Photo taken by Blake Wisz
I remember scribbling on my Bible as a kid. I would highlight verses and commandments that I liked, those that I thought were softer on the ears and easier to obey. My Bible ended up pretty clean, since there were many hard truths that I struggled to accept and live out and hence, chose to ignore.
After all, why should I love my neighbour like how I love myself (Mark 12:31) when I could just focus on loving myself? Why should I be the first to keep showing forgiveness (Matthew 18:22) to those around me when they were the ones who were mean to me? Why should I live peaceably (Romans 12:18) when I could stand up for myself and pick a fight with whomever got in my way?
It was a tough struggle.
Let’s face it, submission to God—be it to His Word or His Person—is easier said than done. It takes a great deal out of us to put aside our pride and the rights we think we deserve, and to humble ourselves in obedience before God. Recognizing His sovereignty and trusting in the never-failing character of God can be scary, especially when it dawns on you that doing so means giving up control over the situation you’re in. The world and our flesh constantly tempt us with lies, telling us that there is more joy and pleasure when we retain control and make decisions that pander to our own selfish desires and pride.
However, James exhorts us to submit to God in humility (v. 7). I’m thankful that James doesn’t just leave us with a command without much explanation on how to obey it. Instead, he provides us with a step-by-step process, and sums it up with the same theme of humble submission in verse 10.
Earlier on, James highlighted the consequences of our friendship with the world (4:4) Now, he reminds us that submission, which is shown through obedience to God, is intentional. It requires a complete change in heart—a resolution to love God instead of the world. It challenges us to put aside what we want, and to consider and act on what God wants instead.
We are told to take a two-pronged approach in submission—to “resist the devil” (v. 7b), and to “come near to God” (v. 8a). Resisting suggests a deliberate, persistent and active rejection. It’s almost like engaging in military combat against the devil, enduring his taunts and lies, and ultimately rising above the temptation.
Turning away from the devil, we run in the opposite direction towards God. This could be done through prayer and reading His word. Coming close to God requires us to wash our hands and purify our hearts (v. 8b). And we are to do so with a clear focus and a firm resolve—that we are no longer allowing our hearts to waver and return to our prior state of sinfulness.
These actions symbolize both an inward and outward effort we make to be right with God. It is an instruction to clean up our inner being (thoughts) as well as our external being (deeds). In fact, our sinful selves are so dirty and detestable before God that we are told to “grieve, mourn and wail” (v. 9). Hence, choosing to turn to God in confession and repentance is precious, because that’s when sanctification occurs.
Doing all the above might sound difficult and tiring, but James goes on to assure us of the reward we will receive. When we approach God with clean hands and a cleansed heart, we don’t just receive praises or compliments. Instead, we receive the greatest gift of all—God Himself—when He draws near to us (v. 8).
Personally, keeping my eyes on this magnificent reward motivates me to come to God daily in obedience and repentance as I make the choice to submit to Him in my life.
May it do the same for you as well.
—Constance Goh, Singapore
Questions for reflection
1. Is there a particular sin/habit that you struggle to abandon in submission to God?
2. What practical steps can you take to draw near to God?
Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu
Constance is an avid reader and a Milo addict. If she is not found with a book, she is probably watching Korean dramas or jamming on her guitar to some Coldplay tunes. She enjoys the company of children and hopes to work among them in the future. As someone who believes that hardship on this earth is nothing compared to the future glory in heaven, she takes pride in being able to work hard for God.