The Gospel for the Rest of Us: Amazing Grace

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on February 4, 2017

James 4:6-10

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As you’re sitting down if you would take a copy of God’s Word and turn to the New Testament book of James. You’ll find it on page 1013 if you’re using a pew Bible. We’ll be looking at James chapter 4, verses 6 through 10 this evening. James 4:6-10. And before we read God’s Word together, let’s pray and ask His blessing on it.


Father, what we just sang is what all of us need in our hearts this evening – to know once again that grace is greater than all our sin. So would You hold up Jesus before our eyes from this text that He might get all the glory that He so richly deserves? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, You who are our Rock and our Redeemer. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


James 4, beginning at verse 6. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:


“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”


The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever. Amen.


One author tells the story of Sam. It’s right after the Civil War and he was freed, but unlike so many at that time, he loved his master and his master loved him. His master was old when he was set free and so Sam cared for him until his master, Tom, died. And after his master died, Sam lived in a ramshackle little hut. He had really no good clothes to speak of and eventually even what he had devolved into rags. Well, one of his master’s friends came to him and said, “Sam, don’t you realize Tom left you some money? Come with me to the bank.” And Sam didn’t understand what was going on, so the guy took him down to the bank and it turns out Tom had left Sam in excess of $5,000, which was an incredible sum of money back then; well enough to care for him for the rest of his days. Still, Sam didn’t quite grasp it. All he knew is that he was hungry, so as they tried to explain it to him at the bank he said, “Look, all I need is enough money to buy a sack of meal to eat tonight!” It was fifty-cents. So the teller, that she was good to explain it to him, made out a check for fifty cents and gave it to him and he never came back to the bank again – $4,999.50 sat there while he starved.


Now, aren’t we so often like Sam? We have the inexhaustible riches of God’s grace at our disposal and we live hungrily. We don’t understand what is ours. The grace that is inexhaustible, we don’t take advantage of. James wants to help us tonight. Let me remind you of the context of where we are here in this wonderful New Testament book. James has been dealing in the past couple of chapters on what genuine faith looks like. Remember, the centerpiece of this epistle is chapter 2 verses 14 to 26. What does genuine, real faith in Jesus look like? And he’s been working that out for us. And tonight, he wants to continue teaching us what genuine faith does. How does it live itself out? But he focuses us on where he started way back in chapter 1. Remember he’s told us that we are slaves of God’s grace and tonight he wants to explain to us what it looks like to live in light of the marvelous grace of God. And so our point here this evening is that genuine faith is a gift of God’s grace alone, which is demonstrated in a life of humble repentance. Genuine faith is a gift of God’s grace alone, which is demonstrated in a life of humble repentance. And we’ll look at this text under two headings. In the first place in verse 6, the declaration of grace. And then in verses 7 through 10, the results of grace. The declaration of grace and the results of grace.


The Declaration of Grace


Look there at verse 6. “But he,” that is, God, “gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Now, remember where we left off last time in verse 5, that tricky verse to translate, where James has told us that our main problem is our disordered desires. And that spirit that God has put within us, summing up the Scripture’s teaching, is a spirit that is always yearning after the wrong things. And if you put a period after verse 5 and that was it and James left us there, that would be the most hopeless ending that you could think of because he leaves us saying, “All that’s wrong with us is inside of us. We can’t fix it simply by behavior modification.” And then out of the blue comes verse 6. One of those great, “Buts” in Scripture. I love it when God says, “But God,” or “But this,” or “But that.” Here’s the contrast. “But God gives more grace.” That is the most hopeful news that we could receive after verse 5. James’ answer is simply our disordered desires never exhaust God’s grace.


God’s Inexhaustible Grace

And here’s the question. Why? Why do our disordered desires never exhaust God’s grace? Why does He give more grace? And the answer that was so beautifully recovered during the time of the Reformation is that grace is not a substance which you and I can store up and that can be dispensed as a church or a group of people sees fit. One of the great theological recoveries of the Reformation is that grace is a person. Grace is the Lord Jesus Christ. And so as well as we could bring Him down from heaven and crucify Him again, could we then exhaust God’s grace for us? It’s impossible! That’s what James is after here. God keeps giving us more grace and He can do that because Jesus said, “It is finished!” And because Jesus said, “It is finished!” God will never say to us of His grace, “It is finished!” He’ll always have more. He’ll always have more to meet your needs.


What does that mean? It means that no matter where you find yourself tonight, whatever you brought into this place, wherever you’ve fallen short of the glory of God, your sin will never exhaust His grace. Whatever you need pardon of, whatever you’ve done, your sin will never exhaust His grace. God gives more grace, James says.

