The Nature and Fruits of True Repentance (James Sermon 8)
March 01, 2020 | Andy Davis
The Gospel, Sanctification, The Holy Spirit, Faith, Grace, Prayer, Scripture Memory, Holiness, Boldness & Courage, Humility, Good Works, Forgiveness
Directions Back to the Lord Almighty
Turn in your Bibles to James 4. We're looking this morning at this incredible passage in the Book of James. Last summer, I had the joy of going on a graduation trip with my son, Calvin. And the day that we were to leave was complicated for me because I was speaking at a conference in the New Jersey area, and I had to fly back to Raleigh, Durham and I was going to meet him and we were going to drive back up the Eastern Seaboard. Kind of inefficient, but it was exciting. We were looking forward to that. However, my flight was delayed, and then delayed, and then delayed some more so we got quite a late start. And as we drove that late afternoon and on into the evening, we were to have stayed at a hotel outside Philadelphia, but we were supposed to get there around 11 o'clock in the evening and it was actually two in the morning. And when we arrived at the location, there was no hotel or a motel or anything like it in that place. And so, there we were in the dark, outside Philadelphia. And thankfully I had my smartphone with me and there was an amazing device on there called the GPS navigational system, which many of us did not grow up with. We had to stop at gas stations and get maps. Some of you will know exactly what I'm talking about. The maps that would fold out. But now all you have to do is type in a location for the nearest motel where we could stay. And though we did not know anything about where we were, though it was dark, we didn't know the road we were on, we knew nothing, the device was able to navigate us from that situation to a safe destination. Relatively safe. I won't tell you about the motel; it was an interesting place. But we spent the night and we're fine. Got started early the next morning.
For us, in the Christian life, the Christian life is a journey, and we are in the process of being sanctified. We're on a spiritual journey, and it is very likely that at some point we are going to stray from God. We're going to stray from Christ. You think about the hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” and I wrote at the lyrics while I was sitting in my seat and I remember them. So powerful. "Oh to grace, how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be. Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above." How many of us who have been walking with the Lord a long time can say, “amen” to that line, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it."
But when we wander, we're going to find ourselves, sometimes, in a place that's unfamiliar. And we're going to wonder, how will we get back? Is there a GPS navigation system? Is there a way whereby we can get out of that mess that we've sinned our way into, and find our way back? In Pilgrim's Progress Christian and Hopeful got off the path because they found, they thought, a better path alongside the way. And one of the basic rules of the road in Pilgrim's Progress is: Never leave the path. Every time they did, they got in trouble. And they ended up in the land of a giant called Despair, and they didn't know where they were and it was rainy, and it was windy, and it was dark, and as they tried to get back some other individual that was a minor part of the story, they didn't even know him, was ahead and he fell into a pit and died. And so they decided just hunker down, and they ended up having the worst trial they ever had.
And what about you? If you can say, “amen” to that statement about your soul, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it," and you will sin your way into some great difficulty, how will you get back? And I want to commend to you the text that we're looking at today, as a way to get back to God. There are going to be specific steps James is going to tell you to take. And we are going to look at those steps today so that you can find your way back, through the grace of God, to a healthy walk with Christ. That may be your situation today. You may be saying, "Pastor, I feel like you've written this sermon exactly for me. I am in a bad place spiritually. I'm in a bad place. It's my own fault, but I'm in a difficult way. How do I get back to a healthy, joyful walk with God, where the fruit of God is at work in my life?" This text is for you.
The Journey of the Christian Faith
Now as I think about the Christian life, I think, as I said, about the journey of the Christian faith. I think about the Gospel and how privileged we are to understand the Gospel rightly, to have the Word of God unfolded for us. And for me, as a church historian, I know that a key moment in redemptive history was the moment that Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation and nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle, and that was the beginning of the Protestant reformation that reclaimed, that found again the Gospel, justification by faith alone apart from works of the law, which had gotten covered over by all kinds of false teachings and idolatries and superstitions. And just through the word of God. Now, the first of those 95 theses that Luther wrote, 95 theses were just concepts for debates that he wanted, and he put it up there on the door. That was a place like a public community bulletin board.
