James 024 – The Gospel’s Simplicity

James 024 – The Gospel’s Simplicity
James 4:8-10 • Dr. Andy Woods • April 21, 2021 • James


James 24

Book of James:  A Faith that Works

The Gospel’s Simplicity — James 4:8-10

Dr.  Andy Woods

The book of James, 4:8 as we continue our journey through the book of James.  Not a bad series title, Journeying through James, actually I like James:  A Faith that Works — better.  As you know, James is the half brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ.   He is writing a book to the Hebrew Christians who he was actually pastoring in Jerusalem who had been scattered abroad because of the persecution of the apostle Paul.  The main thing to understand about James, at least this evening, to interpret it correctly, is that this is a book about practical righteousness, so the assumption is that the folks who James is writing to are already believers.  There is a real strong clue that they are believers:  look at 4:5:  He says, ‘He jealously desires the spirit which he has made to dwell in us.’   So, they had the spirit; James uses the word, ‘us,’ so just as James was a believer, so was his audience; so, he isn’t writing a book to people to teach them how to become Christians; but to teach them how to live as Christians.  The first part of the book is about how they must keep walking by faith, so they need to develop God’s viewpoint on:


-Obedience to God’s Word

-Not showing favoritism

-Allowing their faith to produce itself in good works

-Taming the tongue

If they don’t do these (above) things, James is not saying that they are not Christians, but he is saying that they are not productive, growing, maturing Christians.  About halfway through the book in 3:13-18, he moves away from the walk of faith to the walk of wisdom which is knowledge applied.  He defines wisdom as knowledge applied, then he moves into their spiritual life.  The rest of the book is James showing them how to apply divine wisdom to every area of life.  He starts with the most important thing:  one’s spiritual life.  If they have their spiritual life growing then the other things take care of themselves.  I think that is why he developed and explained the spiritual life first.  He addresses this in 4:1-12, as we have been studying.  So, how do we have a vibrant, growing spiritual life as Christians so that we are maturing?  There are a couple of things we need to avoid:

  1. Wrangling 4:1-3
  2. Worldliness 4:1-6

We spent a lot of time on those two points; in other words, these are things that the Christian is to set aside in order to be a growing Christian.  The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it isn’t merely a book about don’ts; many view the Bible that way.  Don’t do this; don’t do that; stay away from this; stay away from that.  The reality is that the Bible is not a book of don’ts; it is a book of betters; in other words, God will say, ‘here is what to stay away from,’ but then He says, ‘here is what to replace it with.’  What you replace it with is far better than what you gave up.  So, Jesus has not come into the world to destroy people’s lives.   John 10:10 says that ‘He has come that we may have life and have it to the full.’  Therefore, James is not a book about don’t do this or that, but it is a book about betters.  The don’ts are in James 4:1-6 as he is explaining the spiritual life.  Avoid wrangling and worldliness.  Then he explains about what to replace those things with, and he does so in 4:7-12 where he starts to explain a wonderful paragraph that I call the essence of spiritual wisdom.   Rather than worldliness and wrangling, pursue these six things instead, the first two of which we have covered, and the remaining four we will try to cover tonight, Lord willing:

  1. Submission to God 4:7a
  2. Resist satan 4:7b
  3. Draw near to God 4:8a
  4. Repent 4:8b-9
  5. Humility 4:10
  6. Forego judgment 4:11-12

The first thing to do is to submit yourself to God per 4:7, and in saying this, he isn’t speaking of justification but about sanctification.  Why is he dealing with sanctification?  Because he is explaining these things to Christians, and it is obvious they are Christians because of 4:6 which comes right before 4:7.

