In Lesson Eleven in the Book of James, James makes this well-known statement, “Submit Yourselves to God.” Seems like a pretty obvious statement. But, what does submit mean in the Bible?
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit Yourselves to God and Resist the Devil
“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 4:4-10 NIV
Friendship with the world means enmity against God
What does James mean when he confronts our friendship with the world? He starts by addressing adulterous people who need to submit themselves to God! And, he says these Christians are adulterous. Earlier, James had addressed the reasons for their unanswered prayer and that these people were very divided internally. That division was accompanied by lusting and fighting with one another. In this passage, he points out to them that, not only will their prayers be unanswered, but they are also enemies of God because they have chosen to be friends with the world. This means they are unfaithful to God and are adulterers.
James is saying that we must put God before the ways of the world. God is a jealous God. He wants us to love Him by our own choice and He wants that love to be singular – for Him only. He wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Loving Him as He loved us and gave His life for us, means that we give our life for Him.
Nowhere in that process is there room to also love the world and its sinful pleasures. In the case of sexual pleasure, God created us with that desire and it is not a sin, it is a gift from Him. However, it is meant to be experienced in a way that honors the holiness of God and the singular love of God. When sin entered the world, everything became perverted. Good could also be bad. Pleasures could be holy or sin. We must choose.
These adulterous people were serving their own flesh, not God.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24 NIV
James has pointed out the problem – then gives the solution.
- Humble yourselves – God shows favor to the humble.
- Submit to God.
- Resist the devil.
- Come near to God.
- Wash your hands.
- Purify your hearts.
- Grieve, mourn and wail.
- Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
- Humble yourselves before the Lord – He exalts the humble.
James starts and finishes with humility.
Consider these Scriptures on humility in the context of what James is saying:
- “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;” Philippians 2:3 NASB
- “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,” Matthew 11:29 NASB
- “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 NASB
- “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:12 NASB
- “Live happily together in a spirit of harmony, and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own. Don’t live with a lofty mind-set, thinking you are too important to serve others, but be willing to do menial tasks and identify with those who are humble-minded. Don’t be smug or even think for a moment that you know it all.” Romans 12:16 TPT
Jesus is Our Example
- “And consider the example that Jesus, the Anointed One, has set before us. Let his mindset become your motivation. He existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize. Instead he emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human! He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death—a criminal’s death by crucifixion!“
Philippians 2:5-8 TPT
- “Now, this is the goal: to live in harmony with one another and demonstrate affectionate love, sympathy, and kindness toward other believers. Let humility describe who you are as you dearly love one another.” 1 Peter 3:8 TPT
God Resists the Proud – Submit Yourselves To God
- “In the same way, the younger ones should willingly support the leadership of the elders. In every relationship, each of you must wrap around yourself the apron of a humble servant. Because: God resists you when you are proud but multiplies grace and favor when you are humble. If you bow low in God’s awesome presence, he will eventually exalt you as you leave the timing in his hands.” 1 Peter 5:5-6 TPT
Submitting Yourselves to God Requires Humility.
Submitting to God requires humility and it is better to humble yourself than to be humbled by God or people. Over and over, the Bible speaks of us regarding ourselves in a humble way. Humility does not mean ‘doormat.’ To live a humble life requires great strength because it means you are not thinking more highly of yourself than you should. It means that you, like Paul, fully realize that you are worth everything to God, but He is God and you are not. It also means that you have made a choice not to view yourself as being better than anyone else. Instead, you have chosen to be a servant to all, just like Jesus who came to serve, not to be served.
“I was reminded by my friend Natalie Collins that CS Lewis wrote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” In the same way, submission is not self-loathing nor does it ignore self-care and self-value. Rather it is a decision to yield to someone else and to put their interests ahead of your own.”
Humbling yourself before God means to think of yourself less and God more. God gives us the choice to humble ourselves and James tells us how to do it. First by submitting to God. Submitting is a voluntary action on the part of the submitter. Even God does not force us to submit! Since He doesn’t, we shouldn’t force it on others.
