'm prepared to give it away, then I'm not going to waste it on those who will not take it, am I? I'll give it to those who want to get better, those who will value it and use it. So it is with God and his grace.

God's grace is only for the humble, those who will submit to him. It is not for the proud, those who are determined to resist God and remain friends of the world. In the next few verses James spells out for us how to apply the medicine of grace in our lives.

He commands those who want to take hold of this grace to Submit yourselves to Godref. He then he breaks down what it means into a series of quick-fire commands requiring an immediate response. I'm going to summarise them with four words: resist, return, repent and remorse.

First, James says, resist: resist the devilref. Why does he bring the devil into it? Well, it's all about who is our boss. If we are friends with the world, then the devil is our master.

I guess we generally have the idea that the devil lives in hell, and the world is a kind of in between ground where God and the devil battle it out. But the Bible teaches quite clearly that the world we live in belongs to the devil. This is his realm. The apostle John says in 1 John chapter 5 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil oneref.

Friendship with the world, then, is putting ourselves into the devil's hands. Resisting the devil means recognising the attractions of the world for what they are: if they are not for the glory of God, then they are the gateway to hell. What we decide to watch on television is not neutral. Where we decide to go on the Internet is not neutral. What we decide to do with our money is not neutral. What we talk about with our friends is not neutral. Any of the things we do can either glorify God or draw us away from God. And the devil will do all he can to draw us away.

But the promise of James is that we can resist him, we can overcome the world, the devil and all his tricks! Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.ref. With the grace of God at work in our lives we can resist the devil: Grace is the only thing he fears. And he is just terrified of it!

So we are to resist the devil, and then we are to return to God: come near to God,ref James says in verse 8. And the promise is that he will come near to us. Just as the devil will flee as we resist him, so God will come near as we return to him.

There's an echo here of the parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told. In that story the son leaves his father for the pleasures of the world. But he soon finds that the world's attractions are empty and deceptive. When the son hits rock bottom he decides to return to the father, and the astonishing point of Jesus' story is that the father doesn't take him back reluctantly, or grudgingly. As the son comes near, the father runs out to meet him. James promises the same, draw near to God and he will draw near to youref. If we will return to him, we know that he will welcome us. We have nothing to fear if we will take hold of his grace.

The third command is to repent: Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-mindedref. We need to get rid of our outward sin in terms of the deeds we do, Wash your hands, you sinners, and we need to get rid of our inner sin in our hearts and thoughts, purify your hearts, you double minded. God is so passionate for us that he wants our whole hearts and minds and souls. He cannot stand it when we are casual about our relationship with him, when we flirt with him and flirt with the world at the same time.

Friendship with the world is what happens when we've stopped fighting the world. We know that we are not friends with the world when we are fighting back against it through repentance.

Lastly in verse 9 James says we need to show remorse for our sins. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloomref. James is not saying Christians should be miserable all the time — after all, Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord alwaysref. What James is saying is that the Christian who has sinned should have a proper sorrow for that sin. We must never take our sin lightly. When we've been at odds with God, we should be grieved by it, because it damages our relationship with him.

And in the end it is all about relationship. If we return to the picture of marriage and adultery that James used in the first part of this passage, we can see why he commands all these things.

If there is going to be any hope of restoring a marriage relationship after one of the partners has been unfaithful, then all these things need to happen. The adulterous relationship needs to be broken (resist the devil). The marriage relationship needs to be worked on (return to God). All the wrong attitudes and ways of behaving need to be dealt with (repent of the sin). And a genuine sorry needs to be said (the showing of remorse). If any of these is missing, there is no hope of reconciliation. And the same is true when we wander from God.


So, which side are you going to fight for this week? Are you going to be God's enemy or his friend? There aren't any neutrals; there is no spiritual equivalent of Switzerland.

If we are committed to promoting ourselves this week — our needs, our desires, our achievements — then we make ourselves enemies of God. And that is a very dangerous place to be.

James doesn't mess around. Humble yourselves before the Lordref he commands. Do it now! Do it urgently! And then he will give you his grace. He will give you his forgiveness and his friendship. And that's the way to be lifted up and exalted. Not our way, but God's way.