3:13-4:12 – Old Nature vs. New Nature – An Exposition
One of the main points of the New Testament is that at our regeneration by Christ by the Holy Spirit as a gift from the Father is that He completely changes your nature. The old you, the flesh, doesn’t just go away, but given that it was dead to begin with, it is replaced with a new and living Spirit, as the Holy Spirit moves in to your being and makes you alive, joining you to Christ in that Spirit. That new nature has a new set of programming if you will, as opposed to the old “windows” model [heh, sorry, I’m a Mac guy], and needs to establish itself as the new and dominant programming. Sometimes that takes time, sometimes it is instantaneous. I remember when God saved me. I knew I was different. Some of the things he changed about me were instant. I knew real love for the first time. I had purpose for the first time. I was able to say no to sin for the first time.
Some things took…longer. On June 18 of this year, it was 36 years. And there are still things that are changing, still things I am putting to death (mortifying, ala John Owen via the Apostle Paul), still things I am discovering. James here makes an exposition here of the differences by instructing the believers to walk in the Spirit, though he uses other words.
And because James uses words other than what Paul uses to describe the same concepts and phenomena, we will take the time to see what he is really saying, and how he is saying what the Apostle Paul was describing in theological terms implemented practically.
Because Paul is somewhat of a mentor to me, I tend to use Pauline terms in theological discussions, but there are people who are imminently more practical than theological, and I get the impression that James was one of those guys, and it is good to know what kind of terms they think in to address them more accurately. It certainly save an hour and a half of arguing to find out you’re actually speaking the same way about the same thing. I know a guy that for a while was an itinerant preacher. He told the story of how he was saved in the US Navy and how the Lord got a hold of his life. When he was first approached by a couple of believers that wanted to share the gospel with him, they said “You must be born again,” just like Jesus said in John 3. A lot of us have some memorized gospel passages for just such occasions, and this guy wasn’t having any of it. All he knew is that the Lord Jesus saved him by faith. It literally took an hour and a half to open the word with this fellow and show him they were saying the same thing. He is one of the godliest men I knew back from my brethren assembly days, and that’s saying something. Yes, there was a lot of brain-damaged theology, but among all of that, you had guys that were just trying to understand the Bible so that they could walk with Christ the way HE wants us to, and I have nothing but respect for anyone with that goal. This is actually one of the reasons we take the time every week to study the Scriptures and see what God inspired the men who wrote it to tell us.
I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV13: Walk in the New Nature Christ gives you, not your old defaults
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
3:13-18 – James compares and contrasts the old and the new nature
4:1-4 – James describes the old nature in disturbingly practical terms
4:5-10 – James explains how to engage the New Nature in Christ
4:11-12 – James makes practical application in terms of relationships
What I see in this portion of James is a real call to walk, as Paul puts it, in a worthy manner. We all have these easy defaults that we can fall into without thinking or realizing that we do it, and it’s frustrating to realize when you finally do, because you really WANT to walk in that worthy manner. I wish I could tell you how much I can relate, but at a certain point, words just fail. Suffice it to say, none of us have arrived. And when we think we have, we are never father from it.
Who is wise and understanding, asks James. That one, according to the text, should demonstrate that wisdom and understanding with good behaviour and good deeds in gentleness, the Greek prautes, meaning having the power of to control oneself. These are situations where that individual could speak out of turn and may even have justification for doing so, but chooses instead to be reasonable about the situation or issue in front of him. It is a practice situation, and it can take a long time for this to take hold in your life, but at a certain point, you catch on and it gets a great deal easier to walk in that worthy fashion. He does it, not you, so stop trying and let Him. Not really sure how else to say that, other than out title this study, which is:
KV13: Walk in the New Nature Christ gives you, not your old defaults
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
As we have been seeing, through the Pauline epistles and into James, this is a choice for the believer. The choice is to put off the old man, rather like laying aside an old coat, and putting on the new, like a new coat, and responding in a fitting and worthy manner. Our biggest problem, even after we become real believers is that it is all to easy to walk after the old nature, sometimes called the flesh, sometimes called the old man. He is our default setting, and it is the thing we revert to without active choice by the believer to walk after Christ. James here is encouraging us strongly to walk after the new and not the old. In fact, he uses both rebuke and reproof in this text do this as well. Let’s see what he’s talking about.
3:13-18 – James compares and contrasts the old and the new nature
Something Paul does theologically in a number of places like Romans 1 and 2, 6 and 7, and other letters entirely, is to theologically describe the difference between the old and new natures. No place to me is more clear than a single verse in Galatians 2. Verse 20 reads, “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me–and the life that I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Paul and James both suggest in different ways that an exchange of some kind can and should take place in the believer, and if that did not happen, you have not become a Christian. But if it has, you have access to a faith that is not your own, and one that will make a real difference in your life and behaviour. Let’s get into the text here.
13: Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
- Another way of translating this is “Let the wise and understanding among you demonstrate [dezato] by his good behaviour deeds [in keeping with] his deliberate and gentle self-control of wisdom.” This can be translated as an imperative (a command) and not just an open and positive statement in English. I don’t think it makes a real difference in the understanding of the statement, though – Who is the one that is “wise” and “understanding?” The one that is following Christ. That individual will be seen by his demonstration of accompanying good works that clearly identify him as a follower of Christ.
