17th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 20) LSB #731
Text – James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.
RESISTING THE DEVIL
Fred was asked by a friend, “What happened to you? You’ve changed & seem like you no longer have a care in the world.” “I don’t,” Fred replied. “That’s great, but how did you get rid of all your worries?” “I hired a man to worry for me.” “You did what?” “I hired a man to worry for me.” “Well, that’s different. I’ve never heard of it before. What does he charge?”
Fred answered, “This guy charges $500 a day.” “Whoa! Where are you going to get that kind of money?” “That is his worry.”
If you are serious about resisting the devil, & withstanding his temptations, first you need to understand how Lucifer gains his foothold in your heart. What does he grab on to? What is it that allows him to latch his claws into you?
If you worry about things you are opening the door of your heart & welcoming Satan in. It doesn’t take long for him to latch his claws into you after that. Many of you probably know about the verse which describes the devil as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. How many of you are familiar with the verses immediately before it?
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV) The opening phrase, “Humble yourselves” is very similar to the sermon text opening of, “Submit yourselves.”
Where Peter wrote, “…casting all your anxieties on Him,” we could also translate, “…casting all your worries on Him.” So if you are anxious & worried, our heavenly Father asks you to humble yourselves, or submit yourselves, to God – because He cares for you. And if you resist the devil’s temptations, among which is worrying, then because God cares for you Satan will flee from you. If you’re anxious or worried cast you cares on to your Savior. He handles them for a lot less than $500 a day. Jesus does it for free.
Submit yourselves to God & not to the devil. Resist Lucifer & God’s Holy Spirit will deliver you from evil. The Bible reinforces that point with another verse you may recall: “God is faithful, & He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13b ESV)
Now, that verse isn’t about some kind of force field God creates around you to ward off temptation. You still have to resist the devil by submitting yourself to God. That’s where we often fail so that temptation succeeds. Let’s face it, we’re proud people, & we’re too often proud of it. The 1st & simplest commandment is still the most difficult to obey:
“You shall have no other gods.” Resisting the devil, however, is not hopeless. He is already defeated, whether we resist him or not. Nevertheless, all human lives do matter, & when Satan deceives us into following his temptations, human beings always end up getting hurt. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. Satan’s lies always steal & kill & destroy.
Ancient cultures, thousands of years ago, understood that, in any given circumstance, there is only one truth, but an unlimited number of lies. There are a thousand ways of missing the bull’s eye, but only one way of hitting it. Error can take a thousand forms while the truth has only one. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, concerning the devil:
“…He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar & the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NLT) One way in which Satan gains his foothold in your heart is by addressing your worries. If we’re going to properly resist the devil, we need to let go of our worries & submit them to the Lord. Prayer is a good way to go about doing that. Our Father in heaven invites us to cast our worries on Him. This service is free of charge, as God’s own Son has already paid the price for each of us.
As we work at humbling ourselves & casting our worries upon Christ, another thing that gets in our way is pride. It’s the opposite of submitting to God or humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. However, the key issue with pride, is not that I put myself above you. You’re sinners just like me. The core sin with pride is that it puts me above God.
Yes, my pride will hurt other human beings, as I put myself above them. That’s wrong. It’s sinful, & it’s not acceptable to our heavenly Father, that one human being should ever harm another. And yet, it’s an even greater offense than that, because pride, at its root, is always a direct affront to our Creator. It reflects poorly on the Lord who made us & died for our sin.
When people say they love Jesus, but don’t love His Church, at the heart of that, they are putting themselves above Christ. That’s the reality because Jesus tells us to love our enemies, so if we don’t even love Jesus’ church, we really are not loving Him. We are allowing pride to dictate our thoughts, words & deeds. How does that square with, “Submit yourselves to God?”
Not real well, does it? The last thing on earth Satan wants you to do is submit to Yahweh. Instead, he encourages us to strive at putting ourselves first. One way to resist the devil is to put ourselves last as the Gospel of Mark encourages: “… [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all & servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35b ESV)
A Christian’s constant effort then will be to conquer & vanquish the natural pride of his heart. We do that through the power of the Holy Spirit living within. It means always offering to the Lord a heart that is willing to hear & to keep His will: “Submit yourselves therefore to
God.” (James 4:7 ESV) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at
the proper time He may exalt you…” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV) With absolute certainty that exaltation will occur on Judgment Day when Satan has to watch as each of God’s children is granted the crown of everlasting life. The book of James gives us that promise in chapter one:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12 ESV) Standing the test is resisting the devil by constantly submitting your whole self to God. If that sounds like a tall order, you’re right. It is, & God knows it.