And the first of the 95 theses reads this: "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” You don't just repent at the beginning of your Christian life, you repent and repent some more, and then you repent even more, and you keep repenting. Your whole life is a life of repentance. Now, justification is the beginning of the Christian life, the way by which a sinner is made right with almighty God, the way by which we are forgiven of our sins. And the Gospel is clear on this, we maintain, Romans 3:28, that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Not by works but by faith, we are forgiven, we are made right with God, always. But what kind of faith justifies?
What Kind of Faith Justifies
There are lots of different kinds of faith, and the Book of James is written, uniquely, to answer that question. As we saw in the second half of James 2. It's not dead faith, or useless faith, or fruitless faith, or demon faith that justifies. But there's a genuine faith worked in us by the Spirit of God that inevitably produces works in keeping with repentance. The fruit of good works that keeps with repentance. Now, I've said many times before, I find this to be a helpful statement: "Faith is the eyesight of the soul by which we see invisible spiritual realities, past, present, and future."
Ephesians 1:18 mentions the “eyes of the heart.” "May the eyes of your heart be enlightened... " I think the eyes of the heart refers the ability of the heart to see spiritual things, that is faith. And saving faith, as I've studied it, has two sides to it. There is an attractive, beautiful side to what we see. The attractional side of faith. And there is a repulsive side to faith, and both are necessary for salvation. So, attractionally, we see the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God.
We see in the face of Christ, the glory of God shining. We see his radiant beauty in his virtues and the attractions of his person. We see his love, his power, the perfection of his work and his death on the cross, we see to be glorious and beautiful and radiant. And we see his mighty resurrection from the dead. We see him, the author of Hebrews said, by faith we see him seated at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. All of that's beautiful and attractive. Not only that, but we see Heaven, we see the glories of Heaven, we say how beautiful it will be. That's the attractional side of faith.
But there's also a repulsive side to faith as well. And in that, we see ourselves. When we're justified, we see ourselves rightly for the first time. You see who you really are and it's repulsive. It's wretched. Like “Amazing Grace” said, "That saved a wretch like me." We see ourselves as genuinely, to the core, polluted by sin and depraved and sinful. And in that we see that we deserve to die for our sins, and that Christ's bloody death on the cross under the wrath of God was as a substitute for us. We deserved to die that death. We see that. So, that's what saving faith is. We see both sides of that. It's the eyesight of the soul.
And as we go on in the Christian life, we see both of those things. If we're healthy in the Lord, and we're taking in the Word of God, we see both of them more and more and more clearly. So what's going to happen is, as you go on in a Christian life, you're going to see Jesus more and more beautiful, and more and more attractive. And you're going to see the holiness of the Christian life more and more attractive. You're going to see the beauty of Heaven more and more beautiful and attractive. But the flip side is you're going to see your own sin and you're going to hate it more and more. And you're going to say like with the Apostle Paul, after years of walking with Christ, "I am the chief of all sinners."
I. The Need for Continual Repentance
The Reality of Indwelling Sin
So that's what's going on, and that's what I think James 4:1-12 is all about. We have the need for continual repentance displayed for us here. Now, not just Martin Luther in the 95 Theses, far more important is the Lord Jesus when he began his public ministry. And when he did, in Mark 1:15, he said, "The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, repent, and believe the good news." So there's the negative and the positive side. Repent of your sins and believe the good news of forgiveness. Now that just begins at the moment of justification. The moment you're born again, that starts and then it continues. And why is that? Because of the reality of indwelling sin. The reality of indwelling sin. We have battling within us both beautiful good desires and corrupt evil desires. We have that indwelling sin. Paul said it most clearly at the end of Romans 7, and there Paul said, "I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is," listen to this, "sin living in me that does it." That is nasty. That's disgusting.
Some time ago, I read an article on the body's immune system. They had remarkable scanning electron microscope pictures of viruses, and bacteria and other pathogens, the parasite that causes the disease malaria. And you could actually see it and it was disgusting. Imagine if you were shown all of the pathogens there were in your body right now, how much that would freak you out? Isn't it better not to know? As I've said to my wife before, as she talks to me about my diet sometimes, I said, "you gotta die of something." So that's not very satisfying to her, but I don't want to know. But here, Paul says, "sin living in me." And so we have these evil desires. Look at verses 1 through 4. This is a diagnosis. On the GPS journey, you have to begin by knowing where you are. Where are you spiritually? What's going on?
