Michael Youssef - Christian Warfare, The World, The Flesh, And The Devil
Dr. Michael Youssef: Hello, friends. Michael Youssef here, and I'm one to tell you that you are in for a treat today of listening to a message by my son, Jonathan Youssef. And I'm thrilled to tell you that it is about conquering and defeating the three big enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. You don't want to miss. Stay tuned.
Jonathan Youssef: It feels like today we are constantly fighting and warring with each other. We fight over what the government should do as it relates to the pandemic. We fight over whether or not to wear masks. We fight over social distancing. We fight over race issues. We fight over police issues. There seems to be less agreement today than before, and it has seeped into the church sadly. And I cannot help but think Satan is enjoying every moment of this. We are not fighting against the things that war against our souls. We are fighting with each other and saying that, "Our enemy is the person who disagrees with me," instead of looking at the enemy that God tells us we face: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
James is writing to all believers in his epistle. It's not a letter to a specific church, but again to believers everywhere. And his focus is on practical Christian living, not as Martin Luther had early on assumed as a letter pointing to justification by works, but rather as a letter to believers who know, understand, and believe that they are saved by grace through faith, and now instructing them on what they have been saved to, which is good works, and right conduct, and holiness. Not perfection, but growing in Christ's likeness, a goal of growing in spiritual maturity. And in chapter 4, James is addressing the issue of our great enemies.
If James is trying to help us grow in spiritual maturity, then it can be said that the goal of the enemy is keeping us in spiritual infancy. We are talking about the enemies of our souls. And so our first enemy that we come across in this passage is the flesh. "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something, but you don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. And when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures".
In our fleshly desires and ambitions, we fight and we argue and we quarrel with each other. We struggle with family members, spouses, children, siblings. We struggle with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We selfishly envy each other. We complain and we fight. And our motives are tainted with self-centered desires. We are all born into this. Not only as it relates to the broken world in which we live, but we are imprinted on us this sin nature, and it remains with us even after we have committed our lives to Christ. So what does that mean for us as believers? It means we are now constantly engaged in spiritual warfare. And these two natures, when we become believers, we have two natures now, a sin nature and a Christ nature.
And those two natures are diametrically opposed to one another. Every time we let our old nature with its selfishness and its self-centeredness regain control, we end up in conflict and in turmoil with the people around us. Our selfish desires produce destructive actions. It makes us murderers. The ESV says in verse 2, "You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel". He is not saying that it's the physical act of murder itself, but as Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5, verse 21, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.' But I say anyone who is angry with his brother or insults his brother or calls him a fool is subject to judgment".
You see, those attitudes come from the same place as murder. You covet and you cannot get what you want. When you covet someone's possessions, or their position, or their authority, or their house, or their lifestyle, then bitterness and vindictiveness become a lens through which you look through everything. People at war with themselves are at war with themselves because of selfish, covetous desires. Those people are rarely happy people. They are rarely thankful people, thankful for the blessings that they have received from God because they're too busy complaining about the blessings that they do not have. Covetous desires lead you not only into wrong actions, but also into praying wrong prayers. "You do not have, because you do not ask God. And when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures".
Now listen. That doesn't mean you don't ask for things that may benefit you, don't mishear me, but rather question your motives. "What is at the core of what I desire here"? The flesh. Then James comes to the second enemy, the world, verse 4. "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he calls to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"
The word world here, it's referring to the world system controlled by Satan. The root cause of every war, whether it's an internal human conflict or wars between nations, the root cause is rebellion against God. And the world system is in a state of continual rebellion against God. It started in the garden and it continues till today. Do you see how James describes our running to the world in the world system? He says it is adulterous. God has rescued us, as Paul writes to the Colossians, "From the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins". But when we run back to the darkness, it is like an unfaithful partner running back to their other lovers, and it is very serious. It is very dangerous.
And what does running back to the world look like? Well, it looks like being a friend with the world. And that friendship with the world, James says, equals being an enemy of God. Now, as a note, we are at peace with God because of Christ, right? We were once enemies, but are now reconciled, right? Not based on what we have done, but based on what Christ has done, right? And that cannot be lost or reversed, right? So how can we be enemies of God and friends? I think what James is doing here is he is issuing a warning to take seriously our proclivity to go back to the world to make friendship with the world and its systems. He's saying, "Don't let this be a marker in your life. Rather," verses 7 to 10, "submit, resist, draw near, repent".
We'll come back to those. The flesh. The world. Third enemy is the devil. For James says, "But he gives more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you". It's important to notice that we find our spiritual battle on three fronts, and each front corresponds to the three persons of the Trinity. The world is in conflict with God the Father, the flesh is at war with God the Holy Spirit, and the devil opposes the Son of God. So what are we to make of the devil? There is a person, a spirit behind the attempt to overthrow God.
