James 4:7-8

‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.’
(James 4:7-8)

Most people would acknowledge that good and evil exist in the world. Human beings in particular display both very clearly! Many also would recognise God as behind the good, but evil, and especially the devil’s role, are less well understood, likely because he’s devious and deceptive, lurking in the shadows of spiritual darkness. However, his malevolent influences are real, and something to be resisted, as James recommends here. We’re to draw near to God instead.

The truth is that ‘the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’(1 John 5:19), this ‘deceiver’(Revelation 12:9), who ‘has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them’(2 Corinthians 4:4). All of us start off enslaved by this ‘“thick darkness”’(Isaiah 60:2), ‘foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures’(Titus 3:3). It’s what Jesus came to rescue us from.

So we must respond when He calls, uniting ourselves with Him in resistance to this foe. It’s the necessary first step to following James’ advice here. In fact Jesus has already won the victory for us, first resisting the devil’s schemes with rebukes like ‘“Get behind me Satan!”’(Matthew 4:10), then through His death and resurrection making a way ‘into heaven itself… the presence of God’(Hebrews 9:24). There He’s been given ‘“All authority… in heaven and on earth”’(Matthew 28:18; c.f. Ephesians 1:21). So with confidence we can approach God, entering ‘into the holy place by the blood of Jesus’(Hebrews 10:19) with the certainty that He’s ‘able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him’(Hebrews 7:25).

However, here James was writing to Christians facing ongoing attack. That will always be the case whilst we’re still in this world, just like it was for Jesus too.  After His resistance above, ‘the devil… departed from Him until another time’(Luke 4:13). As Peter warned, our ‘adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion’(1 Peter 5:8) looking for someone to take down. We’re to resist, aware that our fellow Christians throughout ‘the world are undergoing the same sufferings’(1 Peter 5:9).

One of the devil’s favoured and most dangerous routes of attack is through our very selves, as James warned about earlier in this letter, ‘tempted… and enticed’(James 1:14) through our own evil desires. In this chapter he describes it as a ‘war in your members’(James 4:1), with ‘the tongue… a restless evil’(James 3:6-8) particularly in mind, and ‘selfish ambition’(James 3:14&16) in contrast to humility, before ‘“God”’(James 4:6) and alongside others. It’s the same battle that Paul described as ‘my members, warring… sin which is in my members’(Romans 7:23).

Paul advised resisting by not walking ‘according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’(Romans 8:1), ‘by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”’(Romans 8:15), i.e. drawing near to God again, who’s Holy Spirit draws so close that He’s literally ‘in’(Romans 8:11) us! And again this should give us great confidence, since as John pointed out, ‘greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world’(1 John 4:4). It’s our sure ‘way of escape’(1 Corinthians 10:13) from the devil’s schemes. He will flee if ‘we live by the Spirit… walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:25) and ‘by the Spirit… put to death’(Romans 8:13) our sinful nature.

Paul describes this elsewhere as putting on the ‘armour of God… to stand against the wiles of the devil’(Ephesians 6:11). Interestingly, this involves things that simultaneously draw us near to God, such as ‘the shield of faith… to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one’(Ephesians 6:16), and we also ‘draw near… in fullness of faith’(Hebrews 10:22). Similarly, we deploy ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’(Ephesians 6:17), just like Jesus when He was being ‘tempted by the devil’(Matthew 4:1ff., cf. Luke 4:1ff.), but also Spirit-led time in the word draws us near to God. This military illustration concludes with a call to ‘prayer… at all times in the Spirit’(Ephesians 6:18), which again is a way of both fighting the battle and drawing near to God.

We might find this exhausting, but it was for Jesus even, which is why after resisting the devil ‘angels came’(Matthew 4:11) to attend Him. However, such exercise strengthens as well, as James began this letter: ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’(James 1:2-4).

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