The second thing he says is to resist satan, and we have explained that, and that was sort of a rabbit trail because when we got into the subject of resisting satan, we said that one of the things that people do today is to try to bind satan.  We said that this isn’t a bonified practice today because satan, eschatologically and prophetically, will not be bound until the Millennial Kingdom.  Thus, we are not in the business of binding satan.  Then the question arises:  ‘What do you do with these passages of binding and loosing?  Because when we tell people that we aren’t binding satan today, we are resisting him and putting on the full armor of God, they immediately want to run to Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18-20 where Jesus gives us authority to bind and to loose (See slide on Binding and Loosing where the above referenced passages are side by side thanks to Brother Jim who created that slide, so thank you to him).  I create my slides and Jim knows what I am trying to say and then he gives it a massive facelift so that it is presentable.  So, there are the two verses we covered last time about binding and loosing, and we went through those and concluded that those have nothing to do with binding and loosing satan today.  These are commonly used in the modern spiritual warfare movement to argue that we are to bind and loose satan, the reality is that they have nothing to do with that, so we went down deeply into those two passages explaining what they really mean.  If you are interested, that was a sort of rabbit trail, I encourage you to listen to James 23 on Binding and Loosing (available on our archive).

What is the essence of spiritual wisdom?

  1. Submit yourself to God
  2. Resist Satan

Now we proceed with numbers 3-6, which I am hoping we will cover tonight.

  1. Draw near to God.

James 4:8, the essence of spiritual wisdom: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”. Notice that there are a lot of reciprocal promises here.  If we do ‘x,’ then God is obligated to do ‘y’ as we are growing spiritually.  If you go back to James 4:7, there is a reciprocal promise to “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  So, if you do something, then something else will happen by way of response.  It is the same thing in 4:8, if we draw near to God then He will draw near to us, so we need to pay attention to these reciprocal promises.  The way to understand and to interpret this correctly is to understand something that is very basic:  you have as a human being, two relationships with God.  Your first relationship with God when you are born into this world is God as your Judge.  You are moving off into divine judgment as an unbeliever.  The only way to fix that issue is by exercising faith alone in Christ alone.  Once you exercise faith alone in Christ alone, then God is no longer your Judge.  That is why the Bible says that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

Then when you get saved, God is no longer your Judge, but He becomes your Father.  As you relate to God as your Father, there is not just one command to follow as there is for the unbeliever who doesn’t want God to be their Judge.  If an unbeliever doesn’t want God to be their Judge, then that unbeliever is obligated to do one thing, which is to believe.  After you believe, then God is no longer your Judge, He is your Father, and now, our responsibility is to walk in intimacy with our Father.  To walk in intimacy with God as our Father involves multiple commands.  The confusion occurs when people mixing the two commands up.  They take the commands related to our walk with God as our Father and drag them into how to fix their situation with God as our Judge?   For example, some people say, ‘If you die with an unforgiving heart, then you will go to hell.’   Well, the problem is that those people are grabbing that from the Lord’s prayer, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have sinned against us.’  They take that command to forgive and make it into something that an unbeliever must do to get right with God.  But if you look at that passage in context, the Lord’s prayer begins which way?  ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.’  So, the issue of forgiveness or unforgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with whether you will remove the situation with God as your Judge.   The only thing you must do to remove that situation is to believe in the One He has sent, Jesus Christ.  The issue of forgiveness or unforgiveness has nothing to do with how you become a child of God, but it has everything to do with ‘Are you going to grow as a Christian with God as your Father?  Will you walk with intimacy with God as your Father?’  That is where you factor in ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have sinned against us.’   That is the right way to understand these verses.

When James says to draw near to God and He will draw near to you, it isn’t a command for an unbeliever to enter into a right relationship with God.  Rather, it is a command for the believer to enjoy fellowship with their Father.  If you don’t draw near to God as His child, that doesn’t mean that you will suffer future judgment.  That issue got fixed the moment you trusted in Christ as your Savior.  Then why should we, as His children, draw near to God?  Because I want to enjoy maximum intimacy and fellowship with Him.  So, this is a promise that is given to the Christian who wants to grow in their intimacy with God as their Father.  To do that, we must draw near to Him, and He makes a reciprocal promise to us that when we do that, He will draw near to us.  This is an invitation to us for fellowship, not salvation.  An invitation to salvation would not fit here because he is clearly addressing believers.  Some parallel passages would be 1 John 1:3, also a book about fellowship.  It says, “…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His son Jesus Christ.”  So, 1 John, like the book of James is written so that God’s children can enjoy fellowship with God.