14: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
- I paused for a little bit to consider what this means. Is this not referring to motives instead of actions? Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are both motive forces that drive actions, not simple actions themselves. I recognize them both in myself, and when I pick up a newspaper, these motives seem to energize the world around me. The cause all kinds of tyranny, theft, adultery, murder, lies, like that, all to gain “what I want.” In a few verses, James is going to speak directly to that, and I will do that when he gets there.
- Bitter jealousy [zelon pikron] means sharp heat [connotes malice according to one of the lexicons I used, I think the NAS Dictionary]. My guess would be that we all understand what that is, what it feels like physically, and how it can drive our actions and choices. Selfish ambition [erithian] actially literally means strife, or “faction,” which I suspect you regulars that were here for our studies in the Corinthian letters will recall. According to Vine’s Epository Dictionary, it means ambition, self-seeking, rivalry. The concept of self-will is actually bound up in the term itself, and therefore actually defines the idea of making political parties or divisions. Some have thought that the4 word is derived entirely from strife [eris], but rather Vine suggests that it comes from erithos, “a hireling,” thus seeking to win followers,” thus defining the idea of political rivalries and parties.
- What James is actually saying here is that if this is in your heart, and it is in everyone’s heart to some extent, stop kidding yourself and everyone else by denying it. Recognize it is there in humility, and do not be “arrogant,” according to James. That word arrogant means “to boast against, exult over,” assuming your brothers and sisters in Christ in the text. An example of this behaviour would be, “I’m leading the ministry, because I’m better at it than you are…” God forbid that should EVER be our attitude. Or it’s sickly cousin, “I should be doing that because I’m smarter than you are…” like that.
15: This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
- James just flat-out says that this kind of attitude is based in the demonic realms. James tells us that the origins of this kind of thinking are “earthly,” in that it originates on earth [epi, on; ge, earth, from the form of the Greek word]. It is “natural.” This word to me is far more interesting–psuchikos–“belonging to the soul.” I know there are good bible teachers out there that disagree with the tri-part state of man, and some guys I really respect. They suggest that the spirit and the soul are the same thing, and I admit there is a lot to suggest that they are similar. This is one of the passages that I go to in defending the difference between the psuchikos and the pneuma (spirit). Hebrews 4:12, in speaking of how the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, says that the word of God is capable of distinguishing the difference between the soul and the spirit. That tells me a couple of things. First, it is very difficult to discern the difference between the two things, because they are so close in relation to each other. Second, they are in fact different things. How that all fits together IS difficult to discern, and I am most certainly NOT in agreement with guys like Ken Copeland that say we ARE spirits, and we have bodies, and our personality is the union between the two. That’s nonsense. We are all of those things, or we are nothing at all. Since we are here, we are a body. That body is under a curse, and will someday die or be done away with by God. We are also a soul, in the sense that we have a personality, and like that. We are also a spirit. If we are unregenerate, that spirit is dead and does not function. If we are regenerate, the Lord literally makes that dead spirit to be “born again” and literally makes is alive so that we may now have fellowship and communion with Him and with others that are also His. I know, it sounds simple, but it’s really not. Words may not in fact be adequate to describe it, or at least MY words may be inadequate. What I DO see is that heavenly wisdom comes to us from God via the indwelling Holy Spirit, also god Himself, and is revealed to us as we read His word, and think on it, and pray about it. This is why we actually study the Scriptures! The difference I do see is that spiritual things are not really self-centered. Soulish things are. I’m not really sure at this point how else to put that, but it is true. When we are “walking in the Spirit” as Paul and James and Peter and John and others suggest, we are not truly concerned about ourselves. When we are walking in the flesh, “us” seems to be all we are capable of thinking about. This kind of thinking is what James says is demonic, Greek daimoniodes, literally “proceeding from demons.” Sounds to me like something to be avoided, nu?
16: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
- Remember when I said that James was going to address that stuff directly? He starts right here. Right here, he is equating that stinging jealousy and selfish ambition that drives us with demonic activity–coming from men. We should not really be surprised, because without the Spirit of God to indwell us and give us that ever-elusive self-control and wisdom, all we really are–are servants, pawns really, of the devil himself.
- When humans are given over to their own selfishness, we see things like what we see in Afghanistan. I admit I have some real fear in saying what I have to say next. I have said it before and have been mocked for it, and called a conspiracy theorist. I don’t like being made fun of, and I am NOT a conspiracy theorist. I am just saying what I see. So here it goes, and let the chips fall where they may. We are seeing it right now in our own nation taking hold. It is more pronounced in our neighbours to our immediate south because of the freedoms they have had until now in their nation, but these freedoms have been slowly being curtailed for some time now, and the result is global tyranny.
- Okay, okay, I hear the objections to that statement. It can’t really be that bad, Gerry. All we have to do is…fill in the blank with the rest of that. If there are conditions placed on your personal freedom, you are not really free, period, end of sentence. If you take this medicine, you can have all your freedoms back, you say. Until the next time someone with a half-baked idea tries to take them away again. That’s the thing about freedom. It isn’t free. I thought that Canada as a nation learned those lessons in the early 20th century in places like Ypres, the Somme, or Passchendaele. Well, apparently, that set of lessons weren’t communicated properly to the current generation in power. You know, it used to be that if you were ever in Holland, and they found out you were from Canada, you were treated well, because it was Canadian troops that primarily liberated Holland from the Nazis. If they found out you were from Ottawa, you were treated like Royalty, because Ottawa is where Queen Juliana of the Netherlands stayed when she had to flee her homeland. The annual Tulip festival here is a testament to that. Those Tulips at least used to be paid for by Holland. I don’t think they are as of a couple of years ago because of some tone-deaf politicos locally. These enduring evidences of freedom–apparently not so enduring.