The Effects: Fights, Quarrels, Worldliness
Look what he says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something, but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. And when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." So that's verse 1 through 4. And so James is writing to these local churches, and this is going on. Fights and quarrels among you. And then again at the end of the passage, verses 11-12, "Brothers do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you're not keeping it, but you're sitting in judgment on it. There is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able both to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to judge your neighbor?"
So this is the kind of corruption that's going on in the hearts and minds of the people and in the church. And it comes in families, it comes between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between neighbors, between co-workers, between leaders in the church, pastors and elders and the people in the church. This is just going on, these battles, this corruption. And the root cause of all of this is what he says in verse 1, "your desires that wage war within you." We have conflicting desires. And we've already seen this in James. The reason for all temptation and then of sin, is lust, evil desires. James 1:14-15, "Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. And then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death."
So, it was Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount, that zeros in on the heart. What's going on in the heart? So he says, "you have heard that it was said, 'you shall not murder, and anyone murders is subject to judgment,' but anyone who is angry with his brother will be in danger of the fire of Hell.” So the root of murder, that James mentions here, is anger. A heart condition of anger. Jesus said the same thing about adultery, the root of adultery is lust, it's the internal desire of the heart. And so James says, "you kill and covet." So you're desiring, you're coveting, you're looking on your neighbor's life. Looking on your neighbor's wife, his house, possessions, his privileges, all of those things that he has, and you covet it and you want it. That's where the desire comes from. And he says, "you quarrel and fight." The bickering, the arguing, the brokenness in human relationships. It's amazing. If you look at the acts of the flesh in Galatians 5, which is right before the famous fruit of the Spirit, so many of those things are just person-to-person bickering. “Factions and divisions and dissensions and fits of rage.” There's all this relational brokenness.
James also zeros in on prayerlessness. Look at verse 2, he says, "you do not have, because you do not ask God." That's such a great verse, isn't it? It's like prayerlessness. Prayerlessness is a tremendous diagnostic. What things do we not commit to God in prayer? In those areas, we are self-reliant. We're not inviting God's wisdom in, we're not inviting God's power in. We're on our own, we're fine. For me, a matter of sanctification is to become prayerlessness in less and less areas of my life. I don't want to be prayerless when I drive, I don't want to be prayerless when I come to work, when I go home, when I sit, when I rise. I want to bring God into everything and lose this, this self-reliance, this arrogant self-reliance. And so, James says, "you do not have because you do not ask God." And then he says, even when you do pray, you don't receive. Look what he says in verse 3, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." So if I can just summarize verse 1 through three, James are saying, "you folks are seriously messed up." And we all are like this, we can't read that and say, "Well I'm glad that's not happening in our Church. I'm glad that's not happening in our family. Nothing like it. We are not like this at all." It just isn't so. We've got this sin problem.
II. The Spirit’s Deep Longing for Our Repentance
Our Worldliness is Spiritual Adultery
Now we see the Spirit's deep longing for our repentance in all of this. The force taking hold of us and causing us to take that spiritual GPS journey back to righteousness is the Holy Spirit. Now, our worldliness, the Spirit is saying, is spiritual adultery. Look at verse 4, "you adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." So when we talk about being a friend of the world, that's not planet Earth with its populations of human beings, that's not what the world is. God loves the world and sent his only begotten Son, John 3:16.
No, no. He's talking about the world system, the evil, corrupt, satanic, demonic system that pulls us away from God. The reason that our hearts are prone to wander, is because of the magnetic attraction that comes to us through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the boastful pride of life. That's 1 John 2, that's what the world is. And James calls it spiritual adultery. He calls them adulterous people. They're hankering after the world, they're claiming to be part of the Bride of Christ, but instead they're wandering in their minds after the world. They're a spiritually adulterous people. And he says, "you're aligning yourself with the enemies of God, those that are deeply hostile to his person.” They are setting themselves up to be God's enemies. You don't want God to be your enemy, but the people of the world think like enemies of God. “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God, that sinful mind, it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot,” Romans 8:7. So you're lining yourself up with that. The enemies of God. Now, Jesus one day will crush all those enemies. As the Father said to the Son, "Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet." You don't want to be Christ's enemy and God's enemies. At one time, we were his enemies, but we were rescued from the dominion of darkness and we have become like Abraham, God's friend, James 2:23. Well, how then can we now join in with Christ's enemies? How can we through worldliness become an enemy of Christ?
