September 19

Humility repels Satan

“‘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.” (James 4:6-10)

Do you become angry easily or never at all? I have met many people who fall into one of these two categories, but not many who are in the middle of the continuum (becoming angry occasionally). Perhaps that’s because anger has strong hooks to pride and discontent. I have noticed that prideful people become self-righteously angry over ethical and political issues, conflicting opinions, and even sports. But people who are discontent seem to get upset and angry when circumstances are not as expected or desired. Both types either lack the humility that leads to peace or initiate a desperate, but futile fight for control over other people, events, and circumstances. Neither takes their sin seriously, but blame other people or events. The passage from James 4 teaches us that we must submit to God, draw near to him, and to be wretched, mourn, weep over our sinfulness. Humility must replace both anger and discontent. We are not to laugh with derision at God, mocking him or sin, but mourn over our sin, being gloomy, not happy about it, and taking it seriously in ourselves.

Paul, with his God-given brilliant mind and deep understanding, says that when we humbly submit to God’s authority, the devil will run from us and God will draw closer. This humility involves clean hands (representing clean hearts that will not run into sin), and single-mindedness focused on God’s grace. The Lord is the only one who can lift us up (spiritually and eternally), and he can only lift us up if we are in a low position. Exalting ourselves as superior makes God’s exaltation unnecessary. In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother felt he was superior because he stayed at home with his father, doing what was expected, and was righteous for having done so. (Luke 15:25-32) He refused to see himself as needy or sinful, and so was in no need of saving, and therefore, had no occasion for rejoicing. It was as if he was saying to the father, “I’m not lost, so you don’t have to worry about finding me. I’m steady on my feet and can handle myself, so there is no need to worry, but I do deserve a feast (for taking care of myself). His duty-bound attitude was not the love of the younger brother who had a long drink of amazing forgiveness, and so no celebration was needed. In contrast, the humility of the prodigal son was radical and complete after his shame and sincere remorse for treating his father with contempt and ending up in a pigsty.

I’m sure we feel that we are in a pigsty some days (or belong in one, with hands and hearts dirtied with sin). But being in with the pigs doesn’t help. Only when we realize that we are a broken mess, and humble ourselves, to be honest, admitting our need for Jesus Christ’s mercy and grace, will we be in the state where God may lift us up. That’s when we want pure hearts and single-mindedness for Jesus Christ, but the washing has to come from the Spirit who indwells us.

When is the last time you felt humbled like a pig-farmer, with nothing but your sin to show for your efforts at an independent life? Are you willing to go that low for the Lord to come near and Satan to flee from the scene? What will God have to do in you to make you willing and broken? How is this different from the way you used to think about humility?

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