There Is a Way Back to God
May 1, 2016 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: James - A Portrait of Living Faith
Passage: James 4:6–10
James deals with a question in these verses that we have all asked at some time: What is the way back to God when you are not as close to him has you once were? When you have wandered away from God, what is the way back to him? What is the way back to God when you have fallen into sin? What is the way back to God when you have lived for your own desires? What is the way back when you have compromised with the world? What is the way back, when you have gotten into a big fight with your spouse or with someone in the church? What is the way back when you have had a rotten attitude, self pity or grumbling or jealousy? These are the things James is dealing with in this chapter.
He confronts people who are quarreling with each other, seeking their own pleasures and mad at people who get in their way. There is coveting and jealousy and envy and strife. They have become friends with the world and its culture and its values.
To be a Christian is to be spiritually married to God, it is to be made the spouse of God. We have been called into a love relationship with God. The Christian life is a romance, a romance with God deeply loving you and with you loving him with all your heart and soul, mind and strength. If you no longer passionately love God, but INSTEAD really love the world,.. that is spiritual adultery. The good news is that God still wants you back. He always wants you back.
James tells us there IS a way back to God. There is a way for you to be near to God once again. There is a way for you to know the sweetness of fellowship with God, a way for you to know his favor, a way for you to be lifted up. Our passage this morning is a road map for you to get back into this place of nearness to God.
If you are living in close, sweet fellowship with God today, the things we talk about this morning will help keep you there for these are attitudes of the heart that we all need to practice.
The way back to being close to God all starts with God's willingness to have us back! He wants us back and he is always calling out, “Return to me”. In Joel 2:12 he says, “Yet even now, RETURN TO ME with all your heart”.... Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love, and relenting of evil”. In Malachi 3:7 the LORD says, “Return to me and I will return to you”. In Hosea God pleads with his people, “O Israel (come back) return to me”, In Revelation Jesus spoke to the churches, “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen”. “Be earnest and repent”. Jesus was saying, “Turn around, come back, return to me”. To the lukewarm, at Laodocia, Jesus said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with me.” He desires to be close to you, and for you to be close to him.
I think it is so important to know his disposition (his attitude) towards you. Who can return to a God who will squash you, and turn his back on you? After talking about our sins in the most direct way, James says, “BUT he gives more grace” or the NASB says, “But he gives a greater grace”. You may have fallen from the way you should be living and could be living but there is MORE grace, there is grace that is greater than your sins. God always has more grace to give you. Grace is God's favor to undeserving sinners. And with grace comes God's forgiveness, his love and kindness and acceptance, his joy and peace.
No matter how you may have compromised with the world, no matter how much fighting and name calling has been going on in your home, no matter how far from God you have wandered, no matter if it has been for only for one hour or for years, there is MORE grace for you to go on, so you can get back to living for God and serving Jesus Christ. No matter how sin may have mastered you for a season, He gives more grace. His does this through Christ....
In Christ, God has done everything possible to open up his arms to you. God used Christ's death on the cross to remove every barrier to friendship between you and God. Paul said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, in Christ, NOT counting their sins against them”.... Therefore.. “We beg you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God!” God has dealt with your sins, so that they cannot separate you from him. God has done EVERYTHING necessary for you to be reconciled to him, to enjoy him, to be loved by him, every day, at all times, in every situation. That is not just the gospel you needed to hear to get saved, it is the gospel you need to live with every day!
You cannot earn your way back to God, you cannot work your way back to God. You get back to God through his grace!
BUT this grace comes to the humble. Vs 6, But he gives more grace as the Scripture says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God sets himself against a proud person, but he opens his heart and his favor to you if you humble yourself. Isaiah 57:15 God said, “I live in a high and holy place , but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit”. Do you want God to dwell with you? He promises that he will, if you come to him in humble neediness. This is not a call just to get real low at one time in your life, but to live in humility before God, as a way of life.