That’s why the focal point of a Christian’s life is always Jesus Christ. It’s only in our Savior that we receive the perfection needed for eternal life. It’s only in our Savior that we receive daily healing from the damage, the corrosive effects, of sin. It’s only in our Savior that we overcome this broken world & receive peace for our heart & mind & soul.
We then put that peace to work in our daily interactions with other people. When we encounter words or actions we do not understand, our saintly nature does not jump to conclusions. It does not strike out rashly or make accusations. Instead, it engages the person in conversation & asks what their meaning is. It does so with patience & compassion.
Too often we hurt other people simply because we do not understand where they’re coming from, & we do not bother to ask. Our sinful nature kicks into high gear & off we go. The devil is completely aware of that tendency & puts it to evil use as he lays out his temptations before us. He targets the things we worry about. He uses our pride against us, & against others.
If we’re going to resist the devil, we need to give more thought to the manner in which he attacks. We should put more effort into understanding our own particular weaknesses & where we are uniquely vulnerable. Then, we submit ourselves to God & humble ourselves under His hand. We allow Jesus to defend us instead of being so quick to defend ourselves. We follow the advice of St. Paul in Ephesians 6: “Finally, be strong in the Lord & in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh & blood… but against the spiritual forces of evil…”
Do you know the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? Lucifer comes to Him three times with lies & deception, all of which revolve around the 1st commandment. In each case, how did Jesus resist the devil? He quoted the Word of God. One of them in particular is very instructive for all temptations. We read it in Deuteronomy 8:
“And [God] humbled you & let you hunger & fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Lutherans talk a lot about the saintly & the sinful natures. We do so in order to help us understand the dynamics of our sinful & yet holy lives. However, nowhere does James suggest that our saintly nature should do battle against our sinful nature. He says simply, take your eyes off of you & submit to God. Focus on what Jesus has done & on the peace that He gives you.
Doubts, lust, fears, pride & worry tempt God’s children each day. These come from within our own heart & vex us all on their own. Then Satan comes along & uses them to draw us further away from our true life – in Christ. Yet all those temptations only serve as gateway sins, so to speak, to his greatest temptation – that of unbelief.
And it isn’t just not believing in Jesus, that Satan is driving for. It is not believing the fact that all sins have already been paid for. The greatest sticking point for many people, when it comes to Christianity, is their inability to accept that Jesus has literally done it all. Only God is capable of that, but we like to reserve at least a little corner of godhood for ourselves. Lucifer knows that & has destroyed millions of lives with that insight. The book of James lets us know that submitting to God, & humbling ourselves under His hand, is the way to counterpunch the devil’s attack. It’s the way to counteract our natural desire to put ourselves in God’s place, even if we think we’re only reserving an insignificant portion of our Lord’s rightful authority.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you. Draw near to God, & He will draw near to you.” That last sentence, verse 8, is where James brings the good news to bear. If we trust in Jesus to be our Savior, no matter how bad things look, it is because the Holy Spirit has given us the grace to do so.
In that grace, God’s Spirit turns us back to our heavenly Father. God’s Spirit turns us away from ourselves. As that turn is accomplished Yahweh Himself then draws near to us, like the father running out to greet the prodigal son to welcome him home. Yahweh draws near to lift us up, to restore us, to heal us – to give us true life once again.
It’s then, in that life drawn from Jesus, that we truly live in the peace that surpasses all human understanding. That is what submission to God is about. It’s why the devil fights against it with such determination. It’s why Jesus sacrificed His life in your place – so you could experience it.
Heaven will be the ultimate fulfillment of our Savior’s sacrifice, for Jesus has already perfectly accomplished submitting to God, & resisting the devil. The victory is won, & Jesus has made His victory our own. Amen.
O God, forsake me not! Lord, hear my supplication! In every evil hour help me resist temptation; & when the prince of hell my conscience seeks to blot, be then not far from me – O God, forsake me not! O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me; do not permit the might of sin to overcome me. Increase my feeble faith, which You alone have wrought. O be my strength & power – O God, forsake me not! Amen.
 Adapted from Truth Applied, by Jay E. Adams (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) p. 101.
 Ephesians 6:10-12
 Verse 3
Pastor Dean R. Poellet