Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Resistance is Futile
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” If there’s one phrase that is more commonly misused in Christian circles than this one, I’m not sure what it could be.
People who are struggling with sin in their lives, or who wrestle with various addictions constantly quote this verse (or I should say, “misquote it”), as a sort of mantra against returning to the behavior they hope to resist. But what bothers me most about this isn’t semantics. It’s the true spiritual reality that is lost whenever people think they’re quoting the scripture but are in fact totally missing the entire point.
What the misquote does is to reinforce the myth that you and I are left alone to resist temptation and to overcome our own sinfulness. This is absolutely not the message of the Gospel. God never urges us to rely on our own ability or strength to rescue us from sin or temptation. Not ever.
Let’s look at the actual verse and hopefully we’ll all understand this a lot better.
"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
The differences may appear subtle at first, but trust me, the differences couldn’t be farther apart in meaning and substance.
In the actual passage found in the fourth chapter of James, the message is that we should first “submit (our)selves to God”. How can we leave this out of the equation? Worse, how can we tolerate anyone else who hopes to eliminate God from the process? We need God. Without Him we are toast. Newsflash: The Devil is not afraid of you. He is not fazed when you resist him. You are a sheep. Without the Good Shepherd protecting you the Wolf will eat you and your lunch. Therefore, submitting ourselves to God is probably the most important part of this verse.
I look at this way; picture yourself in the center of a number line. God is on the right and Satan (or temptation) is on the left. If you begin by submitting yourself to God – by moving as close to Him as possible and laying your life down at His feet – then you will notice that you are – at the same time – moving away from the devil. Both actions are the same. However, if you only resist the devil and if you do not also turn and run toward God, then you are sitting in the same place and trying on your own strength to resist the gravitational pull of the Enemy. Without turning your face to God and submitting your life to Him, you will eventually grow tired of resisting and you will get sucked into the vortex, just like everyone else who tried to do it all alone.
We cannot create light by resisting the darkness. Only by embracing the light will darkness ever be pushed back. Go ahead and try it yourself. Go into an empty room that’s dark and start resisting the darkness. How long do you think it will be until your resistance eliminates all that darkness? But flip on the light and see how quickly darkness flees. Darkness isn’t overcome by our resisting it. It’s overcome when you turn on the light.
So, if you find yourself in a place of weakness or temptation, please do not simply resist the devil. He will not flee from you. Instead, focus all your attention on submitting your life to Jesus and trusting the One who would rather die than live without you. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Light of the World. In Him you will find rest and peace.