When we sin as Christians, how do we restore broken fellowship with God?  The answer is in 1 John 1:9, ‘If we confess our sins,’ the word, ‘confess’ is ‘homologeo’:  homo as in same, ‘logeo’ as in spoken word.  It basically means agreement.  We agree with God that our sin is wrong.  This is what it means to confess our sins.  Why would I confess my sin as a Christian?  I don’t confess my sins to become a Christian.

There is only one condition to be met to become a Christian, which is faith alone in Christ alone.  I do that to experience ‘homologeo;’ ‘confession;’ maximum fellowship with God.  So,  per 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Like James, 1 John is clearly written to believers because 1 John 2:1, which comes right after 1 John 1:9, a verse or two down, says, “My little children.”  This is very important to understand because there is a lot of confusion about this as many people are taking James 4:8 and are holding it out to the unsaved as what the unsaved must do to get saved.  That is abusing the book of James because the book of James was not written for that purpose.  It was written so that we could enjoy our relationship with God as our Father.  If you want to read a book in the Bible that will teach you how to avoid God as your Judge, I recommend the gospel of John.  That book was written basically to get unsaved people saved.  You will see that in John 20:30-31 where John says, ‘I have written these things so that you might understand who Jesus Christ is as the Son of God on account of His many signs and so that you might believe and have eternal life.’

So, if you are trying to get people saved, send them to John’s gospel; if you want to get those who are already saved to grow in their intimacy with their Father, then send them to 1 John or to the book of James.  For example, David, in Psalm 32:1-5, says, ‘“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!  When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  Selah.  I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord;” And You forgave the guilt of my sin.  Selah.”’

So, what is David restoring there?  He isn’t moving from a situation where he was unsaved to being saved.  What happened is that sin entered his life, and he isn’t enjoying his relationship with his Father with the intimacy that he could, so he confessed his sin for the purpose of restoring broken fellowship.  It is similar to a marriage — my wife and I are legally married; that is our legal position.  I could do something to offend her or she could offend me and when that happens, does that mean we are no longer married?  No, our legal position is exactly the same.  What has happened is that there is now a barrier that damages the enjoyment that we could have with one another until I or she confesses — in other words, apologizes, then broken fellowship and intimacy is restored.  When that barrier entered, it wasn’t a situation where suddenly we were unmarried.  That is what the book of James is saying: ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.’  He isn’t saying that you aren’t a Christian anymore or that you aren’t saved; He is saying that fellowship that you could enjoy with God has been broken so it is important to confess your sin unto God and agree with Him about that sin per 1 John 1:9 and exercise that passage, then broken fellowship at that point will be restored.

So, how do we experience the essence of spiritual wisdom?  Avoid wrangling and worldliness, and replace it with:

  1. Submission to God
  2. Resist satan
  3. Draw near to God with the reciprocal promise that He will draw near to you in the way of intimacy and fellowship.

You have heard the saying that if you feel distant from God, who moved?  Chances are that it wasn’t God who moved.  It was we who moved through sin, and when we moved away from God, it doesn’t mean we aren’t Christians anymore; we are still going to heaven.  It means that moment-by-moment intimacy with God has been fragmented or short-circuited, and we need to confess our sin to God so that intimacy can be restored. This is the pursuit of true spiritual wisdom which is to replace worldliness and wrangling.

  1. The fourth thing we are to do is to repent. The second half of James 4:8 into 4:9, says, (a good Covid verse)… “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; and let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”

This is completely and totally a middle tense issue of salvation that James is dealing with here.  He is not talking about how to become a Christian in a justification sense.  He is talking about our attitude towards sin in our lives as Christians that needs to be confessed; to be repented of.  To repent means to change your mind about that particular sin that is causing a lack of fellowship between you and the Lord as a Christian.  Treat your sin seriously; ‘cleanse your hands; purify your hearts.’  James 4:9 says to “Be miserable and mourn and weep; and let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Sin in the life of a Christian, according to the book of James is a very serious issue.  It isn’t something that will derail glorification, but God looks at it very seriously because it is breaking fellowship that He wants to have with us; after all, He is the groom, and we are the bride.  Our relationship unto the Lord is described in marital terms, so just as an offense against a spouse damages intimacy within a marriage, our unconfessed sin as Christians damages our intimacy with the Lord.  The book of James is saying that we need to take that very seriously.

