Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 9
Being a Friend of God
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 2, 2008


Main Passage: James 4:4-9

Over the past couple months we’ve been focusing in on the New Testament book of James. And we’ve been seeing just how practical this book really is. It speaks to real life and real life issues today in 2008 every bit as much as it did when the words were first written down nearly 2000 years ago.

We’ve talked about how we can survive and even thrive when we experience those bad days when everything seems to be conspiring against us. We’ve talked about how to deal with temptation. We’ve talked about how we can learn to control our tongues instead of having our tongues controlling us. We’ve talked about how to build strong and healthy relationships with others. And we’ve talked the things that cause arguments and divisions in our relationships and how to resolve them.

A lot of practical stuff. And today, we’re going to be talking about another relationship problem. Except this problem isn’t between us and other people; it’s between us and God.

Sandra just read about this problem…

James 4:4 (NLT)
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?

The Problem: Friendship with the World

Now, some people would read what James wrote and automatically conclude that anything that’s from this world is evil. You can’t enjoy anything in this physical world because that makes you an enemy of God. Some people would conclude that. But is that true?

James 4:4 (NLT)
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?

Well, do you remember back when we looked at the DaVinci Code phenomenon? We saw that this very entertaining book revives some very old beliefs called Gnosticism. According to the Gnostics, who first emerged in the decades and centuries following the death and resurrection of Jesus, anything that is spiritual is good, and anything that is physical is evil. We’re not going to take the time to rehash all of that this morning, but basically, it was a counter-Christian belief system that was seriously flawed and took verses like this to the extreme. The Gnostics would have looked at what James wrote about “friendship with the world” and talked about how God has nothing to do with this physical realm. It’s completely corrupted. In fact, they would say that God could not have even created the world; it must have been created by a lesser god.

And this whole idea of God entering into Creation when Jesus was born was ludicrous to them. Jesus couldn’t have been God because Jesus had a physical body. And according to them, it would be unthinkable for God to become physical.

So some rather strange beliefs. But isn’t that what James is talking about? “Friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.”

Well, I think we need to remember that God did create this world and everything in it. And He delights in His Creation. He made a beautiful universe and a beautiful earth, and then He placed us here to enjoy it.

Psalm 24:1 (NLT)
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.

God created the world. In fact, the Bible talks about how all Creation points toward God. He assigned humanity with the responsibility of caring for His Creation. God does pretty good work, so this world is a pretty good place. So what is James talking about? What does he mean when he says to be a friend of this world is to be an enemy of God? Does he mean that we can’t enjoy a beautiful sunrise or watch a good movie or strive for scientific achievement? Does he mean that we shouldn’t recycle and do our best to care for the environment?

No, of course not. There’s a difference between enjoying this world and being a friend to it. There’s a difference between exploring this world and exalting it. There’s a difference between being good stewards of the world and declaring our allegiance to it.

You see, here’s the problem. This is what “friendship with the world is.” Friendship with the world is…

Friendship with the world – when you choose the ways of this world over the ways of God

Now, often there’s no conflict between the two. There’s no problem.

But James is talking about when the two are in conflict. With the values of this world oppose the values of God. When we have to choose between satisfying our worldly temptations and appetites and satisfying God’s standards for living. When we choose between pleasure and character.

Friendship with this world that James is talking about is when you’re always looking out for number 1. You’re always demanding your own way. You want to possess whatever you think it is that will make you happy.

So what’s wrong with this?

What’s Wrong With Being a Friend of this World?

A.    It’s being unfaithful to God

James 4:4 (NLT)
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?

“You adulterers!” If you are a follower of Jesus and then decide to turn your back on Him to pursue your own worldly pleasures, that’s adultery. That’s being unfaithful to God.

It’s like having an affair. Those of you who are married expect complete faithfulness on the part of your spouse, right? And the truth is, you would be more than a little miffed if you were to discover that your spouse was having an affair, wouldn’t you? And rightly so. That’s one of the worse things one person can do to another.

Well, in the Bible, our relationship with God is often compared to a marriage. In fact, God created the whole concept of marriage to give us a glimpse of the intimacy that we can have with Him. And when we allow a love for the world to surpass our love for Him, then we are committing adultery on God.

Remember, God is a jealous God. Normally we think of jealousy as a negative thing. But there is a proper form of jealousy. It’s the jealousy that demands faithfulness. And that’s the kind of jealousy that God has. He expects complete devotion to Him and Him alone. As Jesus said…

Matthew 5:24 (NLT)
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.”

