It’s not often that we quote ancient Chinese generals in our blogs, but this quote from Sun Tzu, who was a general and philosopher around the 5th Century B.C., was just too spot-on for this week’s passage to pass up: “Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will not be defeated.” In the first 7 verses of Chapter 4, James is admonishing us to do just that. James points out the 3 key adversaries to an active, dynamic faith.
The first enemy we must confront is ourselves (vss. 1-3). We are all born with a sin nature that is at war with God. We want what we want, and we want it now. I remember very distinctly (and have video evidence to prove it) my infant sons, who were just sitting up on their own, fighting over a toy. Even at that very young age their selfishness, jealousy, and anger were fully developed and on display. It did not matter that they were both surrounded by toys just as good as the one over which they were fighting. No one had to teach them how to be selfish and hurtful to others—they came pre-programmed. The beauty of the gospel is that we don’t have to stay that way. Through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection we can be freed from this programming. In the power of the gospel, we can confront these sinful passions and live lives full of love, peace, and contentment.
The second enemy we must confront is the world (vss. 4-5). James doesn’t mince words in these verses: if you are embracing the world and its culture, you are committing spiritual adultery (2 Cor. 11:1-4). We must remember that there are no neutrals in this spiritual warfare. We are either reconciled to God, or we are His enemies (Rom. 5:6-11). To be clear, this isn’t about fashion trends or music styles. What James is addressing is allowing the world to define our attitudes and priorities. James is addressing the fact that this world will always demand that God’s people submit to a one-sided compromise of God’s truth. This enemy is cunning and ruthless in its demands, and it will never be satisfied until the Church has compromised itself into a powerless irrelevance.
The final enemy we must confront is Satan himself (vss. 6-7). When we allow ourselves to be controlled by our sin natures and the influences of this world, it inevitably leads to pride. Satan wants nothing more than to deprive us of the opportunity to experience God’s grace, and his chief weapon in this battle is pride. As I write this blog, I can’t help but think of a dear friend who is estranged from God and destined for an eternity separated from Him. This friend is a good man, who loves and supports his family. He is devout to his religion. We have discussed matters of faith many times, and he has even expressed curiosity about the gospel. However, he is resistant to embrace any faith that would view him on equal spiritual footing with a murderer on death row. In his view, he has done enough good in this life to tip the spiritual justice scales in his favor. The Father of Lies has convinced this man that he doesn’t need God’s grace; he’s done enough on his own. If we are not watchful, Satan sneaks into our lives with his seductive lies, and soon the very things in which we place our confidence become the tools he uses to actually separate us from God and His powerful, transformative grace.
- Read Rom. 7:21-25. How do you see this battle between God’s grace and your sin nature play out in your personal life? How do we maintain a healthy sense of self-awareness while not falling into a sense of shame?
- What are some ways the world calls on the Church to compromise? How can we engage our culture without being conformed to it? (Think about the difference between the spiritual indifference/contentment we discussed last week as compared to legalism/moralism)
- Why is pride such a big deal to God? How does Satan use pride to make us spiritually ineffective?