I am old enough to remember some churches in the south that used to have what were called ‘mourning altars or pews.’  Mourning.  It was essentially an opportunity for people to come to the front of the church and to kneel and to be miserable for a season because of sin.  That is how seriously we used to take sin in the Body of Christ.  Today, looking at most churches and their furniture and the way they’re constructed, those things are in the past.  It is almost as though we are so comfortable in church that the issue of unconfessed sin in the life of a Christian is not that big of a deal to us.  It is a change in the way we think about sin as Christians.  Again, I want to emphasize, I’m not here to threaten us with hell because of the doctrine of eternal security, but that does not negate that unconfessed sin in the life of a Christian is obviously a severe thing.  That is why James uses this language of ‘mourning and to let your joy be turned to gloom; your laughter turned to sadness,’ etc.  Notice the word, ‘hearts’ in James 4:8, “…Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, …” because that is where sin begins.  Psalm 51:11 is why David said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  David was talking about his heart, and he wasn’t dealing with the situation of having to get saved because he was an unbeliever.  He was dealing with fellowship with God, and he recognized that he was out of fellowship with God.  Psalm 51, the culprit of the problem was his heart.

So, James mentions the heart in 4:8, “…Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts,…” because that is where sin begins — in the heart.  Proverbs 4:23 in the NKJV says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”  Notice that all of the issues of life come out of the heart, and that is why the book of Proverbs tells us to keep our hearts with all diligence, not some diligence, ALL diligence.  There is a reality of godly sorrow.  In 2 Cor 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, …” True repentance in the life of the child of God is typically accompanied by sorrow.  Again, this is not a condition for the lost to get saved.   The only condition for the lost to get saved is to receive the free gift of salvation that is available through faith alone in Christ alone.  This issue of godly sorrow producing repentance, in context, is dealing with sin in the life of the Christian.  This is why James says to ‘Be miserable, mourn, weep, let your joy be turned to sadness, gloom; laughter turned to sadness” because  unconfessed sin in the life of the child of God is a very serious issue.  It doesn’t make us hell-bound but it does damage the intimacy that we have with God, and He wants us to confess it per 1 John 1:9. ‘Homologeo’ — agree with God that it is wrong, and ask Him to empower us so that we don’t re-commit the same sins.  That is what repentance means:   you are changing your mind about it.  If a Christian won’t do that or won’t take it seriously, then the intimacy that God has for them is short-circuited at that point.

John MacArthur is someone whose ministry, in a lot of ways, I appreciate.  Some of what he has done lately in terms of standing up for first amendment rights in California, etc, I am basically a big fan of those actions.  But the reason that I don’t recommend his ministry is because he confuses this issue that I am talking about.   He takes these commands related to sorrow, which clearly relate to how a Christian is to respond to sin in his life, and he turns those commands repeatedly into a condition for the lost to get saved in his sermons and writings.

I am not sure why he does this, but he does not keep the three tenses of salvation separate, so when people read his writings, think, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe I’m not a Christian.’  Or if the lost reads this, they would interpret it as having to do ten things to be made right with God.  He will take the verses in James 4:8,9 — “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” Suddenly, he is holding this in front of lost people who don’t even have the Holy Spirit in them as conditions for justification.  If you believe that, then you will wonder for your entire Christian life if you are going to heaven or not.  Why?  Because how do you know if you have repented or mourned or sorrowed enough?  This type of teaching demolishes the assurance of salvation, and it takes the Gospel of grace and turns it into a ten-point gospel of works.  The entire error can be avoided by keeping the tenses of salvation separate and making the points we have reiterated in this study — James is addressing Christians and not non-Christians.

