December 5, 2018 — Breaking the Grip of Culture, Part 2
In his letter to the church in Jerusalem, James observes that they are in danger of looking less and less like the people whom God intended to carry forward the love and life of Jesus and more and more like the godless, loveless culture around them. At the heart of the fourth chapter of his letter, and right at the heart of this battle, James reassures them that the Lord has not departed as they might have feared — but that He is present and active and fighting for them. In every sense, this is equally true for us in an age when the prevailing culture appears to be swallowing us whole. So, if Jesus is present and fighting for us, how might we recognize Him? How do we know His presence?
James begins by alerting us to our own unique contribution to the loveless nature of the prevailing culture. He does so by pointing us to something that we might call the conviction of God. Referring to Jesus, he writes, “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us.” (James 4:5). This is not a “green-eyed monster” form of jealousy, but the fierce and pursuing love of God that searches for us in the trenches. In response to just this kind of love, James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (James 4:7a). In other words, we are being encouraged to allow the conviction of God to take root in us. In the heat of the battle, I might not like the truth about myself, but it is the conviction of God’s truth about the state of my life, the corners I cut, my lack of love, my impatience, etc., that will always open my heart to the possibility of real and lasting transformation. Which brings us to the grace of God.
Whatever we have done or not done, said or not said, wherever we are failing on the battlefield, the grace of God is always more; “He gives more grace.” (James 4:6). James is telling us that, right on the battlefield, by His gracious intervention, we can be forgiven and restored. Our part is simply to acknowledge before God our brokenness and allow His grace to wash through us; to “…humble [ourselves] before the Lord and He will exalt [us].” (James 4:10). Let’s be clear, it is not that our humility earns us the grace of God. Humility merely puts us in a position to receive the gift God desires to freely gives us. So we stop making excuses, we stop condemning ourselves, and we simply accept His forgiveness. And, remarkably, in all our weakness, we suddenly find it so much easier to stop condemning others!
Paul assures us, God’s “…grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul continues, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And here, then, is the third manifestation of God’s presence on the battlefield — His power within us. James tells us that, in the heat of battle, we really can “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7b). “Resist” comes from the Greek and means “to stand” or “stand against.” We can break culture’s grip on our hearts because we are actually empowered by God to do so. To take God at His word and stand firm, to resist evil and watch the power of God manifest in our lives and in the lives of those around us. James tell us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8), and by virtue of who God is that will always mean for God to draw near to us in power.
The Lord’s desire was never to take us off the cultural battlefield, but to meet us there and make us soldiers in the advance of His love. So, what will be our war-time story? In today’s culture, so many people have given up on God and the chance of mercy, believing there is no possibility of redemption, no hand to raise them up, no embrace to save them, no God to forgive them or pick them up. So many people need their wounds healed.
It’s in our weakness that we are driven to rely on Him and not ourselves. It’s our weakness that gives others a foothold on God’s mercy for them. Paul never waited to be completely healed before he allowed God to use him. When God wants anything done, He takes up men and women who have come to the end of themselves, whose confidence is not in themselves but who have placed their trust in the presence, mercy, and power of God and have become carriers of His transforming love on the battlefield of life.
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