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
Early on in Threshingfloor’s history there was a young woman who started coming occasionally. As we got to know her better, she shared that she had a tremendous difficulty leaving her apartment to join us for our community gatherings each week. She described an almost physical force pushing her to stay in her apartment, that faded once she was out of her building and in her car but returned later in the form of feeling sick to her stomach whenever we spent time in worship or she tried to pray. To make a long story short, we discovered that she was in the midst of some serious warfare with satan who was fighting tooth and nail to keep her from growing in Christ.
There’s been other stories like that throughout the years. Young men who functionally trapped in childhood because of the spiritual bondage of unconfessed sin, women who have overwhelming social anxiety that turns out to be demonic oppression, people whose seeming laziness and spiritual apathy are the result of spiritual warfare more than just personal choices.
All that to say, don’t discount satan. Don’t be ignorant of the spiritual reality that we operate in. The devil is hard at work attempting to drag you down and draw you away from the destiny that God has for you. He works to divide families and the body of Christ (and loves to use “theology” to do so – but that’s a post for another time). He works to keep people in sin and addictions, and he works with all he has to keep people from encountering Jesus in deeper ways.
There are plenty of books out there on spiritual warfare, ranging from overly-mystical and legalistic to practically helpful and biblically grounded. Most focus on steps of deliverance, dealing with generational sin, and other actions that need to be taken to receive freedom. Some are helpful. We’ve used them with people in our communities. But when James, the brother of Jesus, wants to equip believers to stand against the devil he starts somewhere different than most modern authors. He starts with humility and submission.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
I want every Christian to grasp this truth. The foundation of your freedom from satan is your submission to God. We will always be operating under somebody’s authority – always taking someone’s word about us. We’re not autonomous beings. There’s no way to be truly independent and make of yourself whatever you want to be. Either you submit to God, or you submit to satan.
Submitting to or being taken captive by satan doesn’t necessarily look like demon possession as demonstrated in Hollywood’s dark corners of horror films. Generally it’s (seemingly) much more benign. The signs of submission to satan aren’t hard to spot – they’re generally just the opposite of submission to the Spirit of God. Check out the contrast between the two, from both my experience and scripture:
|Submitting to satan||
Submitting to God
If we want to defeat the devil in our day to day life, submission to God is the weapon we must wield. The question then is, how do I practically go about submitting to God? How do I practice with this weapon of freedom? James tells us;
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.
- First, come near to God. Make space in your life to enter into the presence of God, and practice drawing near to him at all times and in all situations. Practice the presence of God. As Augustine notes in his Confessions, we may run from God but he is never far from us. Take a minute or two every half hour to step back from what you are engaged in at the moment and lift your soul up to Him, acknowledge that he is near and draw near to him. This is the beginning of all submission. Once you’re near to God – once you encounter him – you can’t help but submit to him.
- Second, wash your hands. Cast off any fleshly sin that you’ve been dabbling in. Throw it aside. Sin, by very definition, is opposed to submission to God. As Paul says in Romans, choosing sin is choosing submission to the mastery of satan. If you’ve been born again by the blood of Christ, sin is no longer in your nature. It’s mud on your hands. Wash it away in the waters of repentance and belief.
- Third, purify your heart. Don’t be double minded. Commit yourself to Christ completely. Partial commitment to Christ is total commitment to supporting satan. If there’s something in your life that is causing a division, get rid of it.
- Fourth, mourn and repent of your sin and any way that you’ve submitting to the devil. Engage your emotions in the realization of what was wrong.
In all of this, you are humbling yourself before the Lord. As we do so he will always lift us up. Jesus is the ultimate example of how this plays out. Throughout his life he submitted to the Father. As he submitted he was able to resist the devil and the devil fled from him in terror. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross, and the Father has lifted him up and given him the name that sits above every name in the universe. The same is true for us. As we submit to God we gain an authority that is far greater than satans. Want to resist the devil? Submit to God and he will flee from you. And you know what? That’s just fun.