“Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This morning we started looking at James’ thoughts on spiritual warfare. We talked about the fact that we often turn to the occult to give ourselves what feels like an edge against the spiritual forces in the world we are aware of but don’t understand. We settled on the fact that the occult won’t actually help us in this quest at all, and on the question of what we can do instead. James tells us right here. I’ve been meditating on this verse for a few days recently. I’ve read it many times before. I’ve preached it at least once. I have it memorized. But for whatever reason, this time really caught my mind and hasn’t let go. I knew I had to write something on it this time and I think this was it.
What James says here is absolutely stunning. Too often in life we feel powerless before some temptation or evil design of the enemy. That’s a scary place to be. As followers of Jesus, it’s a silly place to be, but one that can rattle our faith to its foundations if we’re not careful. Whenever we face such times as those, we need only lean into what James says here and take it to heart, and we will have all we need to stand against the darkness. What’s more, I’ve looked at this verse in numerous different translations. They all put it the same way. There is zero lack of clarity as to what James means here.
It starts with this: submit to God. Actually, he says, “Therefore, submit to God.” Whenever we see a “therefore” in the Scriptures, we need to look back to see what it’s there for (get it?). In this case, James is referring to what he just said in the previous sentence. There he quotes the proverb that says God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. If we want access to the particular grace that is this power we’re about to unveil, we’re going to have to humble ourselves before God. We’re going to have to be ready to acknowledge who He is and who we are in light of that. We can’t force Him to give it to us.
So, we submit to God. We submit our lives, our plans, our hopes, our ego, our strengths, our failures, our fears, our confidences, our everything to Him. We put ourselves fully and firmly in His hands. Then comes the power.
Are you ready for this?
Here it is. The power is this: We resist the devil. Wait, what? That’s it? Yep. We resist the devil. What’s that do? Well, James says he’ll flee from us. That is, he’ll run away with his proverbial tail between his legs.
So let me get this straight. This great spiritual power that’s hands down better than anything the occult can do for us, that will protect us in the face of the encroaching darkness of evil, is to resist the devil? After we’ve submitted ourselves fully to God, yes. Yes, it is.
How is that supposed to help? Well, it’s like going to stand up to a bully, but instead of doing it on your own, you go do it with an angry giant, armed to the teeth, and ready to destroy utterly anyone who messes with you standing right behind you, creating a shadow over both you and the bully. When you say, “No,” the bully runs away not because he’s scared of you, but because of the power you’ve now got in your corner. He’s scared of the power behind you.
When we submit ourselves to God, we have His unstoppable, unconquerable, unbeatable power behind us. It’s in us. It’s around us. It’s running all through us. We don’t control it. We’re just a conduit for it. But when Satan comes up against it, just like the demons Jesus cast out in the Gospels who were consistently terrified of Him, Satan will flee because he knows the nature of his leash.
Now, he’ll still find other ways to go after us, namely people who he can convince to do his bidding, and those efforts can be rough, but he won’t come after us himself. He poses us no threat. And people can’t ultimately do anything to hurt us, so we need have no fear of them. Jesus said that.
This, friends, is spiritual warfare 101. Submit to God and resist the devil. Refuse to go along with what he wants. Stand firm in whose you are (this is why first submitting to God is absolutely necessary; the seven sons of Sceva found out painfully why trying to resist the devil without first submitting to God is a bad idea in Acts 19), and he will flee from you. No occult practice has anything on godly submission and demonic resistance. So trust God, submit to God, and stand firm. Nothing else will come close.