We not only wage war against our flesh and its corruption, we not only live in a broken system that pulls us away from our creator, but we also face an adversary who personally desires to devour us to fall like he did, to choose not God like he did. And he comes not with horns and a pitchfork like a cartoon character, but he comes as an angel of light, and he whispers as he did to Christ in the desert, "Choose self. Choose me". It's very subtle, and it's covered in lies, as he is the father of lies. These, my brothers and sisters, are the enemies, not one another, not the lost, not amoral things. These are your enemies. And they may use those things, but ultimately it is the world, the flesh, and the devil who wars against our souls.
So that's the bad news. What do we do with that? Praise God, he has not left us as orphans. Praise God, he has not abandoned us. Praise God, he accomplishes his work. Praise God that he has provided for us. He gives more grace. He gives more grace. God is not defeated. Satan may rage harder than he ever has before, but it matters not. God protects and looks after his own, even if that only be ultimately in eternity. Do not start thinking that you can fight against the world, and the flesh, and the devil on your own. That would be a terrible mistake. You see, Christ is our only source of justification. He is not the stepping stone to us being able to stand on our own. He's the only reason we can do anything. And we must not lose sight of that. He gives grace. So what do we make of this grace?
James says verse 5, "The spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely". Meaning the Spirit of God will warn you and seek to guide and correct you because the Spirit of God is incompatible with the world, and the flesh, and the devil. Is that not gracious, the provision of the Spirit? But with an abundance of grace comes a need for a response. In verses 7 to 10, there are no less than ten commands to obey. You see, James does not see this indwelling of the Spirit as this means of instant and effortless sanctification. We don't just confess Christ and kick back and watch the Holy Spirit while we passively watch while he does all the work.
It's not an easy road paved with clear skies and rainbows. Rather the Holy One may dwell within even while we pursue the pathway of sinful self-seeking. Like we said earlier, we have times and seasons where we are in friendship with the world. There are times when our desire is to feed our old nature. There are times when Satan begins to sift us, and yet Christ remains in us and with us. The Spirit continues to call out to us warning us in the same way James does not see that inexhaustible supply of grace is sweeping us along to just this effortless holiness. It's not as they say, "Let go and let God". You have to respond. The benefits of grace and more grace are ours along the road of obedience and more obedience, but grace also drives us to obedience.
Three things that James gives for us to remember as we face our enemy. One, submit yourselves then to God. Two, draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Three, humble yourself before the Lord. Submission is obviously not a popular concept in our world today. We live in an age that prizes rebellion and defiance over submission. So what is James saying here? Submission requires a willing act of accepting the authority of God. It requires a willing act of accepting the authority of God because we are all under the authority of God, whether we bow willingly or not. Submission is not a passive word. It holds the image of submitting to a ruler like a soldier submits to a king and fights on the battlefield in defense of his king's kingdom. He knows and he recognizes his enemy.
Second, draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Now we know as believers that we did not seek God out in our spiritual blindness, but he drew us to himself. But here we are talking about ongoing relationship with God. We often turn this phrase on its head and we say, "Well, you know, it'd be easier to spend time with God if he gave us a more vivid sense of his presence". In other words, we want the promise before the command, but we learned in verse 6 that the more grace is given to those who set their feet on the path of obedience, for whom grace has already been given. God enriches with the grace of his presence those who obey, and keep his commands, and seek his presence. We also draw near through the cleansing of our hearts and our hands.
Think of all the purification rituals in the Old Testament signifying this inner and outer cleansing before approaching our holy God, recognizing his holiness, recognizing his purity, recognizing his otherness. And James, brilliant as he is, recognizes the human heart and mind by reusing the phrase he used in chapter 1: "You double-minded". He knows the human heart and its tendency to leave God and run to the world, the flesh, and the devil. We draw near in our confession and repentance because we recognize our inadequacy and we recognize the spiritual battle that is so real with real consequences as we recognize the one who will actually draw near to us for our benefit, unlike our enemies, who will draw near to us for our destruction.
Finally, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up". The way up is down. It is grace alone which makes it possible for us to obey any of his commands. Our position is one of perpetual supplication for grace, to obey in order that we may experience more grace, which God gives to the obedient. Do you see the cycle? The purpose of God is to lead us down into the lowest place of self-awareness and a lamenting over our sin. As always, the more we pursue his likeness, the more deeply and sorrowfully our sinfulness and our shortcomings are exposed, which drives us to humility, which lifts us up because of God's grace.
Then in verses 11 and 12, James gives us a final word of caution, a word of caution against a critical spirit or a judgmental spirit, because what a critical and a judgmental spirit does is it cuts someone else down to lift ourselves up. It puts us in the judgment seat. It puts us in God's rightful position.
And what more with the world, the flesh, and the devil want than churches that are filled with people who put themselves in the judgment seat, with people who think of themselves more highly than they ought, who are bitter and vengeful and not forgiving, who fight amongst each other, who demonstrate unwelcomeness instead of love and kindness? But we serve a great God who has paid too high a cost for us to get caught up in ourselves. Therefore, church, keep your eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of your faith. Remember, your enemy is not your neighbor, but your sinful nature, this broken world, and the devil. Keep enlisted as a soldier. Keep submitted to his authority, and grace, and grace, and grace will abound all the more.