The War Between Grace and Pride

But then he tells us that it’s possible to avoid grace. And that’s kind of counterintuitive, isn’t it? Why would we want to avoid this grace of God? Because James is a good pastor and he knows our hearts are very disordered, he’s already told us. He says this. He said, quoting Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And that’s something that really needs to land with us. Grace and pride are always at war. You cannot be gracious and proud and full of God’s grace and full of pride. One or the other is starting to win out in your life. James is doing that for us, isn’t he? He’s laying out two and only two options for us. It’s either keep receiving the grace of God or keep being proud. And what he wants us to realize is that pride thrives on feeling superior. Grace thrives when we realize that we have nothing, nothing, nothing to commend ourselves to God. As one old 18th-century pastor put it, “The only thing, the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin we bring that needs to be forgiven.” And if that’s our position before God, if that’s how we are by nature, if that’s the way we meet God, then what place has pride in our lives?


God Opposes the Proud

And the warning could not be more terrifying. Have you ever been opposed in a steadfast way? Maybe at work? Maybe steady opposition at school? Maybe in your neighborhood? When that active opposition is against you from another person, it can tear your life apart, can’t it? Heartburn. Stomach acid. That’s all you’re thinking about is this adversary. James says here if you want God as your adversary, be proud. And nowhere is our pride more evident, friends, than in our resistance to God’s grace. Isn’t it so easy to miss the Gospel because you think you don’t need it? One of the most amazing things God does is to take people like you and people like me, people who are proud by nature and think everything is okay, and convince us that we’re a whole lot worse off than we ever imagined. That’s the end of pride. And if we desire to remain that way and we say, “I’m fine, I don’t need Jesus! I don’t need His blood! I don’t have time for that superstitious, outmoded way of thinking,” that’s simply pride. And James says when we take that step, when that’s our attitude, when that’s our disposition against God, He opposes us. He becomes our adversary. I don’t want anybody to walk out of here tonight with God as your adversary.


The Results of Grace


And that’s why he says, as we move to the second place here, the results of grace, James structures the next few verses, bookends them this way – with promises to the humble. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Then in verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” And then in between He instructs us and tells us what happens when we’ve experienced the grace of God. God gives more grace and therefore these things begin to happen, he says. And the first thing he says is that God gives grace to the humble. And when that happens, when we begin to receive God’s grace, it absolutely lays us low. Have you been laid low? Have you come to realize tonight that your greatest need is not more money; it’s not more time. Those are helpful and we could all use more of them. Our greatest need tonight is to see our need – our need of more of Him, more of Jesus, more humility to lay ourselves low before Him and say, “Lord Jesus, fill me up. Replace arrogant pride with humble submission to You.”


And that’s the next thing that James says. “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God.” On the basis of having been humbled by God’s grace and experiencing that grace, “submit yourselves to God.” And that word for submission here means, “an eagerness to bring yourself under the direction God gives.” An eagerness to bring yourself under God’s direction. Here’s how we could put it simply. Grace always, always produces an eagerness to obey God’s commands. And that’s because when we become Christians, when we experience the grace of God, we see God in a totally different light. We don’t see Him anymore as an angry judge. That’s what the law will show us before we’re Christians. The law will show us the impossibility of relating to God and keeping His law through law. We’ll never earn His favor that way! But once we are saved, once Jesus becomes ours – and as we heard so beautifully this morning, once we’re united to Christ – we see God differently. No longer is His authority to be something to be feared but something to be rejoiced in. He’s not a harsh, distant judge, but a Father who smiles upon us. And therefore, we have an eagerness to bring our lives under His direction when we experience His grace. We want to please our heavenly Father. We want to make His name famous in this world.


Resist the Devil

And the next thing James promises and commands, he says, “Resist the devil” – command – “and he will flee from you.” And that gets right to the heart of our struggles, doesn’t it? Isn’t it so much easier, and isn’t the way we reason along these lines – “I’m so tired of resisting that sin. If I just go ahead and get it over with, then the temptation will be gone and I’ll stop twisting myself in knots and I’ll confess it and all will be well.” And that never works, does it? Because then we have the great accuser of our souls right next to us saying, “Look at you! You’ve failed yet again! You fell yet again. And you’re going to call yourself a Christian? Are you going to take that label upon yourself before a watching world? You hypocrite.” He’s going to keep saying that to us. And what James says is, “Stay in the fight against temptation. Resist the devil.”