Vs 7 says you humble your self by submitting to him. “Submit yourselves then to God.” To submit to God, means to give up your life to God. It is an absolute surrender. You say, I am yours. You are no longer your own person. The cry of your heart is “Not my will but YOUR will be done”. You give yourself up to God's loving rule and authority. And this is for your good because God gives grace to those who do this!!
Charles Spurgeon said, to NOT submit to God is not only rebellion “it is insanity”. It is cruelty to ourselves when we place ourselves under the tyranny of our own self! “O that men would submit themselves unto God and be willing to be blessed.” To NOT live every day in submission to God is insanity because we are only being cruel to ourselves.
The ultimate value of people in our culture is personal freedom. People say things like, “I gotta be my own person, I just gotta be free to achieve my own goals, to fulfill MY own dreams. I want to be free to follow my own passions, to think my own thoughts, to follow my own will”. That all sounds so good, except that it is hostility towards God and will ultimately lead to your own ruin. GOD does not give his grace to someone who pursues that kind of autonomy. Yet we as Christians can be seduced into that kind of worldly thinking. “I gotta be free; I gotta be me”.
The paradox is that in submission, there is great freedom. We are free from the law that condemns, free from trying to please people, free from trying to be somebody, free from our sin and the misery of sinning. BUT that all comes through utter and complete submission to God. There is a glorious freedom in submission because in submission, we are living as we were made to live.
One very clear test of submission to God is in your relationships with others. If there is fighting and strife, anger and yelling, jealousy and envy, your heart is not submitted to God. God, through James, is calling us AWAY from THOSE things to a place of humble submission to him. And that will flow out of you in humility and gentleness to others.
After you humbly submit to God. The next step is to resist the devil. Vs 7 goes on: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”. If you have wandered away from God on any level, in any way, you probably DON'T think the devil has had anything to do with it....but he has. If you have been losing your temper, quarreling with other people, demanding your own way, making an idol out of the world; if you are “hooked on” or enslaved to certain pleasures, THEN you have been living under the influence of the devil. Sinning and worldliness is not living in freedom is it being held captive, by someone who hates your soul.
So you must purpose in your heart to resist the devil's influence. Part of turning back to God is turning away from the devil.
And we are promised, if we do that, HE WILL FLEE. Satan is powerful! But he is subject to any believer who is subject to God! You CAN say no! I am NOT going there! Any time that the devil is at work upon you in any way, you can resist him and he HAS TO LEAVE. So many believers are held in bondage to some habit or addiction or thought pattern, that is clearly from the devil, and they tell themselves that they cannot stop, that they cannot say no. The Bible says, “he will flee from you”.
This promise applies to all aspects of the devils work: his attempts to draw you into sin, his suggestions to discourage you, to oppress you, to accuse you, to harass you in any way. When you sense the presence of darkness, of evil, resist him and he must go.
The next step is simply now to draw near to God. Vs 8 says “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you”. Or “come near to God and he will come near to you”. Here is the secret to being close to God, to knowing God, to experiencing God. People say I wish I knew the Lord like so and so. The secret is that person has made a practice of drawing near to God and therefore they enjoy the nearness of God. It is that simple! Here we see at least two other amazing things:
We see the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, God told Moses, “Don't come any closer”. Or “Do not come near!”. But in the New Covenant, God says, “Draw near to me”. He speaks that way to us because the way to God has been opened for sinful people like us, by the blood of Jesus! So the invitation is always open: “Come, draw near”.
The second amazing thing we see here is that: God WANTS to be near you. He created the billions of stars, and galaxies more than we can count, he is the God of Heaven and Earth, yet what matters to him is to be near to you! He wants you to draw near to him, and he wants to draw near to you. God wants friendship and fellowship with you.
This is the essence of prayer, or what prayer should be. Prayer is drawing near to God. Prayer is not just saying words or making requests, it is the desire of your soul to be near to God. You can do that at times, even without words. You turn your attention towards God. You lift up your heart to him. You come near to him, to know his love for you, to become aware of his presence, to find peace for your heart, to be reminded of his fatherly care for you in all your troubles, to enjoy communing with him.