- What we see today is apparent disorder–something our globalist “friends” are using to great advantage to push a political agenda. Maybe you’ve seen the commercials. “By 2030, you won’t own anything, but you will be happy.” The sponsor? Would you believe the World Economic Forum? You better. It’s searchable on YouTube. This disorder and chaos are being used to strip away our freedoms in favour of the “great reset,” a code phrase for the long-predicted New World Order. What’s that phrase on the back of American money? Novus Ordo Seclorum. Literally, New order of the ages. That’s what they want, Beloved. I’m not saying we need to resist this, by the way…in fact, I think we should do everything we can to hasten the REAL one and usher in the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, King of kings, and Lord of lords. I don’t think that’s the one they want, though. Why not? Well, they are not driven by that heavenly and pure wisdom, but the earthly and demonic wisdom that characterizes our age. How do I know? Next verse.
17: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
- James makes a direct comparison of that self-centered ambition with actual heavenly wisdom. And, oh look, he put it in a list of words, which those of you that have been with us for a while just KNOW I’m gonna have to look at in detail! So here we go.
- Wisdom is of course that Greek word sophia, used here in the context of spiritual wisdom, and it is given the following marks.
- Pure: The Greek word here is hagnos, which you may recognize is very similar to (from the same root as) hagios, or “holy.” The word actually means pure from every fault, or immaculate. James says this is the prime characteristic, by the way. True heavenly wisdom will always show itself in simple purity before anything else. If that is missing, you at best only have shards of wisdom.
- Peaceable: It literally means “peaceful” [Gk., eirenikos]. It is used in a couple of places in the New Testament, and it is used in the description of the fruit of righteousness by the writer of Hebrews, explaining that it is produced in communion with God the Father, and in that case comes by chastening (Heb. 12:11, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”), and here, where it is defining that “wisdom that is from above.”
- Gentle: Gk., epieikes, meaning “unto reason.” The concepts of moderation and forbearance and an attitude that does not insist on adherence to the letter of the Law are what is expressed here, and in this verse it is connected with “meekness,” the idea of power under control, as opposed to the word for “contention.” Also used used in Titus 3:2. (“to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”)
- Reasonable: eupeithes, literally “well persuaded” or “ready to obey,” and is related to the concept of what one’s faith is in.
- Full of mercy: “meste eleous” is a phrase that could literally be translated as “full measure of pity.” According to Vine, it assumes the need of the one receiving it, AND resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it. Remember, this is the wisdom from above that WE are to be expressing under discussion. We must assume a position of showing mercy and compassion to everyone else we meet. A very tall order if we are walking in the flesh, is it not?
- …and good fruits: “kai karpōn agathon” is a phrase that is properly used to metaphorically describe one’s works or deeds, and explain that those works or deeds should be “good.” To give you an idea of other ways to see this, the word is used in the sense of “beneficial” in Philem. 14. (“but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”). James is saying that wisdom from above is characterized by works or deeds that benefit others.
- Unwavering: adiakritos. [a, negative; diakritos, a parting of], thus “without uncertainty.” It know what it has to do and is committed to doing it at all costs, for those that have been with us on Fridays looking at “counting the cost” as per Dr. Steven J. Lawson.
- Without hypocrisy is exactly what that phrase means. You are not putting on a brave face and acting out what you think is supposed to be the truth, you’re just being real in light of how reality has confronted you in what you know the Lord says without pretense. Like Voddie Baucham says, if you can’t say “amen,” say “ouch.” Ouch. But hang on, because James is going someplace with this.
18: And the [seed whose] fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
- What? Seed? What the heck? I have to admit that this verse kind of stopped me for a few minutes and I had to call on a little help from the Lord. It turns out that Dr. MacArthur wrote about this very verse. He explains that this is a very difficult sentence to translate from Greek. You will note that the words “seed whose” do not actually appear in the original. They were added by the translators in the NASB as an aid to try to make the language more understandable, but still trying to accurately handle the word of truth, and in this case, I think I can agree with what they did here.
- The sentence in Greek could be translated like, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Now those of us that know a little about agriculture will tell you that it is not the fruit that is sown, but the seed contained within that fruit. It is possible that James has this idea that the fruit is harvested and the seeds are planted and this becomes a cyclical process.
- Whatever the case is, James is using a literary device. He describes the fruit of righteousness and all of its characteristics and things that define it, and then explains that those who make peace are busy spreading those characteristics around by their own words and deeds in the true and heavenly wisdom of God. An example of this comes up for me every now and then. I know a guy and that guy says he is a believer, but his life doesn’t really reflect that. I COULD say, hey dude, you need to get it together, because God is not pleased with your life. It would be ABSOLUTELY accurate. It would be speaking the truth, and it would even be speaking the truth in love, because I really care about the guy. But it would be the exact wrong approach (I know because as a younger man I said something like that to him). He would shut down and might even break off fellowship and refuse to respond. Instead, should I not take James’ advice on what he says about learning control of that tongue and not setting a forest fire that will cause nothing but division and rebellion? Instead, I should have mercy and grace when I speak from a place of compassion, because frankly, I am no better than that dude in other ways. Instead, as Paul said, “let your speech be filled with salt.” Salt seasons for good flavour, and it preserves for future use.