Do you remember the night that Jesus was arrested? Do remember how, earlier that evening, Peter said, "I am, of all of your followers, I am the most loyal." he didn't say those words, but effectively, he did. “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” Remember? Remember the boasts he made? And Jesus said, "This very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he swore up and down that it would never happen. We remember what happened. Jesus orchestrated the escape of all of his apostles, that they should run away, John 18, he orchestrates that they should go away. "If you're looking for Me, then let these go." he wants them to go, because they're not ready to be arrested, not part of God's plan yet, and they all run away except one person, Peter. Follows at a distance because of all of his arrogant boasts. He tries to go into the courtyard where all of Jesus's enemies are, and there is a servant girl there at the door, remember? "You're not one of his disciples, are you?" "No, I'm not," there's his first one. And once you tell one lie, you're going to double down with another lie, and there he is standing with Jesus's enemies by a fire warming his hands. Even though Jesus had orchestrated his safe escape that very night, there he was standing with Jesus enemies and it gets worse and worse to the point where finally he calls down curses on himself if he even knows Jesus. I remember one preacher was talking about Peter that night, and he said he had warm hands and a cold heart. Standing with the enemies of Christ. We don't want to be like that, we don't want to be spiritual adulteresses.
Hosea’s Unfaithful Wife
Remember that tragic story of Hosea the prophet in the Old Testament? Remember that? Where God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute, a woman named Gomer, to model the agony that Almighty God was feeling over the nation of Israel's spiritual adultery, going after the Baals and the Ashtoreth. And so Hosea marries Gomer, and at one point God commands Hosea to go buy his wife back, to buy time with his wife, the prostitute. Hosea 3, it says, "The Lord said to me, go, show your love to your wife again even though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes. So I bought her for 15 shekels of silver and a homer and lethek of barley." It's one of the most tragic verses in the Bible. “I had to go buy her.” "And then I told her, you are to live with me for many days. You must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man and I will live with you." So as I was memorizing Hosea, going through all that, I was like, "Lord, what are you saying to me? Who am I? Do you have to buy my affection with stuff or I will not follow you? Do I really love you, Jesus, the way I should, or am I wandering?"
The Spirit Deeply Longs for Our Hearts
And look at verse 5, this lines up exactly with what we're talking about from Hosea. "Do you think the scripture says without reason that the Spirit," I think we should capitalize that, like the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit that he caused to live in us envies intensely, or is jealous over us." He has a strong desire over us. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who lives within us, deeply yearns over our hearts to love him. Remember how it said of God, in Exodus 34:14, "Do not worship any god, for the Lord, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God." he actually says, "One of my names is Jealous." One of my names is jealous. And so the spirit, if you're a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives within you, and if you wander into spiritual adultery, into worldliness, you wander into that, he yearns for you and is jealous over you and wants you back. He knows your heart, he knows your mind, he knows what you are made for. And you were made to worship God in your intellect and in your mind, to understand the story of God and to see the evidence of God, and to know and to have your heart go after him so that he would be uppermost in your affections. There would be nothing you love more than God, the triune God. That's what he yearns for.
The Spirit Works in Our Hearts
But we are by corrupted nature, idolatrous, and so we reverse the order. God is not uppermost in our affections anymore, some created thing, some creature, is. And that's the essence of idolatry, worshipping and serving the created thing rather than the Creator. And so he wants us, he yearns over us, that our hearts would be on fire for him, that we would love him and go after him, but the world creeps in and pulls us away. And so the Spirit works within our hearts. He works genuine fiery repentance and jealous love, and he will orchestrate, if you're one of the elect, and your straying, he will come get you and he will do things in your life. Hosea 2, Hosea, speaking about his wife, but then by way of allegory or analogy to Israel, "Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived her children in disgrace. She said, I will go after my lovers who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink. Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes, I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers, but not catch them. She will look for them but not find them. And then she will say, I will go back to my husband, as at first, for then I was better off than now." Blocked in, walled in, still corrupted in the mind, and then she has no choice but to turn in a certain direction.
Is that you? Does God have to buy your affections? Does your heart continually wander after the “lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life?” Do you act like an enemy of God? The text stands over all of us, when we sing, "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it," this is what the text is saying. Do we hate that? Do we say, "I don't want to live my life like that"? Is the Spirit filling your heart with a longing after God? So God, in his mercy, gives us the gift of continual grace for repentance.
