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I am an adulterer! There, I said it. Unfortunately most of you reading this are also adulterers. James is writing to Jewish believers and in 4:4 he calls them out (and us) when he says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy with God.”
I think he is trying to shock his readers by using such graphic language – and he no doubt does a good job. He wants them to see themselves as he sees them – a people who are on the one hand trying to love God but on the other hand are having an affair with the world. This pretty much describes most believers today. But James does not just lambast them with the truth – he also tells them how to correct the situation. In effect, he gives them 6 tips on how to “affair proof” their relationship with God.
Tip #1: “Submit yourselves therefore to God” – First of all there has to be an acknowledgement that God is God and we aren’t. And because He is God He gets to set the rules of the game and we must play by His rules. The cool thing is that when we do play by His rules, when we obey what He says, we find ourselves experiencing and enjoying the blessings of God.
Tip #2: “Resist the devil” – The devil will work hard to get us to ignore the rules of God and play by his rules. He does a good job of conning us and making us think that his short term benefits are better than God’s eternal blessings. The word “NO” must become a regular part of our vocabulary when the devil tries to seduce us – and most of us are not very good at saying NO.
Tip #3: “Draw near to God” – It’s hard to have an affair with the world when your focus and priority is on staying close to God. It is when you separate yourself from God – stop going to church, stop reading His Word, stop spending time in prayer, stop fellowshipping with other believers – that an affair with the world becomes not only possible but probable.
Tip #4: “Cleanse your hands” – We all mess up. We all need forgiveness. We all need to come to God and confess our sin and say “I’m sorry!” When we have no desire to make things right with God, that is when we are susceptible to the allures of the world. When we become numb to our sinfulness we make dumb decisions that often lead us down the road of no return – and adultery becomes an easy option.
Tip #5: Be wretched and mourn and weep”– Confession (Tip #4) is vitally important. But if it is not coupled with sorrowful repentance then it is meaningless. Repentance acknowledges that we have turned away from God but then deliberately and intentionally turns back to God with a desire to please Him and restore the broken relationship that our sin caused. True repentance grieves that we have grieved the heart of God who loves us so much and hates what sin does to His beloved children.
Tip #6: “Humble yourselves” – “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” (CJ Mahaney). Humility demonstrates a posture of dependence upon God. We love to exercise our independence. Humility requires a day by day fight against the pride and self-assertion that is hard-wired into us from birth. Adultery (both spiritual and physical) is just one short step away when we declare our independence from God and decide to do what we want to do regardless of the cost to our relationship with God or others.
May this brick help you to guard your heart and keep you from entering into an adulterous relationship with the world – and/or help you to find your way back into the loving arms of your heavenly Father.