5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
In looking over today’s text, I think that we can come away from this passage positively by recognizing the hope of God’s mercy and grace in the call to repentance. Repentance (Greek “metanoia”) comes from two words, “meta” meaning with and “noia” coming from “nous,” or the mind: literally, with the mind. It is referring to a change in thinking, but also in emotions and intentions and actions. Repentance is an upheaval within, a 180 degree turn from going our own direction to now submitting to God’s ways.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just following, but also the alteration of thinking that now comes into alignment with how God thinks. Where do we find how God thinks? Not in our imaginations or assumptions, but in the very Word of God, the Bible. Repentance can sometimes be mistaken for simply actinglike there’s heart change without any genuine alterations within: think of a child who, after being told again and again by their parents to sit, finally shouts back, “Fine, I’ll sit, but I’m still standing on the inside!” That is often how the Gospel has been misconstrued, as though it were comprised only of outer professions and public posturing without actually changing within.
Repentance means conforming progressively to the heart and mind of Christ. I like to think of the new nature here, reminded that it is the nature of who we are that drives the activities of who we are. A cat may act like a dog for a moment, but inevitably will be back to being a cat in no time; an unbeliever may act like a Christian for a season but cannot resist their true nature when all is said and done.
Let’s look at the passage and consider the grace and mercy of God in the activity of repentance. First of all, (Or) do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? This is said in connection to verse 4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Or, therefore, is stated in relationship to being a friend of the world and an enemy of God, or at least acting like one within the scope of being a believer. The passage is not calling for a repentance of salvation, but a repentance of stagnation and deterioration from a worthy walk with Christ. We know this in part because of the prescribed actions to take in the verses that follow.
James says these things in relationship to desires going unmet, prayers being selfish, and warring and fighting taking place as a result of carnal living. Rather than being Christ-centered, his audience is acting in self-centeredness. Consider a parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, which is stated in relationship to sexual immorality but has the same spiritual effect:
18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
What is comforting is the fact that God offers grace rather than a dismissive cutting of ties with those who have failed Him. James says in light of the Spirit’s yearning that He gives more grace: more unmerited favor, that is. Verse 6 very well highlights both the mercy and grace of God towards His children: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When believers are proud, resistant to submission and determined to do as they please, God in His mercy resists them. He stands in opposition to them in that He will not enable sinfulness but He will frustrate their heart idolatry. We see that in the first few verses of James 4 as they take matters into their own hands for not getting what they want, but still don’t get what they desire. Conversely, God shows His grace to the humble (BDAG refers to this as acting unpretensiouly: BDAG, Bibleworks). God shows grace to everyone living in the form of common grace (it rains on the just and the unjust–Matthew 5:45), but in the context of James 4, mercy and grace are stated in relationship to the heart attitude of believers before God.
Notice James’ command on the basis of God’s resistance and grace: therefore, submit to God. The word for submission is hupotasso, and it means to place one’s self under the authority of another. It is a command, but it is also a choice and an act of humility and love. It is very fitting that James continues the thought on with resist the devil and he will flee from you: living lives of arrogant pride is actually submission to the devil’s plans. The devil opposes God, and those who live in sin live in opposition while doing so. Can a believer live in opposition to God, submitting to the devil? Yes, but they will have to sear the Spirit in doing so, the very Holy Spirit who yearns jealously for them. It seems to me that the devil himself is one of the last characters people think of when they choose to sin, but it’s important to remember that he very much is alive and active and that we effectively submit to his deviance when we choose to harbor sinful attitudes and actions. Satan cares far more that we are deceived and sunk into a rut of sin than that we are aware of whom we are functionally serving.
Ten commands are listed to those who would repent in response to the mercy and grace of God: submit (to God), resist (the devil), and draw near (to God), cleanse (your hands) and purify (your hearts) are the first five. Those who desire the closeness of God and the comfort and security of that closeness would do well to recognize that it is our sin, our stiffness to submit and our choice in doing so, that has caused God to both resist us and to remove the sense of His closeness. It’s not that God has left (He’s omnipresent), but the sweetness of relationship is on hold for good reason when we are living in defiant self-absorption. Why should God reward us with a relationship that isn’t affected when we live in sin? Nobody sins and continues in sin without a direct hit on their relationship to God, a downward spiral of distancing from Him that goes with the turf of disobedience and desensitization to the Holy Spirit within. When this all happens, it is not surprising to find that someone is very insecure in their eternal destination no matter how well versed they may be.
Notice in those first five commands listed that two are related to God, one to the devil, and two to the self. Three commands are external (who we submit to and who we resist) and two are internal (purification from dirty, sinful hearts and the hands that carried out the actions). Cleanse your hands, you sinners has that emphasis on wrong-doing in highlighting “sinners” whereas purifying the heart of the double-minded is addressing the divided heart of loyalty to God and to the self, purifying being that act of washing away those doubts that have caused hesitancy and back-and-forth living. (Double-mindedness flows throughout the book of James, by the way).
The last five commands are found in verses 9 and 10: Lamentand mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. I have underlined the five command words (all are Greek imperatives, which are commands). These are outer signs of inner repentance. Perhaps we might think of Job, how after he had lost his children and servants and livestock and so forth, we find him sitting in sackcloth and ashes, mourning deeply. Here’s what Job says in regard his sorrow (Job 16:12-20):
12 I was at ease, but He has shattered me; He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; He has set me up for His target, 13 His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. 14 He breaks me with wound upon wound; He runs at me like a warrior. 15 “I have sewn sackcloth over my skin, and laid my head in the dust. 16 My face is flushed from weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;17 although no violence is in my hands, and my prayer is pure. 18 “O earth, do not cover my blood, and let my cry have no resting place!19 Surely even now my witness is in heaven, and my evidence is on high. 20 My friends scorn me; my eyes pour out tears to God.
The brokenness of Job was easily recognizable. Job’s circumstances had brought him to his knees, caused him to self-examine, and left him with only the hope of God’s care. A more relavent passage to James 5:5-10 is where Paul speaks to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 on godly sorrow:
9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
Repentance is not just a salvation issue, though it does reflect the nature of redeemed heart to have repeated patterns of repentance. It is a return to health in a believer’s life who has grown spiritually unhealthy. It is marked by internal changes that have gone so far as to have affected the entire person, not just their behavior nor just their heart.
As I stated at the outset of this devotional, this passage is a positive call that highlights God’s great grace and mercy. It shows us that mercy can mean God’s resistance and distancing if this keeps us from destructive ends. It also shows us God’s grace in that there is an offer to repent and holistic means to do so as we submit to His authority. Where we should perhaps read only of punishment in response to failure, we find yet again that God is deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of His children and will do what it takes to bring them to Christlikeness. I hope you find comfort in that; I know that I do as I contemplate these verses. Don’t forget that it’s a call to us as well to humble ourselves before God, to draw near to Him, to purify our hearts and to be broken over our sin. Repentance leads to abundant living where life was confined by sinful selfishness and the absence of joy. God wants the best for us.
Thank you for your time and may God bless you as you contemplate His word today!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.