III. God’s Gift of Continual Grace for Repentance
Look at verse 6, "He gives us more grace." Hallelujah. He gives us more grace. That is why scripture says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." To save us, God must give us more grace, and then more grace, and then after that, even more grace, and more grace, and more grace. And so we need a steady stream of that. And you need to say that in your mind, say, "Oh God, give me more grace. Fill me with grace." May there be grace to you through the ministry of the word of God. You need a steady stream of grace. Not like grace, born again, forgiven and done with grace. Not at all. You need a steady stream of God's sovereign grace every moment.
Bunyan’s “Fire Against the Wall”
In Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan's classic about the Christian life, there is this powerful image in Interpreter's house. He goes to Interpreter, and he gives him a bunch of allegories and stories that give aspects of the Christian life, and they're acted out, and you can learn things. Bunyan thought in pictures. And so there is this one allegory of the fire burning against the wall, and he said, "I saw in my dream that Interpreter took Christian by the hand and led him into a place where there was a fire burning against a wall." So, picture like a marble wall, and a marble hearth and a fire in it. It's burning. "And one was standing by it, always casting much water upon it to quench it. Yet did the fire burn higher and hotter." So picture this fire in a hearth and there's someone just pouring water on it, but the fire's not going out. Then said Christian, "What means this?" What does this mean? The interpreter answered, “'The fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart, and he the casts water upon it to extinguish it, and put it out, is the devil. But then that thou seest the fire not withstanding, burn higher and hotter, thou shalt see also the reason of that. So he had him around to the back side of the wall where he saw another man with a vessel of oil in his hand of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.’ Then said Christian, 'What means this?' The interpreter answered, ‘This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart by the means of which, not withstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove more gracious still. And then that thou sawest that the man that stood behind the wall to maintain the fire, that is to teach thee that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is actually being maintained in their souls.’"
God Opposes the Proud but Gives Grace to the Humble
So that's such a powerful picture. If you're born again, God lights a fire within you, a work of grace. And that fire is going to keep burning and there's nothing the world, the flesh and the devil can do to put it out, praise God. But the only way it doesn't get extinguished is more grace, and that's why James 4:6 says, "He gives us more grace." But he gives it to the humble. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." I remember when I was teaching this verse to my kids and we used to do much more physical things that we do now. We used to play wrestling games until I broke a rib and then I retired. My kids were getting bigger and bigger and they just consistently won. The game was to get me off the couch within five minutes. That's all they had to do, just get me off the couch. It got pretty violent. Lamps were getting knocked over. It was not good. But I wanted to teach them God opposes the proud.
So I stood in the way and I told them to go through a door, and I opposed them, and I was much bigger than they were at that point. They're much bigger than me now. But at that point. So you don't want God, Almighty God, opposing you. You don't want God, the omnipotent God, fighting you. But he gives grace to who? The humble. And so, the grace of God comes and makes you a spiritual beggar, makes you, like the beatitudes say, it makes you mourn over your sins, it makes you hunger and thirst for righteousness, it makes you humble. And so you are humbled by your sin, you're humbled by your condition, and you go toward Christ, you go toward God and you say, "Give me more grace," and he will. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And here we see the nature and fruits of true repentance.
IV. The Nature and Fruits of True Repentance
Nature and Fruit Intertwined: What God Commands He Works in Us
When he's doing that, what does he do? He grants repentance, and he works in us repentance. God gives us what he commands. He commands us to repent, and then he works repentance in us.
Now the commands given here could be given both to unsaved and saved people alike. If you're here today, and you are as yet not a Christian, these words can stand to you. And they say, "Submit yourself to God, take Jesus's yoke upon you and learn from him. Submit to his kingly reign, stop fighting him. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands in the blood of Christ, trust in him and you'll be forgiven." This is the Gospel invitation to anybody to believe in Christ. And so if that's you here today, then God brought you here by his grace to hear, for this moment, that all your sins can be forgiven. All you have to do is trust in him, apart from works, just by trusting in Jesus, all your sins will be forgiven.