You see? The scripture is so compacted together that it refers to itself, it reads itself, it interprets itself, and then it starts to read and interpret us for us so that we might actually learn HOW to behave to please our Lord Jesus. In this paragraph, James has directly contrasted the earthly wisdom (what Paul calls the old nature, or the flesh) with the wisdom from above (what Paul calls the new nature or the spirit he tells us to walk in in a worthy manner). Isn’t that all just wonderful? And theoretical? We could just put it all in a book and put it on the shelf now. Maybe we should. But we better not.
4:1-4 – James describes the old nature in disturbingly practical terms
James certainly doesn’t think we should. He goes on at the beginning of this paragraph to illustrate EXACTLY where we go wrong in our behaviour toward Him and toward each other. It is useful here to point out that when James wrote this general letter, He didn’t divide it up into chapters and verses like we can today. It was just one big paragraph, often without capitalization or punctuation, or even spaces between words. The chapter divisions came about as a desire for some biblical scholars to be more precise in their textual references sometime in the 1300s. If we accept a date of around AD 384 or 385 as the first actual complete bible text, that means it was a full 900 years after that the books could not be referred to by chapters. The verse divisions came a full 300 or so years later in the 1600s as scholars wished to be very precise in their references. All that explanation to say, yes, though it is rare, sometimes a bible study text can and should break over an artificial verse or chapter division to study what it says. This, in my opinion, and I will state it as my own opinion, is one of those times. Let’s get into the text and you will see that James has simply evolved what he was talking about into the realm of the practical behaviour of the believer.
1: What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
- Two or three verses back, James was talking about how evil things existed where the motives of jealousy and self-centered ambition showed themselves? Read that verse again. James is saying, “Hey believer! Check your motives!” Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11 when he called for strict self-examination, I repeat with emphasis, SELF-examination, of one’s own behaviour in order to partake in the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner?
- In fact, James is taking a step past that and making a bit of a conclusion! “Okay, what are the real source of your in-fighting and being at loggerheads with one another?” That’s how I hear that question, for what it’s worth. Well, it wasn’t because they were practicing that wisdom from above, now, was it. That wasn’t a question, in case you were curious. No, rather James lays the causal motives on the “pleasures that wage war in your members.” In other words, They were walking in the flesh, and not the new nature that Christ gave them. And James doesn’t stop here. He goes straight for the throat.
2: You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
- Wow. He isn’t asking questions, he isn’t even hesitating. He’s just unloading in rapid-fire succession. Maybe there is a lesson there for me. I don’t like conflict, and I don’t like to upset people. I don’t think James cared, because he knew it would get their attention in the way it needed to be got. What did he say?
- The Greek here is remarkably well translated, by the way. “You want something and you don’t have it, so you do whatever it takes to get it.” That is what I would consider the polite society and modern way of saying this. That word for “lust” means to “set one’s heart upon.” You want it, and you deliberately and systematically set out to get it by any means necessary up to and including extinguishing a person’s life or character (same thing according to Jesus in Matt 5) by way of assassination. Again, ouch.
- You are envious [zelóō, where we get our word “zealous” meaning strongly motivated by good or evil motives], and you cannot get what you want, so you fight with someone else who has it in order to obtain it by beating it out of them. That’s what that means. All the while, says James, you do not have this [fill in the blank] because you have not really asked for it. However, you cannot mistake this for a blank check or daddy’s credit card where you have no need to pay it, because our “sugar daddy in the sky” will give it to you if you have enough faith. That’s word-faith heresy, beloved. Don’t go there. No, James explains.
3: You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
- It is possible, according to James, who wrote this letter under the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, to ask God for something and for Him NOT to fulfil your request according to the way you ungratefully demanded it. Why? James explains exactly and precisely.
- BECAUSE YOU ASK WITH WRONG MOTIVES!!!!!
- Much of what the world identifies as Christendom today misses the mark here. Motives matter, Beloved! “Oh Lord, I have a perceived need in that I cannot pay my bills! Lord, give me the winning lottery ticket!” Given that God is all-powerful, do you really think that will happen? That you’ll find that ticket on the ground or something? Or do you think He maybe has a purpose for allowing this kind of suffering in your life? I KNOW why I’m poor, beloved! It isn’t for lack of trying on my part, it is because it is the will of God for me at this time so I can LEARN from it. You know, I have in the past tried to manipulate people into doing things for me, and it has never worked out. Why is that? Because it was a wrong motive and a wrong method! And beloved, it really breaks my heart when I see you all doing it. And I have. Stop that.
