Pentecost 19B: October 15, 2006 – Submission to God

15 Oct

Text: James 4:7-12 (13-5:6)

Submission to God

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.  The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle which was read earlier.

            Habits are a good thing to have.  They can be a very good thing.  For instance, it is a good habit to set aside money into a savings account for those unexpected circumstances.  It is a good habit to pay your bills on time so as not to incur late fees.  It is also a good habit to attend church regularly for the edification of one’s spiritual well-being.   However, it is just as easy to have bad habits as well.  For instance, it is a bad habit to neglect your spouse and children.  It is a bad habit to speak ill of others.  It is a bad habit to eat too much.  However, it is often too easy for us to fall into bad habits than it is for us to have habits that are good.

            In looking at our text for today, James is writing to the churches about something that was not only difficult for them to follow, but it is also difficult for us to follow today: “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  By our very nature, we do not submit to God, we do not resist the devil and we do not come near to God.  We don’t know how to submit ourselves to God.  We don’t know how to resist the devil and we don’t know how to come near to God.  All of this is alien and foreign to our sinful natures.

            The same was true for the churches to which James is writing.  They had decided to give in to their habits of in-fighting and the like.  They had begun to turn their backs on God, to begin to deny who and what God has done for them and to follow the ways of the world.  It was very easy for them to do what they were doing.  It is a lot easier to give into the things of this world which you can see rather than in the mystery of God which one cannot see. 

            James is encouraging Christians to place themselves under God—to place themselves in His ranks, under His leadership and His direction, under His will and His word.  Such submission means giving oneself completely and totally, without hesitation or condition.  It means denying self and taking one’s will and desires and thoughts and words and actions and gifts and abilities—one’s entire being—and placing all of it at the disposal of God.  And, of course, that sort of self-submission will express itself in the way the Christian relates to his God and to his fellowman.

            Submission to God means resisting the devil, and vice-versa, for every evil working of Satan in his fight against Christ and the church, and every temptation which he throws like a snare before the feet of the Christian constitute nothing less than an attack on the lordship of God.  Satan would like nothing better than to have Christians arrogantly throw off that lordship and claim it for themselves.  He would like nothing better than to see God’s people refusing to submit to the Lord. 

            There are two options for the world: turn to God or turn to the ways of the world.  If we turn to the ways of the world, then what is there for you?  What comfort do you have in the world when a loved one dies?  Can the world promise you that your loved one has now been united with Christ forever?  If, however, we turn to God, we will find comfort in a loved ones death.  We will find life everlasting.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  We can not come to God ourselves, but we can come to God by the Holy Spirit.  James is speaking to the Christian, encouraging him to submit himself by the power of the Holy Spirit to God by coming near in sincere repentance.  He calls for them to acknowledge the fact that, although they claim to be the Lord’s, they have turned away from Him time and again, going their own way, trying to live without the Lord in this world.

            We live in a world where the prevailing attitudes are “Be your own man, or woman!”, “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!”, or taking an old commercial a little out of context, “Have it your way!”  The problem with these attitudes and ideas is that they’ve led us away from God.  We no longer look to Him for guidance, or for that matter even acknowledge that He has something to say about our lives.  We live our lives as if we are an island that answers to no one, nor has any effect on any of the other "islands" which exist around us.  James, in language that is fairly strong, reminds us that the truth is quite to the contrary.  He tells us to “Submit yourselves, then, to God” and “Humble yourselves before the Lord.”  Oh, but we don’t do that either do we?  Nobody likes the idea of submission or humbleness, after all, these words imply weakness, and in this world you can’t appear weak.  But we are weak and we can’t do it alone, although we often try.

            That is our Old Adam at work in us.  We somehow think that we can do it all ourselves, that we don’t need God, that we don’t need the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  In today’s world of people telling you that you can do it yourself, that you can make the decision for Jesus, it’s no wonder many people try to go it on their own.  However much we try to live without God, it is all the more apparent that we do need God. 

            At the start of our reading James records one of God’s many promises that are found in the Bible.  He tells us, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you, come near to God and he will come near to you.”  Now we need to remember something.  This verse does not say that we choose God; we do not make the decision to follow Him.  But He has chosen us and He has given us the faith that we need to follow Him.  We, however, are capable of choosing not to anger our Lord by our repeated, an often blatant sins. Listen to these words from Romans 8 “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  James gives us God’s promise to lift us up.  By our submission and humbleness before God, He will exalt us in heaven and earth.  The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 149, “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.”  Those of us who turn to Him, those of us who humbly trust in Him to direct our lives, in all aspects, will be saved from the terrors of hell.  He loves us, He wants to be part of our everyday lives, and He will bless us.

            It is very hard to deny the world, especially when we are so much a part of the world.  We accept the dictates of the world for our lives rather than the Word of God.  That’s not the shocking part of it all.  The shocking part is that we don’t really care that we follow the world and not God.  It is much easier to accept what you can see over the things that you cannot.  When we follow the world, we will ultimately move away from God.  But thanks be to God, we can come back to Him and He will accept us with open arms.  That is what a loving God does.  “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            As His redeemed children, we have been given the gift of His unfailing love, love that came at the expense of His Son, Jesus Christ.  When we turn our backs to God, He will still be there to accept us back in His loving arms.  That is what grace is all about.  We have a God of grace and mercy, who exalts the humblest of man, not by anything that we have done, but by what has been done for us through His Son.  By sending His Son, who took our failures upon Himself, we are no longer under submission to Satan, but we are lifted up by God above sin, death, and the misery of our sinful lives.  What better reason to submit to God can there be than this?  In the name of Jesus, amen.

            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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