But these words are written to Christians and so we need to hear this too. And so, maybe you see worldliness creeping in. Maybe you've defiled yourself through some pattern of sin this week. Maybe you're locked in some addictive pattern. Perhaps you're a married couple constantly fighting and quarreling. Maybe you're a teenager, and you're rebelling or fighting against parental authority. Maybe you see an overall pattern of worldliness in your life where you're living for the things of this world and not for the things of God. And you say, "What do I do now, how do I get home?" James 4:7-10 tells you how, tells you what to do.
Submit Yourselves Then to God
First of all, submit to God. “Submit yourselves then to God.” Kneel before God as the king of your life. Kneel before him right now, in your hearts. Kneel before King Jesus. Take his yoke, his kingly yoke upon you, and stop fighting it. Maybe when you get home physically, literally kneel before him. Paul did. In Ephesians 3 he said, "For this reason I kneel before the Father." Sometimes we just, with our bodies, we want to say, "You are my King and I yield to you." So submit yourself to God. All salvation is of, in essence, bringing us into the kingdom of God and yielding to his kingly reign.
Resist the Devil and He Will Flee From You
Secondly, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Say no to what the devil is tempting you to do. Say no to the devil's schemes of temptation. Ephesians 6, "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand in the day of testing." In the day of temptation you've got your armor on, you're going to say no to sin. Resist the devil. And then amazingly, he will flee from you, as though he's afraid of you. Friend, he's not afraid of you. He's not afraid of you at all. He is so much more powerful and experienced than you are. Is he afraid of something? Yes, he's afraid of Jesus. He's afraid of Jesus.
We're going through men's Bible study on Thursdays. We just got to the account, you remember where Jesus drives out Legion, the legion of demons from the demoniac of the Gadarenes, remember that? And there's this demoniac breaking chains, literal chains that could not hold him. Naked, cutting himself with stones, howling at the moon, no one would go near him. He's terrifying, absolutely terrifying. And then he is terrified of Jesus. Begging Jesus, "Please don't torment us before the appointed time. If you drive us out, please send us into the herd of pigs." And Jesus just says, "Go," and they go. They are terrified of Jesus. So what ends up happening? You're resisting the devil, the devil's tempting you, the demons are assaulting you, you're being tempted and you say, "No. No, by God's grace, no." And then the Spirit of God gets around you and puts the devil to flight. I love the image and the promises in the Old Testament about Israel's armies. They will come at you in one direction and flee from you in seven. Isn’t that a great picture? And so putting the devil to flight, all you have to do is just put on the spiritual armor, and stay and stand firm in holiness, and say no, and he will put the devil to flight.
"Come Near to God and He Will Come Near to You"
And then, "Come near to God and he will come near to you." Our sins have made a separation. That's the distance. That's where the GPS comes in. We need to get back to God. We feel distant from him, and that distance is a spiritual reality. It says in Isaiah 59:1-2, "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear, but your iniquities have separated you from your God and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear." And so we feel distant from God. Well, then come near to him. Like one of the minor prophets said, "Take words with you." I love that. So what words? Psalms. "Well Pastor, do you have a Psalm in mind?" I actually do. Can I recommend Psalm 63:1-3? "O God, you are my God. Earnestly, I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory, because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." Say those things to God. "I feel so distant from you. Other things have crept in, and I've loved them. Now I want them out and I want the love of God in me. Your love is better than life, it's better than any created thing. I want to be close to you, oh Lord." Say that to him. Draw near to God. As it says beautifully in Jeremiah 29:13. "You will seek me and you will find me if you seek for me with all your heart." So I just commend Psalm 63:1-3 or some other passage like it, and just say that to God. And let your heart be heated up and you will find that he will draw near to you.
"Wash Your Hands, You Sinners"
And then he says, "Wash your hands, you sinners." We come to Christ's cleansing blood. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So we get spiritually cleaned. But the hands are practical, they do things. The hands are attached to the heart and so we need clean hands and a pure heart, and so we purify our heart by the Word of God. But then, what about your habits? What about your behaviors? What about what you're doing? Wash. And you do that by holy resolutions and by living up to those holy resolutions. "Lord, I've been doing this, I'm not going to do this anymore. I'm going to fight that sin pattern. I'm going to wash my hands. I'm going to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. I'm going to put this sin out of my life. If my right hand is causing me to sin, I'm going to cut it off and throw it away. If my right eyes is causing me to sin I'm going to gouge it out and throw it away. Jesus told me to deal seriously with sin. I am going to wash my hands by the grace of God. I'm going to change the way I'm living."