- Okay, I can hear some objections to that in my head, so I’ll take a moment to address the ones I hear. “Yeah, but I can’t pay my bills!” Hey, I agree, I have been there, and it is not a fun place. The phone rings at weird hours, and you’re afraid to pick up the phone when it rings because those debt collectors only want one thing, and you haven’t got it, and they will not let you hang up easily without making all kinds of promises that are impossible for you to keep. I feel for you. Have you investigated the root cause of why you can’t pay your bills? I used to BE a financial advisor, and I can put you in touch with credit counselors that can help. They helped me. And I did learn something, so I will pass it on for what it’s worth. You cannot fix someone’s money problems by giving them money. That rabbit hole has no bottom.
- Yeah, but my house is falling apart! Again, I have a lot of compassion for that, because mine is and was too. Call a repairman. Get an estimate. If you know a skilled tradesman, engage him. Look up a how-to video on YouTube! Beloved, it doesn’t have to break the bank.
- I’m going to lose my house! I will agree that’s a scary situation. Try that when you have a family of five counting on that house to stay warm and dry when it rains or snows? And when two of your kids have what I will simply call mental health issues. It’s absolutely earth-shattering. Again, I know folks that helped me. I can put you in touch with them.
- There are a lot of reasons I could get into, and I keep earing these things in my mind, but all of them have the same answer: you have to live in reality, and stop assuming the world owes you a living. You can sit at home and do nothing if you want, or you can hold out for your dream job, but if you want to stay warm and dry, get yourself a job and earn some money for yourself. Paul said it to the Thessalonians–if a man won’t work, he shouldn’t eat either. I know, that presumes you CAN work, and as a man who went through a time where I couldn’t, there are things that can help with that too. We can talk after the broadcast if you need. I’m not trying to embarrass anyone.
- Legitimate concerns aside, if your only reason for making what really amount to be unreasonable demands for wealth from God, and all you want to do is what YOU want to do with that money, then forget it. That’s wrong motives. The Christian has two priorities only. Love God before all else, and then love others before loving yourself. On these two things, said our Lord, hang all of the Law and all of the prophets.
4: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
- Now, bear in mind, it is James calling folks adulterers, so if you don’t like the label you will have to speak with him about it. But does he not make a salient point? If you are putting yourself first, and you place your interests ahead of anyone else, are you not setting yourself up as a god against God? I think you are, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Old Testament compares idolatry with adultery. God took ancient Israel as His wife and then had to divorce her for her unfaithfulness (Isa. 50:1, Jer. 3:8). The reason? She (Israel) went after other gods, committing spiritual adultery. James has just said this about these believers that make themselves the central focus of their own prayers instead of God and others God brings across their path to aid.
- If you didn’t catch the Old Testament reference here or doubt my own interpretation (which isn’t just mine, it is a classic understanding of the reformers and from earlier also), James just flat out says it: friendship with the world is hostility to God. Do you know what it really is? R. C. Sproul equates sin with Cosmic Treason, but this is different and worse. It is an open declaration of war with God. See what the last part of the verse says? “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” How often do we do that very thing, as we walk in the flesh of our old nature instead of the new nature that Christ has given us as a result of His sacrifice on our behalf on the cross, on a hill called in His day, “the Skull?” In Abraham’s day, it was called Mount Moriah. And just as God called Abraham to that spot to give his only son at the command of God though God stopped Abraham before he could, God gave His only Son for the sins of all who would ever believe in Him. God provided for Himself the Lamb for the sacrifice. And with that, he turned a huge but unknown number of His enemies into His friends.
That’s the reason we can move from the old nature of the flesh and into the new one in Christ. Scripture, and the Lord, call that the gospel, a middle-English word (possibly older) that means “good news.” The better news is that James is about to tell us how to engage that new nature in Christ.
4:5-10 – James explains how to engage the New Nature in Christ
Admittedly, I took some time (years in reality) to arrive at this conclusion: God very much wants his people, those he foreknew, foreordained, called, justified, and glorified from before the founding of the world, to walk in the new nature that He gave them all as a gift because of their reconciliation to Him in His Son, Christ Jesus. After many years of mindlessly reading the words on the page and thinking they were akin to magic spells that could give me success (or whatever else I wanted but told myself I needed). What I was missing it seems was a real understanding of the text and perhaps the proper view of the text itself. Oh sure, I knew it was what God said, but a lot of people seemed to know what it said better than I did and told me what it meant. I had no personal understanding of it, and no real experience of its implications. Well, I can’t say that anymore.
I’m not sure where the real change began, but it was within the last ten or so years, maybe even the last five. I began to realize that all the things I was just mindlessly looking over with my eyes actually meant something, and I could read it for myself and discover that meaning. It turns out that is a lot of work, but ironically, it is work that I enjoy, and I had always kind of been afraid of it. Here is what I discovered.
When Christ died on the cross in our place, according to what Paul says in Galatians 2:20, I was crucified there with Him, and if you are one of His chosen people (and HE did the choosing for His own reasons, long before we were ever here), so were you. But were we actually present there physically? No, of course not. That means Paul is using somewhat metaphorical language, and that’s okay, he does that all over, and so does everyone else. Even Jesus used metaphor. [With respect to one of our regulars, sometimes it is actually poetry. But we should learn the difference, right? Well, these times, and our own private reading times are how we do that. I think Dan would agree with me on this.] Anyway, James stands in stark contrast to this metaphorical use of language through analogy. In this part of the text at least, James speaks in plain terms, in well-defined words and theological concepts. He lays down exactly how engaging the New Nature Christ died to give us works, so let’s have a look.