Here is a sample from MacArthur’s writings so you will know that I am not making it up.  This is not something that was misspoken in a sermon; this is something written in a book by him called The Gospel According to Jesus, and when you are writing something, you are oftentimes not speaking off the cuff, but very deliberate in your thought process.  Notice what he says here where he is commenting on James 4, the same passage we have been dealing with:  “One of the most comprehensive invitations to salvation in all the Epistles comes in James 4:7-10.”  [See what he just did there?  It is not an invitation for a believer to experience greater fellowship with the Lord; it is an invitation for the unbeliever to get saved] … “While James directs most of his epistle to genuine believers [that part of it is true], it is also evident that he is concerned about those who are not genuine.  He wants no one to be deceived regarding true salvation, so he calls for a real, living, saving faith that is distinct from the dead faith of chapter 2.  He states his objective in 5:20. It is to see ‘the sinner converted from the error of his way and his soul saved from death.’  The invitation in 4:7-10 is directed at those who are not saved—guilty, wicked hearers of the Word who are not…doers (cf.1:21-22); who are still captive to dead faith ( f. 2:14-20); who are bitter, selfish, arrogant liars whose ‘wisdom is not what comes from above but is earthy, natural, demonic (3:15); who are loving the world and thus are the enemies of God (4:4); whose inner spirit is still dominated by lusts (cf.4:5); and who are proud and self-sufficient (cf.4:6).  They are in desperate need of God’s grace.  [See what is going on here with a magic wand?  Suddenly, this is not dealing with the Christian with unconfessed sin in their life which is damaging their fellowship with their Father.  These are conditions that must be satisfied in order to fix the unbeliever’s problem with God as their Judge, and it is Scripture-twisting that he is doing here].

He goes on to say, “But since God only ‘gives grace to the humble’ (v.6), James calls these ‘sinners’  (a term used in Scripture only of the unregenerate).” [A Christian can’t have sin in their life, can they?  Not according to John MacArthur.  I wish John MacArthur would read 1 John 1:10 which says that if we say that we have not sinned, speaking to believers, we make him a liar and His Word is not in us.  So, if you are a Christian and you say you never sin, then you are basically a liar, and of course, a Christian can have unconfessed sin in their life.  That is why 1 John 1:9 is given to us as a remedy and why James says to take the sin seriously.  But he is making it sound as though a Christian can never have unconfessed sin in their life, so therefore, let’s take the entire paragraph and apply it to the unsaved] … “to turn from their pride and humble themselves.  Ten imperatives…” [What he is focusing on in James 4:7-10, ten imperatives — what is an imperative?  An imperative is a command in Greek] … “delineate the commands in James’ call to sinners:  submit yourself to God (salvation); resist the devil (transferring allegiance); draw near to God (intimacy of relationship); cleanse your hands, (repentance); purify your hearts (confession); be miserable, mourn, weep, and let your laughter and joy be turned to gloom (sorrow).  The final imperative summarizes the mentality of those who are converted: ‘Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord.’  All this is a work of God, who gives His more abundant grace (4:6).”

So, what do you tell a lost sinner according to John MacArthur?  You give them ten commands.  What do you say to a lost sinner?  ‘Submit yourself to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, be miserable, mourn, weep, and let your laughter and joy be turned to gloom.’

Is that what we are supposed to do when approaching unsaved people?  Tell them all these things they must do?  That is what John MacArthur is doing here. You may say, ‘Well, Andy, I like John MacArthur, the way he preaches, I like his first amendment stand, that he is a strong believer in biblical creationism, that he believes in a rapture, that he believes in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, that in his church you aren’t entertained and that he preaches for an hour, [so in our church, he preaches short].  John MacArthur is just wonderful, isn’t he?  Don’t you recommend his books; won’t you set up a display table at the back of the church and hand out his books, and won’t you turn Sugar Land Bible Church into a John MacArthur satellite campus?  The answer is No!  Because John MacArthur preaches and teaches a works-oriented gospel.  It doesn’t matter if he is good on all these other subjects if he has the gospel wrong, and the reason he has it wrong is because he isn’t distinguishing the three tenses of salvation.  He thinks that we are supposed to go to lost people and tell them to do ten imperatives when the truth is that a lost person doesn’t even have the new nature; they don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them.  The only thing they have the ability to do is to believe in the Christ as they are convicted.  Approach a lost person and tell them they must do these ten things, they won’t even know what you are talking about, and even if they knew, they don’t have the ability to do those ten things.  The only people on planet earth who can do these ten things are people like we are who have the Holy Spirit inside of us.