Jesus was talking specifically about serving God or serving money. But I think it’s true with all the other things that vie for that place of priority in our lives, too. That place rightfully belongs to God, and when we place anything else there, we are being unfaithful to God.

B.    It’s based on misplaced values

James 4:4 (NLT)
If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

“If you want…” It doesn’t just happen; it’s a desire you have for the ways of this world over the ways of God. That’s in the New Living Translation. In the New International Version, it talks about if you “choose” to be a friend of this world. And it is a choice. We choose whether we are going to be a friend of the world or a friend of God. We can’t have it both ways, so we make a choice. And like every choice we make, it’s based on our priorities, the things that we value and see as important. When we choose on the side of friendship with the world, we’re telling God that He really isn’t that important to us and that we can find more of what we want in the world than in Him.

That’s placing value in the temporal rather than the eternal. It’s placing value in the physical rather than the spiritual. It’s placing value in riches rather than a relationship with God. It’s placing value in the created rather than the Creator. And it’s a sure sign that your values are all out of whack.

C.    It removes God from our lives

We’ve talked before about the dangers or pushing God to the sidelines of our lives. It can be very easy for us to become so consumed with all the busyness and the pressures and the distractions of life that we just push God to the margins. And that’s exactly what friendship with the world does. Check out this quote from Dr. John Henry Jowett…

“Worldliness is a spirit, a temperament, an attitude of soul… It is a gaze horizontal, never vertical. It’s motto is ‘Forward’, never ‘Upward’. Its goal is success, not holiness… It never bows in rapt and silent wonder in the secret place. It experiences no awe-inspiring perceptions of a mysterious Presence. It has lusts, but no supplications. It has ambition but no aspiration. God is not denied. He is forgotten and ignored.”
~ Dr. John Henry Jowett

It’s not that we stop believing that God exists. It’s not even that we’ve knowingly or purposefully turned against Him. It’s just that He’s lost meaning for us. We don’t desire Him the way we used to. We no longer see having a relationship with Him as being important. We’ve lost our first love. We’ve removed Him from the throne of our lives.

This kind of thing happens all the time in everyday relationships. People just move apart. I was trying to think this week, what is the best theme song for this kind of drifting? Would it be…

You’ve Lost the Loving Feeling
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore
The Way We Were

Those are all classics, and they’re all songs about people who have drifted apart. They’re songs about heartache and heartbreak. Have you ever felt heart-broken? Perhaps you felt head-over-heels in love with someone and they rejected you? Do you remember how you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Can you remember how it affected your eating habits… your sleeping habits? Do you remember that feeling of rejection?

Well, would it surprise you to know that God himself experiences that same kind of pain when we reject Him and push Him out of our lives? When we choose this world over Him?

Being a friend of this world makes us an enemy of God. And that’s a problem. So how do we avoid it? How do we overcome it? How do we protect our friendship with God?

How Do I Protect my Friendship with God?

Well, before we can do anything, we need to realize that ultimately it all depends on the grace of God. So that’s the first thing…

1.     Rely on the Grace of God

We are all prone to sinfulness. We are all born as enemies of God. And it’s only through the grace that He extends to you and to me that He enables us to be reconciled to Him. This is the primary reason that we can become a friend of God in the first place… His grace.

James 4:5-6 (NLT)
What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? [desiring the things of this world] But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires.

What is it that enables us to overcome our lusts and desires that are contrary to God’s ways? It’s the grace of God. It’s Him making the first move to step in and help us become overcomers. Listen to what the apostle Paul told the people in the city of Antioch…

Acts 13:38-39, 43 (NLT)
“Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God”… Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.

It’s the grace of God that makes us right with God and keeps us right with God. It’s Him that offers us forgiveness. It’s Him that justifies us. It’s Him that strengthens and enables us to live a pure and holy life. We can’t take credit for it ourselves; it’s all the grace of God.

So what’s our response to His grace? Our response to His grace must be to humble ourselves before Him.

2.    Humble yourself before God

How well do you get along with people who are always boasting and bragging, full of pride, and elevating themselves over you? You don’t like to spend much time with them, do you? In fact, you probably have a bit of a personality conflict with them. So why would you expect it to be any different with God?

James 4:6-7 (NLT)
As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves before God.

What does it mean to be humble before God? I think it means to realize your own sinfulness and weaknesses, and to recognize your need of God.

Let me give show you an example from the Old Testament. David is one of the heroes of the Bible, but he was far from perfect. In fact, because of his lust for a woman, he conspired to have her husband killed. And when he came face to face with what he has done, he responded with deep repentance and humility before God. And he expressed this in a song…

Psalm 51:1-4, 7-8, 10-12 (NLT)
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight…
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice…
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

A person of pride would cover over their sins. They would justify them. But David was humble. He acknowledged his sin. He submitted Himself to the authority of God. He sought forgiveness with a contrite heart. Even though David was a king, he bowed before the King of kings.