5: Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?
- I know, it seems pretty clear here, but it isn’t because there is an alternate way of translating that verse, and the NASB even notes it in the margin. “Or The spirit which He has made to dwell in us lusts with envy.” What? That can’t be right, can it? Well, no one seems to exactly agree with anyone else on the precise meaning of this verse, so we are left to ponder what James meant. Here’s what I think and why.
- James is not actually quoting anything in the Old Testament actually, but rather is stating a general principle that the whole teaches. We know that God is a jealous God because He tells us so. We know from other places that at a certain point for all those that He has called, whoever they are, He will regenerate them (or cause them to be born again/from above as per Jesus in John 3), and cause His spirit to dwell in us. That’s all true, right? But that is a general teaching of the bible, and is really composited from the whole in many places. That’s what James is doing here.
- James here is saying that the Scriptures actually teach this, and teach it for a purpose, that the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us has His own jealous desires for us. We know God is jealous. Remember the definition of that, though–phthonos is the Greek word for what we mean when we describe envy–the emotion of displeasure that is produced when a rival prospers or gains advantage. What? God is envious? Yes, beloved, that sin succeeds in subverting His creations, especially His new creations. Why would that NOT give God displeasure? He is jealous in His desire that this NOT be so in our case.
- We should also remember that James is addressing believers. That friendship with the world that we love to maintain (secretly at the very least, and many times openly) is all too plain to see. Do you think this doesn’t provoke the Holy One that bought us? Read the Books of Hosea, and then Isaiah and Jeremiah and tell me what God’s jealous desire for His people to remain pure accomplishes. Do you think we are immune from this kind of judgement? Beloved, God does not change, ever. If it offended Him then it offends Him now. His jealous desire for us is that we would follow and love Him and not the world. At least that’s what I get from this verse. We must not “run after other lovers” in the spiritual sense and make our Lord Jealous, or worse, angry. Who likes to do that? Not His people, for sure.
6: But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
- And this is where James turns a real corner. It’s very easy to see the hard edge of James, because he speaks very plainly, and that no-nonsense talk even then would have soured the milk. Today, it makes our snowflake culture absolutely melt down. They try to “cancel” people that speak like this, even when they are speaking the absolute, unvarnished truth, or perhaps BECAUSE that is what they are speaking, as we get closer to that time of testing that will come on the whole earth.
- Here, James in love says, “But He gives a greater grace.” What is he saying? Well, if I am right about what he is saying in the previous verse, James is saying, “…but we don’t have to be that way.” To me at least, born into poverty and into an abusive family, and alcoholism, and into the wrong end of racism (because there is real racism, not the woke stuff that all these what we used to call “do-gooders” fight), THAT’S GREAT NEWS! But it all turns on the principle James states here, and this time he IS quoting other places: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Similar quotes from the Bible as a whole include Ps. 138:6, Prov. 3:34, and Jesus in Matt. 23:12. Peter uses the same phrase in 1 Pet. 5:5. James is saying the way of pleasing God and remaining outside of the kosmos-influenced sphere is HUMILITY!
- Humble: tapeinos, that which is low or does not rise far from the ground. It is used in the metaphorical sense to mean those who have no standing or degree of importance. “I’m just a guy.”
7: Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
- This is perhaps the clearest instruction given on this subject of engaging the new nature that God has put within us because of Christ’s willing sacrifice at Golgotha. Submit to God! Do what He says! Okay, Ger, what does He say? Beloved, you can read it same as me! His Bible is His final and definitive word to mankind! There is nothing we need to know that has been left out of it. Does it contain everything? No, it still doesn’t have trivial information like how many atoms are in the universe, and believe me, God knows how many there are–but it does contain everything we need to know “pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). It is literally all we need as a guide.
- Now, if you will submit to God, you should be aware if you are not that there will be opposition to that–the entire rest of the world. That’s important, because the chief individual in charge of that kosmos, the world system of restraints and obstacles to hinder and destroy mankind, is the devil. There is a real devil, his name is Lucifer, and his job title is Satan, or “Accuser” in English. We are supposed to resist him with everything we have in us. When we do, it says that he will flee from us. That can be hard to do, because we know that he is bigger and meaner and smarter than all of us put together. Yet, God will defend those who submit to Him. Have you ever seen the cartoon of the bad guy chasing the good guy (I have seen bugs bunny, daffy duck, roadrunner, and other versions of this) and all of a sudden the bad guy stops in his tracks and kind of gets a frightened look, and then runs away? When the view finally shows what the bad guy saw, we can see the much bigger good guy than him standing right behind the guy being chased. Don’t get the idea that it is our resistance that gives us power to fight, we have none. Instead, we need to run to our protector and He will scare that bad guy away. Some day that will be a permanent thing, too.
8: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- How do we humble ourselves if all that is true, I hear you ask? Draw near to God! Why? Because anyone that draws near to Him, He will come to meet you where you need to be met! What more do you need, Beloved? Start moving in His direction, and He will meet you somewhere in between! Start to really pray humbly. Begin to read the word. Fellowship with His people. Worship Him. That’s how you draw near, Beloved.