So here we are in Lesson 24 in the book of James, and the reason it is taking so long is because as I am going through it, I am trying to establish the fact that the book of James was written to Christians, making that point over and over again.  Why belabor it and go into so much detail on this?  Because only if you go into detail on this, are you kept away from this error here that John MacArthur and others make, (he is probably one of the more popular preachers on this doctrine).  Compare what John MacArthur says here about ten imperatives to a lost person with the simplicity of the gospel.  That is why I entitled this Bible study tonight, the Simplicity of the Gospel as Revealed in the Bible.

How did Abraham as a lost person get saved?  Did he fulfill ten imperatives to get saved?  No, I would think that after he got saved, that God would start working on the ten imperatives after he was already a child of God, but that is not how Abraham got saved!  It isn’t how Abraham got justified.   Abraham’s justification is given in Genesis 15:6 which says, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”   Abraham fulfilled one condition, not ten!  The only command for a lost person is to believe in the Savior, that is it!   Not fulfilling that command is the only unpardonable sin; in other words, if a person dies in that state, that is what sends him into hell, not their inability to fulfill ten commands.

How about John 3:16, a very basic verse that we usually memorize as brand new Christians, right?   “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [fulfills ten imperatives, whoever weeps and mourns and let’s their laughter be turned into gloom and cleanses their hearts and washes their hands will be saved…that is not what John 3:16 says]…  “believes [one condition] in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”   Everything in that verse is what God does except for believe; that is what we do as lost people, we believe.  That is how we get saved.  Then God says, ‘Ok, I have fixed the issue with Me as your Judge, now I am your Father, and I want you to enjoy maximum intimacy with Me.  Now you need to read the book of James because now you have the Holy Spirit inside of you to enable you to fulfill the ten imperatives in James 4, and you fulfill those ten imperatives not to become a child of God; you are already a child of God, but to now enjoy maximum intimacy with God as your Father.’  The Judge issue was fixed when you believed.  Now God says, ‘I want you to grow in intimacy with Me as your Father.’  That is where the book of James fits in.

Acts 16:30-31, the Philippian jailer to Paul and Silas ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  that is life’s most important question, right?  They said, ‘fulfill ten imperatives.  Weep and mourn and let your laughter be turned into gloom.’  It doesn’t say that at all.  “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”   They said (Paul and Silas) “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”  It is simple.  In fact, it is so simple, how did it get so confused?  Because we stopped distinguishing between the three tenses of salvation.  The writings of John MacArthur, as I have tried to demonstrate here with his own quotes and books, get the book and read it for yourself — he makes no distinction between the three tenses of salvation.   He takes things that are pertinent to intimacy, and drags those into justification.  He makes James 4 an invitation for conversion.  That is an abuse of the book of James because James is written to believers.

If you don’t get something this basic straight, then you end up teaching a false gospel to the unsaved.  That is why this is actually a big deal; why I can listen to all the sermons of John MacArthur and read all his books and commentaries and agree with him on almost everything, but I still cannot recommend his ministry because he is wrong on the most important thing, the gospel.  If you are wrong on that, then what does the apostle Paul say?  Paul is very clear is he not about this in the book of Galatians?  Galatians 1:6-9, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.   But even if we, or an angel from heaven [‘if we or someone who is a best-selling author; even if we or someone who has an international following; even if we or someone who is on every single Christian television and radio station that you can get on’]… should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”  That is very strong language.

