How to Live in the World

Pastor Terry Tatum

We are several weeks into our church-wide study of the book of James titled “How to Live.” We’ve covered a large portion of James so far and this week we’re discussing how to live in the world.

First let’s recap a couple of things we’ve learned: Who was James and who was he writing to? James was the half-brother of Jesus and a leader in the church in Jerusalem. He was writing to Jewish converts to Christianity. In other words, he was writing to people who should know the right things to do – church folks, a.k.a. me and you!

Just listen to how James starts off chapter 4: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:4-10 NIV 1984)

That hits a little too close to home, doesn’t it? The Christians James was writing to were well versed in what they should and shouldn’t do and they knew what the consequences of their actions would be – just like most us – but it seems they needed a little reminder to help on their walk with Christ. Just like us.

Let’s be honest, how many of us know the right thing to do and simply don’t do it? My message today is not revolutionary. It’s not a new way of looking at things. But it might just save your life or the life of someone you love.

Let’s discuss four principles for how we are to live in the world…

1) Recognize (evil and dangers): “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

You adulterous people?

Throughout scripture God is described as the “husband of His people,” the church is referred to as the “Bride of Christ,” and Jesus is called the “Bridegroom.”

The James LifeChange Bible Study says “to pursue the world’s pleasures is to commit adultery against our Husband.”

When he uses words like “adulterous people” and “hatred toward God,” James is talking about us. He’s referring to us loving the world more than Him.

But the key here is this: “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your life or even love your life, but you must remember where it all came from.

Not loving God more than the things of this world makes you an “enemy of God,” but there is hope! Recognizing the warning signs is the first step to being able to live in this world as a follower of Christ.

We all get caught up in life sometimes but James is reminding us that we must stay centered on God.

What are some of the signs we have chosen to be a “friend of the world?”

Are you jealous towards others and their successes?

Do you have selfish ambitions?

Is it “all about you?”

Now of course everyone experiences these things from time to time, but if these are your default settings, there’s a problem.

When was the last time you had a conversation during which you didn’t talk about yourself?

When you hear someone has succeeded, is your first thought, “I could have done that if I had the same advantage they had?”

These are just a couple of warning signs that you are “friends of the world.” You may not overtly say it or think it, but if this is you, you might just love the things of this world more than God. And anyone who chooses to do that becomes “an enemy of God.”

2) Receive Christ (Submit): “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” (James 4:7a)

If we don’t want to be a “friend of the world” and an “enemy of God” Scripture says we must “Submit … to God.” Now what exactly does that mean?

Some of you are saying to yourselves, “That’s not me. I’ve been saved for years.” You might be right and I’m not here to judge, but here are some questions I would ask you: Have you submitted to God? Have you fully submitted your life to God? Before you do something, do you always consider if it would be pleasing to God? Do you love God more than you love anything in this world?

I know the right answer to those questions is yes, but what is the real answer for you? Remember that James is writing to Christians just like you and me.

Everywhere we look there is something better than what we have, someone more beautiful than we are, someone who has it all together. We are people living in a fallen world so trust me when I say I understand the struggles and temptations. But when we desire those things more than we desire to be in the presence of God, or pursue those things more than we pursue God, we have not submitted to Him.

The good news is you still have a chance – you’re still breathing and right this moment you can fully submit to God. He can take away your hurt, your greed, your addictions. He can take it all away and give you peace if you submit to Him.

3) Resist (the Devil): “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

So now that we have submitted our lives to Christ, game over, right? NO! That’s when we become a real threat to the devil.

If we are just living our lives for the here and now, constantly trying to love the world and what it has to offer, we really aren’t a threat to what the devil is trying to accomplish. But when we fully submit to God’s authority and begin to experience all the wonderful things that go along with that, some things start to happen. First, other people will take notice. They will ask questions, and some will give their lives to Christ, too. When that happens, the devil has a real problem on his hands.

I frequently remind people that only God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (all powerful, all knowing, present everywhere all the time) and the devil is not – he can only be in one place at a time, but boy does he do some work when he is there! We live in a world dominated by power, sex, money, and greed. Who do we have to thank for that? Satan himself. The world was perfect when God created it and then the devil got ahold of Adam and Eve and the rest is history.

But here is something that Adam and Eve didn’t know: if you “resist the devil … he will flee from you.”

Adam and Eve didn’t have the advantage of being able to open their Bibles and read what to do. They didn’t have years of human history to look back on like we do. We have the word of God that we can turn to and lean on when things get tough.

God’s word tells us to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” That’s it. God never says it will be easy, but it is right. Whatever power Satan may have, a Christian can be absolutely certain that he has been given the ability to overcome it. By recognizing evil and dangers, receiving Christ by submitting to him, and by resisting the Devil, you have the God-given power to overcome anything this world throws at you.  

4) Repent (Humble yourselves): “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 4:8-10)

James says, “grieve, mourn and wail” and “change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” In other words: Live your life fully. Grief is part of it. Loved ones will pass away, people will let you down, and your possessions will slowly rust and fade away. But if, in this crazy life, you decide to “come near to God … He will come near to you.” That’s called hope.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James is saying that we need to lay down the things of this world and start leaning on God.

Whether you realize it or not you are in the presence of God right now. You are among the fellowship of believers right now. You can reach out to God and lay down all the pride and all the junk that is going on in your life and come near to God.

I promise you right now, He will come near to you.

So to recap, how do we live in this world?

1) Recognize (evil and dangers) – James 4:4

2) Receive Christ (Submit) – James 4:7a

3) Resist (the Devil) – James 4:7

4) Repent (Humble yourselves) – James 4:8-9

What are you going to do about it?

Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. (James 1:22a NLT)