And friends, we live in an anti-supernatural age and one of the ways that that shows up in the church, even among God’s people, is an ingrained, almost default resistance to talking about things like the devil and his warfare against us. But it’s on almost every page of the New Testament. Satan is seen as a hostile, supernatural force with mighty minions, demons, who do his bidding. And that’s not science fiction; that’s fact. That’s who’s against us every day. That’s who’s warring against your heart right now and will continue the fight tomorrow. And Jesus loves us enough to speak through the apostle here and say, “Stay in the fight!” And here’s the promise – he’ll flee; he’ll run away. That temptation that keeps coming at you every time you resist, it’s like building muscle – the more you do it, the more resistance will begin to come naturally. And that’s why James gives us this command. If we cling to this promise, every time we choose to say “No” to temptation, Satan will flee and we will grow in grace. What an amazing promise for us! Where you face temptation, God’s grace is greater; His power is greater. He freely gives it. Stay in the fight, friends. Keep resisting the devil. That’s what James says to us.


Draw Near to God

And then he tells us in verse 8, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Here’s how communion with God works. I’m not going to rehearse what Ed laid out for us this morning as he talked to us about drawing near, but it’s a continual drawing near. That reference, that sermon he preached this morning, I won’t belabor that point. Draw near to God. The problem is not that God is distant from us; it’s that we don’t draw near. Whatever keeps you from drawing near to Him tonight – whether it’s your sin or your guilt or your shame – James reinvigorates you. He invites you once again, “Draw near! Come to Him. He will give you grace.” And again, it’s this relationship where it’s in tandem. The more we draw near, the more we experience His grace; the more we stay away, the less of that grace He gives to us. Do we want more grace? Draw near! That’s James’ urgent message for us. And from there he says when you draw near, when we are brought low in humility, our lives will be characterized by repentance.


Genuine Repentance

That’s what he means by this laughter, by this language of turning our laughter to gloom and our joy to mourning; what he means by cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts. It’s all about the true repentance. And our catechism puts it so beautifully. It’s a “grief for sin that we sense and a sorrow for it” – that’s what James is talking about here – that leads us to turn to God. And repentance is not just, again, behavior modification. We can think of it that way, can’t we? Repentance means “stop doing bad things.” And that never works, does it, if we just try to stop doing bad things. Instead, James has in mind here our hearts. Our hearts need to be purified. We’re double-minded. We have divided loyalties and once again James brings it right back to our hearts and says when they’re cleansed by grace, when we’re drawing near, that will show itself in this full-orbed repentance that turns from the world to God, to God, in union with the resurrected Savior.


Humble Yourselves Before the Lord

And then James closes with one more promise for the humble. Verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” Notice, notice, it’s a future exaltation not a present exaltation. And that brings us back to union with Christ. At the very core of union with the resurrected Son of God is this great truth. The life pattern of your Savior and my Savior will be our life pattern. In other words, the life pattern of Jesus was one of suffering unto exaltation. He was a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; suffering leading to exaltation. That it will be our life pattern, our life experience, and that’s why the exaltation James speaks of is totally future, totally future. All the great benefits were promised in Jesus. The realization of them, my friends, is totally future. In this life we will walk the road of humility and humiliation with the Savior. Despised, downcast, downtrodden, living in a fallen world, being acquainted with grief and sorrow. Yes, in God’s grace our lives are sometimes marked out with joy and with fullness and with so much we can barely take it in and we’re bursting with the joy of the Lord. But so often is it not true that our lives are lives of suffering. And I’m not talking about the big ticket items only, but the mundane disappointments; the daily drip, drip, drip of feeling absent from God, of feeling like you’re living your life in grayscale and not in color. And that’s because life in this fallen world will never be any better for us than it was for our Savior.


Cruciform Humility

Now, now we begin to see why Jesus said, “Count the cost.” Becoming a Christian, in other words, according to the Savior, is one that leads to a – could we put it this way – cruciform humility. Cross-shaped living. Cross-shaped living marked by humility; marked by being brought low by our sin and turning from it in repentance and humbling ourselves before God with the sure promise, the sure promise that just as certainly as the Savior ascended to the right hand of His Father, just as certainly as that tomb was empty that first Easter morning, so your exaltation and my exaltation, our lives in communion with the resurrected Lord of glory forever, are just as certain, just as sure. And with that hope set before us of a totally future exaltation, therefore, James says, we are to live in the way He has commanded us.