- Now, if you find yourself needing to move toward God, it is because you are not in the same place He is. That is because you are, according to Scripture, and James right here, a sinner. That sin has made a separation between you and God. Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” We need to “cleanse our hands,” as it were. How are we to do that? One Greek word: metanoia. In English, it means to REPENT. Change your mind. Change it about your sin. Admit it is sin! Confess that sin to God! And then forsake it. Make that commitment.
- “Purify your hearts, you double-minded.” I think James is harking back to something he said at the beginning of this letter. James, speaking of those who have “doubts,” which James equates in the passage around 1:8 as surging sea waves, and we decided meant external and visible factors of overwhelming proportions, says that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, because he is tossed like the sea surge, by the wind and the waves, because he does not have that firm foundational connection to that bedrock by faith in Christ. Those who have this in their hearts, need to purify it out of their hearts. Great, how do we do that? SAME WAY! See what James says in the next verse!
9: Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.
- I do not think James is telling people here to become clinically depressed. He is telling us what being humble before a holy God will look like. Think about this for a moment. Our Lord is sometimes referred to as the thrice-holy God! That comes from Isaiah 6, where the angelic beings that guarded the throne called out “Holy, holy, holy!” to each other. This is in reference to the ancient honorific from Hebrew. Saying it once meant it was business as usual. Saying it twice was to establish weight or the truth of a matter. (Like “Verily, verily,” or “Truly, truly.”) Our Lord Jesus did this a lot in the Gospels. Saying it three times places it into a realm of heaven and God and no longer earthly. That’s Hebrew in Isaiah’s day.
- Now think for a moment about WHAT those angels said in Isaiah’s classic vision of the Lord of Heaven and Earth. They could have yelled out any of God’s attributes. Omnipotent! Omnipotent! Omnipotent! That could have been the cry! It is a unique attribute of God. Heck, it could have been “Wrath, wrath, wrath,” and maybe as far as humans are concerned it should have been. It could have been “Merciful, merciful, merciful.” But it wasn’t. It was the most different thing than humans that it could be–holy, holy, holy. Beloved, in the NASB 1995, the English translation I currently use all the time, that word for holy occurs 652 times. The first use I can find is in Exodus at the burning bush, where Moses was told to remove his shoes, because the ground on which he stood was “holy.” (Exo. 3:5)
- The Hebrew word is qodesh, meaning apartness, sacredness. God is altogether different than we are, and this is the word in Scripture that is used to express that. The Greek word in the New Testament that is used to translate the concept is hagios. It means the same exact thing as qodesh. That is what God is to man.
- Now compare what that means for man. We are NOT holy. We are not apart, we are not sacred. If anything, we could be described in comparison as mundane or mediocre, and above that, profane. We had that same character as God in the garden. We threw it away in order to, get this, “become like God.” Wow, we’re idiots too. Beloved, if God’s standard for behavior and being is holiness, we all FAIL! And fail miserably. What do we do about that as believers and followers of Jesus, God who became human? We recognize that fact, and we repent. We think about what that really means. And in my opinion, though it isn’t just my opinion, we mourn our stupidity and cosmic treason of our forefather Adam, recognizing that we would be no different under the circumstances.
- And if that doesn’t make you miserable and mournful even to the point of tears, and doesn’t turn your constant desire to laugh it up and make others laugh, and introduce a bit of gloom over at the very least what we threw away like trash in the garden, I’m not sure anything will apart from the regeneration of God of your spirit and his calling of you to Himself. That will then be turned into dancing (Ps. 30:11) as we see how much God loves us in that He came and redeemed us to Himself anyway! But that repentance isn’t meant to be a happy occasion. It is incredibly solemn, and sadness and regret is not misplaced, Beloved. Moving on.
10: Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
- James neatly sums up the entirety of this thought in this verse. Yes, we are proud rebels against the almighty King of the universe, and have committed capital cosmic treason against him and are in fact worthy of death. But if we will get down from our high horse (so to speak), and if we will acknowledge our wrongs to God and repent of our sins and forsake them in humility that we really don’t know how to run our own lives, then God WILL lift us up out of the mud and mire, and place us on high with His Son, as He tells us through Paul in Ephesians 2:4-7–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
You know, it occurs to me that we do not spend enough time confessing our faults to God. I think if we did, although our circumstances might be just as dire as they are for some of us now, we would be happier people, because we would have a right view of ourselves instead of the fiction we invent for ourselves to believe about what intelligent, good, valuable, people we are. To that false narrative, I say, “Get over yourself. You aren’t that smart, you aren’t good, and you aren’t replaceable. Repent of your sins and believe the Lord Jesus Christ.” Same goes for believer or unbeliever. Moving on.
4:11-12 – James makes practical application in terms of relationships
You know, James has said some really heavy stuff here, and stuff that really cuts right to the heart and bone of the matter. We like to think we’re important so we can feel good about ourselves, but that’s a false narrative. Beloved, without Christ, we are nobodies. Let me ask you–have you ever been the leader of your nation? Before you answer that, remember I already know no one on this call was. And even if you were, can it be said you did a flawless job? Of course not. You will admit that by saying something like, “I’m only human.” or “Nobody’s perfect.” Both of those would be somewhat correct, they just don’t consider the standard by which that should be measured (which we just looked at) or the realm in which it should be measured, that is relationships with other humans. What? How we relate to other people is important? Oh yes, Beloved, it most decidedly is important. And that’s exactly where James goes.
