Some of the words that God uses to describe our position in Christ is that we are we are justified or righteous in Christ.
We are the beloved of God in Christ.
We are accepted in Christ, and holy in Christ.
As we trust our position in Christ, each of these bears on how we live out a relationship with God.
There's so much more in the gospel to believers. We also have a shared identity in Christ.
As a church, we are children of God; together we are the family of God, the body of Christ.
What does this say to you about God’s heart toward us? How does this reveal the depth of His love? His concern for our needs? His faithfulness to His bride?
James brings up this point to a church that has fallen into the sin of worldliness, idolatry.
Whenever the church is not persecuted or in danger, it seems we are vulnerable to this sin of worldliness, idolatry. But because we trust that Jesus has brought us into a relationship where we are His family, His body, His bride, then idolatry—i.e., desiring, loving anything over and above God—moves into the more hurtful and intimate realm of adultery.
James addresses this fleshly, carnal, idolatrous, adulterous heart that’s in our flesh.
He says this, not with a tone of judgment, but in a spirit of grace. And with a heart of love.
Remember half of Christianity is accepting our sinfulness, the other half is trusting Jesus and receiving God’s grace to resolve sin’s bondage.
So, James sounds strong, it almost sounds like Law.
But James is a Free Grace letter. This is important to understand and saves us lots of heartache.
James is used by God to remind us of our Lord’s love for us, His passionate love, His jealous love for us, which only makes sense as we trust God’s love for us and our identity as His bride. There’s no more accurate way to describe His white-hot committed love.
So far, this church has been religious yet unloving, carnal, rude. James calls them to turn to God for His grace regarding their infighting…
James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
Who do churches split over trival things like the color of the carpet, or the style of music, or how each other votes in national elections? Clearly, it’s your fleshly lusts that war within you.
In a marriage that constantly erupts, a family in constant turmoil, a church full of strife, or in the individual who is constantly conflicted, angry, offended—James says the source of the quarrels and conflicts—and this is military language!
The source of confliect is not the other people. War breaks out when we give control to our flesh.
Wherever there are wars and battles and quarrels and conflicts, it’s the fleshly desires that wage war in your physical body!
James 4:2 You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
You want but you cannot afford it, or you envy what another has and you judge them.
A Peloton bike, a Chevy Truck, and Lexus Christmas commercials that are currently on television trigger people. They are upset by such expensive gifts that they or others cannot afford. They body shame Peloton buyers. They budget shame Lexus drivers.
Our sinful desires fuel our emotions, and our feelings are so strong and they feel so right. So we often see the problem in us. We aren’t nice when we want what others have. We can be downright nasty if someone stands in the way of what we want.
We each have a rude and lustful flesh, a rotten sin nature. We can all be toxic.
As much as we want to think the problem is with our spouse, and we’re innocent, in marriage, this relationship which thrives in mutual self-denial, in preferring the other, in understanding the other, and serving the other, is it possible that you care more about you, your feelings, your needs, your preferences than you do the other?
Could the problems you experience at work, could the distance you feel from other Christians stem—at least in part—to a deep-seated selfishness in you? James hits it hard. But we all have it! Your boss. Your children. Your spouse. YOU. Me.
God wants us to see the harm of giving ourselves to the wrong passions. But this church said they’re not doing anything wrong. They hardly trusted in God’s grace.
Trusting in God’s passionate love for us, may we say with Paul and with hope, “Wretched man that I am… there is nothing good in my flesh.” Not as an excuse, but as way to end excusing it. To end covering it up. To end the bondage of sin.
Trusting God’s love and the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to pretend that we do not sin!
Apart from trusting in God’s grace this is terrible news, we cannot accept it. But trusting in God’s love, trusting God’s promises, we don’t pretend we don’t sin, we live in hope that God’s grace freely lavished upon us by God’s Spirit overcomes sin and forgives sin and sets us free.
This isn’t about fixing our behavior, but recognizing our flesh and turning to Christ.
James 4:2… You do not have because you do not ask.
You’re not looking to God. Abba wants to bless us. He wants us to turn to Him for those blessings. But you do it on your own. And that leads to arguments and broken relationships.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures [Greek, hedone—lit., you ask with the wrong motives to waste it on your hedonism]. 4 You adulteresses…
God wants us to trust Him and bring our needs and hurts and struggles to Him. But we don’t pray. We don’t look to God with our needs, we don’t expect Him to be intimately involved in our lives.
This is said in the context of being His bride. And the type of relationship we can have with God.
We think we can take care of anything that comes our way. But we mess up our lives this way, and damage relationships, and hurt loved ones.
Or, James says, you ask God to give you your desires (Verse 3), but you’re unaware of God's heart, ignorant of His holiness. James says, “you ask Him wickedly so you can waste God’s generous love on your own sinful pleasures.” (Verse 3)
Sounds harsh, but James expresses God's heart. Hear this from God's perspective and understand His love.
It’s like a wife asking her husband for the money to take her boyfriend with her on a cruise to Mexico. You ask God for something that in love and goodness He’d never give to you, for it would lead you away from Him.
Super sobering. James uses this language to bring us back to the reality of God’s passionate love for us and the relationship of grace Jesus purchased for us to have with His own blood.
Without trust, pleasure is substituted for intimacy. We can have eternal life, and be in this relationship, yet without trust we don’t experience God’s presence and love. Without trust in God’s love, without consciously realizing who we pray to, we pray in of the flesh to satisfy the flesh.