What does ‘submit’ mean in the Bible?
Crosswalk.com gives this definition of submission to one another,
“Submitting means putting others before yourself; it means not always doing what you want to do. It means putting God’s desires above your desires.“
James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” In light of their need of humility, their first step must be to submit to God. Then, he says they must resist the devil. What does that mean and how do we do it? The Greek word translated resist is ‘antistēte’ and it means to stand against and oppose. It is a strong word preceded by the admonition to submit to God.
We embrace and place ourselves under the authority of God, then take a bold stand against the devil and his lies. When we do those two things, the devil has to run away. Taking our stand to resist temptation involves walking away from it, turning it off, or cutting off its source by taking an internal, mental, emotional, and spiritual stand against it. Then, you draw even closer to God. The closer you are to God, the further away the devil is!
We Must Be Washed Clean as We Submit Ourselves to God
Wash your hands. Washing our hands is always symbolic of getting rid of something that is harmful, dirty, and contagious, or polluted. We wash dirt and germs off our hands so that disease does not spread. We wash our hands of certain situations by getting away from them, and we wash our hands of certain relationships by also getting away from them. In this scripture, they are to wash their hands of the sin they have been involved in. It is symbolic of repentance which means to turn and go the opposite way.
David Was an Example of How to Repent
Purify your heart. Repentance involves your heart so, how can you purify your own heart? I probably can’t fully accomplish that on my own. I need God’s help. David asked God to create a clean heart in him after he had sinned. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be placed in a position in a battle where he was killed. He was then confronted by Nathan, a prophet and friend of the King.
David’s response was one of repentance and humility. He admitted his sin; that he had sinned openly and directly against God; asked for mercy and to be forgiven, and for this deep stain on his conscience to be removed. He was in pain. In Psalm 51:7 TPT, he said, “Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again! Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.” He asks God to do this for him.
Then in verse 10 he says, “Create a new, clean heart within me. Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.” Psalm 51:10 TPT Again, he is appealing to God to do this for him. He goes on, repents repeatedly and throws himself into God’s arms. In this beautiful and passionate plea, David finds forgiveness and restoration.
David’s Passionate Plea to God
“Let my passion for life be restored, tasting joy in every breakthrough you bring to me. Hold me close to you with a willing spirit that obeys whatever you say. Then I can show to other guilty ones how loving and merciful you are. They will find their way back home to you, knowing that you will forgive them.
O God, my saving God, deliver me fully from every sin, even the sin that brought bloodguilt. Then my heart will once again be thrilled to sing the passionate songs of joy and deliverance! Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips, and I will overcome with my joyous praise!
For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance or the sacrifices I might offer to you. The fountain of your pleasure is found in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you. You will not despise my tenderness
as I humbly bow down at your feet.” Psalm 51:12-17 TPT
If you ever wonder how to repent and be restored, go to Psalm 51 and make it your own prayer to God as David did.
Submit Yourselves to God and Grieve Your Own Sin
Grieve, mourn and wail. That sounds pretty sad and depressing. However, as we see in Psalm 51, David was in pain. He grieved and mourned and wailed to God. Pouring out His profound sorrow for his sin, he changed his laughter to mourning and his joy to gloom. Then, he humbled himself before God once again. David is the greatest example of repentance and humility.As we see in Psalm 51, David was in pain. He grieved and mourned and wailed to God. Pouring out His profound sorrow for his sin, he changed his laughter to mourning and his joy to gloom. Then, he humbled himself before God once again.… Click To Tweet
By the end of Psalm 51, David is again rejoicing in the Lord. He has repented, asked for God’s help, and his sin is now behind him. The consequences of his sin are not over but he has complete faith that God has restored him and even when the consequences come, his faith remains.
In order to submit, we must first humble ourselves. We must turn from sin, having our hearts and lives purified and take a stand against the devil. He will run away from us as we draw near to God and God draws near to us. Submission requires humility. The reward of submitting God is a clean and joy-filled heart.
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**We use verses from different Bible translations.
To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit our Scripture Citations.