The next step is to deal with sinful habits and actions. Vs 8 goes on, “Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded”. Christians talk a lot about what do to if you sin. We talk about the importance of confession, and repentance, and getting in fellowship. There is a place for that, but James says, “How about if you just stop sinning!! How about if you just wash your hands of the dirt, and purify your hearts from the filth?”.
I'm afraid sometimes we get caught in an endless cycle of sin and confess, sin and confess, sin and confess. There comes a time to wash your hands and to be done with your sin! Does anybody here agree with that?
This morning I ask you, “What have you been doing that you need to stop doing? What do you need to wash your hands of this morning? What has been going on in your heart that you need to cleanse your heart of this morning? Is there bitterness, ungratefulness, discontentment, anger, lust, or unforgiveness, or something else??”
Next James tells us to “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom”. That's verse 9. God loves for us to be cheerful and serve him cheerfully, But...If you have been in a cycle of sin, laughter is out of place.
There are certain spiritual conditions that you may fall into in your life that call for grief and mourning and tears, NOT for joy and laughter. I have seen people who name Christ as their Savior and yet EVERYTHING is a joke. It is yuk, yuk, yuk. If you try to talk to these people about the Lord or anything serious they don't seem to want to go there. There is a frivolous attitude about God and the things of God. Nothing is taken seriously. James says, if you are not walking closely with the Lord, you need to change your laughter to mourning. Laughter and worldliness don't go together. Laughter and sin don't go together....not in God's eyes.
I know of a girl who was brought up in a Christian home, professed to be a Christian, but was living very loose morally, had slept with several boys, gotten pregnant, got an abortion, yet would come to church and often sit and giggle or snicker during the messages. I came so close one morning to stopping my message and publicly rebuking her. I did not but I did ask to meet with her, and although she did not laugh at that meeting, she obviously had no grief or mourning over her sin. You cannot get right with God with a frivolous attitude toward sin.
If you have been a friend of the world instead of a friend of God. If you have been fighting with your spouse or a neighbor or brother or sister in Christ, then PART OF THE WAY BACK TO GOD IS TO GRIEVE OVER THESE THINGS. Sorrow is a part of genuine repentance! It just is. When you look back and see that for the last week or the last year, you have been living against God, in some area of your life, it should cause you to grieve!
It is NOT that your grief and tears can earn you forgiveness! They cannot take the place of the blood of Jesus to atone for your sins. Forgiveness with God is NOT the issue here, the issue is getting your heart back to a place of softness towards God!
Now...This is NOT a call for anyone to be permanently morose or gloomy. James is not saying we should all live in sadness. He is describing the beginning steps of coming to God; he is NOT describing the final outcome of coming to God. The outcome of coming to God is joy and singing. Ephesians 5 it is making melody in your heart to the Lord. It is to rejoice always, in everything to give thanks...
James is NOT saying that mourning and grief are more spiritual that laughter and joy. He is NOT denying the joy of the Christian life. Not at all!! But he is telling us when we have turned away from God we need to feel sorrow...Because only then can you receive the grace of God and be restored to the joy of the Lord.
I think vs 10 is just a summary of all that James has been telling us. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”. God's intent is not to put you down. It is not to make you miserable. His intent is to lift you up. The point is not to see how loud and long you can cry about your sins as though that were an end in itself. The point is to humble yourself so that he can lift you up God says, those who honor me, I will honor. I will lift you up.
Your life will be brighter, happier, more exalted, in every way if you humble yourself before God. Proverbs says “The way of the sinner is hard” but “the path of the righteous grows brighter and brighter”.
The path of following Jesus is certainly NOT all prosperity and good times. BUT have you not seen that when you humble yourself before God, things get better. There is a buoyancy, there is hope, there is blessing. It is for YOUR OWN GOOD and eternal happiness that God commands you to humble yourself and come to him. God is for you. God loves you with a jealous love and he want you to come near him this morning, so he can lift you up.
More in James - A Portrait of Living Faith
July 17, 2016The Important Work of Turning a Wandering Brother Back to God
July 3, 2016God's Pathway to Healing
June 26, 2016Healing and the Heart of God