"Purify Your Hearts, You Double-Minded"
And he says, "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." It ultimately comes to that. As I've already mentioned, the bottom line is, what are you doing? Double-mindedness is like, "I'm going after the world, I don't want to do that." So, what are you feeding in your mind? So feed on God's Word, meditate on scripture. Stop thinking those worldly thoughts. "Purify your hearts," he said, "you double-minded". And then, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Long ago I stopped asking for a show of hands and sermons. I don't do that anymore, but if I were to ask for a show of hands, how many of you would say this is your favorite verse in the Bible? How many hands do you think? Well, this is my favorite: “Grieve, mourn and wail, change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom." It's nobody's favorite. Let me tell you something, it's part of the journey back.
Grieve, Mourn, Wail
We American evangelicals, we like a kind of Christianity lite. With chipper sermons designed to make you laugh and feel good about yourselves. John Piper is speaking of churches that try to create an atmosphere of bouncy Chipper, frisky, lighthearted playful worship. Well, that's not what James is talking about here. Not at all. Now, obviously we don't want a Christianity that would be characterized by these words. Morose, gloomy, sullen, dark, heavy, solemn. Jesus did come to bring us joy unspeakable and full of glory. And we're going to a place where there will be for all eternity no death, mourning, crying or pain. We will not spend a moment in Heaven grieving, mourning and wailing over sin. None. But we're not there yet, dear friends. We're not in Heaven yet. And sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is to join the Holy Spirit in grieving over your sin. Join the Holy Spirit in grieving over your sin.
Do you realize the third person of the Trinity grieves over sin? It says in Ephesians "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God with whom you're sealed for the day of redemption." It says in Isaiah 63:10, concerning Israel, "They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit." And so what happens is, we're going along, we get tempted and we have the temporary pleasure and joy of sin, but the Holy Spirit is immediately, instantaneously grieved. So we're up here in terms of the happiness thing, and he's down here and grieving over us. Then by the power, the sovereign power he exerts over the redeemed, he pulls you down to his level of happiness, which is grief, and then together, you go back up to the joy of the Lord. "Restore to me the joy of my salvation," David said. And so he does that. But there's a process. “Grieve, mourn, wail. Change your laughter to mourning and joy to gloom.” Don't go too quickly to feeling good again after you've sinned. Take the time to go and think and pray, and say, "God, would you please show me what you felt about my sins? Show it to me. And I will join you and grieving over it."
Do you remember when the Lord was working with Peter that very night? Do you remember? And after he had disowned him for the third time, the rooster crowed and the light went on, remember? And at that exact moment, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus was being moved from one place to another on his night of trials, and he had the opportunity, sovereignly ordained by God, to look right at Peter, right as a rooster was crowing. What do you think that did to Peter? It must have been like a javelin thrown through his heart. And you know what he did, we know what he did. He went outside and wept bitterly. And after the resurrection of Jesus, he pulled Peter aside and asked him, "Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me?" And it says in the text, Peter was hurt because he asked him a third time. "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you." he said, "Then, feed my sheep." Was he intending to hurt him? In one sense, yes, but not as an ultimate end. But to cause him to repent and to turn away, because someday he would be martyred for Jesus and he had to lose that fear of death and fear of man and preach boldly and he had to be healed from his sin. And so, humble yourself before the Lord. Humble yourself, like the tax collector. Stand off at a distance, beat your breast and say, "Be merciful to me, oh God, a sinner." And you will go home justified. You'll be forgiven, you'll be restored. And then it says plainly, "He will lift you up." Humble yourself before the Lord and he'll lift you up, he'll fill you with joy, he'll give you the peace of justification, he'll give you the joy of your salvation again.
Close with me in prayer. Father, you have taught us here in these verses, you've taught us the way back. And there are some of us here today that know immediately, they know directly what you're talking about. They feel it in their hearts, they know that they're sinning. They know that there's a pattern of sin that's corrupting them. And you are working by grace that the fire of grace would not go out in their hearts, that Satan's pouring water on it, but you will not let it go out. Father, I pray that if there's a brother or sister here that needs to just take these verses and go quietly into a room somewhere and kneel down and pray, step-by-step, until they have been restored to you, Oh God, give them strength to do it. Thank you for the Word. Thank you for its truth. In Jesus's name, Amen.