In the way of ministry and teaching, you are to have no solidarity or no partnership with people who distort the grace of God in terms of the gospel.  Even if you agree with them on Noah’s Ark and the global flood and six 24-hour days of creation, and a coming Millennial Kingdom, and the rapture of the Church, and the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible; agree, agree, agree, but they got the gospel wrong.  What does Paul say?  ‘Well get into some dialogue and work it out.’  Paul does not say that.  He says that you cut yourself off from him.  Even if an angel…think of the beauty and power of an angel…if an angel shows up at your bedside tonight and has their doctrine right on everything but gives you a false gospel, the angel is to be treated as accursed, let alone a human spokesman.  See that?  Or a human preacher.

So, that is why I brought in the writings of John MacArthur because I want you to see this for yourself.  I am not just serendipitously bringing this in as a drive by shooting on someone; I am bringing it in because we are in James 4, and I am trying to explain how James 4 is distorted by so many people.  It has turned into an invitation to the lost rather than what it is intended to be, an invitation to intimacy for the growing Christian.  Hopefully, I am making myself semi-clear on this.

How do we pursue the essence of spiritual wisdom?  We:

  1. Submit to God
  2. Resist the devil
  3. Draw near to God
  4. Repent of sins in our lives to the point where we take sin seriously because it is damaging our moment-by-moment intimacy with the Lord
  5. Exercise humility.

Let’s just do James 4:10, and then we will call it an evening.

James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you.”  So, the fifth thing we do to pursue the essence of spiritual wisdom is to humble ourselves.  If we humble ourselves, see these reciprocal promises?  Resist the devil, and he will flee — reciprocal promise.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you — reciprocal promise.  There is another one in 4:10, humble yourself in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.  Because in God’s economy, the way up is down, and the way down is up, right?

Lots of examples in the Bible (slide on Hall of the Humbled) whether you talk about satan, Uzziah, Herod Agrippa, and even Paul himself, who struggled with pride — in every single example, when these people lifted themselves up, they were humbled.  Proverbs 16:18 says that first comes pride then comes a fall.  In 1 Peter 5:5, it says, GOD RESISTS THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.  So, per James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” The way up with God is down and the way down is up.  In other words, if I’m going to promote and be prideful in myself, then God says that you are cruising for a bruising, right, which is what my dad used to say to me when my brother and I were acting up.

We risk divine discipline, not hell, but divine discipline and a number of other things when we are prideful in and of ourselves, because the way up with God is down, the complete opposite way the world thinks.  The world says that if you want to get ahead you must promote yourself; become prideful about yourself.  God actually says that if you do that, that is actually the way down.  The way up is down and the way down is up.  Can you think of any examples of this?   Who is the ultimate example of the way down is up?  Jesus.  Philippians 2:5-11, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself (the opposite of what satan did), taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.   Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason, also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  So, the way up satan and other examples prove, is the way down.  Jesus went down and was exalted up to the point where He is above every name and every knee, one day, will bow to Him.

That is what James 4:10 is saying, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”  Notice how these verses are related?  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord…”. How do you get in the presence of the Lord?  Do what it says in 4:8,9 because those verses don’t get you saved but they restore broken fellowship.  So, now you are in the presence of the Lord, humble yourself, and God says that He will exalt you.

Now, 1 Peter 5:6 adds this little detail, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” [So, when you humble yourself before the Lord, don’t act as if, ‘Alright God, I want to be exalted right now.’   In 1 Peter 5:6 says that He will exalt you at the proper time.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph was not exalted until age 30.  From age 17 to 30, it was one setback after another, but the day came where God took Joseph and elevated him to second in command over the whole known empire of that day — the world empire of Egypt.  So, Joseph’s elevation happened at the right time.  “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,…”. The elevation of exaltation of the Christian, whether in this life or the next, happens when God says it is time to be elevated.

This then becomes what true spiritual wisdom is.  Rather than wrangling and worldliness, embrace these things:

  1. Submit to God
  2. Resist satan
  3. Draw near to God
  4. Repent
  5. Humble yourselves so God can exalt you

The next time we are together we will look at the last one:  Forego Judgment on fellow Christians.  We will stop here…