Jesus Resisted the Devil

What do we say to all of this? Can’t you see we’ve just been describing Jesus? Isn’t He the fulfillment of everything we just read? Think with me quickly. Isn’t He the one who resisted the devil? What does the Gospel tell us? “He fled from Jesus until a more opportune time.” When was that opportune time? The cross. The cross. And everything leading up to it. And the devil there, tempting our Savior, telling Him to come down. And the reason Jesus stays on that cross is for you and me to give us this promise! Because He resisted the devil first and foremost, and the devil fled from Him, James can say with utter certainty, “When you resist, he will flee, because Jesus resisted before you did!” And all the power from on high that He used to resist the onslaught of the most nefarious temptations from the pit of hell He gives to you freely, friends! He submitted to God’s will even when it was hard. Do you not remember? Don’t you see Him there in the garden, knelt down, sweating as it were great drops of blood and He prays, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, Your will be done.” “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” Jesus does that perfectly in our place.


Jesus was Pure in Heart

He was the one, also, who said, “Blessed are the pure in heart!” And there He was just echoing the words of Psalm 24. “Who shall ascend the holy mountain of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Was there anyone ever who had a purer heart that our Lord? No double-mindedness. He set His face like a flint, Luke tells us, to go to Jerusalem. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, He’s the one who was not double-minded. And what was He not double-minded about? He was not double-minded about saving you. He never wavered. His heart was pure because He knew the mission that He had been given was to save sinners like you and me.


Jesus was Humble

And then we think of Paul’s great words to describe Jesus. “He considered it equality with God, not something to be grasped, but” – what? “Humbled himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, yes the shameful death of a cross.” His humility, can’t we see it? Don’t we want to beg God for eyes open to see the most humble man who ever lived? He who had all the riches. He whose crown rights could never be challenged. He who was the greatest God of gods, Light of light, very God of very God divested Himself and humbled Himself and was a homeless, itinerant preacher who received the most gruesome penalty that the most brutal empire had ever devised to kill someone. Because He was doing it for us. When James tells us to humble ourselves, he’s not telling us to do anything that Jesus has not already done.


God’s don’t humble themselves, right? Where else do we read about a god who humbles himself? Only in the Gospel. And that’s why, again, Christianity is unique. My burden is for me and for all of us to once again and again and again realize how different Christianity is from everything else. There’s no other concept anywhere in the world like the free grace of God. There’s no other declaration like verse 6. God gives more grace! Everything else is you do and you do and maybe, maybe you earn at that point, but we don’t know! Only, only the Gospel starts not with your earning power and potential but with the power and potential of the one who humbled Himself and earned and kept and obeyed and was exalted in your place so that everything He promised will come to pass. Don’t you see how different grace is? Don’t you see what a difference grace makes? I want more of it! I want to know more of it! I want to be reminded again and again that I don’t have to earn; I have to rest in what He’s done. And in that resting, in that Cruciform humility, I become active in following and eager to bring myself under the direction of this great and loving God who has more grace for all of my failures. That’s who He is. He gives more grace.


I read a story this week from Alistair Begg. He’s one of my favorite preachers. He tells the story of the pulpit of the great Alexander White who was a minister at the end of the 19th through the early 20th century in Edinburgh, Scotland. And Alexander White’s pulpit was world-renowned and it was considered a very great honor to be asked to preach in Dr. White’s pulpit. And so on one occasion, this young man was asked to preach. And he thought very highly of himself. He thought, “It’s about time they asked me.” And so he went about preparing his sermon and began to tell people who excited he was to deliver his sermon. And as a young preacher, and having committed this error myself, he began to tell people, “Frankly, this is a message people need to hear!” That’s the problem with young preachers. We think we’ve got the message people need to hear! And so he was ready. He honed every word so carefully and the day came soon enough and he strode up the steps at Free St. George’s in Edinburgh. He strode up the steps to this great pulpit and he laid down his manuscript and he began with this beautiful opening paragraph. But about a minute in, the people in the front of him began to become one mass of humanity. His mouth dried up, his notes became a blur, and he dribbled to a sorry conclusion a few minutes later. And he’s practiced walking up to that pulpit so looking good, he’d looked in the mirror, and yet when he was done he walked out of the pulpit with his head down, looking at his shoes.


And a wise and old elder in the back of the church leaned to a friend and said, “If that young boy had come up the way he had gone down, he would have gone down the way he came up.” And so it is for us, dear friends. If we go down on our knees in humble repentance before God and in a life of cruciform humility and faith in our Savior, we will come up with Him in everlasting exaltation. And the best news, the best news is that all happens because God gives more grace. Let’s pray.


Father, what can we say? Marvelous grace of our loving Lord. Grace that is greater than all our sin. Let us see it, let us rejoice in it, let us rejoice in Him who is grace for us, the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray in His name, amen.


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