How does a backslidden believer come back into fellowship with God? James 4 gives sound instruction.
In vv 1-5, James shines the light on some areas of sin in the lives of these believers. They were engaged in:
- Quarrels and conflicts (vv 1, 2)
- Fleshly pleasures (v 1)
- Lust (v 2)
- Murder (v 2)
- Envy (v 2)
- Selfish, fleshly prayers (v 3)
- Adultery (v 4)
- Enemies of God (v 4)
- Pride (v 6)
These are clearly not spiritually mature people! They broke just about every one of the Ten Commandments in their thoughts and actions. Does that sound like you? Does it sound like your church?
How do you recover from that spiritual state? That’s where James gives some pastoral counseling in vv 6-10. He begins with a cardinal point of doctrine: God’s grace towards the humble (v 6). Actually, it is His greater grace. That’s a crucial starting point. Sometimes, after going on a sin bender, people think God won’t take them back. That shows a deficient understanding of God’s loving character, and of His grace. He is willing to show you greater grace if you humble yourself.
Then you must submit to God:
“Submit therefore to God” (v 7a).
What does it mean to submit to God? Putting the Word into practice (cf. 1:21-23; 2:17). God has revealed His will through His Word. Submitting to God, means submitting to His revelation, and applying His Word to all areas of your life. Instead of living by your own wisdom, plans, and fleshly desires (cf. 3:15), you live by His wisdom. You become a doer of the Word, and walk according to God’s truth.
Second, you must resist the devil:
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (v 7b).
How do you resist the devil? When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), He resisted the devil by quoting God’s Word and applying it to those specific temptations. That’s how you can resist the devil, too. If the thought occurs to you to disobey, quote Scripture against that thought and act on the Scripture, not on the temptation.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (v 8a).
When you have persisted in carnality, gone out of fellowship with God, and departed for the spiritual far country, it is your responsibility to turn back and draw near to God. When the prodigal son left his father’s house, he had to decide to make the journey home. Once he headed back, he found his father running towards him. Likewise, when you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners” (v 8b).
Your “hands” refers to your overt behavior, all the sins that you commit in deed. To cleanse your hands, means to cleanse your behavior. You must stop what you are doing. If you are in an adulterous relationship, then stop. If you are working to destroy someone’s career out of revenge, then stop. If you have been lying to your co-workers, then stop. Whatever the overt sin is, stop it.
“and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v 8c).
It’s relatively easy to stop committing overt sins. It’s much harder to stop sinning in your mind and purify your heart. Paul called us to continual mind renewal (Rom 12:1-2). How can you do that? By replacing sinful thought processes with godly ones. The carnal Christian is double-minded, because he knows the Word, yet does not apply the Word to His life, choosing instead to live according to his fleshly lusts and desires. The believer should be single-minded, both knowing and living according to the Word of God.
“Be miserable and mourn and weep…” (v 9).
This takes a change of mental attitude about your sins. We generally don’t understand how horrible sin is. We take them far too lightly. When you sin, you lose out on living a life pleasing to God. You lose out on present and future opportunities for service. You bring shame to the name of God. You harm your neighbor and yourself. The proper attitude towards your carnality is to be miserable about it: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:17).
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (v 10).
You can go from a state of carnality to exaltation (at the Bema), if you humble yourself, and return to God, submitting your thoughts, speech, and behavior to Him.
So long as you are drawing breath, there is still a chance. No believer has gone so far from God that he cannot come back. God’s grace goes farther than your sins, if you’re humble enough to receive it.