11: Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
- You know, we like to talk about others that aren’t in the room. Admittedly, we tend to do this less than most, but we still do it, and not always to try and plan how to help a brother or sister in need. Some of you have done that part with me, and no that there is a necessary disclosing of information about some folks to help, and that is NOT what James is talking about.
- James is speaking here about the kind of things that Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians and the divisive party spirit that they displayed there with phrases like “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Peter,” or “I am of Christ.” Do you think that those kinds of quasi-political divisions do not produce gossip? You bet they do. It’s called in our society and day, “character assassination.” Jesus simply called it murder in Matthew 5:21-22.
- James accurately points out that to do this, you must in some way first sit in condemnation of your brother, and find fault with his “interpretation” of the Scriptures. That actually almost accidentally provides a symptomatic phrase to watch for: “That’s YOUR interpretation!” It assumes two things: 1) There is more than one way to interpret the commands of God. 2) The way the brother in question has interpreted it is incorrect! James is saying that when you speak against a brother in this way, you are actually speaking about the law, and judging not only your brother but the law as well.
- Then James asks a question. Are you a doer of the law, or are you a judge of it? Are you one that seeks to obey the law? Or are you the guy that’s always trying to find the loopholes and escape clauses? Neither of those is good, because there are no loopholes in any of God’s laws, try as one might to find them.
- That’s the theory. Practically, that conversation you had last week about the pastor’s sermon that rubbed you the wrong way–did it rub you the wrong way because the pastor didn’t accurately handle the word? Or maybe was the word calling you to account on something in your life, and you just didn’t like it? That’s one recent example I’ve seen. You will notice I did not say anything until now about it. That’s because I’m trying to practice what I preach. I don’t know I do so well with that, but I am trying. Hopefully in humility. I’ll let the Lord decide that part. But I will say this–I surrender to Him on this topic. I have nothing to offer that He hasn’t already said, and I am saying nothing He hasn’t already said in His holy word.
12: There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
- As it turns out, James informs us that there is a REASON for not speaking about your brother in judgement. Theirs is a Lawgiver, and it isn’t you. The God of the universe made all the rules. And last time anyone cared to check, there was still only one true judge of that law, and it isn’t YOU! Or ME! It is the Lord God Almighty and NO ONE ELSE. James gives us His qualifications: He is the only One that was able to save (that is, from the penalty for breaking His laws) and again the only One that is able (I add qualified) to destroy (as a penalty for breaking those laws)! We have spent a little time to show his holiness, and his omnipotence, and here I will add two more attributes that are his alone:
- His omniscience, that is, He is all-knowing! This is actually kind of funny at times. My Arminian systematic theology professor was a subscriber to the theory that God’s foreknowledge was God being able to look down the corridors of time and see what kind of a response we would give to His call and that’s how he solved the Arminian dilemma with Romans 8:29-30 and the foreknowledge and predestination comments Paul made there. (What, you thought that was a Calvin thing? Where did you think HE got it? Out of a cereal box in 16th Century Geneva?) What that made me think about was this: This is a form of open theism, where God does not know the complete future. My own personal response to that idea is this, with the omniscience of God in view: “Do you mean to tell me that the God that created the universe had a day where He had to actually learn something?” No, beloved, that’s not omniscience then. It still gives me a small chuckle, that idea.
- The other attribute that needs to be mentioned here is His omnipresence. He is literally everywhere and everywhen (I know, I made up a word, but it is clear and fits the meaning I need to convey) at once. Everywhen is because unlike us, God is not bound to time the way we are. There is nothing He does not know, as we have shown, and now we say that there is nothing He does not see, because he is literally right there to see it. Beloved, James knew this about the characteristics of God. He had a real grasp of the Scriptures, which for James was what we call the Old Testament.
- Both of those attributes are material to the point–God is there to save or destroy, and in either case, He is completely justified in what He chooses to do. He is the Creator, and He gets to decide what to do with every aspect, every element, every subatomic particle in His creation. He set the rules for how we should behave, and we violated those rules! Beloved, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:26a). And we are not able to get away with anything either, because He is literally everywhere all the time. On that day, there will be no denying what we did or even thought (He can see that too). And we WILL be held accountable, every one of us.
- Who are we again to be judging our neighbour in this way? Heh–nemo sumus. We are NOBODY! And we can’t even pretend, because we KNOW the truth, Beloved.
Beloved, Peter tells us in his letters (which Lord willing, we will be looking at after James) that we are born again to a new and living hope, and that we are literally “made partakers of the divine nature,” as opposed to walking in our old sinful flesh like before God saved us and justified us before Himself all by Himself. This is a truth we have seen Paul teach on in a number of places, my favourite is Gal. 2:20, and I have looked at it several times in the course of this study of James, but it is something that James clearly knew and was uniquely able to demonstrate in real terms for us, so that we can learn how to better behave as we walk in the Spirit that Christ gave us. How can we as His followers be otherwise? And why would anyone want to pretend to do this with the penalties for that so clearly stated? And yet, that’s what we all do. May we repent, Beloved. I know I do. I hope you do as well.
That is what I saw in this section of the text. Next time, and I’m announcing this ahead of time like I did last time so everyone knows, we will be looking at James 4:13-5:6, and I initially titled that in our overview, “Your will vs. The Lord’s Will – A Contrast.” I’m looking forward to it.