If you want to be right with God… and if you want to remain right with God… then you need that same spirit of humility. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

3.     Refuse to give in to sinful desires

I know I’ve talked a lot about squirrels lately, since they invaded my house last Fall. But I do have a happier memory of squirrels. When I was a kid, I used to watch my grandfather feed squirrels in his backyard. I remember he would take a peanut out to the backyard, sit down in a chair, hold the peanut in the palm of his hand, and just wait. Eventually, a squirrel would stick it’s head out from behind a tree… watch for a few seconds, then duck behind the tree again. Then the squirrel would appear again, run out a few feet, then dash back behind the tree again. Then it’d pop out again and run a little bit further, then back behind the tree… each time coming a little bit closer to that peanut… until it’d be close enough to jump up on the arm of the chair, reach over, and grab the peanut out of my grandfather’s hand.

Now that story has a happy ending, especially for the squirrel. It was kind of fun to bait the squirrel and draw it in until it was close enough that it was actually vulnerable to us.

But the problem is, Satan plays with us the same way. He baits us and lures us in. He finds our area of weakness and tempts us with something that we want. We don’t see any immediate danger, so we edge our way closer and closer. Until finally he has us right where he wants us… within his grasp. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

“Temptation will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

Several weeks ago, we saw how James described this process…

James 1:14-15 (NLT)
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

And now here in chapter four, he tells us how to avoid all that…

James 4:7 (NLT)
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.

Remember, you become a friend of this world when you give in to your desires and choose the ways of this world instead of the ways of God. So refuse to give into those desires. Resist them. Resist temptation. Resist the Devil.

C. S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, said…

“A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.”
~ C. S. Lewis

So resist it and find out. Remember, there will be no temptation that you can’t overcome with God on your side. And if you want to maintain your relationship with Him, then you need to resist it.

The next thing James tells us to do is…

4.    Get close to God

James 4:8 (NLT)
Come close to God, and God will come close to you.

How do you do this? Well, you pray to Him. You listen to Him. You read His Word. You follow His ways. You think about Him. You welcome Him into your life. You let Him change your life.

It means you carve time out of your schedule where you can get alone with Him and meditate on His word. Those who are close to God seem to always walk in fellowship with Him, and they also set aside quiet times to be with Him.

Enoch did this. Noah did this. Moses did this. David did this. Daniel did this. And Jesus did this with His Father.

5.    Seek God’s cleansing work in your life

This may not seem to be a very pleasant story, but I think it illustrates this point quite well. A number of years ago at Beulah Camp, our district campgrounds in New Brunswick, they installed a new sewer system. And this system was the state of the art. It was designed to take all of the sewage that that ran through it and completely purify it. Then it would drain it through a long pipe out into the river nearby. The problem was, our beach was also nearby. The processed sewage was being emptied right beside the swimming area. People, of course, weren’t very fond of that idea. But we were assured that what was being emptied into the river was pure enough to drink. I never actually took them up on that offer, but apparently the purification process was that good. It completely decontaminated the sewage.

I mentioned that it may not be a very pleasant story. It may have even seemed repulsive. But when God looks at the sinfulness of our lives, that’s what He sees. He sees garbage and sewage. And He’s repulsed by it. But at the same time, as we commit ourselves to Him, He will take us through a process of purification that will completely decontaminate the sin from our lives.

And what you need to do is seek for Him to do this. Ask Him to forgive you and to cleanse you. Change your ways. Repent with sincerity, and He will respond. Don’t just give lip service to God; be authentic. This is how James says it…

James 4:8-9 (NLT)
Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.

Let me ask you, how is your relationship with God? Are you more a friend of His or a friend of this world? If you’ve found that you’ve drifted away, then I want you to know, it’s not too late.

Revelation 2:4-5 (NLT)
You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Would you close your eyes? Maybe you’re here this morning and you’re thinking, “Yeah, that’s me. I’ve drifted away. I’ve forsaken my first love.” If that’s you and you’d like to begin to make amends starting this morning, then would you just slip up your hand so I can see it and I can pray for you? I’m not going to mention anyone by name, but I do want to be able to pray for you. And I think it’s important for you to acknowledge it yourself.

Or maybe you’re here and you’ve never become a friend of God in the first place. Maybe you’ve never made the decision to place your faith and trust in Him. If you’d like to do that this morning, then just slip up your hand.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



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