We kind of talk at God, but we’re like a disengaged wife browsing on her phone, shopping online for a negligee to impress her boyfriend while we speak with Him,
James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship [Greek: phileo—fondness, affection] with the world [Greek: cosmos, the godless values and beliefs and practices of those who resist God] is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
This is a practical reality, and one heck of an indictment. "You adulteresses."
The Phillips translation reads, "You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realizing that to be the world's lover means becoming the enemy of God!"
He’s talking to believers, men and women who are in a relationship with God but are loving the world. Wanting its attention. Its approval. Its affection.
We are vulnerable to this. And without God’s grace we are stuck in it.
Now when he talks about befriending the world, he’s not talking about the earth or mountains and beaches. He’s talking about godless beliefs, arrogant assertions and creative narratives and the perverted loves and values and lifestyles of the world.
I don’t think he’s saying don’t celebrate thanksgiving, it’s a worldly holiday. Don’t watch Star Wars, it’s worldly. Don’t eat worldly foods. Don’t listen to its music.
But don’t buy into what these things are used to teach. Watch for obvious biases. Don’t be manipulated by the world to embrace its values. The world is like the mindset and weapons and bling of Satan.
Believer, brother, sister, friend, children, don’t befriend the world.
Our Lord does not say, "Don’t be friends with unbelievers," for we follow Jesus Christ, the Friend of Sinners, and we share His heart to seek and save the lost. We want this for us and for them.
But our Lord cautions and exhorts us for our well being, Don’t be friends with the world! Don’t cherish the affection and the approval of those who despise God and Christ.
The world denies what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It rejects God’s authority. Contradicts the Creation narrative. Repudiates what God says about sin, our sin nature, our separation from God. And our need for Jesus. Don't seek the world's approval.
The world James warns against violently lambastes any notion of what God calls sin. It calls God a sinner, and crucified Him for His crimes of grace. It hates God but calls God a hater and it contradicts God’s design for human flourishing.
Yet something about it draws us.
We want the world, the professors, the SJWs, the online trolls, the celebrities and influencers to like and approve of us. We're like awkward teenagers looking for the cool group's acceptance.
This makes it hard to hold onto godly views that others despise as totally wrong.
It’s easier to be quiet, blend in. Maybe compromise on a few things—and get rewarded for it.
But the world doesn’t want to be your friend, it wants to mold you into its image…
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Jesus spoke similarly. One time He’s praying to the Father on behalf of His disciples,
John 17:14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
We trust Jesus. He’s given us God’s Word and we trust it. And this faith in Jesus and the new life we receive makes a real difference to us.
John 15:18 If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
This isn’t law. This isn’t judgment.
It is God’s passionate love and protection.
God does not want us to view the world as a friend or a lover or as someone to impress.
Understand this. The drug dealer looks cool as he takes your money, but he doesn’t care about you. The salesperson is sweet to you, but she doesn’t care about you. The Trans-activists. The alt-right. If you agree with them on an issue, they’ll applaud you as they make a notch in their bedpost, but they don’t love you.
But more importantly, when you set aside God’s will, God’s truth, God’s approval for the affections and approval of the world you breach the intimate relationship that you’re blessed with in X. You throw yourselves into the arms of God’s enemy.
James 4:4 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.
The language is strong because the relationship is so intimate. James language expresses the depth of God’s affection for us, the seriousness of His love.
Whenever we set aside God’s Word, God’s design, God’s pronouncements of good and evil, to ameliorate or impress the world or satisfy our flesh, we throw ourselves into the arms of God’s sworn enemy. And we set yourself in opposition to God.
And like a good friend, James calls us out. “You adulteress!”
Wow! What’s worse than for a cherished wife to be so cold to her husband that she jumps into bed with the enemy who’s vindictively and violently hated him?!
Some think grace never shames. But this is calling us out in love and for a purpose.
Not shame. But redemption. Repentance. Restoration.
The fact of our behavior causes shame. The truth of our behavior’s effects on the heart of God, the damage to our relationship with God that we inflict causes shame.
But the greater truth of God’s love for us and the promises of God’s grace covers our shame. We are meant to hear this, and heed this, and return to the bosom of our Lord’s love and to the finished work of Christ that makes us His.
James 4:5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace; or do you think the Word says without good reason that God jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?
James essentially says, God jealously yearns for the full devotion of His bride.
The LORD our God and Father and Savior who loves us and sent His Son to redeem us to Him, is truly a jealous God who loves us and wants a closer trust and dependence and walk with us. Jeaous for us, not jealous of us. Jealous in the best sense of the word. He wants us to trust His jealous and generous heart of protection and blessing, that He gives us a greater love than the world.
God gives a greater grace.
What is this greater grace? A greater relationship, we're the bride of Christ. A greater friendship, God jealously yearns for my friendship. A greater future, ruling with Christ in the kingdom. A greater joy, in His presence are pleasures forevermore. A greater love, which actually cares and provides and protects and wants my best.
We’ll take the second part of this next week, but God’s grace is the solution to our quarrels and fights.
God’s protective love, His jealous-for-you love is the solution to our shame.
God’s passionate love is the solution to my sordid love for the world.
For in Christ, God gives a greater grace. A greater gift. A greater life.